A Cup of Hot Tea

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. ~ John 1:16

A few weeks ago, Jennifer and I went to Durango to eat out and to browse in Maria’s Bookstore, a favorite pastime of ours. We found a couple of books (An Altar in the World for me and children’s books for Jennifer and her first-grade class) that we could not live without.

A young woman, probably in her early twenties, checked us out at the front cash register. She had multiple earrings in both ears, I couldn’t count all of them, and she had a silver stud in her nose. She wore comfortable clothes and sandals to go along with a big warm gracious smile. “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

“Yes, we did,” I said as I placed our books on the counter.

As our kids would say, our cashier had this relaxed, hip, laid-back mountain vibe going. I read her nametag which included her pronouns, “She and They.” She seemed so comfortable and relaxed in her skin. As she rang our books up, she asked me, “Did you hike the Colorado Trail this summer?”

In a nanosecond, I scanned my memory of all the people Ro and I met on the trail. We must have met her somewhere along the way. She saw my confusion. “I was on the trail crew…”

“Were you on the trail crew that rescued me?” I asked.

She blushed. “Yes, I was.”

“Thank you so much. You’ll never know how much you all did for me. That was so embarrassing.”

“You don’t need to be embarrassed,” she said.

“I can’t remember who you were,” I replied.

“I was the one who gave you a cup of hot tea. You were pretty out of it and dehydrated when you wandered into our camp.”

“I remember that. Thank you,” I said.

After missing a turn on the Colorado Trail, I walked for several miles on another path. When I realized my mistake, I found my way back at nightfall to a place called Bear Town where an all-women trail crew was camping. Ro and I had passed them earlier in the day where they were doing maintenance work on the Colorado Trail.

They welcomed me, a stranger, into their camp. They set up a tarp for me to sleep under that night. One woman gave me some fresh cookies to eat. Another sent a message to Jennifer on her satellite phone. Even though all of them were my daughter’s age or younger, they “parented” me.

I remember sitting at their campfire with that cup of hot tea. Someone asked, “Craig, how do you feel?”

“I just feel so stupid. So embarrassed. How did I miss the turn? It’s going to be a long night for Ro and me. I don’t know where he is. He doesn’t know where I am.”

“Your son ran by us looking for you earlier today. He’s strong. I think he’s going to be alright and so will you. It will be a long night though,” one of the women said. Her words and the tea warmed my heavy, rain-soaked body, but I still felt so inadequate. Anything could happen.

Father Richard Rohr writes, “We all have that terrible feeling of a fundamental unworthiness. We live, not just in an age of anxiety, but also in a time of significant shame. I find very few people who do not feel inadequate, stupid, dirty, or unworthy.”

What do we do with our feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy? What do we do when we don’t feel acceptable?

Whether we can admit it or not, shame is pervasive and destructive in our society, says Rohr. Theologian Lewis Smedes in his book Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve writes, “We have shame when we feel we are not acceptable, maybe unworthy, and are less than the good person we are supposed to be. Shame is a vague, undefined heaviness that presses on our spirit and dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life.”

There is good news though, says Smedes. “Grace is the beginning of our healing process because it offers the one thing we need most: to be accepted without regard to whether we are acceptable.”

“Grace overcomes shame. We are accepted wholesale. Accepted with no possibility of being rejected. Accepted once and accepted forever,” he continues.

Is this the Good News that we have a hard time accepting as individuals and a church? What does it mean to live in Grace?

Jennifer and I stepped around the counter at Maria’s Bookstore and hugged this beautiful young woman who radiated love and grace. I thought again about that trail crew who loved and accepted me and did not condemn, shame, or guilt me. They were wise and graceful beyond their years.

“Thank you so much,” Jennifer and I said.  We took our books and as we turned to leave, our angel smiled and said, “You still need to pay for your books.”

“See how easily I get distracted. I think that’s what happened on the trail,” I said. We laughed wholeheartedly.

May Grace heal us and bring us home.

Blessings and peace,