There’s a mug that’s spent years at the back of my kitchen cupboard, we’ve moved house four times since we’ve had it and every time we’ve unpacked I’ve placed it right at the back of my cupboard again, hidden by the other mugs. There are a lot of people who have a mug exactly like the one I’m talking about, some use it everyday, some say it’s their favourite mug. But I know there are others who, like me, have barely used it, unable to throw it out but not ready to drink from it.
This mug I’m talking about came from a cafe that closed eight years ago. It was a cafe Dave and I dreamed up, researched, prayed about, and, with the help of many amazing people, became a reality. The vision was a well-run, high quality independent coffee shop providing a space to create community, build relationships and share the good news of Jesus with those who came through the door, and we did it! It was awesome! We made fresh waffles, served the best coffee in Chester, hosted live music, served white chocolate cheesecake and people came to know Jesus. But we ran out of money. Ten months after the opening party, we were emptying the contents of the cafe and travelling around Chester distributing equipment and furniture to churches and charities, including the mugs. Ten months after the high of seeing a dream become a reality I never wanted to risk dreaming again. Ten months to turn a heart full of faith stone cold, reluctant to trust or even talk to God.
Life would have been a lot easier in many ways if the cafe had never existed. I wouldn’t have had hundreds of mugs to get rid of for a start, but I don’t think my life would have been better without it. In fact I know it wouldn’t have been better. The experience changed me, it changed my friendships, it changed my faith. My beliefs about how life and God worked were destroyed when the cafe closed, forcing me to start again from the understanding that life and faith isn’t always straight forward. It was a painful process but I believe it changed me for the better. I learnt that struggle does not mean failure, that God’s silence does not translate to His absence. I learnt that the life of a Christian doesn’t mean you get what you want or even what you pray for. I also learnt about redemption, a truth I’m reminded of every time I visit our old church and I see the cafe furniture and soup kettle now used for a church lunches and homeless drop-in.
Yes, the experience of getting knocked down has changed me in good ways, but that doesn’t make the struggle after the cafe closed any less painful. I don’t think falling down was ever designed to be graceful or pain free, unless maybe you’re really good at gymnastics or are very small. The other week I actually fell out of my front door on my way to church. For those who know me this will not come as a surprise to them, I wasn’t very awake and, although I’m now in my mid-thirties, I’ve still not managed to gain control of my limbs properly. Needless to say, it was not a pretty sight and I can confirm once again that falling really hurts.
Eight years on and the mug is no longer at the back of my cupboard, I now use it. It’s a great mug, perfect for your morning tea, holding the heat of the drink in so that you can take your time. Eight years and we’re doing the same thing again, opening a cafe in our local community, to build relationships, make awesome coffee and food and share the good news of Jesus. Eight years and I’ve finally picked myself up off the floor, and am feeling brave enough to dream again. I’m still scared, I still worry about falling, about whether I’ve heard God wrong, or how stupid I could look if it all goes pear-shaped. But we have learnt from the pain of a failed business, this time the cafe is not centred around Dave and I, we have a team and it’s a church initiative, being brought into reality by the community surrounding us, rather than the determination of two people.
Sitting on a hard plastic chair waiting to find out the results of yet more fertility tests, I’m grinding my teeth and fidgeting in my chair, unable to find comfort or distraction in the world of daytime telly broadcast across the waiting room. I’d forgotten how vulnerable you feel when you decide you want to ‘try’ again. You see, this journey of falling and picking yourself up is not exclusive to failed businesses. It’s not just a public thing either, it can be very private, a fact I’m being reminded of now that we’re entering back into the world of hospital appointments, blood tests and talk of ‘trying’ again. Picking yourself up and daring to dream is an act of bravery even if no one else notices, it doesn’t come quickly and it certainly isn’t pain free. I don’t have any wisdom to share about when it’s time to let go of that dream of a family, of when to stop investigations, or how many miscarriages are too many, or when, or if you should adopt, I don’t even know if we should have even gone back to the hospital. But what I do know is, that as I wait for yet another doctor’s opinion I am a very different person to the one called into a hospital consultation room six years ago.
Maybe picking yourself up and trying again is less about what you do next and more about whether or not you’re a different person when you finally get back on your feet.
Six years have passed since our first gynae appointment and we are no longer desperate for a child, we would love to have a family but we know we can still live a full life just the two of us. We have picked ourselves up again, we are ready to consider our options one more time, but as we stand and dust ourselves down we are different. I am different. Because I now know that whether I’m lying face down in the driveway on my way to church, or skipping out the door, standing in the middle of an awesome cafe filled with people, or distributing mugs without a home, holding a baby in my arms or filling empty bedrooms with house guests, that by the grace of God my worth and my faith are not dependent on my gracefulness, success or even the size of my family. Because even though I may have fallen, even though it may have hurt, those experiences have challenged and changed me in good ways and I’m no longer as scared of falling as I used to be.