Mugs of abundance

The following is a work of fiction. It is the first installment of many and may at some point cease to exist on this blog and take up residence elsewhere. Any resemblance to people living and or not living is just because sometimes the people I meet are incredibly more interesting than the people who hang around in my head. I try to be nice to the ones who have inspired me. Sure, some of them are pretty poorly hidden, but “Cary” is not me. Trust me. We almost share a calling, but even there things are different.


The ancient experienced hands of the retired nurse placed the ceramic mugs with great care on the shelves in the cupboard. An occasional clink, as one mug hit another, was all the new occupant was expecting to hear. There had not been much chit-chat between the volunteer laborer and the new resident. But the music was broken by lyrics he didn’t expect. “You think you have enough coffee mugs, pastor? Looks to me that you could serve a whole bunch of people with all these mugs. How many of you drink coffee?”

“Just two of us.” he said. “It does seem as if we’ve picked up a few extra along the way, though. Guess we like our mugs.”

“Hmph. Guess you do.” was the end of the song. But the music continued.

And that was two churches ago for the preacher. Long before others in the house began drinking coffee and adding to the plethora of caffeine dispensers that crowded the cabinet in their newest, smaller parsonage. He was quite certain that somewhere in the maze of boxes yet unopened there was a treasure trove of mugs aching to be used, long over their own sense of caffeine withdrawal and simply settled in the darkness of their moving paper rest home.

But the four were there.


There was the one he had since his time in seminary, the last of a group of four that he purchased from the Baptist House at Duke Divinity. Cary always thought it a bit ironic that one of his most cherished possessions from his days at a United Methodist seminary was a Baptist mug. And yet, every Wednesday and every Sunday, this was the one that made the trip from cabinet to Kuerig. Well, truth be told, it would sometimes come straight out of the dishwasher and make its way to the coffee machine. But on Sundays and Wednesday, Cary needed the reminder that the mug brought with it.

It wasn’t a reminder of all that he has learned. It wasn’t a reminder of his Master of Divinity degree. It wasn’t even a reminder of particular people or places. He used that mug to remind him that truth be told, he wasn’t even close to having all the answers. On Sunday morning, as he got ready to somehow stand before a congregation and preach, he needed that reminder. He was just happy that it only took a mug and not a two-by-four upside his head. And sure, he used it on Wednesdays too as a reminder that when he taught Bible Study, the Bible was usually going to teach him more than he could manage to squeeze out in a lesson or two.

And then there was the brother mug. One of his two brothers got him that one, but truthfully he couldn’t remember which one. Didn’t matter much. He used Brother one day a week to remind himself of them. The three weren’t the best at staying in touch with one another but when the chips were down, they knew that they could count on one another. The mug reminded Cary of them, their differences, their similarities, but especially their connection to one another.  Since the loss of their father, Cary looked forward to the Monday encounter with this mug. He could sip and say a prayer for his brothers. And he needed that grounding as much as he needed the humility he found with the Duke.

He remembered offering the MTSO mug to his buddy, now a Chaplain in the Army, on one of his visits. “What in the world are you doing with a Methodist Theological School of Ohio mug?” was the question Ray asked. Cary shrugged and said, “I got it during a visit of their Course of Study one year. I hope I cleaned it before I filled it. Been sitting on the shelf a long time.”

Truthfully though, this mug got used as much as Duke and more often than Brother. MTSO came out twice a week, typically on Tuesday and Saturday to remind Cary of the two best friends he had in ministry. Ray went to MTSO but his other friend, Ann, went to Candler, or as Cary loved to jokingly call it, “Chandler.” No Candler mug in the mix but it didn’t matter. When he drank his coffee from MTSO he thought of them both, prayed for them both and gave thanks to God that he knew they were always just a call away. MTSO was a good memory mug – laughter from residency, long, late night talks at Annual Conference, and just the memory that these three very different people ended up so close to one another. If someone would have taken wagers on the military haircut Ray and the long haired Cary becoming friends, they would have lost a bundle. It was rocky, but perhaps the rockiness made the friendship that much stronger. Of the three, and sadly there used to be four, but that is a story for another day, Cary is the only one still serving a local church. He acknowledges that the other two do great work for the Kingdom…better work for the revolution that Jesus wishes to bring…than he often manages on his best days.

Friday was the day for the “Brown Mug from North Carolina.” Cary wasn’t sure of the pottery that produced it but it clearly was hand thrown and it was his Friday mug. Given to him by a former Associate Pastor, this mug was Cary’s Sabbath mug. (Yeah, pastors do take a Sabbath day and it ain’t Sunday, that for certain.) Cary uses BMNC because it’s all about grace. The Deacon who gave it to him taught him a lot about receiving grace. They worked well together, but they did so in a difficult place at a difficult time. Her creativity and spirituality helped to keep the church they served very well grounded. Truth be told, Cary wasn’t completely forthright about how bad things were when he brought this Deacon into the mess and that was wrong. And Cary didn’t talk about everything that went on with him while they worked together. It was one of the many wrongs Cary could never make right again. The BMNC was a reminder of that tragic truth of life. More so that despite the wrong, their was peace between Cary and Julia, the Deacon, not because of Cary’s honesty, but due solely to the amazing grace Julia showed.

“It’s a good way to start a Sabbath,” Cary would think. “The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of grace.”

Yeah, there is an abundance of mugs in Cary’s parsonage. Most of them don’t get used by him. There are others in the house who find the other mugs more to their liking. But these four take up six important places in Cary’s life. And they cover six days.

And that leaves Thursday.

Well, you must wait to hear about Thursday because you don’t quite know enough about Cary to understand. You can rest uneasily, though, that there is a mug for Thursday.  And that mug is the only one he loathes to use.

How do you pray?

When you said, “I don’t know how to pray.”
I thought:

Sometimes I pray with my eyes closed, watching the images of my imagination work their way across the part of my brain I am trying to keep perfectly still;
prayer-tearsSometimes I pray as the aroma of coffee wafts its way into my thinking senses;

Sometimes I pray with tears;

Occasionally, I pray with a soft pillow under my head and my beloved held in my arms;

Sometimes I pray with my feet propped up on my desk and a pen in my hand;

At times, I pray with words…but mostly not;

Sometimes as I pray I am surrounded by music that fills in the blank spaces and teases me toward God – Katy Perry does a fabulous job but Jewell is better;

Sometimes as I pray I laugh, well, I giggle a little – the absurdity overcomes me at times;

Occasionally the bitter sting of coffee goes across my tongue even as words to the Almighty find their way out;

Sometimes I pray with open eyes, glancing at the miracle of a new life, the wisdom held by the binding of a book, the serenity of a sleeping cat, or the soothing color of a glass of wine;

At times my prayers run over with thankfulness or fear – usually in equal measure;

prayerThere are those rare and precious moments when my mind and my surrounding conspire in their quiet and I know I must be praying.

I know some people say they don’t know how to pray.

Problem is…I don’t know how not to.


Sunrise over Princeton, WV
Sunrise over Princeton, WV

He sat at the kitchen table sipping on the hot Chock-Full-Of-Nuts™ coffee that had just been brewed through the Kuerig™ and read the headlines from the morning paper as he did most mornings.  This pastor noted the arrest of someone for a Meth Lab and a story or two about local businesses.  Then for no real reason he looked up and out the window across the kitchen.

Drinking from his Duke Divinity mug, one purchased from the Baptist Student Union while he was still in seminary, this Methodist pastor took the three short steps over to window and looked out upon the mountains that made up the horizon.  Purple and orange light burst over the edges of the mountains with a dim shade of blue highest in the sky.  He blew across the surface of the steaming cup of coffee and smiled.  “I can’t count the number of beautiful sunrises I have seen from this place,” he said to himself or the coffee because no one else was around.

He continued to stand at the window and watch the changing sunrise as he thought back over the last year or so in his life and ministry.  He remembered the first beautiful sunrise that he witnessed there in the Southern mountains of West Virginia, the excitement he had in seeing it and rushing to take a photograph of it for his family to see.

His mind wandered back to a photo of a sunset that his oldest at-home daughter had taken while she had ridden on top of a bus, a quarter of the world away in Nicaragua several months before.  He remembered the tears she shed as she shared about the photo and the people and the whole experience of being that far way and yet feeling right at home.  She came home filled with tears that flooded our home for several days and when they did stop she had a peace about her that father, the pastor, had not seen in a long time – at least not in himself.  Sometime during those days, he remembered her saying, “Daddy, it doesn’t matter where we are but I would like to see your smile again.”

Watching as the blue of the daylight took over more and more of the orange and purple of the sunrise, the pastor’s mind wandered back to a tennis court and his youngest daughter.  It was a hot day in June and quite possibly the last time they would hit any balls on this court.  They had a great time laughing and chasing each other’s badly hit shots and celebrating the good points that she made.  He even remembered one very lucky shot of his own that left his daughter’s jaw dropping as she tried to figure out how her “old Dad” had hit the ball so soundly. The look on her face brought a laugh to him then and now.

Yet thinking back, he recalled that he had chosen the side of the court facing the sun.  He wanted to see it set – again.  He looked forward to it setting each and every day because it meant the day was over and there would be no more trouble. It may have been a hot summer day, but the sunset signaled something different, something almost wintry.  Night meant rest and he looked for rest like he would look for a lost child – desperately and deliberately.

The coffee cup was on the counter now and he was leaning into the sink, the sunrise almost over and the day well on its way to beginning but he thought back to all those sunsets he watched for the last year or so of serving before he moved.  He knew his fascination with them was more than just the beauty that they might bring.  He knew he watched because he was willing something to end – if not the turmoil he had inside, then at least the day.  So he watched the sunset time and time again.

He rinsed out his cup and put it in the top rack of the dishwasher before he walked back over to the table to straighten the paper.  He took one last look out the window and smiled thinking about the sunrise he had just witnessed.  Was it number 18? 19? 20?  He just wasn’t sure.  He just knew it was strange for a January morning.  He was surprised by them in the summer, used to them by Fall, but now they held a special place for him as he witnessed them in the midst of Winter.  He thought of the coffee, the smile, the rush to get to the window to see as much of the sunrise as possible.  The pastor smiled the smile his daughter had been missing.  He laughed the laugh that he himself had thought lost in a sunset somewhere.  The day had begun and the journey towards home continued.