The first time I drank coffee, I was sitting in the recreational room of a correctional facility surrounded by double razor wire in the middle of cornfields as far as the eye could see. A city called Marysville. “Aunt Mary’s house,” we called it when talking to my three-year-old at the time. The big house with tall gates and the room with vending machines and the play area where you get to see mommy. I am not sure how you explain prison to a child that young, but it was the only way I knew how to at the time and in times of trauma and grief, you just do the best you can. I couldn’t have said any of that five years ago. Too painful. Like a rocky edged cliff that if I dare glance over, I might slip into all-consuming grief. There will be more about this in my book to come, but for now, we’re talking about coffee.
“Big Baby” was the friend that kindly introduced me to coffee for the first time. I don’t know why they called her that. Everyone in this new environment seemed to have a name other than their actual name. Maybe it was part of inner city life. Maybe it was because your birth name is replaced by a number once you are sentenced. Maybe because she had supermodel height and was the youngest in her family. I didn’t think much of it at the time, and so I never asked her. I also never called her by that name. I called her by her birth name, and maybe that’s why we were instant friends despite all of our differences. She rode out of the county jail and into the prison the same day that I did. The windows were frosted and fogged in that sardine packed van of women shackled to each other at wrist and feet, our arms interlocked like an awkward marital procession. We couldn’t see where we were going or where we were carried from. Perhaps that was a blessing at the time.
“Taste this,” she said. So I tilted that chilled cup of butterscotch colored liquid back and gave it a whirl. It was loads of French vanilla creamer with way too much sugar and a bit of instant coffee. But my naive taste buds didn’t know the difference, and so it tasted good at the time. From that day forward, I was a coffee drinker. My love of coffee has evolved a lot since that day. French press preferred. Light roast. A hint of sugar. A small amount of almond milk. Perfection.
When I think back to that day with Big Baby, and my first go-round with coffee, I wish I had known this:
I wish I had known there would come a day when I would be able to talk about my story and not feel like I wanted to die from the pain.
I wish I had known that the place of my suffering, that compound of nearly two-thousand women, would completely transform my heart and my life.
I wish I had known that some of the greatest lessons I’d ever learn would be learned through their stories and eventually told through my voice.
I wish I had known that Big Baby was making my journey easier. Evidence of God’s kindness toward me through friendship. Proof that I was never really alone.
I wish I had known there wasn’t a single thing I could do to make God love me more, or like me any less.
I wish I had known that just a few years down the road, my life would contain more beauty than my heart could hold. A marriage that would heal me. A daughter that would remind me that God answers with hope. A ministry birthed from tragedy. A coffee shop we would open that employs people that others view as disqualified.
I wish I had known….
My husband told our son’s something the other day, and maybe you need to hear it too.
“Every time that you walk into this coffee shop, I want you to remember that anything is possible.”
I prayed so many half-hearted prayers back then. I wanted to believe and God in His infinite compassion knew that. He knew the issues in my heart that stood in the way. He knew my grief and shame. But He saw my willingness to at least dare to ask.
“Here are the pieces. Please rebuild this broken life.”
And it was all the invitation He needed.