Tag Archives: Destiny

Local Paragons Part IV: Midtown Cafe and Dessertery

Midtown Café and Dessertery is located on Stratford Road in Winston Salem. It is a delightful café with a varied menu. Their selection of breakfast pancakes is divine and every one is well worth the effort. While I usually enjoy hashbrowns, the Midtown Café prepares their shredded hash browns with what I (a non-culinary proficient every day person) would call more oil than I would personally desire. Their coffee is top notch and their desserts…well…get ready to gain five pounds just looking at the display window but so worth it.

Food/Beverage: <3 <3 <3                                     Local Color: <3 <3 <3

After the most awkward phone call of her life, Lucy sat in Midtown Café waiting for Saul to meet her for a late lunch. And by late, she meant they were bordering on a senior citizen’s supper time, but it was the best they could do given both of their busy schedules.

“We can pretend we’re still living in 19th century south when lunch didn’t really exist,” Saul had joked.

“I beg your pardon?” Lucy had not been aware that lunch was a twentieth century invention.

“Antebellum South—there was breakfast served until about 11, dinner from about 2-4 and supper as late as 9—but no lunch,” he said. “We’ll just go back in time for a bit. Or if you’d rather we could be English and call it Afternoon Tea.”

Tea, he’d gone on to explain, was really only part of the deal. It was, in fact, a light meal. And so, they’d agreed to be time travelers for their first date.

“Hey, you’re here!” Saul called out, his voice carrying over the empty restaurant. A few hours before, the place had been packed with Sunday brunchers, but they had cleared out and the evening crowd had yet to arrive. Those who were still lingering glanced at Saul, who commanded attention with his loud, somewhat abrasive voice.

Lucy tried not to cringe. She was quiet by nature. Abrasive would never be her style.

Saul slid into the seat across from her at the booth and smiled, his voice lowering—but only slightly.

“You look great,” he looked at her appreciatively, then reached across the table pausing just above her hair. “May I?” he asked. Lucy was confused. She didn’t really know what he was asking but she nodded. He ran his hand down the side of her Dutch braid running sideways down left side of her head and tumbling down her shoulder. His pinkie brushed the side of her cheek and as he studied her hair, he paused at the base of her neck. While he didn’t actually touch her skin, she could still feel his touch traveling all the way down her back.

Saul sat back in his seat. “How do you get the braid to sit on the top of your head like that?”

Lucy blinked stupidly. “Wh-what?” she stammered.

“The braid,” he gestured toward her head again, accepting the water from the waiter as he spoke. “Usually they’re like tucked under and stuff on girls. But yours is sitting on the top of your head. It’s really pretty like that.”

“Oh,” Lucy reached up and fingered the thick black strands. Satisfied it was still as smooth as ever, her had dropped to her lap again. “It’s not a French braid, it’s a Dutch braid.”

“There are different kinds of braids?”

Lucy smiled, feeling herself relax. “Of course. There are different kinds of cars aren’t there?”

“Well, sure,” Saul shrugged. “But braids? They have names?”

“Ever since God put Adam in the garden and said, ‘here start naming these’ we humans have felt the need to name everything in our world. Even braids.”

Saul laughed, turning heads in the quiet restaurant again. Lucy ignored the uncomfortable feeling and told herself to relax.

“Exhibit A,” he said, glancing down at the menu. “Look at this pancake menu! ‘Peach delight: thin rolled pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and filled with delicious ricotta-cream-cheese-peaches blend.’ Okay my mouth is officially watering.”

“I love that they serve breakfast here all day,” Lucy laughed. “I was eyeing the Silver Dollar Pancakes myself. Do you think they’re actually the size of a sliver dollar?”

“I don’t know. But it makes you wonder,” Saul mused. “Considering when I make pancakes they look like big blobs of crazy—I’m impressed.”

“Have you seen that Youtube video? With the pancake art?” Lucy asked.

“The one where the person is making like dinosaurs or something with the batter?”

“Yeah, the one I saw she was making like a pumpkins and butterflies, but I’m sure dinosaurs are just a possible.”

“I’m impressed by people and their ingenuity on a regular basis,” Saul shook his head. “But I also think they may have too much time on their hands. I can barely get to work and class on time without feeling like I’m drowning in papers and due dates. When do I have time to do all that? Much less post it on Youtube.”


The waiter came then, interrupting them to take their order—and they did each get pancakes, but Saul also got a side of hash browns.

“Do you watch a lot of Youtube?” he asked once the waiter had gone to put their order in at the kitchen.

“Not really,” Lucy shrugged and took a sip of coffee. It was late afternoon, but that didn’t matter. Good coffee was hard to find, and she ordered it at Midtown every time she came—even if it was late. And at this dessertery, she had come much later than three thirty before. “Mostly I only see the videos when someone else posts them on Facebook and I happen to be twirling through it on my way from one thing to another.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “Yes, the great social connector, Facebook. It brings us all together while giving us reasons to never talk to one another again.”

“Are you saying Facebook is a paradox?” Lucy asked, sipping her coffee again.

“One of the greatest paradoxes of the twenty first century. Have you read The App Generation?” He asked leaning back in his chair and sipping on his water.

“No,” she leaned forward. “Tell me about it.”

“It’s a great published study about the concept of having an ‘app for everything’ is how this generation has come to identify itself. Really fascinating research. One things the guy says in there is that we constantly have all these new technologies popping up all over the place and they allow for self-expression in a way that we’ve never seen before. You know—selfie with the Tower of London! Kind of thing.”

“Right,” Lucy said, nodding slowly. “But selfies aren’t really representative of the self, are they? I mean I take one and I think: ugh, that can’t really be me!”

“Well, that’s kind of the point I think. We have all these new methods of expression but we’re starting to connect to them too much and suddenly that becomes our identity. We are that selfie, we are that person we put online. But what we post and these things are very two dimension—very flat. And we’re not meant to be two dimensional, flat characters in our lives and so we feel like our lives our lacking in something…more. And they are. They’re lacking in self expression and actualization that we thought we were getting by being the Facebook person.”

“Thus a kind of paradox.”

“Right, and it’s not just Facebook, but all these apps and gadgets.”

“So what do you think we should do about it?”

“I don’t know,” Saul shrugged. “I’m not even sure we can do anything about it. But I do think it’s interesting.”

“Interesting, and a little disturbing. I mean if I am without my cellphone I kind of feel as though I have lost a little part of myself.”

“Exactly what the book is kind of pointing out, only the generation right behind us is in even worse shape.”

“Yes,” Lucy nodded. “I can see that, you can’t even walk down the street without seeing a teenager or even a little child with some kind of electronic device in his or her hand.”

“Right,” Saul nodded and leaned over the table. “Speaking of which, let’s talk about you.”

“How is that a speaking of which? Are you saying I’m a teenager or a child?”

“Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of generation we’re in—“

“And you assume we’re in the same generation?”

“I would guess so.”

“You’re in med school?” Lucy prompted. She tilted her head to the side and studied him a little. She’d done the math. She had to be older than he was, but she didn’t know by how much and was a little afraid to ask.

“Finishing up. Have to start looking at fellowships soon.”

“Complicated?” she said it more as a question, though she’d heard from a friends how hard and arduous the medical school process was only to get to residencies which then led to fellowships until you finally were able to establish some kind of practice. None of it was easy.

Saul shrugged. “I’m leaving my fate to God’s hands really.”

“God?” Lucy asked, wrinkling her brow. “Isn’t that a little irresponsible? Seems like you need to take a more active role rather than just letting fate decide. You might as well just be rolling a dice.”

Saul studied her now, noting the wrinkled brow, but honest curious eyes. Lucy wasn’t judging him, he decided, but she didn’t understand what he meant.

The waiter brought their food and they began eating. Saul, studying Lucy and thinking about how to explain his active, conscious faith. And Lucy wondering just what she had gotten herself into.


Author and Perfector


Sometimes I wonder if I’ve chosen the right path. But then I suppose everyone has doubts about their life at some point or another. The fact of the matter is, we can’t ever be sure about every decision we make. When I was in college I watched a film called Run Lola Run (directed by Tom Tykwer).  The film centers on the idea that it’s not only the monumental decisions in our lives that shape who we become as much as every tiny decision we make—down to taking the time to tie our shoe or letting the laces flap in the breeze. These little moments can shape us as much if not more. The film shows the same event, three times with tiny changes that affect the overall outcome in enormous ways.

Which in turn reminds me of Esther. I’ve been studying this book and as I’m now in chapter 6, big decisions still hold value, but the tiny ones are every bit as important.

Esther had an opportunity to rock the Persian world. She was promised up to half the kingdom by her husband Xerxes if she asked for it—which though a figure of speech, is still a pretty amazing oath. She invites Xerxes and her mortal enemy, Hamen, to a banquet to make the request. At the banquet she has a number of options—decisions to make. And any one of them can alter the course of her personal history.

  • She could, like Herodias’ s daughter did for John the Baptist, ask for Hamen’s head on a platter (Problem solved!)
  • She could reveal Hamen’s evil plan—confront the beast head on (Uncovered, unfoiled, right?)
  • Wait (What? Why wait!?!)

The timing was right! Her life had been spared, the king had agreed to dinner—now hat do be the time. If Esther makes the request, the game is over. But she doesn’t. Like Lola, she stops to tie her shoe, altering the course of the future.

But that is a monumental decision, right? That’s certainly more than just tying her shoe. What happens next is what, combined with the monumental decisions, proving to me that our small decisions have just a great an effect on our lives as our big decisions.

That night, the king couldn’t sleep.

Now the king has some decisions to make. And he’s the King of Persia—he could get a glass of warm milk, count sheep, or he has over 100 concubines so I could think of a few things he could do on a sleepless night.

Instead he orders the chronicle of his reign to be read to him.

Well, now I can see why this might put you to sleep, but this decision becomes the peripety of the entire narrative, a seemingly insignificant event that changes the course of everything.

Elevating Mordecai in the king’s eyes just enough so that when Esther does reveal Hamen’s evil plan, the king doesn’t harbor resentment against his noble prince, but righteous indignation about the injustice done to his ally and queen. Outrage, not regret in the end result.

If Esther hadn’t waited? The sleepless night would have looked very different.

If he hadn’t read the chronicle? The timing may never have been right for Ether.

What kind of changes in history would we see if even one tiny decision had been made?

Every significant even has a place, but more importantly ever insignificant event does too. Our lives are arranged accidentally. They are carefully crafted and perfected to create individual lives and purposes that we can live to be proud of. When I write, I always start with a character: Andrea, Valerie, Clara, Lucy…How much more so does God start with us as characters crafting each even toward some kind of significant end? It’s only natural to question our decisions and actions, but in the end no matter what we choose—I’m comforted to know that the author and perfector of my faith is more than my calligrapher—He’s a master craftsman.

So sometimes I pray for a peripety.

A reversal of destiny—a change that will make its mark on me ant eh world.

Because you never know what decision today might lead to a monumental destiny tomorrow.

Isn’t it Just Like a Human?

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”

 Esther 4:14b

A major theme in literature, hell in life, is the idea of fate/destiny vs. free will. Do we actually have the option to choose our own path or are we predestined for something outside our control?

Much of our discussions in my class this week have centered around this, and oddly enough in my personal life as well.

This week with my seniors we talked about Paradise Lost, which I’ll admit is one of my favorite and lest favorite works to do with high schoolers. I love to talk about it because of the major themes it introduces and the way it requires them to think from different perspectives (particularly with all the allegorical implications—with the epic hero being called into question and the shift in how we perceive the hero and of course the purpose in writing a piece and how it reflects the historical backdrop of the author’s intent—there is such a wealth of discussion to draw from). It’s my least favorite for the same reason. There is no way to cover it all and even when I try to cover a tenth of it; the material can seem tedious (even to my best students) and so I often come away with a sense of disillusionment.

However, isn’t that just like a human?

After we look at Paradise Lost we move on to Lanier’s piece on “Eve’s Apology” and we talk about the Quarelle des Femmes. This is always entertaining for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is because it’s our version of the blame game for the fall of Eden. During Lanier’s time the Quarelle des Femme (Question of Women) and used in the later half of the 19th century where the roles of women were being questioned and challenged probably for the first time in recorded history and a large part of it centered around, or at least used as evidence, Eve’s role in the fall of Eden. So in “Eve’s Apology”, Lanier argues that Adam is just as much at fault for the fall of Eden as Adam and offers evidence supporting that claim and refuting much of the misogynistic mindset held previously. While the piece is heavily biased, we then hold our own debate about who is responsible for the fall of Eden and I assign students their own roles for this debate (they don’t choose sides) and then they have to offer evidence to prove their “opinion”. I allow it to go on until it gets repetitive or to heavily laden with pathos. Then we discuss. Then I allow them to broaden their scope because students argue with me that Adam and Eve aren’t the only players. So they split into four corners—Adam, Eve, Serpent or God—who is the most to blame. Out of about 30 students, only 4 stick with Adam and Eve holding most of the responsibility—the rest split between the serpent and God and we discuss the ramifications of this and then students reflect.

But to me, isn’t this just like a human?

Adam and Eve didn’t want to take responsibility in the garden, and even today we don’t want them to hold the responsibility. We want to say it’s the higher powers that are really responsible. If God hadn’t created that tree then… Well if the serpent hadn’t present temptation then…. Personal responsibility is just not something humans are fond of.

Which is why the fate vs. free will theme is such a popular one. If it is our fate for something to happen then we don’t have to take responsibility for the ramifications of our decisions, right?

I’m not so sure.

Because here’s the thing. Yes, God created the tree in that garden. But what if he hadn’t? Would we have free will? If there is nothing to choose—does choice exist? Sure, God is so outside of time he probably knew what was going to happen when he created the tree, but he still decided to give us the choice because he’d rather have companions and a relationship with us than naked drones in a garden. Because if we didn’t have free will, we wouldn’t be stuck in the “middle state” that Pope describes in his “Essay on Man”. We’d just be beasts in a garden with no capacity to reason or choose. That sounds like a boring person to have a relationship with. I mean, I love my dog, but I need my human friends.

And if there was no one to tempt us, no serpent, then we would never know our own integrity. Adam and Eve both made a choice. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Maybe it was their destiny, but it was also their choice. Regardless of whether you see this story as literature, or as spiritual, the lessons it teaches are worth remembering.

Which brings me back to Esther, and of course myself. Esther was brought to the palace, but it wasn’t of her own free will, exactly. I mean, technically she probably could have run away, but where would she run to? She’s a teenager in Susa. She runs off into the desert to do what? Get eaten by wild beasts? Die of dehydration? Become a Bedouin or a prostitute? Really, her only viable option was to go to the palace to be either the King’s concubine or queen, and she lucked out. She was chosen as Queen. Then, Haman, the conniving weasel decides he doesn’t like all the Jews (bad blood between his people and the Jews, exacerbated by Mordecai’s disobedience of the ordnance to pay homage to Haman) and so he’s going to kill them all. Great. What he doesn’t know is he has just sentenced his queen to death. Oops.

Well, who knows, Esther, maybe this is your destiny.

I don’t know about you, but those are not very comforting words when approaching your husband for leniency could mean your death.

But, isn’t that just like a human?

Mordecai needs Esther to do this to save her people, so who knows! Maybe it’s your destiny—and that keeps his hands clean if it goes wrong (I’m being a little harsh on Mordecai, but I really feel for Esther. Poor girl.). But in a weird way, that who knows does give us hope.

Because, as Beth Moore points out in her Esther study, when the who knows becomes “I know” we know it is our destiny—and this is when we are disillusioned. When we come face to face with our destiny we sometimes feel like it should have more meaning than just ‘who knows’. I feel for Esther here—she’s faced with a destiny and she realizes that either way she will likely die. What a moment of mortality for a teenager. Not on the same scale, but I’ve had those same feelings of, dude, it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

I had a plan. I knew what my life was going to look like, and this wasn’t it. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for pretty much my entire life, but when you get up one day and your students come into class and aren’t responsive, or are responsive negatively or ask you things like: “Ms. Carmichael do you ever get bored when you are teaching?” I kind of just want to throw my marker in the air and say “to heck with this destiny.”

But I don’t.

Because more often than not when we have a personal relationship with God, we know that even when our destiny doesn’t seem to be exactly what we thought it was, He’s still got a hand in it—which is why I love Esther’s response. She doesn’t say yes, exactly. She says, “Go gather and fast. I will go. And If I perish, I perish.”

Hello, thank you personal responsibility. I did not hear a “If I perish—it’s your fault Uncle Mordecai” or “If I perish, God will avenge me”.  It’s “If I perish, I perish”. Esther realized two things about this debate. 1) Destiny requires sacrifice and 2) Destiny requires action (free will).

I’ve had that response to my life more than once. “Okay God, I’ll keep on here. But if I snap, I snap.” I haven’t snapped yet (though I’ve been close some days, kids, so you better watch yourselves ;-)).  Some days are harder than others, especially when I’m struggling with my own personal life. I’m exhausted for reasons outside my control, I have family issues (and boy do I have issues), and I do, contrary to popular belief, have a life outside of school. Even so, who knows? Maybe you’ve been brought to this position for such a time as this?

Because 1) Destiny requires sacrifice—and I can attest to that and 2) Destiny requires action (free will) and I’ll add a 3) Destiny requires thankfulness. Because, after all, God created us for SOMETHING, he gave us free will to give us a purpose, and that is something to be thankful for even when things get tough.

I guess my point is this. We spend a lot of time debating whether it’s destiny or free will—when in reality, it’s both. Or destiny is dependent on our free will. The more we rely on our God the more He will guide us to the destiny we were born for. The more we resist, the more suffering we will endure on our way to our destiny—whatever that may be. Because, isn’t it just like a human to make things more complicated than it has to be?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained something to my students 12 or 13 times and then I tell them to get to work and then they ask me what they are supposed to be doing. I explain it once more and they say: Oh, is that all?

Yes, dears. That’s all. Don’t make it more complicated than it is. And I remind myself of the same.

Don’t make it more complicated than it is.

Because isn’t that just like a human.