It was last on my list.
I didn’t want to go to Chinatown.
But, the wife of Captain Sterling, Anne Marie, was visiting San Francisco for the weekend. She emailed to ask if I could be her tour guide one morning.
I met Anne Marie and her husband earlier this summer when I went to Nashville for the first time to lead a three-day Spiritual Whitespace Retreat for the Military — the Warrior Transition Battalion, serving the “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division.
They introduced me to cheesy grits and inducted me into the downtown Nashville scene by taking me to the coolest honky-tonk bar decorated with Christmas lights, where I tasted my first sip of southern whiskey mixed in Tennessee Iced Tea.
I emailed her a list of my favorite spots to enjoy spiritual whitespace in the city. Was she interested in a hike among the Eucalyptus trees in The Presidio, a trail with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, tasting the most amazing breads or tarte au citron at Tartine, or maybe a sidewalk lunch at a kitschy North Beach cafe?
I was about to hit send, when something inside me felt prompted to add one more entry to the list.
It’s where I was born after all.
I put it last on the list.
Because I didn’t want to go there.
I hadn’t gone to Chinatown since I got married eleven years ago. I wanted to leave the past behind me.
Well, four years ago, before I began to write the book proposal for Finding Spiritual Whitespace, I did return. I wanted to make peace with the past. I was about to pick up my pen, so I needed to reconnect with the little girl who wanted to write.
I wanted to find my voice. So I went back to Chinatown a couple weekends, to find what I lost somewhere along the way. I found what needed to back then.
But, its streets are still loaded with memories, like a minefield of stories I am not eager to revisit.
So, I quickly added “Dim Sum lunch in Chinatown” to the list — without any description, unlike the other ones on the top of the list.
Anne Marie responded right away.
I have always been intimidated by dim sum, she wrote back. If you’re willing to serve as guide, I would love to experience that.
Sometimes, the parts of us we often shy away from are the parts of us that can become a guide to others.
We can be a light through the way we’ve journeyed.
Not because you and I have reached any destination.
Not because we have somehow attained or perfected the journey.
Simply because we can be a sojourner.
We are sojourners who can experience new discoveries together.
Life is a lot less lonely when we can share the things that are newly forming.
When we are unsure, yet hopeful, we invite curiosity into our friendships.
There is a lot more space to be real and spontaneous when we don’t have things figured out.
We make room for God to invite us into experiences that are unplanned and much more personal.
There is room for spiritual whitespace.
I think the experiences that have left us most vulnerable and tender offer us points of real connection with each other.
I didn’t know what to expect that morning we parked in the garage in Chinatown.
I had mapped our way to my favorite Chinese bakery and was going into my auto-pilot tour guide mode, pointing out things here and there, when suddenly Anne Marie paused in the doorway of a storefront.
She was peeking into a room, whose walls were lined with rows upon rows of glass canisters labeled with Chinese characters and their English translations — for tea leaves.
It was a tea tasting room.
And as she walked in to look, I followed her, only as an observer.
The woman behind the counter gestured us to sit down. Would we like a tea tasting session?
Yes! Anne Marie answered.
So, I sat down.
She asked us what tea would we like to taste and I found myself answering “bo lei” (treasure petal) tea.
Pu-erh is a fermented black tea from China’s Yunnan province.
It is the tea I first drank as a little girl, sitting next to my mother for meals, watching its tea leaves float like a snow globe to the bottom of a glass each time I took a sip, with my teeth straining it from swimming into my mouth.
As the woman behind the counter prepared the tea, she pinched some tea leaves my tea cup, poured near boiling water in, swishing the leaves for a few shakes.
Then to my shock, she turned the tea cup upside down, as I watched my cup of tea thrown away.
She was washing the tea leaves.
I had forgotten.
The first brewing of tea is throw-away tea.
In the Chinese brewing style, the tea is rinsed before steeping it to drink it.
The tea is rinsed to awaken the tea.
Washing the tea with hot water softens and opens the leaves to release aroma and flavors that gives it personality, body and deep, rich tones and flavor.
Dust gathers as the tea is dried on the floor, exposed to the elements, and washing the tea gives it a clean and smooth texture, lifting away the bitterness and yields the sweetness of tea.
It’s the second brew that is worth savoring.
As I put the cup to my lips that morning, the sweet fragrance of my childhood tea broke open an invisible dam, and an ocean of happiness mixed with sorrow burst through my heart.
As the liquid so hot, it felt spicy on my tongue, filled my palate, I began to cry.
I was tasting the bitterness and the innocence of my childhood — no longer alone. I was with a friend.
An unexpected relief crashed inside me, like a shipwrecked survivor washing onto the shore of some unknown island. My childhood self surfacing, like a buoy from deep within. And my friend Anne Marie was sitting next to me smiling, inhaling tea with a cup in her hand.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” she smiles back.
“Yes…” I laughed, cackling like a woman who just remembered her name. “It’s so good,” I said as tears washed out from my yes. “…I love this tea.”
And I began to cry fresh tears again.
There are stories hidden inside of you and me that have been bitter and have maybe even grown dry and scorched under the unforgiving heat and swelter over the years.
There may be a part of you, young like a child, smoky with sweetness and a cured with a sorrow that you find difficult to reawaken.
Let go of your plans to go on in auto-pilot mode.
Allow someone else to join you on your journey.
Take in a new experience.
Be someone’s guide by allowing a part of you that’s been quiet to emerge.
Follow and allow yourself to be guided. Invited.
Remember the first time we’ve lived through our stories might have been like that first brewing of tea.
It’s just the first wash.
We must live our lives for the second brew.
Tears are a soul’s journey to reawaken.
To come alive to God’s touch.
And and reconnect us to who we are.
And to other in an honest way.
So, our hearts and our stories can steep — with God’s love and tenderness — in God’s time — to open, soften and be real.
The second brew is worth savoring.
Just as tea is rinsed to awaken its flavors, make room to feed your soul.
Make room for you.
Even if you’ve put yourself last on the list, you are first on God’s heart.
It’s never too late — to live the childhood God meant us to live.
“But thank God, who is always leading us through Christ…
He releases the fragrance of the knowledge of him
everywhere through us.
For we are the fragrance of Christ..”
2 Corinthians 2:14,15
What’s been last on your list — that’s worth savoring new?
Is God prompting you to make room to awaken a new journey?
Pull up a chair. Click to comment. There’s no other place I’d rather be right now, but sharing this space with you.
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“Whitespace is soul grace. Bonnie Gray ushers weary women into the real possibility.”–Ann Voskamp, New York Times bestselling author of One Thousand Gifts
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I just love this. Thank you Bonnie! It’s such a joy to read your posts and watch your journey.
it makes all the difference to find kindreds to share the journey with through words. thnx for being here, jeanne…
Bonnie your words feed my soul and bring me hope always.
Thank you for sharing yourself with us!
i’m touched the words speak to you. have a soul-sweet day, Ann!
WOW, Bonnie…I’m so glad you got through this experience better than before with the help of the LORD. I can relate. 2Cor 2:14 is one of my favorites, and things like you describe do get better with practice, sometimes involving many second times around, as the LORD sweetens our cups which run over and flow onto others in Christ Jesus’ Name. Thank God we know where our help comes from in Christ, the Source of our Strength. ♥♥♥
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~ Romans 15:13
i love the visual of a cup overflowing… that just speaks to me so deeply, Lisa… i long for that on this journey. thank you.
O how beautiful and so tender.. Thank you. I’m a tea lovet is that tea availae in or near Sarasota Fl?
i’m sure you’ll find a tea store online to have it delivered… but i’m not familiar with the Sarasota FL area. (waving high across the coast from one tea lover to another…)
Yeah, our pastor has been telling us we are not either “glass half empty or glass half full people” as the world preaches, but rather that our cups runneth over all the time in Christ ala Psalm 23. Blessings in Christ to you and yours.
Thank you for such a beautifully written story which has opened up for me permission to heal my childhood. Thank you Bonnie
yes… how beautiful. permission for the little girl in you… 🙂 thank you for sharing, Karen.
As always, your heartfelt words touch me deep within giving me courage for my own journey. So glad God brought you into my life and so many others.
thank you for your heartfelt words, Renee. it’s so nice to be here together on the journey. keep being courageously you.
I love the way your stories inspire hearts to sore. They invite every heart to be awaken, and free to fly into places they have not yet reached. We are always going higher, and He is faithful in guiding us in the journey. Thank you for your sweet and gentle words that breath beauty into every situation.
The Lord is leading me to awaken me on a journey of discovering the freedom of living in the riches of His love. Not be my own works, and not by strength rather simply through obedience, an open heart and deep love that flows from intimacy. My heart yearns to sit at His feet and listen as He dusts away the fear of being seen, into freedom and the beauty of being known.
You are a blessing, and beautiful daughter to the King 🙂
what a poetic soul you are, Marysa! you are a blessing, a beautiful daughter of the One who calls you His… thank you so much for your words.
Thank you for your words. Right now, God is prompting me to open my heart to new relationships– which he has already slowly started! Your words about the whole auto-pilot thing and having already been washed once, this has been me. Now I’m just asking God, what next and when is it going to happen and how? Just to manifest Himself deeply with the promises He has shown me.
oh.. that sounds soul awakening… new relationships being born, slowly like a seed at spring… keep being courageously you. just one moment at a time. i wish we could see past the next step, tho’, huh? 🙂
Dear Bonnie, Tears roll my cheeks of this story. I love teas, byt never had it like this. God redeems your story and filled it with the fragrance of tea leaves here.
Tears, wishing it felt the same for me. I do see God in the midst of it though. The journey of whitespace has been hard the last couple of weeks, but knowing I have arms of Savior to fall into, keeps me going to Him.
Thaank you for sharing your journey with us. Love you friend. (Finally figured out how to acess woth the tabet.)
you’re a fragrance steeping in His love … shared with those around you, Katie… xo
Thank you for this, Bonnie. I felt my tears well up as I thought about the pain of my own childhood and the walls that I’ve constructed to never have to go back to that place.
beautiful.. your soul speaks… tears washing, breaking through.. have a beautiful day, Mary…
I haven’t been commenting lately, but I have been reading…savoring…your words. I’m in that place like you were, the one where my story just seems too hard to tell. I’ve started writing it, but it keeps getting pushed to the end of my list. Thank you for your spirit of encouragement–hopefully soon I’ll be able to let go and tell my story. Not, like you said, because I have everything all figured out, but because maybe I’ll be able to help someone else along the journey that seems so dark and lonely.
What a picture of redemption, this washing that allows us to be the one we were always meant to be – a fragrant image of Him. I am so thankful for all the ways He continues to redeem those childhood memories, and in the process bringing freedom. I thank Him for you, Bonnie. Steady on in the joy of His goodness! <3
Such a beautiful tea analogy, Bonnie. Thank you for breathing healing peace to my soul today. I thank God that He gave you the courage to see your present blessing of a friend so that the painful past did not consume you. I wish you had never experienced that past pain, and yet it is because of it that you can comfort us today. I thank God for your healing so that it may spill over onto us who struggle.
Hi Bonnie. Boy…can I relate! Many of my wounds, those I thought were long healed, have come up for a second brew as I sit with clients in my role as a psychotherapist. God continues the healing. One neat experience I had of revisiting my childhood and receiving healing was a visit from a cousin who I had not seen in 50 years. As a grown up (he is now in his 70’s), he looked, acted, and sounded like a combination of my Uncle Bill, his father, and my grandmother, his aunt. These two icons from my own childhood died before I reached my late twenties. Sitting with him for a week was like revisiting the best of my childhood, but I also felt the pain. Only this time, there was also a cleansing. I was born in Oakland, by the way. I have visited Chinatown many, many times since childhood. But I grew up in Inglewood, Calif. and I know how triggering it would be for me to go back. Maybe I should think about it…and taking a friend.
Dear Bonnie, I feel as though I have sipped a healing tea. You words comfort me and make me realize that I am never alone with those feelings of heartache. I am always amazed by His wondrous ways of placing people right in my path at exactly the right moment. Warm words and warm tea to soothe a wounded soul. Love & Prayers.
Dear Bonnie, Fresh out of college and newlywed we moved to the Bay Area. My memories of Chinatown are of a magical exotic place and remain still. I like the shop with the huge paint brushes and from back in the day, Sam Wo’s, top floor with the screaming waiter & photos of famous celebs. Wish I had been tea tasting with you! Thank you for your posts. Your writing really touches me.
Oh, Bonnie. I do not know for sure what exactly The Spirit is wanting to show me has been washed from me in the first brew, but my heart leaps and my eyes water to imagine the smoothness and joy of the second brew he has in store for my journey. Once again I am so very blessed by your words.
Thank you for your guidance, Bonnie. I felt as though I were there with you when reading your words. I’ve purchased a copy of White Space via Amazon, but would prefer a signed copy. I let your words steep and they come out as the Second Brew.
Anne Marie is our Daughter… Thank you for being her guide.
wow, Peter! What a blessed guy you are. Anne Marie is a gem. She’s shared a story about how as her daddy, you’ve given her a sense of adventure when she was a little girl… what a blessed girl she is! so wonderful to have you share this moment together. i can’t wait to meet with you between the pages of the book. may they bring a second brew to your heart. thank you for purchasing a copy and sharing the journey of faith together.
Hello again Bonnie,
I cry again, reading your words. I feel as scared as you, revisiting my past. But, I have only just left it behind. So many mixed feelings. But I definitely want to re-brew some of my childhood, I did not have much of the “child” part. It stings to look at all the photographs from my childhood and early adulthood I have to organize and properly store away soon. My kids love to see mommy at their age, but I know the inner pain behind my smiles. This is our first unrushed Christmas, and I want to savor what it feels like to actually celebrate Christmas the way I always dreamed. I hope it wont be disappointing, I am trying to keep my expectations low, and leave it more open and calm, but that is a hard thing for me to do. But Jesus is never a disappointment, and I want it to be just ALL about Him this time. I know He will be there, healing and giving us new vision and a time of refreshing. Just like he has been for all our Holidays this year. I want to give back to Him this year, all of myself.
I have been trying to push myself to have more unscheduled time, gaps, spontaneity, and fun. To actually be fun, silly, calm, creative, and happy. To laugh. To not always be the serious one. To feel the freedom that I have been given through Jesus Christ and His grace. To maybe redeem some of the “child” parts of childhood. To re-awaken lost creativity, inspiration, learning, joy… Re-brewing some of the pieces are starting to sound not so scary, when I look at it that way. It removes the pressure. I appreciate you Bonnie, and I always look forward to your next blog in my inbox.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armor, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
be thou mine inheritance now and always;
be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.
High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won;
great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
Wow Bonnie – beautiful metaphor for a story that we can all relate to.
Thank God that he allows us to be awoken, washed and then steeped for aroma and flavour!
Hi Kelly.. i’m soul happy this story spoke to you.. and we can share the journey. i hope your monday is restful and tucked with some beautiful moments.. #kindreds
My husband and I recently retired. Your inspiring words have affirmed that it’s not time yet for the rocking chairs! I can be a light to our children and others, through the way I’ve journeyed. I can press on, even though I haven’t reached the destination of perfection. Just being a sojourner is enough. I know that’s true because of the positive influence of sojourners who have come alongside me over the years. I just needed reminding! Thank you, Bonnie!
Firstly, thanks for your honesty and openness. Secondly, thanks for sharing this with us!
I just lost my Mum a few days ago so I am in a path of rediscovering my childhood and memories and you’ve helped me understand it’s okay to go back and get a new perspective in things!
Keep writing please – the world needs these words
Tracey! i’m so happy you’re here now… we can journey together… I’m so sorry you have to bear the hurt of grief right now.. I’m so sorry for your loss… may you feel God’s tender, intimate real hand as you both brew a second brew… xo
Bonjour de France, Bonnie!
I, too, remember how surprised I was the first time one of my Chinese friends made tea for me and threw away the first batch. But I never realized the rich symbolism of “savoring the second brew.” So thank you for this lovely post.
I’m writing from a tiny studio apartment in Grenoble, France. I arrived here four days ago from Ohio to work for several months as an intern at a cultural association for students, language learners and Christ seekers. For years, I’ve dreamed of coming to France to use my degree in French and translation to serve Jesus and love people. It seemed so glamorous, devoted and “out there.” I could hardly believe it when the dream came true. I still keep having to pinch myself!
About three months before leaving Ohio to come here, a friend invited me to spend a week as a guest in an Anabaptist community known as the Bruderhof in Farmington, Pennsylvania. In this beautiful, peaceful oasis of song, family life, rest, contemplation, and long walks through flourishing summer woods, God got to me. Whitespace IS powerful–it allows His voice to rise up over the surging and boiling in your heart, or to break through the hard crust which may have formed to hide the turmoil within. What rose up and burst out of my heart, after five days of rest and silence in Farmington, was a deep, aching, inexplicable pain and longing for completion. I couldn’t say why I felt incomplete or why I was in pain; I just knew that I suddenly had to run away from everyone and everything to be alone in the forest, where the pain literally knocked me off my feet and to the ground to cry for hours. I hadn’t experienced such a powerful emotion since my childhood.
Background: after several years of depression in junior high and early high school, and after getting tangled up in an unbreakable eating disorder, I had slowly come to a place of hope and joy in Jesus. But I was numb and scarred in many ways, more ways than I knew. The stress of preparing for France had caused all my old wounds and fears to flare up again, but I thought that was about as healed as I would ever get, that I would slowly and imperceptibly become healed and freed from my disorder over time.
But right there in the moist dirt of PA, USA, thousands of miles from Europe and “doing something real for God,” He touched my heart and made me come alive again. I remembered my childhood, before the anxiety and despair and emptiness of addiction had smeared their dirty sponge over my soul which had been so clean and pure by comparison. And I wanted to go back towards it. But instead, He led me forward… to a place where my soul responds nimbly and enthusiastically to Him, instead of feeling aged and crippled by spiritual arthritis. With every day that goes by, I feel like I love Him more and more with a love that, yes, is gloriously CHILDISH! Tears flow easily. My heart beats wildly. I can’t stop smiling, for no “good” reason. This is life as I’ve always longed to live it, the return of adventure and bubbling excitement. And, yes, I am HEALED of my eating disorder, and that through NO effort of my own weak, flawed self-discipline!
Thanks for listening to my story. I’ve enjoyed sipping from your second brew here on thebonniegray.com. You’ve helped me give credence to the urgings I so often feel to “get more done by sitting still” and protect my heart, soul and mind from life’s noise so I can hear God better.
Gwen — bonjour, mon amie! Je parle an peu de francais… tu es douce. votre histoire est belle… forgive me if that’s not all right.. but what an amazing journey and story you’ve lived. thank you for taking the time to share our soulful journey. may God continue to bless you as you uncover heart with Him~
Thanks for your posts Bonnie. Your book has helped me heal a lot of my past hurts. I am taking back a lot of the things I had lost. I am finding new places of rest with Jesus. God bless.
Sweet Jacqueline, thank you for sharing this with me. i treasure it with all my heart. and it encourages me to keep writing. #kindreds can’t wit for the new year, in our book club, so we can heal and find newness together. i’d love to hear more about those things you are finding… keep being courageous and beautiful as you always have been.