• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
On Mugs

On Mugs

Everyone has their special “thing.” It could be a car, house, clothes, 26.2 sticker, mission trip T-shirt, Star Wars action figure collection, well-stocked bookshelf, workshop. . .

As you might guess, pictures are a “thing” for the Shirks.

Another “thing” for us is coffee mugs. . .beautiful, sentimental mugs. I think it’s starting the morning with a tangible reminder of someone special or a time when we felt safe and loved.

Yes, we do have some of the best coffee in the world, but it tastes different – better – in the right mug.

My friend Greg bought us a beautiful coffee mug during our Serge orientation week.

He was preparing to join us in a neighboring country in Africa, but had not yet quit his anesthesia job. 

People in Greg’s situation make one or two choices as they prepare to sacrifice everything and move overseas. 

  1. They become and remain wildly and completely generous or
  2. They cling tightly to their few remaining worldly possessions. 

Greg chose option 1, and I drink from his cup of generosity most mornings. I don’t think it could be scientifically verified, but coffee tastes better in his mug than any of the others I own. 

In regards to the two options, I am learning not to cling. It comes easy with some things, but hard with what I love the most.

Just ask to borrow my phone or bike and watch me twitch. 

I think that generosity is a habit. 

Cultivated, grown, and of course, shared. 

Greg has made generosity a habit and a lifestyle, I think that is a part of why his work in Burundi is thriving. (this post was written a year ago, now he is our teammate in Kijabe)

Tea set that has traveled from Taiwan to America, then to Kenya with us.

Our friend Erika worked at a university coffee shop called the ugly mug, where students would bring and leave their own personal mug.

I find it improbable that the mugs were actually ugly. Such a hodgepodge effort tends to yield beauty from the random. . .and if not beauty, at least humor. 

Erika understood the experience of drinking deliberately, methodically.

She was raised in Taiwan with the beautiful cups of ceremony and ritual.

Focus on the details, the silence, the preparation, the aesthetic. 

The difference between good and amazing is not flavor, it is preparation, attitude, the state of the heart. 




In community and friendship.

Our wedding mugs after 16 years and two continents!

I remember in my university days, the trepidation which accompanied an invite to a professor’s home. 

How do I dress, will I say the right thing? 

I understand the relationship in the classroom, in the office, but in the real world. . .how do we interact as equals, peers?

Now when students gather at our home, I sense the same nervousness in their words and manner as we eat dinner, reserved, polite. 

Until chai is served. 

We usually enlist the help of one or two guests to prepare it and ensure the pot has the right strength and seasoning.

The mood lightens, conversation flows. 




Maybe the chai would taste as good in an ordinary mug. . .maybe we would still laugh and build connections. 

But I think there is a difference that comes from deliberately sharing the best together. 

Mug Shelly painted for Arianna back in Furman days
From Sandra via the north Georgia mountains

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