Chelsea Chambers is on her own. After a public split from her NFL superstar husband, Chelsea takes a bold step out of the limelight and behind the counter of the Higher Grounds Café, an old-fashioned coffee shop in dire need of reinvention. But when her courage, expert planning, and out-of-this-world cupcakes fail to pay the bills, this newly single mom finds herself desperate for help. Better yet, a miracle.
Then a curious stranger lands on Chelsea’s doorstep, and with him, an even more curious string of events. Soon, customers are flocking to the Higher Grounds Café, and not just for the cupcakes and cappuccino. They’ve come for the internet connection to the divine. Now the café has become the go-to place for people in search of answers to life’s biggest questions.
When a catastrophe strikes and her ex comes calling, Chelsea begins to wonder if the whole universe is conspiring against her quest to make it on her own. After a shocking discovery opens her eyes to the unseen world around her, Chelsea finds the courage to ask God a question of her own—and heaven answers in a most unexpected way.
“Max Lucado’s remarkable gift of storytelling brings the pages to life in his novel Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café. This highly relatable story of working through heartache and standing firm on your faith is intertwined with a good dose of humor and overflowing with biblical truth. This message will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.” —Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author of The Best Yes and It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way
“Step inside the Higher Grounds Café, a place brimming with whop, a heaping helping of comfort food, and a direct line to heaven. Where faith lives, all things are possible, for a family, a community, and one woman who wasn’t sure she had the courage to believe again.” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
“Now, here is the in-depth breakdown on why YOU will love it: First of all, Max Lucado is the best. Of course, angels, miracles and neighborhood cafés are also at the top of the list. Most of us love stories and according to statistics, 54% of us actually love coffee. So, there! Read Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café immediately. It’s a story by Max Lucado about an angel and the miracle performed for some folks (who drink coffee) in a cool neighborhood café. Can a book even get any better than this? I don’t think so.” —Andy Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The Noticer and The Traveler’s Gift
- Full-length inspirational novel
- USA TODAY bestseller
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
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Miracle at The Higher Grounds Café
By Max Lucado, Eric Newman, Candace Lee
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Max Lucado
All rights reserved.
With one cup of coffee, Chelsea Chambers could rule the world. And by six a.m. she'd had several. Four, to be precise. The morning demanded it. Today was the grand reopening of her family's café. The quaint two-story structure had welcomed patrons in one of San Antonio's oldest neighborhoods, the King William District, for decades. As skyscrapers erupted a mile north and east, the neighborhood quietly maintained its distinctive old-world charm. Dormer windows. Pecan trees. Shingled houses with wooden porches. The homes sat in the shadows of bank buildings and hotels thirty stories tall.
Chelsea had grown up here. Her enterprising grandmother Sophia had converted the lower level of her Victorian home to a coffee shop just in time for the 1968 world's fair. The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas was the fair's theme, and Sophia Grayson had made good on its offer, flinging her doors wide open for coffee-loving patrons from around the world. Even Lady Bird Johnson paid a visit to the café, or so Grandmother Sophia had boasted. "The First Lady sat right on this very sofa, sipping cappuccino!"
Chelsea glanced at the floral Queen Anne sofa, still sitting in the corner after all these years. Every nook and cranny held a memory. When Sophia passed, Chelsea's mother, Virginia, took ownership of the café and its legacy of hospitality. Like Sophia before her, Virginia delighted in serving her guests a soothing cup of coffee, a slice of cake, and, when the occasion called for it, a prayer of encouragement.
And now it was Chelsea's turn. The plan was simple: occupy the twelve hundred square feet on the second floor and run the shop on the lower one. At least that was her mother's expectation when she willed the café to Chelsea. But times had changed. People were busier, coffee shops trendier. The antique lamps, sunken cushions, wooden floors, and delicate tea tables of the café were a far cry from the modern aesthetic of popular barista bars, but Chelsea hoped her patrons could appreciate the suggestion of simpler times.
The grandfather clock in the corner chimed six thirty, and Chelsea stopped to take one last look around the store. A chalkboard menu—painstakingly lettered—hung above the counter, and a glass-front case displayed the pride of her pantry: secret-recipe croissants and cupcakes. The blue swinging doors behind the counter concealed a gleaming kitchen. She should know—she'd wiped it down ten times that morning. There was nothing left to do.
Chelsea turned the lock and flipped the switch on the retro neon sign. "The Higher Grounds Café is officially open for business!" she announced.
The café's moniker echoed her grandmother's aspirations to see her customers leave with their spirits raised. Chelsea appreciated the lofty ideals. She only hoped she would live up to them.
"Isn't this exciting?" she asked her lone employee.
Tim nodded his head and fiddled with his handlebar mustache. The action hardly seemed sanitary, much less celebratory. Per résumé, Tim was the perfect employee. A recent graduate from the University of Texas, he had learned to pull a shot of espresso during a semester abroad in Rome. He spoke Italian and Spanish and claimed to be a morning person. Chelsea shuddered at the thought of what he might look like by noon.
"This is a historic moment!" she said, begging for a little enthusiasm.
Still nothing. Nothing but the pained expression Chelsea had come to know as Tim's face. Never mind. She was not about to let the faux lumberjack put a damper on her day.
Twelve-year-old Hancock bounded down the stairs wearing an oversized Dallas Cowboys jersey with Chambers emblazoned on the back. He surveyed the café. "What time do you open?"
"We are open," Chelsea said.
"So ... where are all the people?" Hancock had a knack for making Chelsea feel self-conscious.
"They'll come," she said. "Where's your sister?"
Emily burst into the café just then, a six-year-old version of her mother. Except where Chelsea liked to blend in, Emily sparkled. Her glittery Mary Janes added to the effect. "Hancock helped me pick out my outfit," she boasted.
Chelsea took in her daughter's ensemble of sequins and stripes, and smiled. Yesterday's Chelsea would have made both children change before leaving the house. But today's Chelsea served her kids chocolate chip muffins and walked them to the bus stop, leaving a trail of glitter and crumbs.
"I hope you can manage the morning rush without me," Chelsea called to Tim.
Tim gave his boss a thumbs-up.
As the trio hurried down the front sidewalk, they felt the bite of cold air. The January sky was impossibly blue, but the temperature was surprisingly chilly.
"Let's zip up your jacket." Chelsea knelt to help Emily, venturing one more glance at the café front. Dormer windows protruded from the black-shingled roof. Vines crawled up a trellis on the side of the porch, where two worn wooden rockers sat side by side. A sidewalk bisected the neatly trimmed front lawn. Apart from the sign that hung from the porch, this could be someone's home.
Hard to believe it's my home again. So many memories.
But with each passing block of pristine Victorian mansions and refurbished Mission-style homes, the nostalgia began to wear thin. Everything Chelsea saw triggered a fresh idea, and by the time they reached the bus stop, her mental to-do list had grown:
buy new rockers for the porch
wash the windows
plant a garden
learn how to plant a garden
"You don't have to wait with us, you know," Hancock said as the yellow bus rounded the corner. "We've been doing this for two months now."
Chelsea looked at him, and for a moment saw his father in his face. High cheekbones and wide eyes bluer than a Texas sky, blond hair and small nose. As long as he doesn't have his wild side, she said to herself. "You're right. You two can walk back to the house on your own after school, okay?"
She turned her attention to Emily, who was bouncing with excitement. "Do you have your lunch box?"
"Si, madre," Emily said, giving her backpack a pat. Their new school had a Spanish immersion program, and Emily delighted in practicing her new words.
Chelsea gave her a big squeeze and then went to hug her son, but the look of dread in his eyes stopped her. She recalled a similar moment at the bus stop with her own mother.
"Hancock, I know we've been through a lot lately. Thank you for trying to make it work."
As the bus pulled away, Chelsea inhaled deeply. This was a new thing for her. She could remember almost anything, but she had a bad habit of forgetting to breathe.
She rushed back to the café, arriving just in time for her first customer. Chelsea had met Bo Thompson only once, but at seventy years old and well over six feet tall, he was memorable. The gentlest of giants. Bo had been her mother's most faithful customer—one of the few remaining regulars of the Higher Grounds Café. "Best coffee in town," he insisted. It didn't hurt that he lived just across the street.
At the sight of Chelsea, Bo removed his baseball hat, revealing a shiny bald head. When they shook hands, his meaty palms swallowed Chelsea's.
"Big day for the neighborhood," his deep voice announced.
"Indeed it is." She smiled.
"Hope you don't mind the jersey, but my team won yesterday." He unzipped his jacket just enough to reveal the green and gold of the Green Bay Packers.
"You won't get any pushback from me," Chelsea said. "I don't really follow sports these days. Now if I recall correctly, you go for a small cappuccino with extra foam?"
"I'm impressed," Bo said with a grin that filled his whole face.
Chelsea could feel Tim's critical eye as she worked. She might not have trained in Italy, but she knew how to make a cappuccino. Her mother had taught her to steam a pillow of foam so thick you could sleep on it. But as soon as that thought crossed her mind, the espresso machine began to sputter. Then it stopped.
Chelsea fiddled with the steam valve. "I don't ... it's not ..."
Tim plodded to Chelsea's aid. Out of the corner of her eye she caught Bo stealing a glance at his watch.
"How about a black coffee after all?" he said with a wink.
"One black coffee. On the house," Chelsea insisted with the promise of a cappuccino by morning.
"I'll miss seeing your mom every day, but it's good to see the shop open again," Bo said as Chelsea served him his drink. "Of course, it'd be even sweeter if you still had your mother's famous pumpkin cream cheese muffins."
Chelsea smiled. She was pleased to know the recipes she'd created for her mother were a hit. "Here. My gift to you." She bagged a freshly baked pumpkin muffin and handed it to Bo.
He found a dozen different ways to say thank you, then doubled back to tell Chelsea she had made his morning.
"You're not gonna make much money, giving stuff away," Tim said.
"Thanks for the tip, Tim," Chelsea said.
Chelsea could afford to sponsor as many free muffins as she liked. She had built up a treasury of mouth-watering recipes, and her sister, Sara, had been begging her to open up shop for years. But for Chelsea, the Higher Grounds Café wasn't really a business venture. It was a safe haven.
Ding! Ding! "Surprise!"
The slow morning had drifted into an even slower afternoon, and Chelsea lit up when she turned to see her sister standing in the doorway, holding a sunny bouquet of flowers.
"My house is spotless, and Tony has the twins for a few hours. So I'm here for your grand reopening."
There was an air of springtime about Sara. Everything about her radiated happiness. Her hair was long, straight, and golden as a sunrise. Her brown eyes sparkled and turned into half-moons when she laughed. Her smile lifted more on the right than the left because of the scar that stretched like a piano string from the corner of her mouth to her jaw.
"I thought you were showing your house today!" Chelsea said, succumbing to Sara's bear hug.
"Potential buyers cancelled. Again."
"Oh no! Well, when you do find a house, my offer still stands," Chelsea said. "I'm making the down payment. Maybe we'll end up neighbors after all!"
No one would ever peg the two as sisters. Sara was bubbly, Chelsea bookish. Sara was tall and blond; Chelsea, medium height and dark-haired like their mother. Sara had always had her pick of boyfriends. Chelsea, not so much. Still, they were best friends. Sara looked out for Chelsea. Chelsea looked up to Sara. For over a decade, the two had dreamed of living in the same city again.
"I still can't believe you're back in town!"
"Not exactly the way we wanted it to happen," Chelsea said.
"But you're here. And that's what matters, right?"
Chelsea marveled at her sister's optimism. More than once she'd wondered if Sara had been born with a double dose.
"You're right. Opening day is great. Great!" Chelsea tried mirroring Sara's rosy perspective. "Just getting the hang of things. It's fun being anonymous for a change, though a few more customers would be nice. 'Slow' doesn't do it justice."
Ding! Ding! The shopkeeper's bell announced an arrival. "You must be good luck!" Chelsea said.
Tim had been fiddling with the espresso machine since Chelsea's epic fail in front of Bo. Now he turned a nob, releasing a hiss of piping hot steam from the espresso machine. "And we're back," he said with satisfaction.
And not a moment too soon. A surprising rush of customers had filled the shop. Chelsea put on her warmest smile. "Welcome to Higher Grounds. What can I get y'all?"
"We heard you had some autographed football stuff from the Dallas Cowboys," said the group's ringleader. His towering size and lettered jacket pegged him as a high school football star.
"I wouldn't know anything about that," Chelsea said. "But our customers say we have the best coffee in town."
"Customers?" Tim mumbled behind Chelsea's back. She knew it was a stretch.
"But you're her, right?" asked a prom queen with a Café Cosmos coffee tumbler. "The wife of that football guy."
Chelsea struggled for words. "I am ..."
Sara swooped in for the rescue. "She's the owner of this café."
"So is Sawyer Chambers your husband or not?"
A simple yes or no might do the trick. But to Chelsea it was more complex. More layered. There were nuance and history to consider. Lots of history.
"Some kid in my little brother's class said so." The quarterback turned for confirmation to a middle school version of himself. "Right?"
Ding! Ding! Hancock and Emily entered the café.
"Yeah! He was telling people at school." The middle schooler outed Hancock, who stopped dead in his tracks.
Hancock knew he was in trouble but did his best to play it cool in front of the older students. "Hey, man ... I, uh, better go start on my homework," he said to his classmate. "See ya tomorrow."
Chelsea eyed her son as he made his escape. "I was just trying to get you some customers," he mumbled on the way up the stairs.
Emily had spotted her Aunt Sara and run to her for a hug.
A boy with a smartphone held it up for all to see. "That's her all right. Look. Mrs. Sawyer Chambers."
Mrs. Chambers. There it was, plain and simple. Practically Amish.
"You're kinda famous," the boy said.
If a picture could tell a thousand words, then a Google image search could tell ten thousand. Swipe, swipe, swipe. Chelsea's life flashed before her eyes—and everyone else's, for that matter. The room was getting smaller, the smartphone screen bigger. Until finally ...
"Who's that?" said the young magician who had turned his smartphone into an IMAX screen. The image stretched as far as the east is from the west: Sawyer Chambers in the arms of another woman. A redheaded beauty. A triple threat—younger, thinner, and prettier.
The leader of the pack looked at the picture and then at the woman behind the counter and stated the obvious. "That's not you."
"OMG," said the prom queen with a look of pity.
All eyes shifted to Chelsea. "Can I interest y'all in a cupcake?" she managed through gritted teeth.
The prom queen broke the silence. "I'll take one," she said, motioning for her friends to flee the awkward scene. "To go."
As the café emptied, Chelsea melted into the counter, defeated. "Life was so much simpler before the Internet," she moaned.
"Don't you waste another minute worrying about the Internet," Sara said, wrapping her in a hug.
"You're right," Chelsea said, pulling herself together. "I'm sure it'll never take off."CHAPTER 2
Samuel watched from a distance. From heaven's view, things were simpler. Clearer. Unobstructed by the clamor of everyday life. He peered through the stars, assessing the once familiar landscape.
What he saw stirred concern. He remembered his first assignment here. The region had a sparkle to it, a glow. Now a pall had settled on the city. Entire neighborhoods were hidden by shadows.
But still there were beacons of light. Like spires alit with gold, they punctured the darkness, streaking past Samuel and into the heavens.
It's dusk, Samuel thought, but not night. Not yet.
He took note of an embedded glow and set his eyes on the source. The corner of the Higher Grounds Café. This place had been prayed for and prayed over.
The Father won't relinquish this territory easily, not without a fight. And I love a good fight!
Prayers move God. And God moves angels. So Samuel was being sent. Other angels had more experience. Other angels had more strength. But no angel in heaven could match Samuel's resolve. This was his first solo mission.
"Sammy," he said to himself, "time to fly."
He grasped the hilt of his fiery saber and lifted his small frame to its full height. He tightened his muscles, squinted his eyes, leaned forward, and speared earthward. The wind rushed his hair straight back. As he broke through the clouds, he spotted the figure of Chelsea sitting on her porch and wondered what role she was going to play in this unfolding saga. He was, after all, her guardian angel.
Excerpted from Miracle at The Higher Grounds Café by Max Lucado, Eric Newman, Candace Lee. Copyright © 2015 Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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