As human beings we often think about our legacies too late. We live our lives with an “I’ll get to that later” mentality until we reach the end. Or we reach a climax, and suddenly the story we’re leaving behind becomes the most important thing. For Christians, the legacy we leave and the story we have written along the way are important considerations we should be making. Who’s being glorified — God or ourselves?
Cynthia Shea Hart, owner of Cyn Shea’s, a restaurant and catering business in downtown Huntsville, Alabama, has thought a lot about her legacy lately. And the conclusion she has come to is that she wants it to be a legacy of hope. Cynthia’s story is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tale of childhood devastation and adult disarray. She has fought tooth and nail to get where she is today, and she’s got the battle scars to prove it. Her story is one of true redemption. She smiles with tears in her eyes as she recounts the numerous ways that Jesus has carried her through the storms only to bring her out better and closer to Him on the other side.
Leaving Her Comforts
After opening and paying off a successful restaurant in Hampton Cove’s Interior Market Place, Cynthia was content with her spot in life. She was a new grandmother, a successful business owner and a recent missionary. So God would never shake her from that spot of comfort… right?
Well, of course He did. While on a mission trip to Brazil in 2005, the Lord gently and repeatedly spoke to Cynthia with the message, “I am sovereign.” As soon as she returned to the States, Cynthia headed up to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a women’s retreat. She was hungry to hear from the Lord, hungry for His presence. And He nudged her the entire weekend to visit a vendor table set up outside of the conference.
She ignored the nudging until the last day of the conference, when she could no longer sit still for the Lord’s gentle leading. She walked out to an empty vendor area, watching as all the vendors moved in and out of the building with their packed up boxes and tables. But there was still one table — THE table — on which lay menus for Panera Bread. Cynthia visited the restaurant and realized that the Lord was clearly calling her to open a bakery. “I was thinking, Lord, I don’t know anything about bread! And He said, ‘Precisely.’”
He was calling her to do what He calls so many of us to do: step away from the safe little box of comfort we’ve built and walk the unpredictable road of obedience with Him. “The Lord had given me a vision,” Cynthia remembers. “Within two weeks of that conference, the story came together. There was a space on Church Street that had been offered to me, and I would sit out in the parking lot for hours praying over it. I still had to convince my husband to give up our successful, debt-free restaurant and start all over again, but the Lord wouldn’t let go of me on this one.”
An opportunity to debut the new Shea’s Express concept came shortly thereafter at a local fundraiser, which featured a vendor table decoration contest. Though Cynthia’s table came in second place, she had the opportunity to share her exciting news with nearly 500 guests. Shea’s Express was coming to downtown Huntsville in a few short months!
She took the step of faith. She reached out into the unknown. She dove headfirst into debt, securing a loan just weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. “The cost of the materials nearly doubled before we ever even got started. We were already behind the gun. We just moved forward, trusting the Lord. I will never forget realizing how far in debt we were before the doors even opened.”
A bank merger followed, and the new bank filed a lawsuit, but Cynthia stood firm. “In the end, I don’t know how the Spirit moved, but I know that the Spirit spoke through me to many people as I stood passionately by the vision the Lord had given me.”
“The first couple years of opening were brutal. I was scared out of my mind to unlock that door each day. We knew we were going the wrong way financially, but we knew in prayer that these were the days that the Lord had made, too.” So how did she overcome? She haggled with the banks to negotiate a loan she was set on paying off no matter what; then she put her head down and worked hundreds of hours each month for the next seven years.
Blessings Pour In
Fast forward to October of 2012. With tears in her eyes and a weary heart full of gratitude, Cynthia signed her last check to pay the bank loan back in full. “That’s not what it was about,” Cynthia sighs. “It was just the belief all along that He called us to be in this place and walk this walk. And I just had to take faith that He was sharing the story along the way. Planting roots and building the means for His glory.”
As she thinks about the building she has poured herself into, she says, “Our space is about comfort. He wanted the space specifically for Bible study, prayer groups and discussion groups. God was super clear about that. I didn’t know what that looked like. I just knew that for it to take place, it had to be comfortable and attract all walks of life. It couldn’t just be for the Christian… It’s a place to share boldness that helps people to say we are different.”
Clinging To Christ
So what does the near future hold for Cyn Shea? Death. Rebirth. Hope.
“I am praying for the death of an old Cynthia, and the birth of a new one. I want to live each day like it’s my last. I don’t want to be a workaholic, or remembered by my grandkids as the ‘Cyn Cyn’ who worked too much. It boils down to hope. He gives you your story, and they are all different; but as long as He receives all of the glory, you’re doing it right. It’s so brief on this side of heaven — we are going to laugh at each other when we get to the other side.”
Cynthia Shea Hart is a force of nature. You only have to talk to her for a few minutes to realize that she lives life on the tightrope, clinging to the hand of God the whole way. Her business is a haven to Christians and non-Christians alike, and it speaks loud and clear the message she so desperately wants to leave as a legacy. “Hope is a vision. This vision is not always 20/20, but hope offers a path. Christ offers a path. That path promises us each a better day. Without hope I have no vision. Without Christ, I have no future.”