I used to mock what I have become. I could never understand how someone could stand in a crawling line for the privilege of paying five dollars for a coffee. I never even drank coffee until I hit my mid thirties. I started because of pragmatic necessity. While working for an animation studio, I had an early morning shift. Not a morning person, I learned quickly the wonderful rejuvenating properties of this mysterious roasted bean.

I have since gone far the other way. We bought an espresso machine shortly after, and I learned to use it. I researched online. This proved to be a fascinating and dangerous adventure into the world of coffee. I learned about timing, temperature, crema and how to froth milk properly in order to achieve the desired micro-foam with that alluring sheen across the surface.

It was not about just making a latte. It became art to me. And I am not even talking about latte art, where seasoned baristas create pictures of flowers, hearts and animals by just pouring the steamed milk into the espresso a certain way. I am not there yet, not even close. No, it was the art of the process that makes a nice latte, or a nice shot of espresso.

The trick to a perfect shot of espresso depends on so many factors: freshness of bean, fineness of grind, temperature of water, pressure in the brew head, length of pull, etc. If any one of those elements is off, it will affect the taste and bitterness of the shot. One of the factors that I am more aware of is the compression of the coffee in the holder. We recently replaced that failed machine after a long season without one. Although a cheaper unit, this new one pulls a better shot than our old one. I find that the more I compress, or tamp the grinds in the holder, the better the shot of espresso. There is something in that compression that releases all the unique properties of the bean when exposed to intense hot pressure. It releases the natural chemicals, oils and solids into a unified elixir. It is only this process that is able to get the very best out of the bean; more than any other brewing method. When done properly, a shot of espresso has a natural creamy sweetness all it’s own.

Why do some of the most precious substances come out of hard-pressed, even “violent” processes? Sparkling diamonds and aromatic wine come to mind as well. As a pastor it is difficult not to notice hard “seasons” in the lives of the faith community you serve. At any given moment, it is common to watch at least one parishioner walking a difficult road. But when there are many being pressed at the same time, a silent alarm gets triggered which screams, “Hey, wake up!” Especially true when you are part of a smaller church family.

My inclination is to try and stop it somehow, and have everyone step out of the wilderness at the same time. Is it not our first response to relieve suffering? It can be so wearisome when this is not possible. In most cases it is not. And so we pray, asking God for His grace and strength. And so we serve, to offer help and assistance where we can. When one hurts, we all hurt. But that is not the end of the story thankfully. I was reminded again that pain is not without purpose. Just like a perfect shot of espresso comes from intense pressure, something beautiful can come out of similar life seasons. And it will likely not be for our own enjoyment, but for someone else who will desperately need it later on.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.   2 Corinthians 4:8-10,16-18 (NLT)