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Saturday, February 27, 2016

still brewing.


My life is like a cup of coffee.

Have you ever thought about the process of coffee being made? There are the beans, the grounds, the hot water, the filter. Yes, these all make a cup of coffee. But there is so much more to a cup of coffee than just the bare minimum, especially a good cup.

Before I get to my point, let me give you a glimpse into the beauty of coffee. 

The beans (which are actually the seeds of the coffee tree cherry), for example, can make the biggest difference. A beans flavor changes from each place it comes from. If the soil is water saturated, then the fruit's concentration will have a high water content and dilute the flavor of the bean. This means the flavor is less concentrated with not as high viscosity.  On the other hand, well arrogated soil makes the beans contain less water, making the flavor more poignant and high viscosity. (If you're not quite sure what viscosity is, just think of the difference in liquid thickness between milk and water. Milk contains a higher viscosity than water, just like some coffees are more full bodied than others. Does that make sense?). The altitude also changes the beans flavor. Higher altitudes and cooler temperatures lengthen the growing time of the plant and allow the beans to develop more complex and rich flavors, whereas lower altitudes and warmer temperatures allow more delicate and subtle flavors. More than just altitude and water content though, the bean can vary depending on the individual plant itself, the amount of rain or sunshine patterns in which it grows, and even the chemistry of the soil.

A myriad of factors effect just the make up of the bean, and the grower himself has no control over every single one of these elements.

The growing is only a small aspect in the art of coffee. Each region where it's grown  (North America, Central America, Africa and Asia) constitutes a different process from how the beans are harvested, processed, dried, milled and exported. Once the beans are exported, the distributors then taste and test the milled green beans and distinguish which flavor they want. The beans are then sent to the roasters, and this makes an even larger difference. Here they are transferred from their green state to different shades of brown, depending on their roast; light, medium and dark. When they are heated and constantly churned in the roaster to prevent burning, they excrete a fragrant oil called caffeol. This process brings out the true flavor of coffee and gives coffee it's distinctive and intoxicating aroma.

Even after this whole process, we still have just the bean. These beans are packaged and transferred to the coffee shops (or manufacturers) where they are then ground and brewed for the customer. But it's not so simple. Depending on what type of coffee you want to make, the grind should either be very coarse or very fine. Ideally, the water should be just the right temperature so as not to scald the grounds. This isn't including espresso and latte formation... this is just coffee in its percolated state.

Now...all of that. Just for a cup of coffee.
That's a lot of history flowing in that delicious liquid mass before you.

And this is why my life is like a cup of coffee.

There are so many factors that contribute to my makeup. Just like a plant, there are genetic factors that helped grow me before I was even aware of myself. While I can eat healthy, live an active lifestyle and take care of my mind and body, there are many factors I don't and won't have control over. Things like bad weather (injury and physical ailment), drought (depression and oppression), improper care (heart break and scarring) - they are things that I cannot control. But regardless of my inability to control them, I will still keep growing and I will still produce fruit, whether it's bountiful or minimal. I will produce something.

I cannot control my environment. High altitude or low altitude - being born into a caring family or a careless family. High water saturation or low saturation - things might force me to be more laid back and fluid or they might harden me to be more resolved. Vitamin rich soil or bland soil - perhaps I will grow from nutrient rich relationships with words of encouragement and affirmation, or perhaps I will learn to grow with the bare minimum, "living deeply and sucking the marrow of life" as Thoreau once said. Perhaps there will be a culmination of sunny days and rainy days alike. But regardless of my environment, I will grow. I will always be growing.

Just like the cherry plucked from a tree, I too have been plucked from my home, from things I knew, from the comfortable "known" and "expected". And after being plucked, a harvest of gathering began in my brain. I picked and plucked from new ideas and old alike, figuring what was good, what was bad, what I liked and what I didn't like, what I wanted to change and what I wanted to remain the same. These ideas were processed and then they were dried and refined. The refining process milled them, so that only the best, most resolute parts remained.

Then, as if to make sure that I really truly believe what I do, say what I say, do what I do and act as I act.... as if to make these pure, I am thrown in a heated pit. The pit scorches me. Not to the point where I burn, but to the point where I know that if the heat lasts any longer, I don't know if I will make it. Rolling around, being tossed to and fro, makes me question my existence, makes me question my roots, my identify, my beliefs, what I hold dear and what I hold in esteem. I'm challenged, and I change. Again, I am refined, in a purer and much more intensive form. And as I am refined, a beautiful thing happens. I create a beautiful aroma, something that I didn't think I was capable of producing. And yet, this aroma wouldn't be possible unless I had been grown in my environment, with my strengths and weaknesses, with my challenges and heart breaks, with my history and memories... so it's here in this refining moment when I savor the aroma of my existence. The aroma I smell now, is worth all the heartache.

But life isn't finished with me yet. There are still more refining processes to go through, and they will all change me in minor and major ways alike. Some days I will be ground, have hot water poured over me and I will become a simple cup of black coffee. Some may think me bitter, too strong or not to their taste preferences. Some may need to add a little cream and sugar to make me bearable. But some... some will appreciate me for what I am in my simplicity and rawness.

Other days I might be finely ground, tamped and pulled into frothy espresso. Perhaps I'll be a latte;  warm, creamy and happy. Perhaps I'll be an Americano; sassy, strong and energized. Or maybe I'll be a breve; loquacious and easy to please. Or perchance just straight espresso; to the point and bold.

I suppose everyone's life could be likened to a cup of coffee. We've all been grown in different environments, made up of eclectic components, strained from varying droughts and made stronger by contrasting nutrients. Each of us have been refined through some heated, hard process. And each of us is made differently each day. Every day we  are concocted with new flavors, different temperatures, separate creams and milks or with none at all. And this is a beautiful thing to behold, because no matter how we are made, we each exude a delightful aroma.

I have found my aroma, silently thanking my past for how it's created who I am today and my trademark identity. Every day my aroma takes a new form, still staying true to its origins, but embracing the subtle or grand differences in new preparations.

So this is why my life is like a cup of coffee.
And this is why I'm still brewing, being made differently each day.

*Next time you sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee, think about all the work and history that has gone into that cup. And in contrast, next time you sit down with a person, think about all the refining they've been through to become the person who sits before you. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

O come to the altar

 Often I'm the one who has to learn lessons the hard way, who has to have life lived her way, even if it means being in pain. Jane Austen once said that, "I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but like everybody else, it must be in my own way." I want it my way, because at least then I'll feel some odd sense of control if I know that I am putting myself through this pain, this misunderstanding. At least I can kid myself into thinking I'm in control. 

And yet through this selfishness, God whispers His truths to me. The word altar keeps coming to me. Through the old testament, the new testament, recently a song, in small group, random conversation... God keeps whispering to me the importance of altars. And as I was listening to a song that my brother recommended the other day, His truth hit me. 

Altars were used for a plethora of purposes in ancient times, though namely sacrifices and ebenezers (reminders of Gods faithfulness). The Old Testament, especially Leviticus, goes into great lengths and detail to describe to the people how perfect their offerings must be before the altar of God. Everything must be cleaned, prepared in a holy manner, without blemish, with the finest and most precious sacrifice. These sacrifices were precursors to the real Sacrifice, and God demanded that His people use the most innocent blood of animals, because one day His Son, the most undeserving innocent in Creation, would willingly be our portion, our sacrifice, because of His great love for His people. Therefore, these Old Testament offerings, while nothing close to the purest sacrifice in Christ, would at least be a representation of something clean, pure, blameless and precious, not deserving of sacrifice. 


The other use for altars were monuments built to remember the goodness of God. The Israelites built them continuously throughout their history as reminders that God was with them, that He was good, faithful and that His promises were everlasting, even if His people forgot them. To build these altars, they would take broken things, random things and drag them, no matter how heavy or awkward, to create an altar to God. Rocks, wood, fragments, pottery, pieces of things, big and large, they would drag, and this would serve as their memory to remember Him. 


These two altars, sacrificial and reminders, are so very different... and yet you cannot appreciate one without the other. In my life, as I hopelessly try to hide my sin, to burry it or ignore and try to be happy on my own terms, God says, "No. This is not the purpose of sin. This is not where I want your sin, buried or hidden. I want all of it. I want all of you with your broken pieces and I want you to put them  in a pile and give them to me."       


Oh but it's painful, God. 


Jack Hayford, in his book A Time for Altars, says this: 


"What it takes to build an altar are rocks, broken things. The geological application is relevant: there are volcanic explosions in our lives, seismic events, the grinding of life. You can take hard things and arrange them before the Lord or you can drag the rocks around and be burdened by them. Or when you’re frustrated at lugging them around, you get mad and throw them at somebody else. The way you build an altar is to bring those hard, broken things before the Lord and put them there.


The price of altering is that you have to pour your life out over it: Lord, I come and present myself to You. At the altar, the price was paid for renewal when we've been at a distance, for securing hope that we may have thought was lost, and for receiving promise even if its in an unpleasant environment. As we come to the Table, we come to the ultimate altar, where the ultimate promise and provision is incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself." 


•••


These broken pieces are what He desires. Psalm 51:17 exemplifies our hearts in Davids anguish before the Lord, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."


And this is where our sacrificial altar becomes an ebenezer to Him. When a sacrifice was to be presented before the Lord, a high priest, from the tribe of Levi, needed to present the offering because he was qualified and called by God as an intercessor for the people. They were the middle ground between the Israelites sin and God. But when Christ came, he became the Great High Priest, so that no more intercession was necessary. The most beautiful and painful truth of His priesthood is that He didn't present an innocent animal... He presented Himself. Through His precious blood, by His bloody wounds, He presented a perfect sacrifice so that our sacrifices could be our brokenness. 


Does this not astound you? We don't have to come before God with an innocent sacrifice or try to clean our heart because Christ has enabled us to come as we are, with broken things, offering our crushed hearts to Him. And what's even more beautiful is that through our acknowledgement of Christ and our realization that He has become our altar and our sacrifice, God sees our shattered, tattered and torn self as whole, complete and pure. Because God turned His face away from His own Son, He can look at us and see holiness through the Spirit and redemption.   


This is why He doesn't allow me to hide anything. 

This is why He doesn't allow me to live life on my own. 
This is why He requires my broken pieces; to create an altar.
This is why we can come to the altar. 
This is why He is our offering
Our sacrifice. 
Our redemption. 
Our high priest. 
Our altar. 


•••



"O come to the altar

The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ" 

O Come to the Altar

Elevation Worship