I had washed all the dishes that don’t fit into the dishwasher, vacuumed, and even had wiped down the stove underneath the burner grates.
But when two of my guests, a small collection of the women pastors in the area, walked through the front door of my home, I realized one flaw in my plan of hospitality and welcoming.
“Can I get you ladies something to drink?” I asked in the vein of a true hostess, realizing my options were embarrassingly slim for agreeing to allow half a dozen women to loiter in my house for an hour before going out for lunch, especially when it was too early to offer wine and probably not altogether proper. “Water? 7-Up?”
“Coffee?” one asked, expectantly.
My stomach flip flopping, I replied, “I can certainly make you some!”
She of course kindly said not to be of any trouble just for her, but when you’re the host, a request for the humblest of drinks must be honored. Especially if it’s in your power to do so.
I just wish I had thought of it first. And of all things, coffee is far from my specialty.
Just a few days prior, coffee, and the making of the holy nectar, was top of my mind. I would be hosting the monthly pastors gathering (which include the men folk) at my church. The two things that were essential in hosting this monthly gathering, as I had seen my male colleagues do for three months prior, was have a selection of donuts and coffee available for the guests.
The day before our meeting, I went to the church to inspect the coffee prospects. I opened the cabinet doors in the kitchenette, and found plenty of coffee — opened pre-pandemic, as well as brand new. I noted we had creamer, sugar, cups, napkins, and plates for donuts. We had a traditional coffee pot with four buttons on it. Seemed manageable. I’m an intelligent woman. I’ll figure it out.
So on Tuesday, I showed up with my boxes of donuts, and settled in to make coffee right as two of the pastors showed up a little early, one of which has been drinking coffee for twice as long as I’ve been alive (literally).
I don’t drink coffee. I wish I did. I like my little fruity green tea energy drinks from V8 and a Dr. Pepper at lunch if my calorie counting allows it (it almost always does since I don’t actually count calories except on days when my pants don’t fit). I don’t like the idea of burning the taste buds off my tongue, nor do I appreciate the rollercoaster of energy, crashing, and stomach twisting that comes from coffee. In short, coffee makes me three shades of ill, no matter how black or tasty or sweetened up we make it at the outset.
But I needed to make coffee Tuesday. Because others are comforted by it, bolstered by it, energized by it. I’ve made coffee a few times, but only out of a Keurig or a French press. Fancy coffee, we call it in the French press, even though it’s actually analog coffee in a digital world.
Coffee is the definition of hospitality, I’ve learned, even as a non-drinker. I was the hostess, and I needed to make coffee and not ruin my reputation as being an otherwise badass in the eyes of my new colleagues.
I opened up a brand new tub of Folgers. It said I needed a particular amount measured by “scoops.” I didn’t see a scoop in the tub. I pawed around with my hands in the grounds, in case it was buried underneath like scoops often are in laundry soap. No scoop.
“Uh, Dave,” I called over my shoulder to my pastor buddy, who had probably not been drinking coffee for as long as I was alive, but in front of whom I felt less pressure to look accomplished. “Do you know how much coffee to put in this thing? It didn’t come with a scoop.”
A Keurig uses one pod. The French press uses 2.5 heaping tablespoons. A scoop is as nebulous as a pinch or a dash, and I was pretty sure a coffee scoop size wasn’t comparable to a laundry scoop.
Pastor Dave came to my rescue, and we found an ice cream scoop (that’s what Folgers meant, right?) and dished some into the filtered cup. Remembering I had seen others fill up the coffee pot itself with water to fill in the reservoir for percolating, I did so. Then I paused back at the machine.
“Does the water go in the same place where the filter is?” I asked over my shoulder again.
Pastor Dave came back, obviously having seen and worked a pot such as this before, and flipped open the hidden reservoir where the water was actually stored.
I deposited the water, and pushed the “On” button. Nothing happened. Now Pastor Tom, with 70+ years of coffee drinking under his belt and the dean of our pastors group, became interested in my futilities.
“Sometimes I listen to it to make sure it’s working,” he gently said.
I leaned close. It definitely was not signaling life. Why was coffee-making so difficult? It’s literally just bean water.
My panic growing in my chest, I started pushing every button on the machine, trying to get it do something, hoping that I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the fellowship hall and start the process all over for coffee….in yet another machine that I didn’t know how to work. I took a breath and remembered I was of the digital age, and a digital coffee maker WITH ONLY FOUR BUTTONS couldn’t outsmart me.
With purpose and a deep breath, I somehow managed the right programming, and as Pastor Tom suggested, I listened and heard its inner workings.
Three minutes later, Pastor Tom had a cup of coffee in his hands. “Is it OK?” I asked, my hands clutched anxiously to my chest.
Smiling so benevolently, as if pastoral care and kindness and wisdom also came naturally with his 70+ years of coffee drinking and ministry, Pastor Tom said with a big smile, “It’s good. It’s strong!”
Damn that ice cream scoop, but bless the gift of his grace.
So two days later, when I was ready to host lady preachers at my house, I realized I had spent too much time worrying about dusting and not enough time worrying about refreshments.
I got out the kettle and started boiling water. I found the French press I kept on hand for visits from coffee-drinking friends and relatives stuffed in the back of a bottom cabinet. I dug into the pantry, looking for that coffee I was almost positive I still had.
The kettle singing, 2.5 heaping tablespoons of expired coffee grounds in the bottom, I let the coffee steep before pressing the plunger down and serving my guest her requested cup of Joe. Realizing people may or may not like their coffee black, I handed her my sugar jar, lamenting out loud of my lack of creamer or other accoutrement. “I’ve also got some lactose-free milk in the fridge,” I stumbled out, trying to remember if even the milk was within its date of suggested expiration.
After all the ladies arrived, another cup of coffee poured for another caffeine-deprived guest, and chit chat had wound down, we left for lunch, coffee cups deposited kindly into my sink.
When it was time to leave, Pastor Soledad, the first to request coffee and someone I had only met once prior to this day, hugged me. She whispered in my ear, years of pastoral love emanating in her voice, “Thank you for the cup of coffee.”
The grace in that one whisper flowed through me like a breeze on a hot day.
It couldn’t have been good coffee. It wasn’t the freshest coffee. I did serve it to her in my favorite mug, which ordinarily holds hot tea or hot chocolate or simply sits happily on my shelf — that had to count for something.
But this week, I learned there’s lots of grace in a cup of java. Maybe there’s something to the line, “My cup runneth over,” after all. But if you need me, I’ll be shopping for fresh coffee and looking for the manual to the church coffee pot.
*Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash