Years ago, I read a story online about a girl that complained to her mom about all her problems. As the mom listened intently, she put three pots of water on the stove to boil, and then she put a carrot in one, an egg in another, and ground coffee in the third.
After twenty minutes or so, as the daughter was still venting to her mom, the mother presented her daughter with a plate of the cooked carrot and egg in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, asking her daughter to tell her what she could observe of each item.
The daughter immediately noticed how the once-hard carrot was now soft and that the egg that had once been liquid was now hard. But the coffee, in her opinion, had gone through the best transformation of all. She couldn’t help but smile as she breathed in its rich aroma while taking a sip.
The mom went on to explain that hardships in life are like the boiling water. We will never be able to escape them in this life. We can, however, determine what type of person we will become as a result of going through them. Will we allow our trials to weaken us like the carrot or harden us like the egg? Or will we be like the ground coffee, becoming transformed through the “boiling water” into something better?*
A few months ago, I asked my sister-in-law Kim about the process of making coffee in light of this story. The topic is pertinent to a book that I am ever so slowly writing regarding the spiritual lessons that she and our entire family learned when my younger brother Quinn (her husband) was hospitalized for nearly five months back in 2011. What I am really discovering, however, is that the topic is especially pertinent to my life in this moment. It is something I keep coming back to as I think of the trials my family and I are facing right now.
Something I admire about my younger brother and his wife is how calmly and graciously they have faced their own hardships over the years. They have never truly been able to step out of the boiling water from my point of view. Fortunately, they know how to make a good cup of coffee, both figuratively and literally. Kim is the co-owner of a local coffee shop where they currently reside, and she has been roasting coffee as part of her responsibilities there and even before the coffee shop came to exist.
As I asked Kim about the coffee-making process that summer afternoon, she explained to me that the process begins with farmers separating coffee beans from cherries, which is the name of the fruit found on a coffee tree. Once the beans are plucked out of the cherries, they are then washed and dried naturally or mechanically (depending on the farm), sometimes undergoing other additional processes as well (also depending on the farm).
Finally, the coffee is packed up and shipped out, and it is then ready to be roasted. Kim explained that the beans are placed in a roaster set between 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for around 15 minutes total, and something that she and every roaster must listen for while roasting beans is the first crack, which sounds similar to a popcorn kernel popping. This literal crack is what leaves the line running down the middle of each coffee bean, and each bean must undergo this cracking in order to release its sweetness, heat, and gas. Without this vital step, the coffee beans will not reach their full flavor.
After the beans are roasted, they are then separated from their outer layer—called parchment—which is shed during the roasting process. And then the beans can finally be packaged and sent to the consumer, already ground or, if whole, where individuals must grind the beans themselves.
And then, of course, there is one last process that most coffee beans must endure. Most coffee grounds will be placed in a coffee maker or French press or some other coffee-making contraption where hot water will be poured over them. It is the final step that the newly ground up coffee beans must face in order to produce a good cup of coffee.
I said goodbye to Kim that day and hung up the phone with a better idea of how much the coffee bean must diminish in size in order to bring about a cup of coffee. I also had a much more ample idea of how great the heat process must be in order for coffee beans to be used. But most of all, understanding the process of coffee made me understand the value of each moment we are held to the flame. When we surrender ourselves to God in those moments, allowing Him to increase as we decrease (John 3:30), we face our own “boiling water” like the coffee grounds in the story, and God gives us something of substance to offer the world in return. He gives us more of Him.
Humanity may never willingly go through trials. I know I don’t. Even with all that I know about how God can use these hardships in my life for my good and His glory, I find myself wishing these present problems away. But when I think of the process that the coffee bean goes through and how much people enjoy the finished product, I want to believe that God is producing something greater in me too, and I choose to believe that this story in the making is something that others will also enjoy—a testimony that will minister to many.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”2 Corinthians 4:7-10