Making Coffee

Photo by Chevanon Photography on

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



Now that fall is here, I am enjoying all the seasonal scents. I have made muffins and stovetop chai a few times, and although it still feels like summer beyond my front door, I have even burned candles a few times—ones with names like mulled cider and harvest spice.

Yesterday I burned my oakwood spice candle for the first time this season. It’s a cute, acorn-shaped candle that a friend gave me last fall, and after taking its lid off every morning this week to get a whiff of its sweet smell, I finally decided to light it and let its fragrance fill our home. It was absolutely delightful as it spread its cozy, autumn cheer from room to room.

Recently, I added another scent to the repertoire of fall fragrances that have graced our home these last few weeks—a twist off the traditional pumpkin spice latte that I am still trying to perfect. After making a fresh batch a few days ago, I sampled a few sips before realizing how quickly the morning was slipping away. With that being the case, I set the coffee aside and took my son on our routine morning walk. An hour or so later, we strolled through our front door and were warmly greeted by the rich smell of coffee permeating our home. It was a very pleasant surprise that makes me want to work on this recipe all the more.

Lately, I have been thinking about the role that heat plays in the scents that I’ve been enjoying so much this fall. Although the muffin batter, candles, and ground tea/coffee smell good on their own, their fragrance has only grown stronger and spread further when put to the flame, and their scent has lingered longer as a result.

As believers, we have a signature scent, and we should desire for its fragrance to grow, spread, and linger far beyond our own four walls. It is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 2.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

2 Corinthians 2:14-16

When I consider this passage and think about my most recent observations regarding scent and heat, I am left to think that perhaps we need to be put to the flame at times if we are to truly spread the fragrance of Christ.

A friend of mine has only caused me to believe this all the more. She has been standing in the fire since the beginning of this year, and she smells so much like Jesus as a result. Her name is Janet, and she is a dear lady that I know from a time that I taught ESL at a Spanish-speaking seminary. Having been the assistant to the ESL teacher the semester before I came, Janet was more than willing to help me get settled into life and work at the seminary when I arrived.

I was very grateful for her. Trying to find my place on campus that first semester was a particularly lonely experience, so I was thankful for the time that she and I spent together and for her listening ear, sympathy, and prayers. She smelled like Jesus to me even then.

Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with stage 3 liver cancer, and four months later, she was told that her body was no longer responding to chemotherapy.

I and a number of others have been praying that God will heal her, but I know it’s more for our sake than hers. I read her posts and see her pictures on social media, and she’s so full of peace and joy.

She’s ready.

Whether God chooses to heal her or take her home, she has accepted whatever may come. She is like a radiant bride awaiting her Groom, and although she would be content to continue serving Him here, she looks forward to the day when He will tenderly sweep her into His arms and carry her over the threshold of this life into the next one, where they will begin their happily ever after together. Or, perhaps better put, continue it. This time, without sorrow, pain, heartache, or grief. This is the hope that she has and the life that she eagerly awaits.

She has been afflicted and tested in so many ways this year, but all this has served to cause the fragrance of Christ within her to grow and spread. It has reached my door over 700 miles away, and there’s no doubt that it has made its way inside the homes of the seminary students in Latin America who have had the privilege of knowing her. Not only has it spread broadly, but it is also lingering in each of our homes. Whether God keeps her here a little longer or draws her to His side, the scent that she is exuding in the midst of this present valley will linger in our hearts and minds for years to come. She has already taught us so much about what it means to be a reflection of Christ in our greatest suffering and darkest moments in life, and I feel so privileged to call her a friend and to learn from her example through it all.

I continue to pray for her complete healing, but I also thank God for the valuable lessons I am learning through her during this season. Much like Mary poured perfume over Jesus’ feet1, she is pouring her life out to God as a fragrant offering to Him. And although it is meant as a gift for Him alone, so many of us have been blessed in the process.

As much as I have enjoyed all fragrances of this season, I am especially grateful that the aroma of Christ has made its way to my home through her. It’s a scent that will never grow old or stale, and through it, I am learning to hope more deeply and anticipate eternity even more. I can only pray that, when I am held to the flame, I will smell just as lovely and reflect Jesus just as well as she is.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.”

2 Corinthians 2:16-18

1John 12:1-8