Monday, August 31, 2009

Your Own Recipe for Lemonade:

Part 2 of “If Life Gives You Lemons…”
“What is all this juice and all this joy?/ A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning…” –from "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The problem with the saying about lemonade is that it might work easily on things like fruit or favorite shrunken sweaters, but people wish to apply the principle to bigger things in life. That’s because the idea of turning loss or disappointment into something lovely and useful is a compelling one. This is what we are supposed to be doing. It is one of the things that makes us recognizable as having been made in God’s image.
The story of Joseph comes to mind. His brothers sold him into slavery! But through Joseph’s character growth, his wisdom and his humble forgiveness of his brothers, God saved the entire family from the ravages of a famine. This has been what I have known God to do in my own life.

And that’s part of the problem with this saying about making lemonade. Lemons are great, really. That’s why they don’t really work as a metaphor for being sold into slavery. The brightest of flavors, they’re great in iced tea, in tarts, in cookies, in cake and to add zing to hummus, chicken or fish. Lemon juice is useful for keeping fruit from darkening, for bleaching out the scent of stale garlic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with lemons.

I can think of many situations where “lemons fit for lemonade” would provide the perfect metaphor. These are situations not inherently wrong, but come with a bitter taste. It’s hard to make the best of a difficult or frustrating situation. We live through many of these and the goal is not only to survive the difficulty, but to grow in character and understanding.
I remember being frustrated, feeling bitter during summers when we could not afford to go away on a vacation. When I had a good attitude, I tried to make the most of the situation. We enjoyed our home town, went to the beach, took day trips. One thing I made an attempt at doing when my kids were little was to “visit” far off places in imaginative way. My children will probably not remember this, and certainly the idea could be built upon. Choose a country and state you’d like to visit. The library has fun travel videos -- with varying qualities of travel writing. However, the visuals are stunning and inviting and they begin the journey. A cookbook from the region or country could help the family create traditional meals from that country and a book of Christmas crafts from around the world could provide “souvenir” of the imagined vacation for friends or your own Christmas tree. Turn your phone off, use paper plates and make your own recreation. It’s a lovely way to turn the frustration of staying at home into something refreshing, enlightening and useful.

But what if something terrible happens? What if your parents’ marriage flounders or a friend betrays you in a vicious lie? What if death comes too soon or too terribly? Like Joseph’s situation, to dismiss these traumatic events as “lemons” would be callous. Beyond disappointment, these sorts of situations grieve the heart because somewhere deep inside we know that were the world perfect, marriages would all thrive and last, people would die content and full of years, friends and brothers would hook arms with us and laughing at shared memories, look ahead with hope. We long for that perfection every day.

How do we make something useful and lovely and refreshing from profound loss and bitter disappointment? How do we quench throats dry from weeping? “Making lemonade” out of this sort of “lemon” takes time, grace and work.

My mother’s death traumatized me for many reasons but one thing that was especially hard on me was the memory of how she looked when she had died. I wept over it in a frantic, inconsolable way. My mother-in-law, who rarely gives advice, wrote me a note which I received a few days after the funeral and at the bottom was written this recommendation: “It helps to remember the good things.” I figured this was true and wise, but I couldn’t come up with anything good. Not one thing.

One night, many months later, still unable to sleep, I remembered hearing about a child who had seen her parent shot to death. I felt inspired to pray for this child. I knew, in praying, that God wished to comfort that child and for the first time since my own mother’s death, I felt a little better. Then in days and weeks following, when the sorrow came back to me, I turned my mind to those similarly grieving and remembered them in prayer. Thinking of others soothed my heart somehow.
My mother’s funeral was conducted by a priest who struck me as fussy, and rigid. I wanted the hymn “Give Me Jesus,” to be sung. The priest had never heard of it and required me to provide him with the lyrics. I know I was upset anyway, but you’d think a song titled “Give Me Jesus” would be okay at a Christian funeral. Even though I disliked him, during the funeral he said something that dropped into my mind with a resounding thud. After listing aloud my mother’s struggles and difficulties (she had many), he prayed that in heaven God would comfort her and that all her tears would be dried. I wondered if this could be possible and may have muttered something awful like, “as if…” The idea stayed with me and despite mulling over it, I couldn’t squeeze out its real significance.
Shortly after that my sister compiled my parents’ home movies (created on what we used to call film) into a poignant tribute complete with the most comforting, apt music. I saw footage of their wedding. The image of their happiness was so surprising and bright that it was as if I had been reminded of what they really looked like. Their eyes shone with joy and hope. Oddly, this mixed with the priest’s prayer in my mind; I could picture no greater happiness for my mother than the rapturous look on her face on her wedding day. I decided that I would keep that image in my mind and when the other image – the picture of disappointment and loss – intruded, I would purposefully turn my mind to how she would be now – all her tears dried.

I’m better now. God provided help to me through inspiration, the inexplicable comfort of His Holy Spirit and the gifts of others – this was the recipe for me. I had to follow that recipe by replacing terrible images with those of renewed meaning. But I don’t think these examples—as methods-- will help you. I think the idea that you can seek to make something useful and life-giving out of everything from simple irritation to terrible loss and anguish might help.
Do you have examples of when you made something useful, beautiful and refreshing from loss and disappointment? Whether it’s something light – like my sweater, something lovely – like my imagined vacation, or something life-changing - like my mother’s memory write and tell about it.


  1. As a songwriter I find that I often write about things that were once painful to me. I find that the songs I write that are the most honest about how I felt become the most successful. So in writing songs I'm able to heal certain hurts with the discovery of the tune and the lyrics. A terrible break up becomes therapy and a sick hook. Loneliness becomes the most beautiful and stirring way to connect to others.

    Thanks for sharing your thought mom.

  2. Thanks Val for sharing part of your own amazing recipe.

  3. totally inspiring...