When Life Gives You Lemons – Part 1
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NIV
As an adult, this time of year leads me to reflect on my childhood church’s delightful memories. A highlight that still causes me to smile is the church’s annual picnic at Hagen-Stone Park, approximately 11 miles from our home in Greensboro. The church often reserved the shelter near an open field to accommodate the intergenerational baseball game that brought out the child and the aspiring professional in the players. We also had the opportunity to ride the paddle boats, feed the ducks along the pond, and walk the trails. Some members took a contemplative approach while in the park and indulged in a bit of fishing.
As much fun as the activities were, they in no way compared to the feast spread before us! Our church had excellent cooks, and the picnic featured dishes the Food Network would love to boast. At least one saint brought the ingredients and churned ice cream during the outing, adding vine-ripened strawberries or sun-kissed peaches to the delicious mixture cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Free flowing fresh-squeezed lemonade completed the meal. The tart/sweetness lingered on my tongue; the coolness refreshed my throat and body on its way to my tummy. This great taste had a simple recipe: lemons, water, and sugar. Please note: The key was in the process!
Creating this thirst-quenching drink requires preparation. My mom taught us to wash the lemons in hot water before rolling them on the counter. In addition to the pressure, the water’s warmth helped the fruit release it’s oil and juice. The preparation didn’t damage the fruit, but the process was necessary for the final product to be useful and appealing.
Such is our human condition. Paul said: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” We can be confident of this: God uses the lemons of disappointment to generate hope. Challenge and change cultivate progress. God allows trials to produce tenacity. The fruit is sour, yet the product of the process is so sweet!
In context, Paul’s reassuring words are a message of antifragility in times of distress and grief. Suffering sweetened Paul’s ministry, allowing him a perspective missing from those who lacked the experiences only pain, setback, and grace can minister. Through every situation, God
transformed Paul’s sourness into sweetness beyond Paul’s understanding. Throughout his journey, God’s strength kept Paul’s anger from festering into sin. God’s grace, purpose, and power made lemons into lemonade.
We live in lemons groves, making us susceptible to hardships, frustration, and regrets. Every generation discerns and voices the choice to grow and thrive within systems of adversity and situations requiring adjustments. They express their ability and willingness to take the lemons given and make lemonade.
In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” We hear the famous line, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” in “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes. Rapper, actor, and activist, Tupac Shakur, asked: “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?”
More recently, Beyoncé released a visual album whose offerings included themes of love, betrayal, anger, and forgiveness. The final chapter, “Redemption,” discusses her grandmother’s recipe for lemonade, the compilation’s name. Her grandmother stated, “I was served lemons, but made lemonade.” This example helped set a tone of antifragility in the life of this daughter, businesswoman, wife, and mother. Beyoncé “spun the lemons in her life and made them into something better, stronger, and ultimately sweeter.”
If each of us looks back over our lives, within our family history, and throughout Bennett’s story, we also witness patterns of resilience, resistance, resourcefulness, and perseverance. We see examples of women and men using lemons to make lemonade! But isn’t that what God’s power
enables us to do? God takes the shortcomings of daily existence and “makes all things beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a).
Black women are particularly familiar with this recipe. Candace Benbow, Rutgers University lecturer and author of “The Lemonade Syllabus” wrote:
Lemonade calls us to move towards the lemonade itself. It requires that Black women live into their flourishing. Moving towards lemonade calls us to focus on the thriving more than the circumstances that oppose it. When Black women live into the lemonade, they are choosing a joy that refuses to be diminished by the violence that will continue to persist against it. Through Lemonade, Beyoncé calls young Black women to reimagine their relationships in intimate and social spaces through constructing a relationship with God that makes self-love primary. Their
mothers brought them to the faith. Now, it must become their own.
As we begin the fall semester virtually, we choose to take the lemons of the COVID pandemic and make lemonade that can quench the thirst for creating a better life through education. Bennett remains committed to working in the best interest of our community, which means putting
safety first. We miss our physical community and will remain connected spiritually and socially. Like my mom’s recipe, lemons needed heat and pressure to release their essence. These necessary conditions were not favorable, and the process did not damage the fruit. This process resulted in a tart, sweet, and satisfying drink.
So we pray for positive outcomes during our semester. The necessary hot water of being away from campus can be intense. You may experience pressure in your attempts to integrate the various facets of your home, studies, and other responsibilities as you reach toward God’s
definition of success for you. Remember, you have our support for your journey. We are here to encourage you as we encourage ourselves to take the lemons of this season and make sweet, refreshing, memorable lemonade!
Stay prayerful and careful!
Rev. Natalie V. McLean ’80