Making Lemonade


A New Yorker cartoon where Death hands a tray of lemons to a couple out for a walk. Make up your own caption. When Death hands you lemons … ? And one of the winning captions said something like, “He says making lemonade is not an option.”


Think back for a moment to when you were first considering what you might do when you grew up. Maybe you wanted to be a firefighter, a pilot, a teacher, a parent, a spouse, a movie star, a business owner, an explorer, a doctor, a singer, an astronaut. Does anyone want to share what they wanted to be?


Some people decide what they want to be and they become that person—the doctor, the movie star, etc. Many of us have these ideas of what we want to be, and for whatever reason, that’s not what happens. Maybe we take a class in college that changes our path. Or we meet someone who sweeps us off our feet and we change direction. And that can be wonderful.


But some of us set out on a path, and somewhere along the way we get handed lemons. There isn’t the money for the college education. Or we can’t handle all the science prerequisites to become a doctor. Or we don’t have the talent to become the movie star or the singer. Or we fall into an addiction and everything gets derailed. Life happens. Lemons happen.


We don’t ask for the cancer diagnosis, or the car accident, or the miscarriage of a much-wanted baby. We don’t expect to end up in a wheelchair, or find out our beloved has betrayed us, or that the retirement account is gone. Don’t ask for it, don’t plan for it, don’t want it. But sometimes the lemons come anyway.


We grieve. We rage. We despair. We fall apart. Maybe we yell at God.


Eventually, many of us pick up the pieces. We accept that it is what it is. We find a way to turn the lemons into lemonade.


Years ago, a man fell ill with a rare disease. He survived, but he lost the use of his legs. Many people surrounded him with love and encouraging words of healing. He said later that the words he really needed to hear were these: “The old you is dead. Let that old life and those old dreams and hopes go.  Welcome to your new life. It is what it is. What are you going to make of it?”


This is Joseph’s story. In his old life, he was the favorite son. He had special privileges and was much fussed over. But he was really untactful about lauding his special place over his brothers, and they hated him. So they turned on him and sold him off to Egypt. You know, as you do (???!!!). Joseph was handed a lemon. A huge lemon. A whole grove of lemons.


He has more misadventures in Egypt—more lemons—but ultimately he correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams about an impending famine and suggests a way to keep everyone fed during that time. He is put in charge of implementing his plan. And that’s the point when his brothers, driven by this same famine, show up to ask for food.


He knows who they are. They do not know who he is. He tests them. He asks them to leave his youngest brother, Benjamin, behind. They refuse to break up the family, saying that returning home without Benjamin would kill their father. Joseph can see that they have grown and changed, that they value all of the brothers, all of the family. And he decides to reconcile, to forgive them, to make peace and reunite with them. He had every right to lash out at them. But he could see how God had helped him make lemonade out of the lemons he had been given, and he chose to welcome his brothers with love and many tears.


The writer Anne Lamott is good at making lemonade. She grew up with many privileges and opportunities, but also dysfunction in her family. She got addicted to drugs, went through a number of failed relationships, and ended up clean and sober, the single mother of a little boy, Sam. And a fabulous writer about all of it. Raw, funny, vulnerable, honest. Because somewhere along the way she tapped into God and Jesus with such authenticity that her life was transformed. Not all at once, but little by little.


She writes about what is real, in all its awkwardness. And she looks for ways to says thanks to God, even in the midst of pain, suffering, and loss. Here is one the quotes on the front of your bulletin today:


Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. [Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow]


Gratitude is a spiritual practice for her. It helps her reframe all the lemons she experiences.


I say “Thanks,” because revelation has shown me things that are miserable that somehow I may get to sidestep; or that are miserable but that prayer and friends help me find a way through; or that are painful and beautiful in ways that make your heart ache, that draw you closer forever to the comrades who have walked with you. . . .


Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, “Oh my God. Thanks.” [53]


I remember visiting a woman who knew she was going to die soon. She had done all the cancer treatments, fought hard to stay alive. But now death was imminent, and she had made her peace with it. A friend had made for her and her husband a peach crisp. The woman was no longer eating much, but when her husband asked if she wanted some peach crisp, she said yes. And she proceeded to smell that peach, to taste it, to touch it, with undivided attention. Even as she faced great loss, she was finding ways to savor with intense gratitude the gifts of her life. She so inspired me that I went and bought the ripest, juiciest peach I could find and tried to savor it with that same dedication and gratitude.


Think back again to your early ideas about what your life was going to be like. Think again about how those plans took some extra twists and turns. How did you get through those times? Who showed up to walk with you or point the way in a new and life-giving direction? What unexpected flowers bloomed from the desert sand of the most challenging times?


Life hands us lemons. It just does. But often, someone shows up with the water and sugar to make lemonade. How we frame the lemons, how we learn to find gratitude in the midst of that, how we look for where God is walking with us in it and guiding us to a new path—that is the faith journey. Sure, we can grieve, we can be angry, we can despair. And then we can make lemonade—or peach crisp—and savor, with gratitude, the gifts that continue to surround us and the new paths that open to us. Amen.

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