When God Gives You Lemons…

There is a saying–“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” In other words, if your life circumstances are “sour,” you should look for ways to make your circumstances into something sweeter.

Often, it seems like God gives us lemons–even when we pray and do what we know is “right,” it seems like our circumstances get no better. In fact, sometimes, they get annoyingly, frustratingly worse. But God does not abandon us; He doesn’t sit back and laugh at our frustration, or leave us to flounder in chaos with no hope. Sometimes, our circumstances are opportunities for God to make lemonade.

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When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, He did not lead them directly to the Promised Land. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and to the shores of the Red Sea. There, they were trapped by the Egyptian army, complete with horses and chariots and trained warriors. But God’s plans were bigger than the armies of Egypt, and bigger than the sea. God made a path of escape through the sea, and used the very same sea to drown the enemy!

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What a miracle! But it wasn’t long before the people began complaining about “lemons” from God–the complained about the food, the journey, the scenery, and their leader, Moses. Even when God did many more miracles– bread from Heaven, meat from the sky, water from the rock, divine intervention in battles– the Israelites were still complaining about all the “lemons” in their life, and longing to go back to Egypt and slavery!

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There are seasons in life when it seems like God is giving us lemons–a job loss, an unexpected illness, a wayward daughter, a house fire, civil unrest… Struggles and pain will come into our lives; we should not pretend otherwise, or seek to deny them when they come. And God does not expect us to “make lemonade” all on our own. But He may allow us to be squeezed a bit; He may send the lemons today, and sugar next Monday. He may not give us a fancy carafe and cute little teacups. But He will give us all we need to make lemonade if we are prepared for the task. And usually, He will give us more than enough to set up a lemonade stand and serve others!

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Several years ago (2005), I had the opportunity to visit a settlement of Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. Multiple mission groups had banded together to provide basic needs– shelter, basic medical services, toilets and showers, etc. Service teams from Canada and the U.S. had come in to build two-room houses and set up a small clinic and school. Donations had come in– clothing, bedding, toothbrushes… Thousands of Haitians had been displaced after a bad hurricane season and massive flooding, and this refugee camp was home to nearly 150 families. Even with the donations, there were shortages– there was running water, but it wasn’t potable. There was rice, but few vegetables and very little meat. Aspirin and antibiotics were rationed, and most of the children were thin, and sad, half-clothed in rags and bare-foot.

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In the midst of all this, there was a miraculous donation– of flip-flops! Literally thousands of pairs of flip-flops–brand new overruns: different sizes, but all the same colors and style–more than enough for every person to have a pair. God had given the people of this settlement a LOT of lemons. Shoes were well and good, but the people needed water… The shoes were distributed– there were even a few left over. But about a week later, it was observed that most of the people were still walking around bare-footed. What had happened to the donated flip-flops? Were the people ungrateful? Were they too proud to use the new shoes? Too fearful?

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Not at all! These amazing people trusted that God could help them turn lemons into lemonade. They loaded the flip-flops into large bags, carried them (bare-footed) on their backs into town (the nearest town was nearly 10 miles away, but it was on the coast and attracted many tourists), pooled what little money they had to rent a booth at the beach, and SOLD the flip-flops. The money they made from the sale of the flip-flops purchased five-gallon jugs of drinking water. The jugs were carried back from town and shared among the members of this growing community. As they continued to sell the donated flip-flops, they purchased other small items– packets of laundry detergent, fly swatters, plastic dishes and cups–and established a small colmado (local store) within their own community. When I was able to visit again a couple of years later, the refugee camp was a thriving community– many of the houses had been painted, and had gardens and picket fences, on which clothes were drying in the sun. And while some children were still running in bare feet, many others had shoes. Some of the shoes were ragged and some were mismatched, but the children were happy and healthy. In the middle of the community, there was a beautiful church. Inside, there was a woman sweeping and singing songs of praise.

I share this story because it both encourages me and shames me. In this season of “lemons”– COVID-19 and violent unrest in my country– I have a choice. I can complain like the children of Israel. I can pray for God to take away the lemons; I can beg for Him to send me lemonade. Or I can look around for opportunities to use what He has provided– graciously provided– and sing His praises as I make lemonade.

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God, grant me the eyes to see your provision amid whatever challenges I face today. THANK YOU for the lemons you have given me today, and, when I am squeezed, help me to become a sweet and refreshing reminder to others of YOUR Grace and Joy.

Wealth in the Wilderness

In Exodus, chapter 16, the people of God are wandering in the wilderness of Sin (literally and figuratively!). They begin to grumble and complain about food, contrasting their current situation with their life in Egypt. Whenever I have read this passage in the past, I have assumed that the Israelites lacked food– that they were starving in the desert–and that their grumbling had some merit. After all, they are in a desert. Their complaints about water make sense. Surely, their complaints about food have the same ring of desperation.

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But a few chapters earlier, and a few chapters later, we get a better picture of the true situation of these wandering bands of Israelites. As they left Egypt, they demanded from Pharaoh that they be allowed to take their flocks and herds! This would suggest that they had sheep, cows, and goats with them–meat and milk in some quantity. They may have had other animals as well– chickens, pet dogs or cats, oxen or horses. The need for water was greater– not only water for the people, but for their animals– but the complaint about meat seems to have had nothing to do with actual need. If anything, their complaint might have been about grazing land for their animals– but they never bring this complaint before the Lord. Either there was enough grass, even in the wilderness, or they had brought grain to feed their flocks. And there was grain for bread–just a few short chapters later, God gives directions for the sacrifices– sacrifices that are to involve rams, bulls, and three different types of bread, cakes, and wafers made with wheat flour!

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The Israelites have provisions. They have taken enough food for the journey up to that point, and more. They complain, not that they ARE starving, but that they believe they will starve. God answers their complaint by sending quail– enough that they got sick of it– and bread from heaven (manna). The manna continues to fall without fail every day (except the sabbaths) for 40 years, throughout all their moving; in every location and season, on rocky mountainsides and dusty plains.

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God’s amazing and miraculous provision should have produced thanksgiving and worship. Instead, the people got sick of the quail, and continued with their complaining and grumbling for an entire generation as they wandered around the wilderness.

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How many times do we complain about “needs” that are not needs at all? I find myself worrying about bills getting paid, or the car making “odd” noises, or an aching shoulder. I find myself thinking back to days when I had more money or free time, and far fewer aches and pains. It is tempting to ask God for a return of “the good old days.” But God’s plan for the Israelites didn’t involve pots of meat that came with chains attached. God’s plan for my life doesn’t involve my immediate comfort, but my eternal character. And even in times when I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness, God never leaves me. I have been poor, but I have not starved. I have been sick, but not left to die alone. I have been lost, but never abandoned.

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There is wealth in the wilderness–the riches of God are available to those who will trust Him. Like manna, God will provide what only He can, and enough to see us through each day. He doesn’t promise that we will have “pots of meat” or easy circumstances. Instead, if we open our eyes, we will see miracles of grace, showing us how much God loves us and cares for us.

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God’s people complained a lot, but rarely did they celebrate God’s provision or offer thanks. May we learn from their story, and praise the God who sends quail and manna to the very ones who doubt His mercy and love!

Unwholesome Talk

My husband and I visited the local Fair in the neighboring county last week.  We love to visit local fairs and festivals (see Pass It On).  We love the pageantry, tradition, history, celebration, food, and general enjoyment.  We also love to see the exhibits– crafts, home arts, commercial exhibits, artwork, produce, and animals.

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Our visit last week began as the fair was “waking up.”  It was after dawn, but still early in the day.  The animals were being fed and/or groomed– some were getting ready to be shown; others were happily munching away as ribbons earned earlier in the week fluttered above their pens.  There were turkeys and rabbits, draft and work horses, ducks, pigs, shaggy highland cattle, newly-shorn sheep, calves, pigeons, roosters, racing horses, jersey cows, goats, geese, and baby chicks.  And there were noises–crowing, lowing, neighing, and squawking, quacking, cooing, oinking and snuffling.  Lastly, the noises of people– classroom groups of children exclaiming over the various animals; their teachers and chaperones reminding them of the rules (“Don’t touch!”, “Stay together”, “Don’t run!”); older couples reminiscing; owners and volunteers and caretakers discussing the tasks of the day.

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As the day wore on, the noises changed.  On the midway, announcements blared.  Game booths and vendors hawked their wares and prizes.  Even the animals were noisier– more restless as the crowds grew larger and the heat of the day became oppressive.  The roosters were drowned out by the cackling of hens.  The quiet “good morning” on the lips of strangers passing by turned into harried questions; “Where did you get that corn dog?”  “How much did you pay for it?”  “Do you know where we can get some ice cream?”  “Don’t they have any restrooms around here?”  “Who’s giving out the canvas bags/yard sticks/free popcorn?”

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This wasn’t universal–the announcer for the harness races was amazing.  Between races, he gave information about the racing program– how to read it, what the various terms meant, and how to use the guides to understand more about the horses, their training, their pedigree, the drivers, their records, and much more.  What a wealth of knowledge, and what a great opportunity to listen and learn!  And near the dairy barn, a young teen dressed in a cow costume (who had to be roasting from the heat) danced around, mooing and ringing a bell calling people to visit the dairy booth, where other teens cheerfully gave away recipe books, magnets, pens, and information.

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What a contrast to some of the comments from fair-goers and workers.  Some were sullen, some were rude, and some irreverent.  Some of the language was not just unwholesome, it was discouraging, disparaging, and mean.  Again, this was not universal; nor was it unique to this venue.  Go almost anywhere in public, and eventually, you will hear crowing, cackling, snuffling, and quacking by bitter, impatient, and self-involved people.

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Unwholesome talk– rude remarks, snide mumbles, bellowing guffaws, complaints, sarcasm–it starts out small, dripping out of our mouths before we even notice.  But each drip flows into a stream, and then a river, until our words pour out in anger and malice and one-up-man-ship.

Ephesians 4:29 New International Version (NIV)

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Psalm 19:14 New Living Translation (NLT)

14 May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

 

 

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