“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
I only had the privilege of spending 14 years on this earth with my grandmother. Still, I have so many memories of her. My grandmother was a special woman. She never had it easy and she suffered greatly in her lifetime. As a young girl, I adored my grandmother. She was funny, maybe a little on the crazy side, but that made her more fun. She said what she thought, did what she wanted, and loved with her whole heart. She could definitely be rough around the edges but to me, she was always a soft place to fall.
I remember sitting with her on the porch swing for hours in the summertime. We talked (well, she talked and I mostly listened) and we swung back and forth on that big old porch swing and watched the world go by. My grandmother was a small woman. She had curly white hair that stood straight up because she had a nervous habit of stroking it from scalp to end as she talked to me about anything and everything. She typically wore loose clothing that may or may not have matched and a housecoat, with pockets. In those pockets, she almost always had some tissues but at any given time, she also had a lemon and a paring knife. My grandmother ate lemons like other people ate oranges. She would cut them in slices and pop them in her mouth.
She never puckered her lips or made a face when she ate the sour lemons. She simply ate them as sour as they were. Sometimes I wondered if she really liked the taste of those lemons and why she chose to eat them. When we went to the store, lemons were always on her list. I remembered the smell of those lemons on a hot summer day. After all these years, when I smelled a lemon, I often thought of my grandmother and her fondness for them.
Looking back, I never realized at the time what an incredible woman she was. All that she dealt with, all that she suffered; she still kept on going. She still loved big even when things were hard or when she was hurting. I had no idea just how strong she was when I was a little girl. Only as I grew older did I begin to understand more about the woman she was. When I closed my eyes, I could still see her sitting there on that swing, a paring knife and a lemon in hand. I could smell that sweet tart aroma of the lemons as she cut them and I could almost taste them.
My son recently had strep throat and he had to take antibiotics. He suffered sensory issues and tastes and textures were difficult for him. Swallowing that thick, gloppy medicine wasn’t easy for him. With the first try, it all came back out. He couldn’t stand the feel of it in his mouth and he couldn’t swallow. I was frustrated and less patient than I should have been. He was old enough to swallow medicine and he didn’t really have a choice. He had to take that medicine to get better. I talked him through that first dose and gave him a lecture about how sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do. Sometimes, we had to do hard things.
That got me thinking about my grandmother and her lemons. Sometimes, bad things happened. Sometimes, things didn’t go as planned. Sometimes, the floor dropped out from under us or our hearts broke into a million pieces. Things happened. Life threw us “lemons”. There was that saying that you should make lemonade when that happens…but sometimes, all you got was lemons and there was nothing you could do but eat them. No added sugar. No blending with strawberries or raspberries. You just had to eat them straight, as sour as they were. Cut them and pop them in your mouth. Just like my grandmother did.
There are some things that you can’t turn around, that you can’t make pretty. There are some things that happen in life that are just terrible, devastating, life-shattering. You can’t cover up some things with pretty bows and sparkly ribbons.
You just had to eat the lemons.
And then trust that God would be with you along the way.
When I walked into that hospital and found out that my father passed away. There was nothing anyone could say or do to make that okay. I could tell myself that he was no longer suffering, that he was in heaven, that he lived a good life … but that didn’t make it any easier. I wanted him here, with me. I literally felt my heart shatter inside my chest that day. That feeling of loss swept over me like a freight train. My Dad was gone. My life was forever changed. I cried. I grieved. I faced it. That lemon was a hard one to swallow.. but I had no choice and I continue to choke on that lemon every single day.
When I heard the news that my cancer was back and my diagnosis was terminal, I felt like I was on a patch of ice and couldn’t get my footing. I felt like my world was crashing down on top of me and that I was buried in the rubble. There was nothing anyone could do to make that okay either. There was nothing my doctor could do to fix it. My life was uncertain. My life was going to be over sooner than I imagined. I was still working on swallowing that lemon every single day.
“For you have seen my troubles and you care about the anguish of my soul.” Psalm 31:7
Bad things happened to us in this world. We suffered great loss and sickness. We faced marital and financial problems. We coped with divorce and family struggles. Throughout our lives, we are forced to eat lemons. There was no way around it. Life was often hard. When bad things happened, we shed tears and asked questions. We wondered why these things happened to us or felt sorry for ourselves. We whined and complained. We got angry or took things out on those around us. We may have been angry at God for allowing these things to happen. That was natural and expected. We suffered tragedies and loss and we wanted things to be okay again. We didn’t want to eat a lemon. We wanted our loved ones back, the pain to go away, the problem resolved…but that wasn’t how it worked. This was our path. This was our story. This was God’s plan. We had to decide what we were going to do next … but no matter how we handled our problems, we first had to accept what happened to us.
“I have told you these things so that in me, you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We may eventually find the brighter side of things. We can look for that silver lining. We can one day start to see the beauty in the disaster…but first, when the world is spinning and your heart is breaking; we have to take the hit, suffer the blow, and eat the lemon. When we eat those lemons, we need to remember that God is strengthening us. We also have to remember that God is always with us. We don’t have to do it alone. God will help us through whatever struggle may come. God will help us to accept that lemon, allow us to taste it, and then to swallow it.
We will find good and bad in this world. We will know suffering but we will also know joy. When we have faith in God, we know that as dark as it seems right now, the light will shine, our hearts will be mended, and our pain will subside. There are moments, though, when we lose hope. It may not feel like happiness will ever be again when our worlds are falling apart. It may not seem possible that we can find the strength to go on. It is in those moments when we have to cling to our faith. When we have faith in God, we know that He will give us what we need to keep going.
We have to swallow that sour lemon today, but we will taste the sweet again tomorrow.
“The Lord gives perfect peace to those whose faith is firm.” Isaiah 26:3