On Making Stories and Making Lemonade
Along the way the BFF and I realized we had shared contempt for that saying, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" Life is painful and hard and that phrase didn't do anything for us in our times of greatest struggle. But I see now that it has its place. I think of when I was 14 and my Mom was driving a couple of my high school girlfriends and me home from a big shopping trip. There was a stop in traffic on the freeway that lasted so long that everyone was getting out of their cars and just hanging out on the still freeway. My Mom had us all climb up onto the roof of our mini-van and then she went over to some people a few cars ahead of us and asked them if they would share some of their fresh picked cherries with us. They, of course, did not resist as no one would resist charm the likes of my Mother's. So we sat on the mini-van rooftop and ate cherries. Lemonade out of lemons. Those are the sorts of superficial life circumstances where adding a pound of sugar and a straw is perfectly adequate to offset the sour. However, life's most violent assaults feel too painful for sugary lemons. So in the thick of life's storms, BFF will grab my hand and we'll look at each other and shout, “F--- the lemons!" Then we'll proceed to live through whatever dark night of the soul has overtaken us.
About year four or five of marriage, Colby and I were inspired by some awesome books we read, sermons preached and observing admired older friends of ours to begin framing our life around the idea of making stories. We were inspired to both go about purposefully choosing to MAKE exciting adventures happen and to look at the adventures that came our way not at all by choice as part of our story we were writing. So when our four year old went into the upstairs bathroom, turned the sink on full blast, plugged the sink, walked out of the bathroom, shut the door and no one noticed until we were sitting in our downstairs living room and heard water rushing down the doorway of our coat closet, we looked at each other and chanted "just making stories, just making stories." We could see that we'd have to pay a lot of money to replace all of that flooring our little guy had flooded. We could see that the house would be torn apart for some time. We could see that drying out the subfloor with industrial fans would probably rack up our electricity bill. We could also see that years later, the inconvenience of it all was minor and the story is GREAT! "Hey, Tai, remember when you flooded our house?" GOLDEN!!! But again, it's the superficial stories where this mantra really keeps your head up. We can chuckle about a little ripping up of carpet and baseboards but certainly there are so many stories that feel as though they'll never be golden ones to share. Stories where it would never be appropriate to suggest citrus juice. However, I have found that the "just making stories, Just making stories" with the shrug of a shoulder can also often look more like "I HATE THIS DAMNED STORY!" in fetal position on the floor of my closet and still have the same effect.
When I was young, my Mom's main mantra was always, "this too shall pass" and as a young girl I threw this in the category of things my Mom just had plain wrong like telling me that purple and red are not to be worn together. Pffshah, Mom. Whatever. I get it though. She meant that one day the pain of Middle School would not sting as badly as it did right then in that acne stained battlefield of a teenage life. Okay, true. It did pass. Although, the thought of Middle School still gives me anxiety to this day but the point remains that she was right in a deep sense. I don't have to go to P.E. today, THANK YOU JESUS! It's all part of my story though. It's all still alive inside of me. Every pain, every joy, every big mess up, every thrill. It is all dormant inside of my soul, ya know? Like, a library! My life is like a LIBRARY! The stories are ALL still there waiting for me to draw upon for good or for bad or for entertainment, for strength, for reassurance, for help, for education, for encouragement any time. When I use that language right IN the moments of my struggles, all I'm doing is naming a truth. I'm calling it what it is. PART of my story, NOT the whole story. I'm kicking the power of my pain in the gut a little, knocking it down just a tiny notch. I'm remembering that some day, yes, this mess will pass and I'll tell the story and it might be a funny story later or it might still be as excruciating as the day it happened but either way it's a good story to tell, to share with the world and mostly with myself. I'll remind myself of where I come from. I'll remind myself of how badass I am. I'll draw upon these stories for strength to face the next one and the next one after that. Some pain has been great enough to make me feel like I'll NEVER get to a place where it feels ANY less horrible than it does right then. If I can just find it in me to whisper, "it's another story, another story, one more effing story," I can believe just a mustard seed enough to see that maybe tomorrow will come. It's just the language that I have found most helpful. For some people "making lemonade out of lemons" is extremely effective in moving them forward and for some it's, "this too shall pass." For me, it's "just making stories, just making stories."
Whatever the language, we all have to speak something to move ourselves in the direction of our wholeness. I call that prayer. Speaking the truth that we need before we even feel that it's actually true. Say it, eventually believe it, and see how your life, heart and mind all become a testament of grace and power and love. We have built in us, in so many ways, the incredible power of self-healing. Prayer is one of our greatest powers to heal our own damn hearts. When struggle comes your way, speak something. Find a word or phrase that moves you to use as your mantra. Just a few words; keep it simple. Then practice repeating that mantra over and over any time you feel the weight of life. Prayers are requests but they aren't always questions. Speaking a truth about how the current story of your life isn't going to swallow you alive IS a request. A request for strength, a request for hope, a request for belief in what you cannot see, a request for movement in your life. Speak the truth that this isn't all there is. Maybe that's your mantra, "this isn't all there is."
Prayer is anything you need to say to move into greater wholeness. The truth is, things will not always be this way. Life will move forward. Your pain will not swallow you alive. Nothing can. You are an eternal being created in the image of an eternal God. Let it be. Amen.