Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...7 Steps for Making Lemonade

You've heard the saying: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It means to take a bad situation and make something positive, something good of it. If you are a parent or if you are involved in ministering to others (and parenting really is a ministry), you know that some days working with people can get ugly. Here are some tips I've found that make parenting or ministry a little less like lemons and a little more like lemonade.

For many kids, their first (and maybe only) try at entrepreneurship (is that a word?) is setting up their own lemonade stand. One year during a garage sale, my kids and a couple friends sparked and idea. The kids thought they could use the captive audience to their benefit and set to work dragging their faded yellow and orange plastic picnic table to the driveway, constructing eye-catching crayon signs, and rounding up an assortment of plastic drinking glasses. They also arranged a small cooler with Twinkles, Ho-Hos, and Ding-Dongs to arouse the attention (and thirst) of unsuspecting shoppers. The deal was, they could keep any money they made, but they couldn't stalk the customers.

They did a fair business that day, aided by the sweltering heat, their cute faces, and their stellar salesmanship. It was fairly easy work too. They didn't have to purchase any of their wares, they made the lemonade with my powdered mix and my help, and they sampled the merchandise when business was slow. But thinking back on that memory, it reminded me that both parenting and  ministry are sometimes like making lemonade. But more often than not, it is more like making lemonade from scratch. Let's look at the seven steps in making lemonade and see what each step can teach us.

Step 1: Prepare your work area and yourself. You will need to gather your supplies and ingredients. For ministry this might include questions, a Bible, a lesson, notepaper. For parenting you will need questions, answers, a Bible, life lessons, natural consequences, and lots of money. You will need to prepare yourself by washing up. This might include spending time in prayer, learning how to hold your tongue, preparing some wisdom and knowledge, gaining a humble attitude.

Step 2: Gather some ripe lemons. The number will depend on the people to whom you are ministering. In a mentoring relationship you will need one. For parenting, a handful is adequate--I'll take three, please. In larger ministry settings, you could have upwards of 30 or even a couple hundred. It is important to note that the lemons must be ripe or you will not have success with your final product. You can't hurry the process.

Step 3: Prepare the lemons. To do this, first wash the lemons. In ministry this looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer. In parenting it looks like bathing those little buggers in prayer, and in, well, soap. Sometimes a little life-style ministry is effective too. You know, just getting into people's lives. The second part of prepping the lemons is to press them on the counter so they will release the most juice. This might look like it hurts the lemons, but it is necessary for the final outcome. In both ministry and parenting, this includes setting boundaries, applying discipline, and teaching. In parenting it may also include punishment.

Step 4: Add water to your pitcher. Without the water, the lemons would be too overpowering and bitter. For both ministry and parenting, a good dousing of the Holy Spirit will give the lemons just the right balance of tartness and refreshment.

Step 5: Add sugar. The sugar is the easy part. It's like icing on the cake, gravy on the biscuit. Sugar is all the stuff that is so easy to do in both ministry and parenting. It is the fun outings, the time spent investing in a relationship, the giving of gifts, the sharing of secrets, the good days of special memories and the not-so-good days of helping someone grieve. Sugar is inside jokes and on-going traditions. The fun stuff. Be liberal with the sugar.

Step 6: Cut the lemons and squeeze their juice. This step is easier when you've already taken the time to prepare the lemons. This requires getting right to the heart of the lemon, baring their cores, and then applying pressure so they give up every ounce of good that is within them. In ministry, this is when you ask the hard questions, take them to a new level, stretch them from their comfort zones, and teach them to give of themselves until they are empty. In parenting, this is when you help you children really know who they are with all the good, the bad, and the ugly of their hearts. When you ask the hard questions, stretch them to independence, and teach them how to be others-focused. This is the most dangerous of the steps. If you are not careful, you may cut yourself. Or you run the risk of not having prepared the lemons enough in advance and they squirt you in the eye. But, ministry and parenting can be messy business, so don't back down. Press on toward your goal, adjusting as necessary.

Step 7: Stir it all together and enjoy the fruit of your labor. Your job is now complete and you can sit back and relax or start a new batch of lemonade.

I'm sure there are many more days of sun and heat left in this summer for you to get started on making some refreshing lemonade. Just remember to follow the seven steps and your chances of ending up with a great glass of lemonade are high.

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