It’s an old saying, one my mother was very fond of repeating – “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Other sayings that come to mind from that time are: “A penny saved is a penny earned”; “A stitch in time saves nine”; and probably a local favorite in my “Egg Capital of the World” hometown, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched”. While we can either chuckle at or get irritated by these sometimes not-so-subtle “Mom knows best” truisms, in fact Mom often did know best. We just didn’t know it until we reached Mom’s age.
Old sayings begin and perpetuate because they accurately portray the experience of countless generations of people as they work to survive life’s ups and downs. They often distill the essence of what it takes to successfully face life’s challenges. The lemonade truism tells us that when a crisis hits, we have two choices: we can succumb to bitterness, despair, and seeing everything as a potential nightmare; or we can see our crisis as a crossroads experience with a potential for a new perspective and new opportunities.
So the old saying encouraging us to make lemonade out of lemons contains some real wisdom. What at first may seem like a blow, a setback, or a knockout punch can turn out to be a blessing instead. It all depends on our attitude and the choices we make. Are we going to respond to our challenge with a willingness to change?
When hard times come our way, there are two distinctly different paths to choose from in response. We can wallow in the initial shock, feel defeated, and believe that our security and our life are out of our control. Or, we can regroup. We can ask ourselves, “What am I going to do? How am I going to make this work? What good can come out of this? What purpose is there in all this? How do I turn this around and make it into something good now?”
To take the second path is to embark on what I consider to be a spiritual and emotional quest. This quest can result in a profound attitude change that refuses to see our wounds as a tragedy or as a permanent disability, but rather as something that needs to be dealt with and turned around.
A perfect example of this is someone who has had a permanently disabling physical injury. Many people have suffered accidents or illnesses that have left them paralyzed, paraplegic, or dependent for the rest of their lives in ways they never anticipated. It’s easy to think they could be justified to wallow in self-pity and bitterness, resent their circumstances, and get angry at and blame everyone and everything for the condition they’re in. There are disabled people out there just like that.
Then there are those disabled – and we’ve helped some of them at my institute – who turn their lives around instead. They commit to making a new life for themselves which includes their disability, not dismisses or discounts it, while using their energies to create a new purpose for their lives.
Joni Eareckson Tada is an example of one of these people. After a diving accident when she was a teenager left her paralyzed from the neck down, Joni went on to create a tremendous wheelchair ministry all over the world, providing wheelchairs and support for others who have suffered as she has. She’s a successful songwriter, singer, painter, author and illustrator, and a famous speaker and radio and TV personality. She’s an extremely inspiring woman.
Another person who comes to mind is a good friend of mine. Todd Hargroder used to be a professional motocross racer. He was a young, healthy, vigorous guy who broke his neck during a race, becoming paraplegic and facing a lifetime of dependency on others for assistance with his basic life needs. But Todd has taken his terrible tragedy and made it into something that not only helps him, but others like him as well. He set out to design new wheelchairs for people like himself who want to continue to enjoy adventure and extreme sports.
Todd has developed wheelchair designs using lightweight titanium, new brake systems, and more comfortable configurations. People can use his wheelchairs to race, go on hiking trails, and gain access to terrain that was previously off-limits. He’s designed components to customize trucks for the disabled with new control systems to aid their drivability. You can tell he’s still a racer at heart; his designs are really sleek and aggressive.
Todd has his own construction company now, and continues to patent and develop new products. Nothing has stopped him. He still has his limitations and dependencies and they’re hard on him, but I don’t’ see him wallowing in misery. He does the best he can and he’s helping himself and a lot of other people with his rough terrain wheelchair designs. Its’ astounding what he comes up with. He has truly made lemonade out of lemons.
So when people experience a tragic crisis and their backs are to the wall, they can learn to be creative and helpful in ways they never would have anticipated otherwise. Knowing – or being – someone like that is an astounding, inspiring experience. None of us would wish suffering and pain of that kind on anyone. But if it does come, believe me it’s not the end of life. It can be a brand new beginning.