How to Sweeten Lemonade

“The secret of life is not only making lemonade out of lemons — but it’s understanding the benefits of the lemons. It’s looking into the countless ways that lemons make us better.”

I’ve come to know my neighborhood well. As the days have gotten shorter and the skies more grey, I’ve taken to long, midday walks around my area. I wind my way around the edges of the lake, down the main streets to memorize the shops, and explore every tiny side street for hidden wonders, spaces to calm my mind and inspire my pen. I walk slowly. Breathe easily. Sometimes I even stand still.

I haven’t always appreciated this pace.

I used to move all the time. I’m approaching seven years in the Bay Area, which is much longer than I’ve lived anywhere else besides when I was younger. Movement to me was a salve, a promise. Because movement meant I was progressing. It meant that I was on to the next thing, and that had to be positive. Right?

I was so wrong that it was slowly destroying me.

These past three years have provided me with the clarity that you can be moving, even fast, and marching in place. That just because old habits have gotten me to where I am, does not mean they still serve me. That there is no purpose in ‘running from’ when you’re not ‘running to.’ Especially if you’re running from yourself.

“Because listen. If you can’t understand the good of lemons, you’ll be aggrieved squeezing out their juice. It’ll turn out bitter and you’ll resent it. And also be bitter.”

2020 was meant to be my year. I’d made room for all that I wished God would place in my life. They never came. Or at least they didn’t in the ways that I had naively demanded them.

Standing still is terrifying. And that’s what 2020 made me do. In March, as shelter-in-place took effect, there was nowhere to go. And I panicked. Standing still meant sitting with my thoughts in ways I hadn’t in a long time. Ways I didn’t want to. Standing still meant hearing everything in the depths of my mind, because they had been properly silenced. I longed to remove myself from this collision. But it was inescapable.

“But when you can appreciate the lemons, you’ll find yourself singing with spirit as you squeeze and dancing in surrender as you stir. Your lemonade will be sweetened with freedom, peace, gratitude, love, understanding, and compassion.”

We cannot change the things we do not face. I should know this by now since one of my greatest life influences, James Baldwin, said it. Maybe in another timeline I learned these things with the natural sweetness of honey, instead of the tartness of the lemon. But in this world, this one life that I know, I’ve been running a lemonade stand as if it were my full time job. How could I love making lemonade when it felt like it was all I drank?

But if it weren’t for the lemons, I’d still be hurtling down a path that could only lead to destruction. I remembered that life wasn’t some equation of good and bad — some things just ARE. the more I squeezed the lemons, the better I became at getting out the juice. Not the bitter tastes of anger, but the sweet juices of clarity. Because when I was forced to stand still I could finally see my physical and mental health for what they had become.

So I started making changes. I became a morning person, putting aside her phone in favor of lighting a candle and reciting prayers and affirmations out loud. I went outside and moved my aching body. I listened when my body or my mind said it had enough, and needed rest. I grew my hair and brought my curls back to life. I drank my water and put goodness into my soul through sunshine and friendships.

I meditated on these moments. And when I meditated on the lemons, when I took deep breaths and breathed the lemons out, I found the freedom of truths, the peace of going back to my roots of not comparing myself to others, gratitude for the life I am building, love for things right in front of me and around me, and the compassion for myself I’d long given to others. I can’t say that I’ll ever love life’s lemons, but I no longer fear the collision. My recipe for lemonade is good. Worthy of sips on a hot day to quench my thirst. I will continue to perfect it.

“Everyone will want you to pour into their cup. And they’ll want to know how you sweetened that thang like that. And it’ll bring you immeasurable joy to tell them.”

The thing about lemons is that once the squeezing got easier, I wanted to share the recipe with others. I’ve often talked about supporting others on their healing journey while still in the midst of my own. I remind myself that storytelling is a heavenly, spiritual gift. That how I’ve sweetened ‘that thang’ like that was no artificial sweetener, but rather a mix of God, faith, community, and perseverance. I refused to let the lemons make me bitter, even when I felt like the tree shook harder on my grass, and it was never green. I just kept squeezing. And loving, extra hands wrapped around mine for extra pressure.

May my cup runneth over and flow into yours. May my words help you squeeze a little harder.

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