I thought I had completely lost my mind as I stood in my kitchen with every flat surface (and some not so flat) sticky with muscadine juice, sugar, purple hulls and such. Whatever possessed me to think I wanted to make muscadine preserves? This is not an easy task – squirt the pulp from the fruits, save the hulls in one pile and pulp in another, cook each in separate pots, mash the pulp through a sieve to get out the seeds (and they are many, cut up the tough cooked rinds, mix together with tons of sugar, peel lemons and cook the rinds and juice – on and on it goes through the endless canning process. Never have I seen such a messy kitchen, but on the back side of this, something delicious and sweet came from the efforts.
As I completed the process and cleaned the kitchen, I thought of other things that were tough in the process, but, in the end, produced sweet results. 1. Making our (my husband and mine), journey through college with three small sons 2. Breaking the tough exterior of two of our former church members and making friends in the end. Many more situations and people flood my memory, but for the sake of space given to my article, I’ll stop with those.
I’ve written before about some of our difficult college days, so I won’t belabor that one. I’ll just say, after a season filled with financial struggles, little sleep, some anxieties, my neighbor’s harsh exterior and discouraging words, I was catapulted me into the college challenge. Her sneering and comment – Do you really think you can pass the entrance exam? – made me even more determined to succeed and not give up when things got rough.
One of my favorite “cracking a tough nut” experiences occurred in our first pastorate out of seminary. There was this man who came to church regularly and who had a sweet countenance but was so shy he could hardly hold his head up and speak. Growing up in a country store, I would talk to a stump and expected it to talk back. This guy just wouldn’t be engaged in conversation although I would make an effort every Sunday. One week, I had been to the beauty shop to get a haircut. I don’t know what got into my beautician, but the Apache in her came out. She cut my hair so short, it stuck out like a porcupine. That became the nutcracker. When I spoke to the man that Sunday after church and asked how his week had gone, he replied, “I believe better than yours. What happened, Barbara? Did you get your head hung under a bush hog? With that, he, Steve, and I enjoyed a good laugh, albeit at my expense. From that day forward, he responded to us with small talk every Sunday and became a lasting friend.
Another “tough nut” in another church was a lady who scared weaker people with her gruffness; I was too mean to let her intimidate me. She, opened bible in hand, waited for me to emerge from the choir room after the Sunday morning service. With a superior attitude and a well-dated and marked bible, she said, “Mrs. Eubanks, do you realize your husband preached this exact same sermon on such and such date?”
My reply wasn’t bathed in kindness. (My mantra was don’t mess with my husband or children). “No, he did not. He may have used the same text, but it was a different sermon.” Then with increased fervor I added, “And if he did, you probably needed it.” She huffed and walked away without another word.
I didn’t realize anyone had witnessed my nastiness until one of the deacons, a large man with an infectious smile and disposition, put his arm around me and said, “I’m so proud of my pastor’s wife. If you had not stood your ground with her, she would have “eaten your lunch” forever. Now she will respect you and be a friend.” She was, and she proved to be a great supporter of my husband throughout our days there.
Our lives may be filled with tough situations and with irregular people, but with God’s help, we can squeeze sweetness from these. Always trust in the Lord and his guidance. These circumstances and people are NOT in our paths by accident; they help us grow.
Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart. Gen. 50:20 MSG