A Raspberry Love Story On Mom & Dad’s 50th

Some say love is spelled T-I-M-E. I say it’s spelled R-A-S-P-B-E-R-R-I-E-S and it’s measured in thorny scratches and mosquito bites.

It’s funny how they come together: mosquitos and berries, scratches and sweetness, the bramble and the rose.

Picking that bucket of berries this morning—with the mosquitoes buzzing and the sweat dripping and nearly hyperventilating as I blew the pesky insects off my nose— reminds me of a fabled 50 year-old story.

A story without which there might not be me.

Once Upon A Time…

A fair maiden named Darlene met a strapping young man named Mitchell on the high school debate bus.  At once Mitchell knew he’d found his mate. It took the cheery, Darlene Sunshine just a little longer.

Soon high school let out for the summer. And the field looks different come summer.

Mitchell must have known too, about teenage summers and how other fellas work the fields. So one July day a lot like today, along came young Mitchell.

But Mitchell was wise and wasn’t empty-handed when he came courting fair Darlene. He came bearing the crown jewel of mid-summer treasures. For it, the smitten young man had endured fierce summer sun, fought many a thorn and attacks by mosquitoes.

Mitchell was so taken with Darlene that those hours in the bramble seemed like seconds at the junior prom. Such was Mitchell’s love for the sunny and smiling Darlene.

The Cost of Love

So now, with the fields ripening fast in the middle of a Mukwonago summer, here comes Mitchell, bearing the costliest of gifts for a princess.

Darlene opened the door. Maybe she saw Mitchell’s scratches and welts and his strong juice-stained, thorn-scratched hands.

Then those bright hazel eyes locked on the pail. Oh, that pail!- glistening, laden with the finest of July. 

And with just one look at the amethyst gems in that brimming-full pail, Mitchell and Darlene’s deal was sealed. (At least that’s the story I tell.)

Mom and Dad have been married 50 years today.

Afterward: Freedom and Love and Raspberries Aren’t Free

I could leave it there, with the raspberry love story.

But I can’t. Because the analogies are so clear. And, honestly, I think Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind. Because they value this truth too: important things are costly.

So on this raspberry picking day two weeks after Independence Day as our country struggles through massive decision about Covid-19, please remember: freedom is not free.

Our founders pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to declare this nation free. Brave men and women still give their lives to preserve our liberty. It is effortful still, holding freedom up by tolerating different ideas— even ideas about wearing masks and virtual school plans—and by living virtuous lives.

Oh, do I know this is hard. Holding my tongue and listening, trusting good motives not despising others with different conviction… Is. So. Hard. It costs me comfort and much energy.

But spiritual freedom is costly too. It cost God the Father the death of his Beloved Son and it cost Jesus Christ his life. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness; we are not our own, we were bought at a price (Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:20). His blood-stained, nail-pieced hands bought us out of sin’s bramble.

Lately, I’ve been telling my teenaged son, None of the good stuff is free. Those ads and popups promise it. But you get what you pay for. Or what someone else paid dearly for.

So, no—love is not without cost and freedom is not free.

Neither is a bucket of raspberries.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16

Confirm Thy Soul In Self-Control

“Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.”

Do you recognize those lyrics? Can you name that tune?

In case you’re drawing a blank on that line- it’s from America The Beautiful, near the end of verse two.

Whether you’re more ashamed at the state of our nation or  “proud to be an American” this post is for you.

Despite the twin truths that peace and righteousness do not reign in this land and that the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to Catherine Lee Bates’ lyrics today.

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

What One Ought To Do

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, Benjamin Franklin wrote.

A nation’s soul can’t be stronger or more free than the sum, or soul, of its parts. And without individual ability to self-govern, without willpower, national government has no hope. A nation of souls enslaved to their sinful ways will not a free nation make.

Michael Novak explains that true freedom is not being able to do what what desires at the moment or is impelled by passion to do.

To be free as a human being ought to be is to be able to discern, not only what one desires to do or is impelled by passion to do, but also, and even more clearly, what one ought to do…In short, in “the American ideal”… is not the capacity to do what one wishes but the capacity to do what one ought. It is, in short, to be capable of self-government, self-mastery, and self-control.

Paul knew this too.

For he knew that true freedom is not found in following our hearts and acting out our selfish desires. Rather, it is found in subverting our desires to serve one another. Paul knew how easy it was stay slaves to sin:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Strong (Joyful) Souls Are No Accident

Add to the self-control mix, this common refrain I keep hearing as I talk with strong Christian friends. Can you hear the repeating theme?

Believe me, I could definitely down that whole pan of brownies tonight. I could. That’s why I can’t even sneak a bite. I’ll share them Friday.

It’s hard to get to bed by 11. There’s so much I can do when the kids are asleep. But when I stay up so late I overeat. Then I’m short and grumpy come morning.

I’d sure love to sleep in, but I make myself get up and work out early. There is some value in exercise. I’ve learned it won’t happen if I wait.

It seems a little over the top, I know, but I add my husband whenever I text or email another man. It’s just a safeguard. I’ve watched affairs start.

I try to practice giving others the last word, especially when we disagree. It’s hard to bridle my tongue and resist setting the record right. But it’s good.

In short, my faithful, fruitful Christian friends didn’t get that way by accident. They had all learned to exercise self-control. 

No One Drifts Toward Self-Control

There was quite a lot of Spirit-powered, self-control happening behind the scenes. They don’t toot their own horns, but day after day, they discipline themselves. Oh, sure, they stumble and fall sometimes. Then they get back up because they know the joy of self-control.

Do you know that joy? The joy of going to bed on a hungry stomach? Or of leaving a well-deserved zinger unsaid?

It’s counter-intuitive, the joy of self-control. Because the pleasure of Spirit borne fruit is way deeper than the fleeting joys of giving in to sin. Knowing that you didn’t cave, but by grace overcame- now that feels great.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Like a city with walls broken down

Like a city with its walls broken down is man who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28

Cities with broken down walls will crumble. They are open to enemies and become slaves to invaders.

A person without self-control is like an unprotected city. When we don’t exercise self-control, when we don’t say yes when we should and no when we shouldn’t, we are vulnerable to our soul’s enemies. In time, our city-souls will crumble.

Self-control matters. In this age of distraction and endless temptation to drift online and through social media, we so need self-control.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, President Lincoln said, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Soul-strength or city strength depends on walls of self-control. When we lack-self control we destroy our city from the inside, as individual and as nations. But exercising self-control confirms and bolsters the soul.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Foundational, Not Flashy

Being self-controlled is central to what it means to be a Christian.  With love and holiness, self-control is used to describe the essence of Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6).

When Paul was called to explain the Christian faith to the Roman Governor Felix, he summed up the Christian gospel and worldview as “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). He didn’t tack on peace or patience or kindness with Felix. He talked about self-control.

Not surprisingly Sir Secular Felix didn’t drop to his knees and convert. No- he was alarmed. “Go away for the present,” he said. Self-control is not flashy or flamboyant or fun. In the moment, anyway.

Author David Mathis describes self-control as not terribly attractive, but, frank and functional. And difficult.

It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Oreo, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or it can feel as significant as living out a resounding yes to sobriety and sexual purity. This is the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world, and its exercise is quite simply one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.

Self-control is not easy. But it is possible.

Not only is it possible, but if Christ’s Spirit dwells in you, His fruit will come. And self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

But as with any fruit, tending the soil can help it grow. So, the really difficult thing might be to take Jesus at his word and take time to abide in the Word. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, Jesus said. We must abide to be self-controlled.

But even then- I won’t kid you- it’s still a fight. Reining in my tongue, my stomach, my controlling appetites.

By the grace of God, self-control is possible.

And America, you listening? God has shed his grace on thee.

But America? The grace God shed on us is one and the same as the grace that confirms our souls in self-control, our liberty in law.

So, yes, America: Happy Independence Day!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:11–13

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

-Catherine Lee Bates

America The Beautiful