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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

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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

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After The Memorial Day Parade

It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.

-C. S. Lewis, “The Sermon and the Lunch”

See you at the parade tomorrow?

‘Spose so. We’ve got a house to clean and a lawn to mow, but we’ll be there. 

Yeah. We need to get our garden in soon, but it seems like the right thing to do. 

Nine o’clock?  Same place?

Yup. Corner of Lincoln and Kane. 

May’s rite must go on. So we went to the parade today. Because we must remember.

My forbears were farmers. None of my near kin fought for physical freedom. No names or faces come to mind when bands and flags go by. 


What if we don’t have an Uncle John who died in Vietnam or Cousin Jack who served in Iraq? What’s to remember then? 


If we’re Christians, plenty. 


Jon Bloom says that of all people believers are a “memorial” people. Only when we remember the gracious past can we forge free into our glorious future. With or without a parade, Christians remember the high cost of freedom. 

So stand up, boys, when the flags go by. Clap your hands, or salute. We rise, guys, and remember.

Remember Freedom’s Cost

But God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

We don’t often make it to that third stanza of America, The Beautiful. But it’s a good one for memory. O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.


There were and still are, heroes who love mercy more than life. There are still soldiers who fall on grenades. There are still heroes who lay down their lives. 

So guys, remember that real moms’ sons and real boys’ dads and real uncles and friends laid down their lives. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Hundreds of thousands gave their lives, if not to death, then precious time in their life’s prime, to preserve the freedom of the country they loved. All gave some, and some gave all. 

We are not our own. We-our lives, our blessed hope and our freedom-were bought with a price. 

Remember What Freedom’s From

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7

We’d all would be free from tyranny. No taxation without representation and free to speak our minds and hold up signs. Free to roam about and buy what we want and work where we will. We’d all be free from oppressive government, though we might argue the line where protecting oppresses.

But for what do we want it? Freedom to follow my deceitful heart, wherever it might lead, is no real freedom. In fact, obeying my every desire- following my lusting eyes and boasting heart-is not freedom at all. It is bondage. Paul called it slavery to sin.

Freedom to “be myself,” is not what this day is about. At least not for the Christian. George Bernard Shaw offered a definition of hell, in his play Man and Superman, which was, “having to do what you want.” This, writes Fr. Stephan Muse, leads to total depravity, and it happens a little bit at a time. 

We must remember that real freedom always means free from and free for

Remember What Freedom’s For

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 


The Corinthians thought they had freedom all figured out. To them Paul wrote, though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant of all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19). That remarkable statement of freedom from and freedom for that led Martin Luther to write,

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one. 

Our freedom is for love. Christ set us free to serve. Freedom that means only free to, as my boys and my niece said driving home today, do what you want to do. This is not freedom. Freedom that overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do-this is true freedom.


Fr. Stephan Muse explains,

True freedom is gained by coming to love Christ more than we love our own pleasures, likes and dislikes-by encountering God, and by coming to love the world more than we desire to possess and use it and others for our own ends. By praying “Thy will be done on earth” instead of our own, we begin to be instilled with a willingness to offer ourselves for the life or the world. We discover that we no longer have to do what we want; we are free and willing to do whatever God…wills. 

This morning from my same spot with our old friends, on the corner of Lincoln and Kane, I saw someone else. Someone from a former church. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I hadn’t we hadn’t spoken in a year at least. I saw her when the band played Mine Eyes Have Seen.


But I pretended my eyes had not. The band played on and my friend and I talked on. And I saw the estranged one when the unicycles and stilted clowns and all the scouts went past. But on I talked, pretending my eyes hadn’t seen. Free not to feel awkward. Free to ignore. Free.


But not really free.

Freedom After The Parade 

So rise, boys, and remember the high price of freedom. Stand silent, salute. Honor our freedom fighters. Let’s don’t let this parade be just a frenzy for the living. 


Count yourselves dead to sin. And alive in Christ to love. 


You know where this is going. You know just where I went. When the last red fire truck rolled by, I ambled 30 feet to the right. There she was-collecting Crunch bar wrappers, corralling her kids, folding their chairs.


True freedom overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do. 


So I smiled at this estranged friend my eyes had seen. I stretched out a hand to help and asked her,

How have you been? 

And that is what freedom is for. 

For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 


Galatians 5:13

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Holding Freedom Up

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. –Thomas Paine
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. –Galatians 6:7

Freedom keeping is fatiguing. And I fear we won’t long reap her blessings. I fear, because we weary. We weary of holding freedom up. We trade the spangled banner and wave a paler flag. The strain is tiring so we walk away and throw the towel and forfeit freedom’s blessings. 

As we celebrate 12-score + 2 today, I wonder, How many more?
 
I’m no expert on our nation’s founding fathers. I’m no keeper of rare birth-of-the-nation knowledge. But the little I know assures me of this: It was a ton of work to get this country off the ground. Had it not been for the fathers’ strength to support the burden, we’d not be singing, O Say Can You See? but God Bless The Queen.
 

And as goes the individual, so goes the family. As goes the family, so goes the nation. Our nation cannot be stronger, cannot be better than its constituent parts. On this 242nd anniversary of our Independence Day, I’m fixed on two big ways our founding fathers were stronger than so many of their native sons.

Our fathers bore two immensely fatiguing weights of freedom that today we can scarcely bear.

 

Weight #1: Virtuous To The Core

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

It’s wearisome to be virtuous. The Spirit’s fruit is free, but it takes great effort to pull the weeds.

Virtue is effortful. The strongest battles I face are the ones I fight inside my soul. The ones I fight between submission and self, between forgiveness and grudge, between self-control or glut. Victory with those weeds makes me strong.

Benjamin Franklin nailed the need for personal virtue when he said, It is a grand mistake to thing of being great without goodness and I pronounce it as a certain that there was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous. 

Patrick Henry, knew it too. Bad men cannot make good citizens, he said. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.


Liberty cannot exist without virtue

Our founders well knew this.

George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” 

James Madison stated: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical [imaginary] idea.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.” 

Samuel Adams said: “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.  He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.” 

John Adams stated: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. We will reap, we do reap, fruit of our founding fathers’ virtue. We reap the fruit of Washington’s integrity and Hamilton’s fortitude. Of Jefferson’s high sense of justice and Adams’ unflagging perseverance. 

They fought the fatiguing battles for personal virtue that raged within their souls. And because they won their soul’s battles, our nation grew. Their virtue supported freedom’s fruit. 

Do we bear such fruit? Or has it fallen from the vine?

 

Weight #2: Civil When In Conflict

Let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 5:25-26

Beyond the daily weight of striving to be men of virtue, they bore this other massive weight. One doesn’t need to read too broadly on the fathers to see a lot of conflict. Drafting and ratifying documents like the Declaration and the Constitution required the immense strength of civility.

The term isn’t used much anymore, and a newer term, tolerance has muddied the waters. Civility, writes Gregory Koukl,

[C]an be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.

With a few notable exceptions, while the fathers didn’t all see eye to eye on every idea, they refused to walk away. Or at least to be gone for very long.

Our fathers stayed engaged when ideas clashed. They believed better was in their grasp and they were willing to work for it. They bore that heavy weight of disagreement with ideas while showing respect for persons.

And that, probably more than virtue, is a weight we don’t much care to bear. We crumble under the slightest weight of disagreement. Our “right” to feel comfortable trumps the right to free expression.

Don’t Disengage

When our ideas conflict with another’s we often disengage. We wander off and find Facebook groups for folks who think like us. We say, You have your ideas and I have mine and never the twain shall meet and dialogue’s done right there. And we are the weaker for it.

Staying civil in disagreement is taxing. Representing oneself lovingly and well with those who oppose our ideas is exhausting. Staying engaged when you’re misunderstood is soul-wearying. Civility is a heavy weight. It requires persevering and persisting and caring. For those with whom we disagree.

Thomas Jefferson was John Adams’ greatest political rival. And 50 year-long friends. The two met at the First Continental Congress in 1775. It waned when the two faced off in the 1800 presidential race. In a truly amazing grace story, their friendship was rekindled with help from their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush suggested Jefferson write Adams and he did and Adams wrote back and their friendship endured to the day they both died in 1826.

Bearing Freedom’s Weight

I’m no expert. But I know that what makes makes muscles strong is bearing lots of weight. And I know that what makes a marriage or friendship or a church or nation great is not 100% unanimity all the time. What makes us great is working side by side, staying engaged, in relationship, when we don’t see eye to eye. Pressing on and plowing through and virtuously, civilly moving right along.

I do this feebly and sluggishly and sometimes when I disagree, I press too hard or disengage too long. But this is where I want to be. It’s where Jefferson and Adams were.

Fifteen years after Dr. Rush helped the two reconcile, Jefferson and Adams’ friendship ended.

[O]n July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred — perhaps appropriately — on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’ family later recalled that his last spoken words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

The written words of Jefferson and Adams, however, survive to this day, preserving the rich legacy of their friendship, thoughts, and ideas. In their later years, Jefferson responded to a reflective question from Adams: “You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea. I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.”

Our founders bore these two weights: the weight of civility when big, founding-of-a-nation ideas were in conflict and the weight of virtuous living.

Pressing On Imperfectly

They did not do either perfectly. There were defeats along the way. Personal virtue flagged. For all his pursuing frugality and virtue, Jefferson’s Monticello was sold for debt upon his passing. Hamilton never resolved his differences with Burr and Jefferson grew so frustrated by the sometime lack of civility that he did resign from Washington’s cabinet. 

General Washington suffered a few defeats along the way, like the one at Brandywine Creek. But the war would still be won. The day after Washington’s defeat by the British, under General Howe at Brandywine, Thomas Paine wrote these timeless words. The first line of his speech began this post. Here is how Paine ended his “short address to [British] General Howe,”

You, sir, are only lingering out the period that shall bring with it your defeat. You have yet scarce began upon the war, and the further you enter, the faster will your troubles thicken. What you now enjoy is only a respite from ruin; an invitation to destruction; something that will lead on to our deliverance at your expense. We know the cause which we are engaged in, and though a passionate fondness for it may make us grieve at every injury which threatens it, yet, when the moment of concern is over, the determination to duty returns.

So we are not moved by the gloomy smile of a worthless king, but by the ardent glow of generous patriotism. We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in. In such a case we are sure that we are right; and we leave to you the despairing reflection of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.  

And so we say to our strongest foe, who threatens daily to undo us- who tempts us to lapse in virtue and be uncivil in conflict-we say to him,

We know the cause which we are engaged in. We are and by right ought to be free. We fight not to enslave, but so that we may live as Christ made us to be. We live with these weights and weary ourselves to make room for honest men to live. We now declare ourselves free. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13