“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Pennsylvania summers delight me!  Warm sunshine floods the sky, colorful flowers bloom in pots on my patio, birds, bunnies, and squirrels scurry around my yard, and my personal favorite, an abundance of produce fills the farmer’s markets.  It starts at the end of May when peas, rhubarb, asparagus, and strawberries hit their peak.  Soon, blueberries, apricots, cherries, and zucchini appear in bins.  Then, raspberries, peaches, and nectarines, along with peppers, corn, melons, and tomatoes dominate the baskets at some of my favorite local stands.  Finally, squashes and apples make their debut towards the end of the summer.  This abundance of produce reminds me of how good God is, creating this colorful assortment of foods to thrill our taste buds with flavors, along with the bonus of nourishing our bodies with essential vitamins and minerals.

This year, I picked strawberries in a local patch.  After devouring a few of the perfect berries, the ones that are deep red right through to their centers, I had a moment of pure bliss!  I couldn’t believe how sweet the flavor was in the handpicked strawberries.  I immediately contrasted them to the ones I had been buying in stores for weeks.  Those strawberries, often white in their core, lacked flavor, just teasing the taste buds with a hint of strawberry essence.  I immediately understood my son’s resolution on strawberries.  For years, Ethan has refused to eat any strawberries unless they were handpicked from a local farm, referring to the ones in the stores as imposters!  I understood his resolve on some level, but strawberries are one of my favorite fruits.  And although I had a moment of absolute bliss, strawberry season and my memory are short.  Within a couple of weeks, I went back to buying the imposter strawberries, content with the lackluster flavor.

Photo credit to Margaret Collins

Terry and I will soon be celebrating twenty-four years of marriage, and I would say that, overall, we have had a good marriage.  Like most marriages, we had our honeymoon stage where we marked every first moment with romantic sighs, thinking that life could not get any better.  Within in a few years, we had two toddlers, and we had partnered together to raise our kids in a loving home.  We had some incredible moments creating memories and marking milestones in our lives.  We loved and encouraged each other, having the occasional date or weekend getaway.  If marriage was a strawberry, we had a good strawberry!

But then life happened: job changes, moving to a different state, children becoming adults, illnesses, and the death of my beloved mother-in-law.  With all these changes, we spent less time investing in our marriage and more time going through the motions.  Soon, we were satisfied with the tasteless strawberry, no longer craving the best.  We relied on years of producing good fruit to sustain our marriage.  But we all know that good fruit does not last long untended.  You leave a fresh-picked strawberry in the fridge for more than a few days, it will soon develop mold.  This mold will spread to all the fruit around it.  Because we were no longer investing in our marriage, our tempers were short, our words were sharp, and our selfishness grew.  Quickly, even this tasteless strawberry started to rot.

Fortunately, we both know a God who is faithful and merciful.  He used some “tough”, maybe even “rotten”, situations to help us redirect our diverging paths back towards one another.  We started investing more in each other, learning to listen in love, not out of self-interest.  We shared life together again, developing new mutual interests and rekindling connection.  We found new and healthier ways to deal with conflict.  We reaffirmed God as the center of our marriage and made each other our priority.

The hard work cultivated a “perfect” strawberry again.  I have learned some valuable lessons from that time that I don’t want to ever forget!

  1. If you want the perfect strawberry marriage, you must work for it.  I spent two hours in the hot sun looking for the perfect strawberries.  I didn’t pick the strawberries out of drudgery, instead, I enjoyed my time in the patch, knowing that I would benefit from the results.  If I want a great marriage, I need to be working at it.  This work shouldn’t be done out of obligation, but out of love with a servant’s heart.
  2. Strawberry season might be short but preserving the strawberries will help the season last!  I picked about ten quarts of strawberries and there was no way we could eat all of them in the few short days they were perfect.  So, I found different ways to preserve the strawberries: making freezer jam, strawberry honey butter and tray freezing some to use for pies and smoothies in the dead of winter.  It is amazing to open a bag of strawberries in the middle of a blizzard and smell the sweetness of summer permeate my kitchen!  Marriage is not always the high moments where you feel like you are living out the best romantic movie scenes.  Sometimes, life is hard, and these tough times can take a toll on your marriage.  Yet, if I take the time to invest in creating good communication skills and positive conflict resolution techniques, when the tough times hit, these skills will help preserve a good marriage.
  3. A perfect strawberry is only sweeter when covered with chocolate.  This year, we saved some of the best strawberries and dipped them in chocolate.  These were a decadent treat!  When rotten situations hit our marriage, God’s mercy and grace covered our lives as we worked towards restoration.  Even though we spent time doing some hard work, it was not enough to fix some of the wounds we both felt.  This was the perfect place for God to step in and fix those broken places with His unconditional love and gentleness.  As we moved towards the “perfect strawberry”, His “chocolate” grace covered places that might otherwise have resulted in bitterness.  I am forever humbled that the God who created all, cares enough about Terry and me to show us a better path.

I do not want to leave you with the impression that our marriage is perfect; we still have our moments of sharp words and tempers.  However, even though we are still human, we are in such a better place than we were three years ago.  After sharing our story with Ethan, he responded with something like this, “I have never seen you and Dad happier.  Genuinely happy, not only with each other, but with God”.  His description brought me to tears.  You see, the rotten fruit that was developing could very well have destroyed our marriage.  It took courage to stop the rot and invest in producing good fruit again.  During that time, I stood on this scripture found in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”  This anniversary, while I am choosing to celebrate us, more importantly, I am celebrating God’s grace!

If you are interested in making the strawberry honey butter, please follow the link to the recipe: https://www.growforagecookferment.com/strawberry-honey-butter/

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