Squeezing answers out of author

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Thanks to author Norma Gayle for interviewing me on one of my favorite books, Squeezing Good Out of Bad.


No two ways about it, life is often full of more lemons than lemonade. In Squeezing Good Out of Bad, award-winning author, James Watkins shares the top ten ways to squeeze good out of bad circumstances and maintain your humor as well.

Squeezing Good Out of Bad is a humorous look at suffering. Isn’t that a contradiction of terms: humor and suffering?

Some one has said “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” And many times, we can look back at suffering with humor. And, I think that Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”) is the ultimate punch. God takes something that is absolutely bad and is able to redeem good out of it.

How can humor help us cope with those discouraging times in our lives? Can you give us one example from your own life?

I think it’s so important that we take our faith seriously, but I certainly don’t want to take my situation or myself too seriously. I sort of do a mental “top ten” list of what good about this situation. For instance, when I had radiation for cancer and it totally depleted my physical and mentally. My family dubbed it “radiation retardation.” Because of that, I was fired from a wonderful part-time job because I just couldn’t do it. So, “Top Ten Great Things about Losing Your Job”: 10. I’ll be paying less taxes next year. 9. I’ve got twenty hours a week of free time. 8. . . .

Again, it’s looking to how God is going to work good out of it.

But when you squeeze good out of bad, aren’t you just watering down the issues (making lemonade)?

Not at all. Romans 8 doesn’t say that everything that happens to us is “good.” We live in a fallen world of abuse, cancer, murder, pain, suffering, unemployment, war . . . . So, I totally disagree with Ray Steven’s song “Everything is beautiful, in its own way.” (What was he smoking?!) But, right back to Romans 8:28, God is able to miraculously work good out of something that is truly bad.

You make the distinction between problems and “facts of life;” between “hangnails” and “hand grenades.” How do you do that?

Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, makes a great distinction between problems and facts of life. A “problem” is something I can do something about. “A fact of life” is something I can’t do something about. So I need to do everything in my power to correct problems. But since I can’t do anything about a fact of life, I’ve got to quit trying to do something about it. I can pray about it, but that’s it. I’ve got to leave it there.

The other thing I need to do is put a “value” on the problem. Is this a problem that I would be willing to have a hang nail to resolve it? If so, it’s a small problem—and don’t make it any bigger. Or is a problem that you’d dive on a hand grenade—give you life—to resolve it? We went through a horrible family crisis and I would have readily traded it for a hernia, so it was a major problem. But most of mine are somewhere between hang nails and harmonica concerts.

So, it’s important to decide, if this is a problem that I can do something about, or a fact of life that I can only turn over to God. And not spend as much emotional energy on a hang nail as I would a hand grenade.

Your book is based on the familiar promise of Romans 8:28. But you believe the real truth is found in verse 29. Can you explain that?

For years, I viewed Romans 8:28 rather flippantly. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but I never considered what that purpose was. Verse 29 says it is “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” That’s what God wants to work out of the problems and tragedies that we face.

In fact, there’s an amazing verse in Hebrews 5:8: “Although [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus was “conformed to the likeness of” God’s son by what He suffered. He don’t become conformed to the image of God’s Son by “health and wealth” but by suffering.

As Christians, we all want to live fruitful lives, but how can we continue to be effective for Christ even when we are facing problems?

Second Corinthians 1:3-4 have become some of my favorite verses: “. . . the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

When I graduated with a degree in theology at 22, I didn’t have a lot of comfort to offer. So when someone came into the office with deep depression, I simply told them to get rid of “stinkin’ thinkin’” Now that I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression, I can offer them the comfort that I myself have received through prayer and Prozac.

Since then, I’ve added all kinds of situations in which I can offer comfort: cancer, family crisis, unemployment, kidney stones, . . .

After you wrote the first draft of this book, you personally went through a whole orchard of lemons. How did your book speak to you to help you face these past few years?

I wrote the first draft nine years ago, and even though I have a great agent, we just couldn’t find a publisher. That was before cancer, family crisis, unemployment. . . . So it’s a much more comforting, honest book.

And it forced me to not be so flippant and casual about the serious issues people are dealing with. Henri Nouwen talks about “wounded healers.” I think because of the lemons that have piled up in my life, I can more compassionately offer comfort to those buried under a pile of lemons.

Your publisher is offering a free download of this book to anyone currently unemployed. Why have you chosen to adopt this cause and how can they get a copy?

I think it’s kind of cruel to try to sell a book for $12.95 to someone who can’t pay their mortgage or put food on the table. So, if you’re currently unemployed or honestly can’t afford the book, just go to the CONTACT link above and email for a free e-book. And if you can afford a copy, do pay for it so the publisher can continue to give away copies to those who can’t.

You mention the importance of joining a “lemon support group.” Why is that so important?

Paul writes that there is no temptation that we face that’s not common to all. And so there is strength in being encouraged by others who are going through the exact same thing. We’re not alone!

What practical advice would you give someone who going through a life-puckering problem right now?

Rather than answers, here are some questions to ask:

• “Is this a problem or a fact of life? Is it something I can do something about or is it something only God can deal with?” “If it is something I can deal with, what practical things must I do to resolve it?”

• “Would I be willing to endure a hang nail for this problem to be resolved? Would I be willing to fall on a hand grenade to resolve this problem?” Put it in perspective. Don’t make a hang nail into a hand grenade?

• “How can God work good out of this?” “What is the purpose? How can I be conformed to the image of God’s Son through this problem?”

• “How can I comfort another person who is going through a similar problem with the comfort I have received from the God of all comfort?”

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Book Blurb:

Squeezing Good Out of Bad: Top ten ways to not only survive but thrive with a lemon-fresh attitude as you face those lemon juice in the eye, life-puckering problems. The author has had his share of sour fruit (cancer, unemployment, depression, chronic nose hair) but provides a humorous look at the problems of life. Learn how to find hope and humor amidst horrific circumstances.

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