Don Jacobson thinks of himself as a walking, talking lemonade story and he has good reason. After being severely injured in a hunting accident in 1980, he not only defied all the medical odds against him, but also marveled at how God used the sourest of circumstances to give him a wonderfully sweet and refreshing new life.
At the age of 24, while alone on an impromptu hunting trip and in no more than the span of time necessary for a shotgun blast, Jacobson’s world was turned upside down. In a single instant, his life became lemon-filled. “It took a while for God to change lemons into lemonade,” Jacobson now admits, “but in the end it was wonderfully sweet.”
In the 25-year interim since the accident, Jacobson has worked tirelessly, first serving as president and owner of Multnomah Publishers, where he oversaw the production of more than one-thousand titles and the sale of more than 100 million books before selling Multnomah to Random House in 2006. More recently, he founded D.C. Jacobson & Associates (DCJA), an author management company, so that he might be able to continue working closely with authors.
Today Jacobson and Brenda, his wife of thirty-five years, live in Portland, Oregon, where they both love sharing their lemonade stories and hearing or reading those of others in return. The couple has four amazing adult children, three of whom are married to equally amazing spouses.
In When God Makes Lemonade, author Don Jacobson has collected real-life stories from around the world that show everyday folks discovering unexpected sweetness in the midst of sour circumstances. Some are funny, others are sobering, and more than a few will bring tears of amazement. But these true stories all have one thing in common: hope.
There’s no question that life gives us “lemons,” like issues with health, employment, and relationships. But when those lemons become lemonade, it’s as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot summer day.
It’s true that in life “stuff” happens, but as you’ll see in these stories, Lemonade Happens too!
It’s a chilly day in late November, and the clouds are hanging low over the Cascade Mountains. The woods where I am hunting around Roslyn Lake are thick and wild, just like the forest in Canada where I grew up.
Trekking around the boundary of the water, I think back to the endless hours I spent fishing, hunting, and camping as a kid. Some of my friends wanted to fly into space, others dreamed of catching touchdowns in the Super Bowl, but I just wanted to be outside, breathing fresh air, living with a little dirt beneath my nails. I was captivated with the outdoors, so after high school I joined a logging crew. Then I got into construction. The specifics of the job didn’t really matter; as long as I had the sun on my skin, I was a happy man.
I circle the lake, making sure to keep quiet. I don’t want to scare the ducks, but Big Boy, my rambunctious black lab, whines behind me and plunges into the water.
“Big Boy, quiet!” I whisper sharply. He splashes out of the lake and shakes his fur dry. A few more steps and I hear a pair of mallards on the shore behind a thicket of weeds. I freeze. Big Boy stops behind me and whines; the ducks fall silent.
He keeps whimpering, and I know he will scare the ducks away, so I grip the barrel of my shotgun like a tennis racket and swing behind me.
“Quiet,” I say, as the butt of my gun whacks Big Boy’s flank.
Suddenly a deafening burst shatters the stillness, and I’m violently spun around. I tumble into the water and crash, face-first, into the shallows of the lake.
Desperately I gasp for air and try to sit up, but an intense burst of pain thrusts me back into the water. I roll over onto my back and spit the water out of my mouth.
Breathe, breathe, breathe, I say to myself, my ears ringing and my mind scattered.
What was that? There was a noise. Something hit me. I’m hurt.
I look up into the dark, gray clouds, and the unthinkable hovers over me,
God, I shot myself.
* * * * *
“Don!” I hear my buddy shout my name.
I lean over, lay the Sheetrock against the wall, and turn around.
“Phone!” he says, holding it up into the air. “It’s your wife!”
I walk across the dusty floor and pull the glove from my hand one finger at a time.
“Hey babe, how are you?” I ask, pressing the phone up to my ear.
“Doing great. How’s work today?”
“Not bad, we’re moving along really well. Should finish on schedule.”
“That’s great,” she says, “I just wanted to remind you that Eric and Jeri will be here at 6:30.”
“Yep, can’t wait. Need me to pick anything up at the store?”
“Nope, we’re all set. I’ll see you soon?”
“Yep. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Oh wait,” I hear her say, loudly, as I lower the phone. I raise it back up.
“I almost forgot. The gunsmith called, and he said your shotgun is ready and you can pick it up anytime.”
“Really? That’s great. I’ll stop and get it on the way home.”
“Just don’t be late!”
I smile, picturing her shouting the words into the phone.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there!”
A few hours later I take off early from work and run by the gunsmith. I tuck the stock up firm against my shoulder, look down the barrel, and follow a pair of imaginary ducks across the room.
The gunsmith leans on the counter, nodding in agreement. I pay him his fee, jump in my car, and head home.
When I pull into the driveway I check my watch.
I have a few hours until Eric and Jeri show up. Brenda is out running errands. Maybe I have time to try out the gun?
I check my watch one more time, think it through, and head into the garage. I stuff my pockets with shotgun shells, grab a coat, and whistle for Big Boy to jump into the car.
Should I leave a note for Brenda? I ask myself as I pull out of the driveway. Ah, it’s okay. I’ll be home in time.
* * * * *
I run my trembling hand up my right leg and stop when I reach a large, numb knot over my hip. The pain presses deeper into my side, through my gut, and down to my spine.
Oh Lord, I pray, feeling the damage with my fingers, I’m going to need your help on this one.
I look back to the shore and see the stock of my gun resting in the water. Reaching out, I pull it back, close to my chest, and realize the stock is dangling from the double barrel.
Something malfunctioned. It’s broken, I think to myself, sure that I’ve never seen a gun come apart like this.
I examine the damage and discover if I’m going to fire an SOS shot, I’ll have to rip the stock from the barrels; so I grab the barrels in my right hand, the stock in the left, and snap it apart like a twig. The stock comes off easily, and I drop it into the water. Then I spread my fingers into my pockets, fish the shells from my wet jeans, and lay them on my stomach.
Holding the twin barrels in my left hand, I aim them to the sky and rest the bottom on a tree stump coming out of the water. I reach over with my right hand, load each barrel, and then rest my right index finger on the triggers.
Three shots for an SOS call, I remind myself. Then I count:
One, two, fire.
One, two, fire.
I quickly reach back to my chest with my right hand and grab another shell, but already I know I’m moving too slowly to fire a third shot in rhythm. Still, I fumble the shell into the barrel, and fire.
I listen for a moment, hoping for footsteps, or someone shouting, but there is nothing. I reload the gun and perform the same, agonizing task.
Please, I pray, each time I reload, please let there be someone nearby.
I fire sixteen shots and run out of shells. The forest is still quiet, empty. I drop the gun back into the water.
“Help!” I shout as loud as I can. “Can anybody hear me?”
I yell so loudly I lose my breath. I’m light-headed.
“Help! I’m hurt. Help!”
My voice echoes off the water into the woods. I try to remember if I passed any cars parked along the road on the way up or if there were any homes nearby, but I can’t. I’m alone, and I know it—no one can hear me, and nobody knows where I am. The fog resting over the treetops might as well descend and hide me forever.
My mind is hazy, losing hope, and slowly stumbling toward my only option.
If no one is coming I have to get out of here by myself. Get to the car.
I slowly roll onto my abdomen and brace my hands beneath me. Drawing my knees up one at a time, I push up and find my balance.
Okay, good, I encourage myself, wobbly with pain. Get going.
Gripping my wound with both hands, I shuffle my left foot forward through the water. Next I pull my right foot up, but a searing pain paralyzes my leg, and I stumble back into the lake.
I hesitate to try again, but the command compels me: get to the car. I roll over and brace myself on the muddy lake bottom. The pain stabs at my side, but with a deep breath I inch my hands forward, then follow with my knees. Another deep breath, and I crawl an inch further.
Ten minutes later I’m out of the water, crawling on hands and knees down the path toward my car when an intense surge of pain explodes in my chest. It pumps through my heart, burns down into my lungs, and my stomach turns over with nausea. I collapse, moaning, on the path.
God, I plead, if you’re going to take me home, do it quickly because it hurts.
Instantly the fire cools and relief washes through my body. I draw in a long breath and my muscles relax.
Thank you God, thank you! I continue to breathe, thanking God with each exhale, sensing him near, telling me, If you make it until morning, you’ll live.
The light is fading from the sky, and the clouds are reaching down, hiding the forest in fog. I try once more to crawl to the car, but after fifty feet I simply stop moving. I am utterly exhausted and losing blood. I simply cannot go on.
As the day’s last light leaks from the clouds, Big Boy prances up to me with a stick in his mouth and pokes me in the side. He whines, begging me for a game of fetch. I don’t react, and he keeps pushing the stick into my wound.
God, he is going to kill me.
“Big Boy,” I manage to say, “no, boy. Lie down.”
Surprisingly, he obeys, and nestles up next to my cold body. I immediately feel the warmth from his body and once again sense God’s presence.
If you make it until morning, you’ll live.
Dusk slowly fades to black, and the woods grow ever quiet, tucked beneath a blanket of thick Oregon fog.
I start waiting, eyes open, for the break of dawn.
* * * * *
At 6:30 Eric and Jeri pull into our driveway as scheduled, and Brenda welcomes them by herself, excusing me for being late.
Eric, my longtime friend, asks Brenda where I am.
“I’m not sure, but if he doesn’t get here soon he isn’t going to find out who shot J.R.!” replies Brenda, half joking, half concerned.
They eat, clear the dishes, and turn on the TV, but I still haven’t arrived.
“I’m going to call my dad,” Brenda says right before Dallas starts. “Maybe he’s heard from Don.”
“No, sorry, haven’t heard from him,” her father, John, says, “but I wouldn’t be too worried. He has some old tires on that car. Maybe one went flat.”
“I don’t know, Dad. I’m worried. I want to call the police,” Brenda says.
“No, that won’t help. They can’t do anything now. Just wait until after the show. If he’s still not home, call me back.”
“Okay,” Brenda relents. “Thanks, Dad.”
After Dallas is over, Brenda gets back on the phone.
“Dad, he still isn’t home. I have a bad feeling.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. The police still can’t help because he’s only been missing a few hours. I’ll call if I hear anything.”
They hang up, and Brenda sits back down with Eric and Jeri.
“I don’t know what to do,” she confesses. “Where is he?”
Anxious hours pass, and finally, just after 11:00 p.m., the phone rings. Brenda rushes to the receiver and picks it up.
“No sweetheart, it’s me.” Her father is calling back. “Your brother just got home and said Don called him this afternoon about hunting.”
“Hunting?” Brenda asks.
“Yeah, he said Don called and wanted to go try the new stock on his gun. We are going to look for him now. You stay home and wait by the phone.”
“Dad, I can’t stay home. I have to look too.”
He sighs, and Brenda can hear him thinking on the other end of the line.
Where do I send her? John wonders to himself. He knows it’s important to have as many people out searching as possible, but he can’t send his daughter into the woods with the risk of finding her dead husband. The trauma would be too great.
“Okay,” he finally says, deciding to send Brenda to the least likely hunting spot he can imagine. “You go with Eric and Jeri up to Roslyn Lake; he might be up there.”
* * * * *
“I don’t know why we are looking here. It feels like we are wasting time,” Brenda laments. They have been driving around for over an hour, taking wrong turns, getting lost in the fog, growing frustrated. It is long past midnight, and they have yet to reach Roslyn Lake.
Slowly, Eric steers the car around a bend in the asphalt road and sees something glimmer in the darkness. He slams on the brakes and shouts, “What is that?” as he looks intently in the rearview mirror.
Brenda turns and recognizes it instantly. “It’s Don’s car! The fog is so thick we drove right past it!”
They leap out into the cold and check my car.
“He hasn’t been here recently,” Eric says, feeling his hand to the cold hood. Together, they walk out onto the man-made dike at the end of the lake.
“Don!” Eric shouts. “Can you hear me?”
I open my eyes. Big Boy’s warm body is still against me, keeping me warm, and his ears are up. He whimpers, looking into the dark.
I can hear something.
It’s faint, but I hear it. Is it real? Am I dreaming? I close my eyes and lean forward. I try to listen to every sound in the forest.
I snap my eyes open and turn my head toward the scream.
They found me.
“I’m here!” I try to shout, but my voice is too dry to speak. I swallow, but my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
Water! Find water!
I look to the lake. Can I crawl down and drink in time? I keep looking, desperate, and see the glimmer of dew on my parka sleeve. Quickly I suck the moisture from the fabric and shout, “I’m here!” I gasp and swallow. “I’m here!”
Eric throws his hands up. “Wait, did you hear that?”
Brenda and Jeri shake their heads.
“Listen,” Eric whispers. A quiet moment passes. “There!” he erupts. “Did you hear that?”
“No!” Brenda says. “What is it?”
“Go wait in the car. I’m going to check it out.” Eric runs down the dike and turns into the forest.
I hear someone coming through the woods, and Big Boy starts barking. Again I feebly try to shout, “I’m here!”
Please, Lord, please let him see me.
On cue Eric steps through the mist and kneels down beside me. “Oh, thank God! Don, what did you do?”
“Eric? Is that you?” I ask, my voice scratchy.
“Yes, Don, it’s me. What are you doing here?” He kneels down next to me. “What happened?”
“I shot myself. It was an accident. How did you find me?”
“Everyone is out driving around.”
“Brenda,” I stammer, “is she here?”
“She is in the car . . . You stay here, and I’ll go get help.” He stands to run back to the car, but I stop him.
“No, Eric, I can walk. Get me up.”
He helps me to my feet. Leaning heavily on his shoulder, I try to step, but everything starts spinning. I collapse, and without hesitating, Eric dashes off into the dark.
“Don’t move! I’ll get help!” he says as he disappears.
Brenda and Jeri are startled when Eric opens the car door.
“What happened?” cries Brenda.
“I found Don. He’s okay, but he shot himself. We have to find a phone.”
Rushing up to the first farmhouse they find, Eric and Brenda pound on the door. A light flickers on, and a young man shuffles to the door.
“Sorry to bother you, sir,” Eric greets him, “but we need to call an ambulance.”
Within the hour I’m surrounded by several members of the Sandy, Oregon, volunteer fire department. The paramedics check my vitals and discover my heart rate and body temperature are dangerously low. I am nearly hypothermic, and my veins have collapsed, keeping the medics from inserting an IV.
They call in another ambulance equipped with inflatable pants, and when they arrive, they strap the pants on my legs, fill them with air, and push the blood back up into my vital organs. Finally, they are able to insert an IV and transport me, but they don’t load me into the ambulance. Instead, they call dispatch and request a medevac.
“Stupid idea calling in the helicopter,” Brenda overhears a police officer say. “They’ll never land it in this fog.”
But a few minutes later, with the air ambulance on its way, the fog pushes back just enough to reveal the night sky. The chop of the rotors starts echoing through the dark surrounding hills, and the helicopter sets down safely.
Eight minutes later, just before we arrive at the hospital landing pad in Gresham, the fog once again peels away for the pilot to land gently on the helipad. As soon as I am wheeled from the helicopter, the fog rolls back in and grounds the flight crew for several hours.
As I’m being pushed down the hospital hallway, the fluorescent lights blurry overhead, a nurse leans down.
“Don, I have some good news for you. Dr. Brose is on call tonight. He’s one of the best trauma surgeons in the city.”
I force a faint smile, and they wheel me to the emergency operating room. People are everywhere, rushing around me, rolling machines across the room, prepping me for surgery.
* * * * *
I survived the three hour-long operation, but Dr. Brose was worried about gas gangrene, so he moved me to a hyperbaric chamber at Providence Portland Medical Center. He told Brenda I’d never walk again, and if I lived, I’d have a colostomy for the rest of my life.
On my eighth day of recovery, Eric came to visit me. His face was long and sad, but we exchanged tired smiles.
“How are you liking ICU?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied, looking at him, confused. “I’m in ICU?”
The smile faded from his face. “You’ve been in critical condition for eight days. You didn’t know?”
“No.” I tried to shake my head. “I just thought I was in the hospital.”
I thought, quietly, for a moment, but my mind was still hazy and scattered. “Are people worried about me?”
He nodded slowly, up and down, and his lips barely parted. “Everyone.”
“Don’t,” I told him confidently. “God showed me the night I was shot that if I lived until morning, I’d make it. Tell everyone I’ll be okay.”
The very next day I was moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room. As the slow, painful days of recovery turned to weeks and months, it became clear I was not only going to live but would enjoy a full recovery.
Thirty-two years later I’m not only walking without a colostomy; I’m still hiking the hills of Central Oregon, wrestling with my kids, and whipping friends at table tennis.
I can say confidently I would not be here if not for Dr. Brose. Because of his unique training in Central Africa, treating trauma victims, he was equipped to save my life. I can also say my rambunctious dog saved my life, lying down beside me, giving me his warmth. My wife’s intuition to call her dad and demand to join the search also saved my life. As did Eric’s keen eyes and ears. And the water on the sleeve of my jacket. Paramedics, pilots, a farmer—they all saved my life.
Even the gunshot saved my life. Despite the close range, the blast failed to create an exit wound; and a month after I was discharged from the hospital, the doctor pulled sixteen pellets from my back, millimeters from the surface of my skin. Had even one BB escaped during the incident, I would have bled to death in the forest. Instead, the mass of lead stuck in my abdomen, tore away muscles, nicked one kidney, and damaged my liver. I later discovered that the intense pain in my chest as I crawled to my car was caused by a BB flowing through the chambers of my heart before depositing in my left lung.
I have often wondered, what stopped the shotgun blast from killing me instantly? And what blew back the fog at the exact right time for the helicopter to land? And whose voice spoke Big Boy into obedience? Who could have planned such an elaborate rescue?
Was it the hand of God? The breath of God? The voice of God? The rescue of God?
I believe so, not just because I survived but because I was transformed.
The accident didn’t just cause the physical pain of a gunshot, traumatic surgery, and slow recovery. It also wounded my soul.
After the accident I spent many sleepless nights, asking God how I was supposed to provide for my family with a crippled body. And if I really couldn’t work doing manual labor, what job would ever give me the satisfaction of working outside with my hands?
I was disoriented and depressed, thankful to be alive yet confused as to what my life was all about. I’d always been the strong guy with calloused hands and flannel shirts. It wasn’t just a job, it was who I was—my very identity. I couldn’t imagine being anyone else. As I grappled with the emotional loss, my father-in-law came to visit.
“Don, all your life you’ve used your body,” he said. “Now God is giving you the opportunity to use your mind.”
Initially I felt his timing to be insensitive, and I was offended that he would trivialize my desire to make a living with my hands. But with time and prayer, I came to see he was right—God had forcefully yet tenderly cleared a new path for me to walk.
I returned to school at Multnomah Bible College, and after graduation I took a job in the publishing industry, where over the past two and a half decades I have experienced the unexpected joy of working with some of the wisest, most encouraging authors in the world. Their friendships have blessed me, given me hope, and taught me to believe in the miraculous power of story—even my own.
All those years ago at Roslyn Lake, I never would have asked for a cross-threaded screw in my gun, but it is the story I was given, and I now can thank God for that malfunction. It started me on a journey that has led me here, to God Makes Lemonade, to share the truth I’ve learned over and over. God can, and does, use life’s worst moments to invite us into life’s greatest blessings.
It is the truth written into my story, the real-life stories collected in this edition, and the greatest story of all: God’s. My prayer is that with a little hope, courage, and time, you, too, will begin to sense God at work, crafting your life into a beautiful story of redemption.
And here are my thoughts on this book: I love THIS book. I love the premise behind this book…and most importantly, one can’t help but love all of the inspiration to be gleaned just by delving in to this great read. Don Jacobson does an amazing job of compiling real-life stories of struggle, fear, and even tragedy in order to encourage each of his readers with a message of hope, and the reassurance that not only is God in control, but He’s most certainly always with us. I’ll admit it, friends-receiving/enduring the lemons of life is never easy, but basking in the glow of that lemonade? It’s a gift only He can bestow.