Life Lessons and God

We have entered one of my least favorite seasons of gardening—watering. It has not rained in my garden for a week and there is no prediction of rain for at least another week. I have perennials and they are pretty hardy, but even they need a drink of water once in a while. The water from the tap is not really that good for plants, what with the added chemicals and so on, but it is better than nothing. I hate having to drag the hose around. It always seems to get its muddy underside on my clothes. The only creatures that are happy about the sprinkler are the birds who take a bath in the unexpected shower.
Today, while I was moving the hose as carefully as I could, I knocked off these pink hydrangea blossoms. They will only survive in this dish of water until our kitten finds them, but at least I am trying to give them a little more life. As I brought them inside, I was reminded of an incident from my childhood.
We had one of those mean next-door neighbors that you might have had growing up. If the ball went into her yard, we were not allowed to go get it. She had some lilac bushes beside her house that were beautiful in early spring. They were loaded with blossoms every year. We were under strict orders from her not to pick any of the flowers or even to touch them. One day, I could not resist. I think I must have been about five years old. I made sure no one was watching and snatched a blossom. I immediately felt guilty and ran into my house and hid behind the bed with the flowers clutched in my fist. My mom knew something was very wrong and followed me into my room.
Now, my mom was a school teacher, team leader of the Language Arts Department at a high school, and an elementary school principal. She was a good and tough teacher. She taught at the same school I attended for a couple of years. One day I was standing at the drinking fountain at recess behind a couple of students from her class who were complaining about Mrs. Davis making them diagram sentences. They were a little surprised when they turned around and saw I had overheard them. I saw her wash out my little brother’s mouth with soap a few times—you know, that kind of mom. So I did not know what to expect.
What she did was talk very quietly to me as I was now hysterically crying and help me to calm down. I think I kind of blurted out what I had done, with the evidence still clenched in my fist. She asked me to open my hand and show her the flowers. She told me that now that we were in this situation we should not waste the beauty of the flowers. We found a dish (like the one in this picture I imagine) and floated the lilacs in it so we could at least enjoy their beauty. I am pretty sure I was also made to go over and apologize to the scary lady next door; I think my mom went with me. That part is not as vivid in my memory as is the gentle way my mom addressed my transgression.
I think it has influenced the way I understand our relationship with God. “It was wrong. You must apologize. And let’s see what we can do with these broken pieces with which we are left.” She is also the one who had the little saying on her desk that has informed my faith and my ministry: “What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God.”
The parental or authority figures in our early life help to form our understanding of who God is. I hope that you, also, had someone whose interactions with you helped you to form a solid foundation on which to build your faith so that you can celebrate hope and the promise of hope even in frightening and seemingly hopeless situations.
The Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago