My wife has been freshening a vase on the kitchen table with cut boughs of lilac every few days lately, while our trees are in bloom. The scent is delicious and heady, an authentic whiff of spring not found in any bottle. It’s enough to make me invent trips to the kitchen (and trust me, I don’t need that). I’ve even found myself smelling lilac throughout my daily tasks at work, when I’m sure that’s not even possible.
My son wandered into our room last night, a few minutes before bed, singing quietly under his breath, “God put a million, million doors in this world for his love to walk through/One of those doors is you.” I asked him about this Jason Gray song fragment, an equally fragrant and unexpected delivery. He just shook his head and said, “It’s been stuck in my head, and I can’t get it out.” I didn’t know he knew the song; I hadn’t known he was paying attention.
So, summoning my best Rod Serling voice, I submit for your consideration two different anecdotes amidst dozens of others in the life of this parent. For a time, they seemed unrelated, but tonight, as I let the dog in and the lilac scent drifted past again, I was struck by a singular, overwhelming thought:
I hope my children remember this smell.
And I hope to them it becomes the smell of home, of love, and God, and grace, and all the other things connected with sudden, unexpected encounters with the Kingdom.
But then, I remembered what happened this morning. It began with a random senseless act of musical brainwashing: on my way to my car for work, I detoured to my wife’s car – the one she’ll take the kids to school in – slipped Love Will Have The Final Word into the CD player, scanned ahead to Track 2 – the song which apparently made such an impression on my son – and, grinning devilishly, shut the door.
I arrived home this afternoon, and waited for my son to mention the CD. But he was too busy practicing ninja moves. At a break in the action, I made myself available for comment. Still nothing. More minutes passed. Finally, I asked if he noticed anything in the car, a surprise, maybe?
A quizzical look. Finally, I asked,
“The CD? Did you like the CD I left for you?”
“Oh that,” he replied casually.
“I didn’t feel like listening to it, so I asked Mommy to turn it off.”
I was somewhere between miffed and crestfallen, I’ll confess. More like stupefied. I want to feed my children beauty at every turn, expose them to the lovely and graceful life. And so I’m still a little stumped about what to make of my son’s U-turn, and others like it. There are often days like these, where it just doesn’t seem like it’s sinking in, that these attempts at bringing beauty to my home are falling short of the mark.
But I think the answer is found throughout Scripture, from the promise in Proverbs to “direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it,” to Deuteronomy and its admonishment to teach the words of life “when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”
There is power, it would seem in repetition.
And, there is power in the words of life.
So I can’t pin my hopes on gratitude, or even short-term appreciation, or even recognition, for the little path-setting moments. There are a thousand other sensory experiences flooding my children’s little minds and bodies, competing for their conscious thought. Amidst that din, how could I believe these will stick?
But I hope not in the physical things. My hope is built on something more substantial. It’s the reason for the daily, simple prayer to open the eyes of my family’s hearts to the things of God’s Kingdom.
I can plant seeds of life and beauty, water them with prayer, and wait.
I guess that’s why I play bluegrass, or read The Reluctant Dragon, hike the Finger Lakes Trail, or any one of a hundred other activities that will pass from memory long before they pass from the subconscious of my children.
Pass they might. But, like the scent of lilacs, I am convinced the whiff of the beautiful will linger long after my flesh is gone.
It’s a season for planting, isn’t it? So I’ll go lace up my hiking boots and dial up some Gillian Welch.