Snow Covered Magnolia Tree

My backyard in Peoria will be full of color in a month or two. There is a magnolia tree, a red bud tree, lilac bushes, a Bradford Pear tree, a weeping peach tree. There are also daffodils, snowdrops, some tiny blue flowers that bloom in mid-spring that were there when I moved in. There are a few tulips left that the blankety blank squirrels have not found yet. . . My opinion about planting trees, bushes, etc. is if it does not bloom, it is not worth it. (Kind of like my opinion of dessert—if it is not chocolate, why bother?)

But here’s the thing. I only know that the backyard will soon be in full bloom because of my experience of it in the past and because I was involved in completely re-making the backyard since I moved into this house 12 years ago. This is also not my  first garden, nor my first time observing gardens. One of my grandmothers had a beautiful garden near a shopping center. Sometimes as a child with I would be with my mom when someone would mention the beautiful garden there and we could proudly claim a connection to it. My other grandmother had a beautiful rose garden. When we would visit my aunt in the summertime, we always got a tour of the garden. My mother, while not much of a gardener, was a teacher. She used every opportunity to teach. So, a walk in the woods was also a time to identify trees and wildflowers and talk about their characteristics. As I became a gardener on my own, I learned which zone my garden is in, I learned to read see packets and labels on plants and trees, I figured out what looked good together. The beauty that will show up in my backyard starting in just a few short weeks is not an accident.

If a person who knew nothing about plants or a person who had never seen my yard in the spring walked out onto my deck today, they would not be able to envision the color and joy that will be there soon. They would not be able to see the possibilities.

Many times our congregations are like a backyard in Illinois near the end of winter. People who have experience there remember the times when there was joy and laughter and beauty and deep reverence expressed through the ministry of that church. People who have experienced the rebirth of a struggling congregation can see the potential. People who have watched one congregation die and another congregation take over their spot on a busy corner can look for the possibilities in the neighborhood. But those without experience of that congregation or that neighborhood may see only dwindling numbers and gray heads.

Sometimes our own spiritual lives find themselves buried under the dirty snow of late winter as well. Pastors who have given everything they have only to see their efforts met with resistance or indifference get worn out. Session members who have struggled over the budget and building may burn out. Members who want things to be the way they were and cling to those habits so closely can feel betrayed when a necessary change comes along. It can feel like two feet of slush with no hint of a daffodil in site.

Lent reminds us that there is a lot of slush and snow to get through, but that Easter always arrives. Part of our Lenten journey is to watch for the signs of hope, to watch for the ways that we can get our feet firmly underneath us again, to get a picture of that magnolia tree in full bloom even when we can only see the buds.

Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Chicago