The Painted Pickle Jar
One of my greatest treasures is the “jewelry box” my younger son made for me from Popsicle sticks. The lid has a wooden bead for a “handle,” and the interior is lined with a square of red felt, roughly the same dimensions as the bottom of the box, Why on earth are fifty Popsicle sticks so precious to me? Because the shape they took and the gift they are came from a heart and life precious to me. Ethan gave me the best he could create from fifty Popsicle sticks, glue, a bead and felt. His heart is the treasure; the box is a reflection of his love.
Mommies get it. Maybe Daddies do too. I know this for a fact, but more importantly, what I realized this morning is that same joy in God’s heart when we craft our lives for Him. Before this sounds too lofty and climbs too high, let me ground it in what I see so clearly now that I didn’t see when I was five years old.
Sunday School, Mason, Ohio, just before Easter 1955, me five years old. All I brought was a pickle jar, and even that my mother bought with my father’s hard-earned money at the grocery store. Our craft was painting a jar with tempera paint to make a “vase” to hold one jonquil bulb, an Easter gift for our mothers. Limited eye-hand coordination in us all, we stroked our glass jars with chubby paintbrushes and watery tempera in spring colors. I can still feel the cool of the glass, the rough edges of flaking paint on my paintbrush, see the dribbles running down the jar and onto the newspaper on the table, smell the chalky, rich odor of the paint. Mine was going to be yellow, like a golden jonquil flower. Of course the paint didn’t stick very well, and in many places the clear glass showed through, but I reveled in the transformation happening under my hand.
I suspect we had a Bible story lesson while our jars dried, or we might have had to wait till the next Sunday to pour tiny stones – pebbles would be too glorified a term for what we used, more like the ballast along the railroad track that ran about 500 feet behind our house. – into the jars to support the single bulb we placed inside. Water came next, then anchoring the jonquil bulb flat end down in the stones.
I was so happy to carry the gift downstairs and thrust it up into my mother’s hands! I’d made something to give my Mommy joy! Mom must have read the “Mommy Manual,” or internalized it from her jolly, loving, short but ample-lapped mother who was my Gramma Miner, so of course when we got home she placed it in the sunny window above the sink in the kitchen, a place of honor if ever there was one, where she could watch the shoot, the leaves, the stem, then the flower gloriously unfold in the weak Ohio spring sunshine.
What on earth does this have to do with God? Sixty years later it hit me on a windy, drizzly Arizona morning that I didn’t give my mother anything from my own resources; someone else supplied everything I gave her, even though I regarded the gift as mine and found great pleasure, delight, and value in being able to create and give a gift to my mother.
This morning I look back on everything I’ve been blessed to “give to God”: the messages I’ve spoken, the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes I taught, the youth ministry and prayer teams I led, the books I helped my senior pastor write, the stories I wrote that ended up in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, the leader and study guides I’ve written, the sons I poured my time and energies and love into, the marriage I tried to do the same in, the people I’ve prayed with and for (Gosh, don’t I sound wonderful? All of this just so many Popsicle sticks …) and I realize with a shock of revelation piercing deep into the core of me down to my five-year-old true self that I DIDN’T BRING ANY OF MY OWN RESOURCES TO ANYTHING I’VE EVER “GIVEN” GOD!
He created my body and my brain, the wiring in me that sees analogies and relationships, the eye-hand coordination I have and the joy I get in making things with my hands, the mental aha to see ways I can use junk, the limited courage I have to stand up in front of people and open my mouth, the very thoughts I have and nudges I get ALL COME FROM GOD TO BEGIN WITH! I don’t give Him anything that isn’t His first, in fact, His gifts to me!
Every Sunday after the offering plates were passed and the ushers took them up to the front of the church, we all perfunctorily sang, “We give Thee but Thine own, what ere the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.” Did any of us mean what we were singing? Wasn’t it more a case of, “I worked hard for this money, so God, I’m going to give you a bit of it, good, giving person that I am, and I feel proud of myself for being so generous.”
Oh, the five-year-old in each one of us, but OH, the lavishly loving God who remarkable receives what we give Him and treasures it as much as I treasure my Popsicle stick jewelry box, as much as my Mom treasured her painted pickle jar, because against all common sense, HE TREASURES US! I only hope that, like the loving DAD I know He is, God has received all the clay figurines and Popsicle stick creations and painted pickle jars I’ve given him with – and honestly, this is true – the same delight I felt in giving my mother the pickle jar. I could give a gift to God!!!!
Maybe now I can appreciate my mother’s receiving that jar as a great gift to me. Maybe now I can see being that privileged to get to use God’s gifts to make something I hope and pray makes a difference to, for and in other lives in this world is, in fact, a gift GOD gives to ME, a way he fills my life with value and beauty and joy.
Ah, ABBA, do you have tempera paint in Heaven? Can I make you a vase for a flower to grow in your throne room? Thank you that You give me SO MUCH. MAY I TURN AS MUCH AS I CAN INTO TREASURES FOR YOU, but may I always remember they come from YOUR heart of love and grace into my chubby fingers.
A “ . . . . BUT . . . .” to move: God, Daddy, Father, everything I have and am and ever hope to be is all a gift from you. I can’t take credit for anything other than what I do with what you give me, and even those opportunities are gifts from you. I may not be anything in the world’s eyes, or I may daily hear the praise of other people, BUT it’s your praise after all, I may have much or I may have little, BUT GOD, thank you that you receive my ___________and say _________________. I hope it grows in your kitchen window to be something of beauty and fragrance for You.