The last of the lilac blossoms fade and scatter outside my window. I love lilacs. Their scent is wonderful, if you are not allergic to them – and I’m not. For some people, lilacs can trigger memories of glorious spring and the approach of summer freedom. For others, lilacs annoy the unconscious brain with recollections of hay fever and the approach of long hot hours picking strawberries, followed by picking rocks, picking tobacco and picking fights with other tired irritated pickers.
Not everyone loves the smell. My friend was devastated when her neighbour hacked off the branches of a mature lilac bush between their properties just as blooms emerged. To one who loves lilacs and waited the whole winter through for their appearance it felt like witnessing a murder, or at least severe persecution. To some, lilacs are an aroma of hope-filled life and to others, an aroma of foreboding death.
The neighbour must have experienced serious nasal congestion to follow through with such an act, but, if I think about it, I have also been driven to desperation by head colds that went on for weeks and kept me from sleeping like a bad conscience. If I knew being around lilacs provoked my miserable reaction I might make a midnight foray with a hatchet myself. I don’t know. I’m not in her bedroom slippers. It just felt sad.
Lilacs also remind me of year-ends tests. I remember sitting under the lilac bushes in the back yard while cramming for a high school math exam. That image might define mixed emotion for me. Frustrating formulas and fabulous fragrance at one picnic table.
The association between lilac season and tests continued for many years. Dates for Royal Conservatory and Trinity College of London singing exams often showed up at the same time as a bower of mauve blossoms over the venue’s door. The fragrance wafted through an open window in the waiting area. I think one of the songs may even have been ‘Lilacs” by Rachmaninoff.
I remember waiting for my grandfather to pick me up after completing an exam that I thought went quite well. I sat on the steps outside the building, cradled clusters of flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply. Lilac blossoms also smell like relief.
When I became a music teacher, I rushed past the lilacs to fit in an extra lesson or a make a rehearsal with the student and accompanist. I never realized until then that external exams were tests for the teacher as well. Her, or his, professional reputation could hinge on how well somebody else performed. Sometimes smiles and encouraging, cajoling words hid a desire to use stronger modes of motivation on students who didn’t take practice (and my ego) seriously enough. When I finally had time to appreciate my favourite flowers most of the petals flitted on the breeze and showered down on the grass like confetti at a fairy wedding.
Now I have time to sit in the garden and enjoy, but the scent still carries the undertones of test papers and pencils and nervousness. I used to encourage students by telling them, “Tests can reveal areas that need improvement, but mostly they prove that you have learned what you set out to learn this year. I have just heard you sing this song perfectly. As far as I am concerned you have already passed the exam. All you need to do is show up at the right time and right place and get credit for your hard work. No matter how you do in the examination I will still be here for you. I have faith in you.”
This past year has been a season of testing for me. I’ve discovered a lot of areas in my reactions to hard questions and frustrating puzzles that need improvement. Sometimes I wished I could hack it all down and make it go away. There is so much more I need to know, but I have also learned that many concepts that seemed sound in theory have proven to be sound in practice.
It’s like I’ve been sitting at that picnic table in my parents’ garden, feeling the pressures of remembering and applying what I read and heard and studied and even wrote about.
It’s been like walking, with great fear and trembling, into an empty concert hall where an examiner seated at a table waits sharpened pencil and exam form.
It’s required thankfulness and remembering that in the middle of testing, I am surrounded by the beauty and fragrance of Jesus who gave himself for me.
It’s still recalling the encouragement of the Holy Spirit who said, “You can do it. I’m not leaving.”
It’s receiving the approval of my heavenly Father who gives the gift I have always longed for – his unfailing love.
And continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ, for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. His great love for us was pleasing to God, like an aroma of adoration—a sweet healing fragrance. (Ephesians 5:2 TPT)