To mark the 25th anniversary of Faith & Friends, we’ve been asking past editors, current writers and YOU, our readers, to tell us what articles have impacted them. If any article has spoken to you or changed how you thought of life and faith, we want to hear about it. Write, post a comment to Salvationist.ca, or email us. Our article this month was suggested by long-time Faith & Friends contributor, Diane Stark:
“Jeanette Levellie wrote a story a few years ago about an encounter she had with a mom and son that got really ugly (“The Red Geranium,” February 2020). Later, the mom came back and brought Jeanette some flowers to apologize. When the mom explained what was going on in their lives, her behaviour was much easier for Jeanette to forgive.
“That story reminded me that we can never really know what other people are going through, and we need to give them the benefit of a doubt whenever we can.“
When I’m upset with someone, God always brings that story to my mind to remind me to extend grace to them because I need grace, too. Lots of it!”
As my husband, Kevin, and I started our afternoon walk from our house across the parking lot of the church he pastors, the air exploded with angry voices. ,
At the entrance to our church, a pickup truck and a van faced each other. The air above their heads turned blue with embarrassment as a young man and a 40ish woman exchanged obscenities.
The closer Kevin and I came to the two, the worse their language seemed to become. My boss had chewed me out earlier that day and I was not in the mood to listen to another shouting match. I marched closer and yelled over the din, “Can you please take your fight somewhere else? We don’t want to hear it!”
The young man faced me and said, “Sorry,” but immediately resumed his fight. I don’t usually holler at strangers. But after all, they were in front of our church only a few metres from the highway. What will people think?
I raised my voice another notch. “If you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police!” That’s when the woman stepped forward.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m his mom, and he just ran out of gas. Now, I’m going to have to go into town and then bring it all the way back here to him!”
Now I was not only irritated but appalled. What kind of mother screams at her son like that?I wanted these people and their nasty words out of my space, and now.
“Well, you need to take your fight elsewhere, because there is no excuse for your language,” I volleyed back. Finally, they drove away in the mom’s van, leaving the pickup in front of the church.
Act of Contrition
As Kevin and I walked, I began to think more clearly. My outrage moved out to make room for embarrassment. “I wasn’t a very good example of Jesus’ love with those two,” I told Kevin, feeling the heat of shame creep up my neck. “Do you think I should write a note apologizing for my outburst, and leave it on the truck?”
“Yes, it would be good to say you’re sorry you lost your temper.”
I made my note simple: “I apologize for being so hard on you earlier. I hope you got the help you need.” Then I signed my first name and taped the note to the pickup’s windshield.
The next morning when I went to the church building to pray, I found a two-page letter taped to the door and a potted red geranium on the porch. In the letter, the mother apologized profusely for the day before. They were in the process of moving, she explained, she’d worked a 5:30 a.m. shift that day, and her son hadn’t shown up to help them pack.
“Then I saw him parked in your church parking lot, out of gas,” she had written. “That’s when I pulled over and gave him a piece of my mind and you saw me and my son yelling at each other. I try to be a good person every day. I ask for a forgiving heart and patience to get me through the day. But today I was weak and you witnessed it.”
She ended by saying how ashamed she was for her behaviour and that my note on her son’s windshield helped her get through the rest of the day. Then she signed it, “I’m leaving this flower for you as a thank-you. With all my love, Candy.”
I gazed down at the red geranium, feeling about as low as the dirt in which it was planted. I was a pastor’s wife; I had no excuse for yelling at Candy and her son, just because they were screaming at each other in my earshot.
What kind of hypocrite am I? I asked God. Instead of telling them to take their fight elsewhere, I should have asked them how we might help them. That would have shown Your heart of kindness to them—not given them the idea that Christians are too good to listen to swear words.
I prayed for Candy’s family, that their move would go smoothly, that God would bless their relationships with each other, and that somehow they’d discover Jesus loves them and wants to help them, in spite of my poor example.
I wondered where to plant the geranium. I chose the planter under the church sign, hoping that Candy might drive by and see it. Then she’d know I accepted her apology and appreciated her gift.
But the red geranium wasn’t only for Candy. I, too, needed this bright reminder that God’s grace is deeper than my sin and shame. And since I never know what kind of day someone is having, I need to remember to share that grace with them.