Autumn in Missouri is such a beautiful season―such a welcome re-awakening after the hot, deadening days of late summer. It’s a time for long walks and Sunday afternoon drives… when bright days seem as crisp as the leaves that begin filling the yard… when cool mornings whisper “just a few more minutes under the covers” and evening comes too early… when fleecy afghans wait on the sun room recliners and a cheery fire crackles in the fireplace… when outside, squirrels dart here and there gathering acorns that fall with the leaves and almost overnight spider mums have thrust their dark green spikes and frilly red-orange pompoms above the ivy at the base of the big oak tree. Pumpkins and scarecrows have appeared on porches and steps and nestle among asters and mums that brighten the neighborhood. Dogwood and crab apple trees compete with sumac and red bud, flaunting leaves of rose and burgundy and crimson and yellow that dance against the green of trees that haven’t yet gotten the message that it’s fall. And I feel an urgency to drink it all in before these bright days turn to winter.
I relish every color of fall, but to me the jewels of the season are indisputably the maples. Our neighbors planted two at the front corner of their yard several years ago. Now they bless us all with their fiery display. As I turn onto Grapevine Lane this early autumn evening there they are, absolutely breathtaking in the setting sun. They’re especially captivating because most of the trees in this area are oaks, least flamboyant of all with their muted russet and gold, always last to unveil their colors. I stop the car and just sit, wishing I could capture enough of the beauty before me to last through the coming winter. Already scarlet leaves scatter themselves across the lawn and I know that much too soon these maples will, like the nearby walnut trees, stand naked and forlorn until God awakens them in the spring.
I really think there can be no prettier autumn than right here along the lane. The dogwoods that scatter their glowing radiance through the woods around our house are especially beautiful this year. If you follow my blog you know I treasure those dogwoods. They’re God’s surprise gift and they bless us in every season. One of the first to come to life in the spring, their delicate, cross-shaped blossoms of creamy white are followed by the rich green of heart-shaped leaves that offer shade for summer’s heat and lead the way into fall with their stunning rosy display before they finally bow to bright red berries that are a favorite snack for the birds that fill their branches in winter.
This summer we watched sadly as the huge triple one that anchored the north end of the house slowly withered and died one branch at a time. Each year since we built here I’ve relished its changing colors just outside the French doors, but in spite of strategic pruning and tender loving care we’re mourning its loss.
Today Mac’s trusty chain saw must do its work before one of those massive trunks can fall and damage the house. We wish we could have enjoyed its beauty just a little longer; but in spite of our best efforts it seems that its time was simply over.
It’s such a metaphor for life.
Every moment is God’s gift to us. Some seem incredibly beautiful, flaming with wonder, inspiring delight and joy. Then in spite of our best efforts the beauty fades and we find fragments of it lying around us, dry and withering. All too soon we stand naked and forlorn, wishing for just a little more time to enjoy it. Whether we wither slowly one branch at a time or suddenly find a chain saw at our root, the bitterness of winter will come.
But this too is God’s sweet gift and it’s where our story actually begins. Psalm 116:15 tells us the death of God’s faithful servants is precious in His sight. In His economy death is only the next stage of life. So if they sell our clothes this winter (see my last blog post), Kim reminds us that our Father has better clothes waiting in heaven than we could ever imagine. There death will be swallowed up in victory. (I Corinthians 15:54) Then our new home will shine with the glory of God, where the crystal clear river of life flows from the throne of God down the middle of the street and the tree of life yields its fruit every month. There we’ll see His face and there will be no more night. (Revelation 22)
For the present, though, our home is still here and winter’s night is just around the corner. But let not your hearts be troubled. Winter will end. Spring will come. Sleeping plants will hear God’s sweet song and waken again and all will seem fresh and new. Walnuts and maples and oaks will stand clothed in green once more and sprouts will emerge where the old dogwood stood.
Today, however, the beauty of Autumn is calling. Right now the days are short and the leaves are falling. Have you taken that long walk? Stood on the deck and watched the squirrels? Parked the car and just enjoyed the view? Winter will be here soon. Let’s live every transient moment and praise our Father for His amazing plan, grateful that in Christ the coming winter is only the beginning.
Yesterday was cloudy and windy and cold. Today promises to be sunny and much warmer. But whether it’s cloudy or sunny, cold or warm, it’s all God’s exciting gift to us. Just as He does with the dogwoods and maples, He’ll use every dark day this winter to strengthen our roots and bring new life to our branches. And if we’ll snuggle into His darkness and simply be still, we just might hear Him singing over us. (Zephaniah 3:17)