Sitting in my study this morning, I glance out my second story window into our neighbor’s back yard. There I notice, for the first time, a towering hickory tree that obviously has been in that same spot for many years. What has been an average green-leafed tree, one among many, now stands out as its golden leaves seem to shout, “Look at me! I am here!” I just can’t help but stare at it, mesmerized. The leaves have thinned somewhat and parted to reveal the thick black trunk with branches stretching upward, showing it's insides as trees do when green has given way to color.
It is glorious.
But, in this happy moment of savoring, I begin to notice something else. If you watch carefully, leaves from this tree are oh-so-silently falling to the ground, creating a soft yellow blanket below.
Of course all my senses say, “NO! Stop that falling! I want this glorious goldenness to stay! I never would have noticed that tree except for this beautiful moment. Please, God, can it stay just a bit longer?"
Don't you just love to bask in beauty? I know that I do.
I am reminded of another time when I had a similar feeling. Two hours into a four hour trip I received a phone call. A nurse from the hospital where my mother had been admitted the day before, let me know that she had died, unexpectedly. Devastating as that news was, I found myself thankful for two more hours alone in which to grieve the loss of this dear, dear mother of mine. I had questions for God that needed to be cried out and sadness that needed to be felt.
Turning west for the last hour of my journey home I noticed that the early April sky was as dark and gray as my heart was heavy. Being late afternoon with a sky full of grayness, I set my mind on the mother to whom I was saying good bye. Who was going to pray for me, now that she was gone? Why didn’t I leave several hours earlier so I could have been with her? What was it going to feel like to live without my mother?
Suddenly a brightness caught my eye and I looked up to see a huge orange disc in the sky peeking between the clouds. It was beautiful and I found a moment of joy in it’s color and size. I settled in to just watch and enjoy it as I drove. As I was savoring that brief moment, I realized, with frustration, that soon the glowing afternoon sun was going to slip below the horizon and disappear.
I shouted to the sky, “NO! Stop that falling! God, I want to enjoy it longer…It is beautiful I want it to stay. I love it...no, I love her... I want her to stay.” I realized that what I truly wanted was never going to be. This is not the way of life. This is not how creation works. This is not how God works. He put everything in motion and these were part of it: death, loss, separation.
A sense of peace came to me in that moment and I realized that I was ready.
So how do we respond to the losses…the stopping of the magnificent color? The dropping of the leaves? The death of someone so special to us? The disappointments that come along the way.
Shelly Miller writes: “We can’t realize the beauty in seasons of life without tending to brokenness, whether that’s looking in the mirror or into the eyes of someone else." I would add…or watching that same brokenness in God’s creation.
We can’t realize the beauty. We can’t savor the color. We can’t examine the hickory that all of a sudden stands out among its tree peers without also realizing the brokenness behind all that spectacular glory.
The good news is that brokenness is a part of God's glorious PLAN!!
Romans 8:19-21 MSG
The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
There is something wonderful to look forward to after this life is over! Even creation knows it.
In the past year, several of our friends have lost someone very dear to them. These people were believers and are now in heaven, having completed their time here on earth. This confidence comes through faith in the grace of God and in Christ as Savior. They lived beautiful lives and we would have preferred that they stayed longer, but God, in his Wisdom, knew that this was not the way of life. It has a beginning. It has an end. And then there is eternity.
Life. Brokenness. Death. New life! That gives us all a deeper willingness to "let the leaves fall" or to "let the sun set." It is the natural order of things.
Meanwhile, I think I’m going to turn my eyes to the lovely hickory sunbathing in my neighbor's yard and remember that the brokenness is only for now, for here. There is much more after this life is over and if we think that golden hickory is great, just wait!
But for now let's live fully in each moment thanking God for it all because very soon, all that delicious golden-ness will be raked into a brown crinkly pile at the side of the street, waiting for the city vacuum to come by and sweep it all away..