Autumn is announced by the seedling trees. The baby trees. They are the first to abandon their green in favor of orange or red or yellow.
Driving these country roads, they are like lit matches. Small, flickering flames against the general greens and faded browns of early autumn.
They are children embracing the arrival of something new. They wear their faith like Joseph’s multi-colored coat, and we cannot look away. Soon, even the staid elders will shake off their summer sleep.
Until they blaze.
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
I observed the brilliant, baby trees, and I immediately thought of Jesus’s words. I imagined I could write out the connection. That I could find some moral in what I had seen.
But trees are living things. They are not convenient object lessons.
Maybe they could be parables. Easy to decode but almost impossible to comprehend. Truth so tall and deep, it avoids our grasp, seeking instead the deep well of our hearts.
I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world. (Matthew 13:34)
Yesterday, I saw a strange sight. Walking to shut up the chickens for the night, I saw a line of geese heading southeast. They were black silhouettes against the slate gray backdrop of the sky.
I stood perfectly still watching them, captured by some mystery that wasn’t immediately apparent. Then it came to me in two parts.
First, the geese traveled in a single diagonal line, but there was only emptiness where the other half of the V should have been. Was this a picture of loss and grief? Or only the notice of job vacancies in the sky?
Second, they were quiet. I could hear nothing. No flap of wings, no honking calls.
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. (Zechariah 2:13)
I read my Bible, and I watch the trees. I stop to consider the birds. I am learning to collect hidden things. To store them up for the winter day of my need.
And on that day I will know exactly what it means to be a young tree wearing a blaze of color.
I will understand just how much depends upon chasing the far horizon in complete silence.
Summer came to an end at approximately five pm on Sunday night.
At five pm on Sunday night, I was sauteeing squash ribbons (that four out of four children would not eat) and flipping cheese quesadillas (that two out of four children would not eat) while hollering at the boys to clean their room and listening to the firstborn debate first-day-of-school outfits.
I was mentally prepping school lunches, signing an emergency-contact form for the oldest, and telling the youngest that now was not a good time for playing in the sink.
The youngest threw herself across the floor while I two-stepped toward the dinner plates.
And there, at utter loose ends in my kitchen, is when I knew summer was over.
Summer may be chaotic and intense, but in summer there is less pressure to chase down every last loose end.
Did we eat popcorn for dinner instead of vegetables? Well, it’s summer. Tomorrow we shall raid the garden.
Did the five-year-old hop into bed with dirty feet? Well, maybe we’ll wash off with a visit to the creek tomorrow.
In Fall, we remember the calendar and the budget and the email inbox.
In Fall, the overgrown garden looks sad rather than abundant. In Fall, the baby’s hair is plastered to her forehead with applesauce instead of sweet baby sweat.
In Summer, loose ends twine like pea vines on lattice. They tempt us to stay up past our bedtimes. They draw us on to look deeply at sunsets and the freckles on our loved one’s nose.
In Fall, loose ends scatter themselves like beads from a broken necklace. We scramble and cry, but we know we will never find them all. We will never manage to gather the details. We will fail to live up to at least a few of our responsibilities.
I long for my own little chore chart. With three neat rows and a gold star for each grid.
But there are no gold stars waiting for me at the end of my email inbox. No gold stars when I have packed three healthy, nut-free, school-approved snacks.
So here is a reminder – for me, for you – to hold on to summer’s lessons.
Let us remember where the gold stars live.
They live in sunsets and freckles.
They live at the ends of every loose strand of a young girl’s hair.
They shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome them.
Just the other night, I sat on the front porch and wished I had a sweater. The calendar may still say August, but, around here, summer is definitely tipping over into fall. Our weekly delivery from the local CSA orchard is shifting more and more from peaches to apples.
My daughter says, “I smell fall!” I tell her, “I can hear it,” curled, yellow leaves crunching under my feet.
During our two years in Florida, I missed autumn most of all. We still had summer (beautiful but long). There was spring, just more gradual and gentle than any northern spring. Our first year there we even had a winter, of sorts. But there is no autumn in Florida.
Each season has something important to say. Right now, the world is still very green, but, when the wind blows and the air suddenly fills with yellow leaves, this truth is revealed: there is no escaping death.
This is a season for dying.
It’s also my favorite season.
Maybe that’s because it tells me that death is a lie. We may imagine death as the end, but in fall we know that this dying is leading us toward a blaze of glory. In dying, we are walking toward beauty.
Our new home is beautiful. In the evenings we go for drives through a vibrant green, rumpled-quilt sort of landscape. There are creeks, tunnels formed by trees, old stone, Quaker farmhouses at every crossroads, and road signs that say, “Caution! Horses and hounds.”
We drive for the beauty, but, in honesty, we also drive to put our 3-year-old to sleep. Put him in a bed and he’ll stay awake for hours. Put him in a carseat, no matter the time of day, and he’s snoring within minutes.
A sleep-deprived preschooler isn’t my only frustration. There are also allergies. And asthma, that same nemesis that kept me bed-bound all last winter in Florida.
Nearly every breath I’ve taken in this new place has hurt. The baby doesn’t wake me up at night, but the coughing does. And I wonder, why this serpent in my Eden?
But, if death is a liar, so is trouble of every kind. Sickness, disappointment, difficulty: they all say God is not so good.
Here is something wonderful about having walked through deserts and having enjoyed the good, green places: Paul’s words in Philippians 4 finally make some sort of sense.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
He is the secret. Our God of peace.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if this jar of clay has failing lungs. It is Christ who lives in me. Lives!
And nothing touches me without passing through his hands.
So I can live unafraid. I can live grateful.