walking through autumn

Autumn is such a paradoxical season in comparison to the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s my favorite. October holds the key to my heart, and I could pretty must camp out on my front porch and just listen all day to the sound of the wind chasing dried leaves across the sidewalks. When we were dating, I taught Eric to notice the scent fall carries with it. Not the pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon candle scents we all have filling our homes; it’s more akin to the married smell of dirt and sun-dried leaves.

But there is a marked difference between fall and the other three seasons of the year. Spring and summer are all about growth – what’s in bloom, what to plant, what new projects to start. We enjoy the vitality of the world around us during these months, everything seeming to be bolder and brighter and alive. And winter holds herself with a silence eagerly anticipating the coming spring and summer, holding faith that the world will be green once again. Chosen plants for the holidays are evergreens and poinsettias, things that live through harsh temperatures or lower amounts of sunlight.

But in autumn, we celebrate death. 

We earnestly desire for the trees to slowly lose life in their branches, the leaves changing hues in response to the dying in their veins. Foliage fades from green to yellow to brown as we excitedly watch from our windows or on morning walks. What is this inconsistency in perspective at this time of year?

There’s something about how these trees die — they die well. They die in the best way possible, waving their multicolored branches in the afternoon sun as if showing off one to another who can die most vibrantly. They die slowly, evidenced by the maples in front of my house whose lower branches hold bright spring green leaves while the upper branches hold crimson and cherry tinted ones.

Ultimately, we can take joy in these deaths because we know their death is not the end. As the leaves let go of their branches and float to dirt,  we can savor the blissful crunching under our feet knowing that there will be new ones in their place next spring. This death makes way for new life, so we are able to enjoy this season. We don’t dread what spring will be like without these leaves. And maybe this is the secret to dying well – to hold the perspective that something new awaits, that the story is not over. 

While I eagerly await October each year, I admit I am less excited about the experience of death in my own life. As I think about death – to self, to desires, to plans, to expectations – I am not sure that I can say I typically go out with the same fanfare fall does. I cling to those leaves, my dreams, dreading the changing colors and, worse, the loss altogether. Autumn is all about the process, and we find beauty in her process, but so often when it comes to our own lives we want to rush the process and be at the end result.

As I look at the trees, which yield to the course of nature God has established, I wonder of my own life –

Can I die well?
Let go of what I hold as “mine”
Watch it change colors, then wither
(There’s beauty in that process)
Then let it go altogether
to drift freely down
And I, to contentedly stand bare
Anticipating another to take its place in time
A new leaf
Green and whole and bearing fruit

I think we dread death in our lives because we focus on the present crisis instead of the present beauty, and with that we forget the coming spring. We doubt the goodness of God in our losses and our disappointments, fearing if we let go of this we will be stripped forever. We forget that He promises to make all things new, to work out all for good, to fulfill the plans He has for us. And we don’t realize the beauty He creates as we surrender to Him and walk through the process of dying.

This fall, as I bask in the glorious weather and the grandeur of the world around me, I want to be drawn to the heart of God and reminded of His good in my own deaths, in the things I am slowly letting go of so that I may hold more of what He has for me. The story is not over, and new fruit will be produced in time. But for now, I want to enjoy the present beauty He brings even in walking through my own autumns.

piecing this season together

patchwork

I’ve been driving in the silence lately.

No radio, no iPhone Pandora, no phone conversations.

But I’m listening.

This time of year, things are constantly changing around me. Unlike summer, where you wake up each day expecting to sweat, or even winter, when it doesn’t matter what you wear that day because your coat will cover it, fall provides something new each day. The colors of leaves change drastically overnight. It can pour buckets of rain one day, then soak the earth in an abundance of sunshine the next. Layers are critical because you never know whether the cooler temperatures are here to stay or if summer will pop back in before saying goodbye. (Just for the record, I am still holding onto the hope that summer hasn’t said her final goodbyes yet. I may have worn a puffy jacket for the past week, but today I felt freedom checking the weather then leaving that jacket hung on its hook when I left the house. 50 degrees never felt so good!)

In the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the cold fronts and the holidays, it becomes easy to miss what’s going on in front of me.

Many trees have surrendered to cold wind and shed their foliage, but there are still some brilliant colors lining the streets of my commute. I don’t want to miss the last glimpses of orange and yellow contrasted with the gray autumn sky. I don’t want to miss the angle of sunlight that so perfectly causes the hills to glow, turning browns into golds.

I am normally someone who enjoys singing along to the radio as I run errands and destress from the day. But instead of a song lyrics getting stuck in my head, I am hearing the whispers of a Creator and Father. I find myself unexpectedly talking out loud, thanking Him for eyes to see Him in the change around me. While He Himself does not change, He is the one responsible for weaving together the transitions in perfect pairings.

It’s like the collages I used to make in high school. It was “the thing to do” among teenage girls, before Pinterest ideas came onto the scene – cutting out pictures from magazines and mod-podging them together to cover binders and lockers and birthday cards. While the pictures did not all necessarily go together, they worked together to decorate my life and showcase my personality. Mine normally had daffodils and words in fun fonts and trees and dream dresses.

I feel like that’s what God is doing during this season. This weekend, we were dusted with a light snow, and that snow on orange trees was odd for this part of the country, but somehow perfect. Coats and scarves are coming out earlier than normal, but Thanksgiving is later, and my heart can’t decide between clinging to November or anticipating Christmas.

When I look at the world around me, stopping to really notice what’s here, it seems the world is sewing together what doesn’t match to make a perfect patchwork quilt. I want to cuddle into that quilt, to find my favorite squares and notice the colors I never would have paired together but that somehow workI want to drape it over my shoulders as a child with a cape and fully embrace this moment, this gift, this grace. I want to wear out that quilt until it is faded from love and use, not looking ahead at the next project of the Creator but being grateful for this one.

Driving in the silence has allowed me to hear more and see more and savor. I hope you are able to see and savor this season in all of its mismatched glory.

 

**linking up with Holley Gerth today: click the button below to check out her blog as well as other writers who are linking up to encourage others with their words

the view from the branches

A cold front seemed to come out of nowhere this weekend.

It was like a car in front of me stopping suddenly, causing me to brake and brace for the jolt that comes with sudden change in motion. Yet instead of grasping for potentially airborne coffee mugs and cell phones, I found myself piled with scarves and blankets and flannel, staring out the living room window as if eyeing an opponent before battle.

As one who thrives in fall but despises winter, I need to be slowly coaxed into coats. Easing me into it is the best way to keep me happy, just like I prefer to start submerging toes in the shallow end of a cold pool before I am ready to go all the way under. The weather will be getting warmer again (thank goodness for Arkansas’ southern ways), but this taste of winter was enough to push me into hiding.

And it wasn’t just me who experienced the shock of quick change. Pretty leaves once fanning out and showing off colors shriveled up on branches as if in fetal position, begging to be shielded from the wind. I watched Saturday morning as flurries of leaves fell to the ground, giving up the fight to cling to trees.

IMG_3494

Over the past few years, this dramatic seasonal change from September to December seemed to mirror my life during those months — from starting to date Eric to getting married to job changes for us both, this time of year in the past has involved a lot of transition. The past six or seven months, though, we have been experiencing something new: rest. By no means is life perfect, and by no means are we always content with this rest, but it’s an answer to a prayer that we have been praying for awhile. Our marriage is in a good place. Eric’s job is stressful, but he has figured out how to cope (most of the time). I feel like I am finding my role in ministry with Cru. Even our mischievous border collie has been content with cuddling on the couch or chewing an antler (rawhide is bad, people!) instead of chasing deer in the woods across the street.

However, I enjoy change and trying new things (albeit slowly, like the getting into a swimming pool situation), and I easily get restless if I am in the same place too long. I would be a leaf that fell off a tree not because I lost strength to hold on, but because I wanted to see what it was like on the ground. I have found myself several times over the past couple of months wondering what type of big change we could make to add some excitement to our lives, and from that grows a discontentment with a clear answer to our prayers.

In the midst of busy seasons, or hard seasons, or seasons of change, we desire something consistent, something secure. But when that constancy is present, we – or at least I – grow bored. I am constantly warring with that discontent, and there is always something new that I am longing for.

I am making a decision, though, to embrace the rest. To not let my guard down when it comes to the flirtations of wanting more of this or something other than now. To rejoice in God’s grace during this season, yet to not grow independent and distant from still needing Him.

When it’s time to let go of the branch and experience the fall to the ground – which happens to us all – I will trust the Lord in a new way. That fall means death is near — the kind of death that causes leaves to crunch under feet and crumble to dirt so that new green life can come in time.  But my time now is to rest in the current life and not grow weary of the view from the branches. Because it really is a fantastic view.

fall break musings

It’s as if someone clapped chalkboard erasers over my town this morning, the dust still lingering over buildings and hazing sunlight. This fog blurs headlights and creates a sleepy tone over morning activities. A sip of pumpkin steamer warms my throat as I observe the bustling coffee shop around me. 20-somethings in business attire work on silver laptops and sip coffee while college students in leggings and just-rolled-out-of-bed ponytails are surfing Facebook, most likely trying to find motivation to get work done during fall break. A group of middle-aged adults all laugh loudly at the same time, their excitement causing others to look up curiously. It’s almost too cliche to write about, yet here I am.

Another sip of my steamed milk + pumpkin pushes me to focus, picking up my pen to journal. Today is my monthly “Day with the Lord,” yet I must confess that I feel like too many things are distracting me from Jesus. Thoughts about my birthday celebration yesterday, what needs to happen with my schedule this week, and those cute boots I’ve had my eye on are all wearing hi-vis apparel in my mind, and I am struggling to look at anything else, especially God. Lord, why can’t I take my mind off other things? Why must material things and the expectations and approval of the world be so much more attractive than You? 

I’m embarrassed to admit it. My head knows that Jesus is better than anything this world has to offer, but my desires right now are for tangible things. Success in ministry. Cute fall outfits. Having a well-decorated home. Spoiling my husband with one of his favorite dinners. Not bad things, I suppose, but I can tell they are encroaching on Christ’s rule in my heart, and I am fighting a losing battle on my own.

We all fight a losing battle on our own. Our flesh is weak when it comes to the flirtations of this world. Paul David Tripp describes a constant war going on “between the awe of God and all of the awe-inspiring things that are around you that God created… any glorious thing in creation was given that glory by God so it would function as a finger pointing you to the one glory that should rule your heart – him.” Too often, though, I am focused on that finger and miss the purpose of the finger. What is it pointing to?

The leaves here are transitioning from green to golds and burgundies and fire colors. The cool, crisp air persists later in the morning and develops earlier in the evening. The angle of light is sentimental, seeming to always provide the perfect backdrop for the beginning of a story. Boots and scarves have made their appearance, and warm drinks are a standard accessory to any outfit. Yesterday morning, a playful wind whipped through our yard while Eric and I were planting tulip bulbs and a tree, and it coaxed some leaves to let go of their tree and dance around aimlessly before resting on the ground at our feet.

These are the fingers pointing my heart to God. These are the things God wants to use to draw me to Himself during this season — and while my tendency is to focus on the glory of fall and the coziness of cardigans, I am now praying that God allows me to enjoy these things because they are reflections of His character, not just because they are fun things in themselves. He is Creator. He is the one clapping chalkboard erasers and selecting colors for each leaf. The comfort I find in a flannel scarf and wool socks is an emotion created by Him, and I can rejoice in how He created my heart.

There is an awe of creation. But there is an even more amazing awe that we are loved by the God who created it all. And that’s what – or rather, Who – I want to capture my heart this season. Through His grace, I am able to fight back against the temptations to worship the wrong things. His grace is sufficient for me, and His love is beyond what I deserve.

bruised apples

I peeled apples this morning.

Fifteen small McIntosh apples one by one lost their red skin to reveal grainy flesh. Peel fell into the waiting trashcan in short, wide layers; I have yet to master Meg Ryan’s curly-q technique. Though a tedious task, these apples were bound for a purpose that kept me peeling — the promise of apple butter outweighed the monotonous work.

As layers disappeared, they unveiled hidden blemishes beneath shiny red skin. Brown scabs, bruises, and discolorations affected each one. These were not flaws of a bad apple – simply normal, just not noticeable from the outside. If you peeled away the layers of just one and compared it to the other shiny red ones which had not been peeled, you might think the one peeled apple was bad, that it was unhealthy and therefore useless.

Over the past few weeks, we have been focusing on some specific women’s issues with the girls in our ministry. We did an event called “Stand Up For Your Sister” during fall retreat, and just this past week we had a dessert and discussion on authentic community, bringing up topics like forgiveness and conflict resolution which seem to especially plague women’s friendships with each other.

And my hope and prayer through this is that girls stop comparing their flawed flesh with the shiny red skins of others.

Several girls have admitted to lying on their “Stand Up For Your Sister” survey because they thought they would be the only one who struggled with that issue: praise the Lord that they were able to visibly see that they are far from alone!

My hope is the same for you, whoever you are, reading these words. You know your own flaws and struggles and sins more thoroughly than anyone else in your life, so when you compare yourself to others, you normally compare your flaws to the assumed perfection of those around you. I know I so easily get discouraged at how often I fall and how far I still have to go, and I have a tendency to think no one else is experiencing loneliness or body image dissatisfaction or discontentment with their current life stage.

But the truth is, we are each flawed. We all have things we wish we could change or improve or resolve, but those things don’t make you any less valuable or worthy of love. You have been accepted by God, just as you are. He chose to save you when even you didn’t know about your bruises and blemishes. And He offers you a freedom that can only be found in Him.

 

making time to catch acorns

Most days, I walk the dog in a hurried, let’s-get-this-over-with sort of manner. If the weather is pretty, we might walk the whole path at Gulley Park, but if he is having a feisty morning, or if I got a late start, we cut through the middle and he gets jipped.

I always thought my walks with the dog would be a significant part of my day, time in the morning to be with the Lord. But somewhere in between rolling out of bed and walking out the door leash in hand, I tend lose the desire for slow, for intentional, for quieting my heart. It becomes more about completing this task so I can move on to the next.

This morning, though, was different. Extended time with the Lord was a work requirement (what a tough assignment, right?), so Ridley and I wandered the trails at Lake Fayetteville, following the lake shore and the rays of morning sun peeking through leafy awnings. With one headphone connecting me to Pandora, a soundtrack of worship music played as we tripped along over roots and rocks and dirt. Normally I am staring straight ahead, but today I was aware enough to notice the acorns some squirrels dropped right in front of my path. I heard the songs of four or five different birds in a 30 second symphony. I found some of the first leaves who have welcomed the effects of autumn, proudly showing off their gold and crimson and tan.

IMG_3359

 

The fall seems to consistently be the busiest time of my year. Between football season and cycling events and camping and weddings and campus events, my weekends are booked. While these are all fun things, the fall is a time when I want to sit and be still. To savor the slow change of life from sun and sweat and shorts to colored leaves and sweatshirts pulled snug over knuckles. The problem is, I don’t make resting a priority. I look for significance in doing, not being. And while the doing is good, I am learning that the being is what enables the doing.

This morning was the first time I have ever noticed the soft crown of an acorn. I’ve never found one so recently disconnected from the branch, I suppose, but the little caps hadn’t dried out yet. Pliable, feathery layers make up what later becomes roughly textured. Even now as I study the acorns I carried home, one of the caps has already dried up. The layers have formed into one, while the other nut still looks like that shaggy haircut every boy in ninth grade seemed to have when I was in school.

IMG_3355

The window of time for catching acorns is brief. They will fall whether or not I am there to observe them — just as the leaves will change and the breezes will turn cold. If I want to soak it all in, I have to choose the stillness. The being over the going and doing.  God’s presence over my to-do list will be a choice to daily make, but my hope is that being more aware of God’s gifts during this autumn season will fuel me for the going and doing that follows.

 

**linking up with Holley Gerth today: click the button below to check out her blog as well as other writers who are linking up to encourage others with their words

 

gratitude for the mundane

i know the point of social media is to display the highlights of your life. you post pictures of the exciting moments, the fancy dinners, the cute things your kids do. it’s a place to brag on yourself and your life without having to justify it.

but the problem comes in when you grow discontent with your life because everyone else’s lives look more fun/exciting/interesting/meaningful/fill-in-the-blank.

we aren’t ready to have kids yet, but when i see pictures of moms and sweet moments with their littles, i get baby-fever for a second. pictures don’t show sleepless nights and discipline issues and cleaning up messes – just the good stuff.

it’s an unrealistic picture of life – it’s one-sided.

and the solution for social media-induced restlessness is gratitude, which leads to contentment. so please don’t see this post as me bragging, but simply finding things to be grateful for in the midst of a more mundane season.

i am grateful for squash that turns into spaghetti when roasted, and for being able to serve dinner in a squash-shell.

IMG_2037

i am grateful for bean boots and fall walks with our pup.

IMG_1947

i am grateful for a pup who likes to watch me make dinner and wash dishes.

IMG_2024

 

i am grateful for evenings alone to get lost in my thoughts – and for the anticipation of my husband returning home. i am grateful for God’s provision and how it is always enough.