I was walking our neighborhood the other day, enjoying the pull of fall: hints of red and gold filling the treetops; a slant of sunshine through those same trees, skies clear and blue with the promise of autumn. The days are growing shorter, and my soul feels such relief at the promise of this seasonal change. It is a steady reminder to me that our Creator does all things well, even when we feel whiplashed. This is the season when my bones and soul are alive; I am keenly aware as I walk that God’s beauty reflects his goodness and his plan. As I walked, I recalled other autumns of my life.
One fall, many years ago, I was a little girl growing up in an expansive New England farmhouse that had been neatly divided into four apartments. The great outdoors was my playground: raspberry bushes, a massive garden, forts in the front woods, a pond for row boating and ice skating, a crab apple tree holding our swings, a sandbox under said apple tree, and a large field behind the farmhouse. My brother and I were continually outside, and it was good.
One day, when the field was harvest bleached, but not yet baled, I frolicked in the midst of it with my red-headed friend. My hair blended in the golden field, but hers glimmered auburn in the fall sunshine. We were playing house, as little girls do; patting down the field to form a well-designed living space: a kitchen here; living room there. Our imaginations soared on that beautiful day. We had no idea what danger lurked. Blissfully unaware.
My younger brother had endured a terrible scare in that field the previous summer. Wandering in the middle of that tall grass, a distant neighbor’s aggressive German Shepherd had broken loose, and loped to our yard: searching, stalking, hungry. He began to circle the field, ears pointed, teeth barred. As the circle grew smaller, my little brother was trapped and cried for help. My mother, upstairs, heard the commotion and ran outdoors, trying to scare the creature away.
Our landlord, a gruff yet soft-hearted man, came running with his rifle when he heard my brother’s cries. With a shot fired into the air, the German Shepherd, steadily closing in on my brother, changed course and fled. We were all trembling. The rifle had saved my brother.
Now as my friend and I fashioned our imaginary home in that field, we did not realize that our landlord had been doing battle with raccoons and woodchucks, which had been devouring his ample garden each night. He and his wife spent most of their days in that lush spot; it was their work; their love, and it was stunning. Corn, squash, pumpkins, carrots, peas, beans and potatoes filled that expansive spot of soil, and mason jars of glory stocked their neat basement shelves. Come winter, they ate of their labor.
Our landlord, working in his breezeway between the garage and main house, had glanced in the field and his eye had caught a reddish-blond blur in the center of it. I’ve got you now, he said, reaching for his rifle. Moving quickly, yet stealthily, he crept into the backyard, raised his arm, eye squinted.
My little brother had been twirling on the tire swing. He watched Mr. Golden aim, and flew to his elbow. That is my sister, he said simply, tugging at his sleeve.
And just like that, my life was spared. The same rifle that saved my brother’s life nearly snuffed out mine.
Some time before or after this, I was snuggled up in the blue guest bedroom of my grandparent’s home, spending the night. They lived in the suburbs, on busy Washington Street. From the narrow bed, I counted the bright headlights from passing motorists pull across the ceiling. Accustomed to quiet country living, where the nights were inky and crickets chirped, this place stirred my mind, keeping me awake long after my normal bedtime.
I was talking to God, asking him to come into my heart and make it his home. I knew that I needed a Savior, that I was hopelessly sinful. I repeated my request over and over, as if the God of the universe was hard of hearing. I was alone and my words were sincere and unscripted.
What I did not comprehend yet was the beauty of the Holy Spirit working that night. That without him, I would never have been talking to God in the first place. The Comforter was with me, quietly and gently leading.
I know not the date, nor the time, nor even the year this evening happened, but does it matter? God knows. Many times along life’s path I have felt strongly pressured to fabricate something, anything! But God is never rushed, and is always working in his own time. It would make for a good story to pen how being misunderstood for a woodchuck led me to bow before my Savior, but these events remain somewhat tangled, as events for children typically are. All I know is that they both happened, and God is at work, always.
One Sunday in my early adulthood, my husband was traveling, and I sat in church under a pastor who steadily pounded the pulpit, insisting that we have a dramatic before and after story of our walk with God, that should include a specific date, or at least a known year of acceptance. If you cannot produce an account, then are you really following Christ?
To be fair, at that moment I had four little children, a husband away on business, and was sleep-deprived. Feeling tired and weepy, I remember my eyes brimming, as I desperately tried to come up with my before and after. I was stuck; all I could envision was the blue guest bedroom, small and holy. I knew that I was often stumbling forward; but forward still. I also was painfully aware of several longish times that I had quenched the Holy Spirit, resisting his promptings. That was followed by repentance, a turning back to God. He never let me go.
And that is what counts. The beauty of autumn is the death of the leaves. Their dying results in majestic colors, showcasing a season of completion. Our seasons of life with God matter. It is not only a beginning date, but our following, stumbling, and returning to God that matters.
This autumn our oldest son will be married. As the leaves show off their glory, I will be thanking God for this lifetime he has granted me. If I had died that day in the field, I would not be dancing with my sons on their wedding days, nor watching our own daughter walk to her groom in years to come. If I had died that day in the field, I would also have been spared much pain that along with the joys has painfully unfolded.
But God uses it all, and holds our before and our after. His followers are those beautiful leaves, created by him: green then gold, then scarlet, falling gently so that new life will return, come spring.