This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Month: November 2017

Carolina on My Mind

 

The beauty of the South Carolina sunset took me by surprise. Low and warm and welcoming, I turned my face toward its glow and felt the chill in my northern bones begin to melt away. The farther we journeyed toward my sister-in-law’s home, the more majestic the sky became. The hot oranges and golds turned pink, then violet, before engulfing the entire sky in the deepest of purple hues.

 

This visit was not what you might have expected it to be, given that it was the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was not the long planned for family gathering around a giant turkey and all the trimmings. This was a trip made in haste and I had prepared myself that the visit might be hard. My brother-in-law had suddenly taken ill and we were traveling south to encourage him and to support my sister-in-law.

 

When you love someone, you take seriously the responsibility of being an encouragement to that dear one. To encourage means literally to fill with courage. It is an awesome responsibility to encourage and bless someone you love who is hurting.

 

And so my mind was filled with thoughts of what I would say that would be helpful. What I could do that would be useful.

 

The magnificent sunset should have been my first clue that it was I
who would be blessed by the visit.

 

 

Our planned gathering of two siblings and their spouses had quickly grown to include parents and a grown daughter, until we numbered seven, and spanned three generations. It had been far too long since we had all been together; years upon years have separated us. And during that time we have all known hardship – illness, death of loved ones, broken relationships, financial challenges. But we have all seen much joy during those years as well – new marriages, new life, restored faith.

 

We did what all families do who haven’t seen one another in far too long – we talked and we listened. We shared our stories until we were satisfied that we had truly communed with one another. And at the end of our whirlwind 24 hours, we longed for more time together.

 

We are entering the season that brims with family – beginning at Thanksgiving, moving through the Advent season and on to Christmas, and culminating in New Years. We feast, we celebrate, and we fill our time enjoying those we hold most dear in our hearts.

 

But the eve of Thanksgiving can herald the beginning of a tough time for many people. For many of us there is discord within our families that prevents real celebration from being possible. We have known seasons in both my husband’s and my extended families when we were not as close as we are today. Where we have allowed misunderstanding to block our way to true love and peace within our families.

 

I am thankful to those members of my family who have taught me that love’s way always trumps discord’s way. And that family is always worth fighting for.

 

 

I wasn’t expecting this impromptu family gathering, just days before Thanksgiving, but I will forever be grateful for it. While our celebration did not include a turkey and all the trimmings, it was one of the truest celebrations of thanks I have ever experienced.

 

And so, with a full heart, I offer these words of thanks that whispered to me through the great southern pines, and I pray they will be your words of thanks this Thanksgiving season as well.

 

I thank God for the gift of family,

For the gift of music,

For laughter,

For family memories made long ago and cherished in the secret ways of old family folklore.

 

I thank God for new beginnings,

For warmth and hospitality and generosity of heart,

For good food shared in a home brimming with love and service to one another.

 

I am thankful for the reckless love of God, who never stops pursuing us,

For the desire he placed within human hearts to go over the river and through the woods to be with the ones we love.

I am thankful that the Great Reconciler shows us the way to truly love one another.

 

In Search of Perfect

 

It’s quite possible that fall is everyone’s favorite season. Not too hot, not to cool – in the immortal words of Goldilocks, it’s just right. Never mind that the calendar year begins in January, instinctively we all consider fall to mark the real beginning of the year. Inscribed in our minds from our deepest childhood memories of new teachers, new classmates, and the latest back to school fashions, fall will forever mark the beginning of the new year. Following the rest and renewal of summer, fall is a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.

 

Fall is a time of harvest when we celebrate the work that our hands have accomplished in prior seasons. Winter may have its blanket of soft white, spring its explosion of every pastel hue available to the finest impressionist painter, and summer every shade of green and the brilliance of a hot ball of fire to light our days. But fall…oh fall. In you we savor the final explosion of the Creator’s paintbrush before the whole earth goes silent and hibernates in its covering of grey and white.

 

My soul longs to imagine that this is the perfect season. My critical eye scans the landscape as I walk, when I drive, seeking out a flawless grove of trees where no barren limbs can be seen and all of summer’s green has turned into a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I hunt for it as though, once found, I could gulp it down and hold it locked within me to warm me forever.

 

This is the season I feel I must protect. I fret that the color show hasn’t begun on time. I fret that the trees won’t turn brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion. I fret that an untimely storm may come and wash it all away before I’ve had my fill of its splendor. And I fret about the new season that will replace this one when all this beauty is but a distant memory.

 

I imagine perfection is to be found tangled in the beauty before me. And so, my mind’s eye erases what it does not want to see. If I squint just a little bit, the reds and oranges come into relief and the bare branches recede into obscurity. But the camera tells a different story.

 

This has been an unusual fall for us in the Northeast. With temperatures still in the 60s most days, fall emerges for a day or two and then retreats again under the cover of lush greenery. Impatient, many trees have dropped their leaves before others have even begun their annual autumnal show. Our locust trees have long ago shed their lacey golden crown. Most of the sycamore and English plane trees have suffered blight this year that has singed their leaves brown, causing them to curl inward, dry and decaying before their inevitable descent to the ground. Their grand trunks, clothed in mottled white and army fatigue gray bark, stand sentry, bare, with no blanket of golden yellow to shelter them. And all the while, the proud maples stand tall and green refusing to let a few cooler nights coax them into revealing their majestic hues of crimson, burgundy and pure fire.

 

The trees have not turned brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion this year.

 

 

My search for perfection is not limited to my visual appreciation for autumnal splendor. If truth be told, I seek perfection in the seasons of my own life. My heart longs to discover perfect moments, perfect days, perfect seasons and settle right in, imagining that all will go according to my tidy organized plan, and that no storms will come to wash away the splendor of that perfect season of my life.

 

I seek out moments when all of my children are healthy and content, where marriage is sweet and friendships are honest and life-giving. Where work is fulfilling and we can taste the financial security that comes from a job well rewarded. Where academic pursuits are enriching and doctor visits are few. Where our cars run smoothly, the hot water heater hasn’t exploded, and there are no sudden trips to the ER.

 

I seek out these moments as if by capturing them I could hold onto them like so many lightening bugs captured in a glass jar. But perfect moments can’t be frozen in time any more than lightening bugs can light up the night forever. Their glow only lasts so long before it flickers out and all we’re left with is a bug in a jar.

 

Is there a lesson for me in the perfectly imperfect autumn display of 2017?

 

The natural world tells us that nothing is perfect, that beauty and decay co-exist side by side in every landscape, in every season. I would do well to learn from nature’s example and not to keep seeking out that one perfect season. Every season of our lives is filled with joy and pain, light and dark, growth and decay, ascent and descent.[1]

 

It is in accepting the decay that I am better able to see the beauty.

 

Fall may be my favorite season, but it is not a perfect one. How could it be? No one season, no one event, no one person is capable of containing all the fullness of perfection. Only God can do that, for God alone is pure and lovely, perfect and filled with light.

 

And so I open wide my half-slit eyes and gaze in wonder that any of this beauty is mine to behold at all. And I see it all for perhaps the first time. The mops of green remind me of the sweetness of what was, while the bare branches prepare me to accept what will be. And in the reds and oranges and yellows I am thankful for the joy that comes in appreciating what is.

 

[1] With special thanks to my friend, William Butler, whose painting series Ascension has helped me better grasp that all of life involves simultaneous ascent and descent.

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