A few weeks ago, I ended up running through a shower, but instead of rain washing over my face, leaves were dropping down on my shoulders and hair. Never have I seen leaves fall that quickly, and I found myself laughing like a little girl who had just seen her first snowflakes. Of course, for those of you who know me, you would also know that I am no arborist and in fact have a black thumb, so the excitement I was feeling at the moment was not out of appreciation for the leaves themselves but for the bigger picture of who created them and what their descent to the ground signified.
Those leaves that were so delicately landing on my head were announcing the progression of this season of fall. And just like the trees, we go through seasons. Yes, this is what I have been hearing for the past few years, and I have learned it to be so. As I considered the thought of winter approaching so soon, I pictured cold, dark days, harsh winds and barren trees, and I wondered why those leaves falling encouraged my heart and left me with a feeling of anticipation when I knew the emptiness that would follow.
But I knew the answer to this as well. I knew a lot about winter because I lived there for three years. When John was diagnosed with ALS, we were like a tree with beautiful healthy leaves, shielding us from exposing too much of what was going on underneath. Those leaves quickly started to fall as his needs became more difficult to manage, though. We realized we couldn’t do things on our own and needed help, so we let down our guard and let our leaves fall, so to speak, until our branches were bare. We were exposed. We were vulnerable, but we trusted God to provide emotionally, spiritually and physically. God is faithful! The gifts from those He called to serve us were like new leaves, carefully selected and placed perfectly in our branches, providing warmth, beauty and new life. They were all different shades of orange, green, yellow, brown and red, because of the givers’ unique experiences and talents. Over and over, God worked through those leaves to encourage our hearts and fill us with peace, joy and purpose. An important note – our branches are much more beautiful when we let God fill them. This is why winter makes me smile.
This revelation came just days before I left for my first Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat as a volunteer, and I couldn’t help but be struck with awe as I realized how God was preparing my heart for that experience. Many families come to retreats with their leaves barely hanging on. They are afraid of needing help; they are afraid of being exposed. Yet they come. They let strangers coordinate travel and sleeping arrangements and schedule their days. They walk into counseling sessions and share their stories. And as their leaves fall, God picks up the brightly colored offerings of the staff and volunteers and places them in the branches….at just the right time, in just the right spot. He warms the family members’ hearts, renews their spirits, and brings out their beauty again. In the winter, God’s glory shines even brighter. How awesome it is to be a part of that!
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. -1 Peter 4:10-11