One day last week, a storm blew through in the late afternoon. The sun broke through the clouds in the west, while to the east the dark cumulus lingered. In between, the sun highlighted the autumn leaves in all their late-emerging glory. It was like watching a painting in one of those Thomas Kincaid Galleries when you slowly turn up the lights. Reds, yellows, oranges, browns, greens and colors I can’t describe with Crayola words burst off the screen of my eyes. It was a take-your-breath-away, “oh, wow” moment. Leaves in splendor.
When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite science projects each fall was the leaf collection. The teacher would give us the assignment to find, catalog and describe a certain number of tree leaves, which we would mount under plastic sheet covers in a scrapbook.
Our neighborhood was full of mature trees, and I could walk around the block in an afternoon and find sugar maple, sassafras, Kentucky coffee tree, mimosa, magnolia, dogwood and more. I found more on the hill at my grandparents’ home. Our yard had the only pin oak for blocks, so for a few weeks a lot of my class mates stopped by to complete their collection—or maybe get extra credit.
Once the leaves were mounted, we had to observe whether it was simple or compound, came from a deciduous or evergreen, etc. The collection was a snapshot of one moment in one fall –observed and noted. Leaves exhibited.
Saturday, I went for a run. On the way home, I found myself running through piles of leaves that had been raked to the curb. Sad to say, I didn’t run over the leaves; I ran through them, kicking leaves into the swirling breeze. I can’t remember the last time I kicked a pile of leaves –probably when Drew was a little boy. Leaves dancing.
Here’s the thing that amazes me about leaves in the fall: for all their sun-kissed, dancing, scrap-booked, piled-up splendor — they are dying. There is astonishing, breath-taking beauty in the dying.
That doesn’t make sense. It’s upside-down. Counter-intuitive. An antonym. An oxymoron.
But still true.
And it’s consistent with how the Lord seems to work. We have moments and seasons in our lives that can only be described as death. Relationships break, finances crash, jobs are lost, hopes are crushed, dreams are shattered, our story turns from romance to horror. Death.
It’s right at that point where the gospel shows up. There’s beauty in death when death restores beauty. Jesus’ death is beautiful because the bloody mess of a mangled Savior’s body showcases the glory of the Almighty.
And what does He promise us who live under that gospel? That there are moments when what feels like death to us (or maybe actually is death to us) will somehow display the beauty of His gospel, His glory, His sufficiency.
Death-moments are a weakness we’d rather not admit. “But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Death-moments are a loss we scramble to avoid. But “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark.8:35)
Death-moments are about grief and mourning we don’t think our hearts can bear, but Jesus promises
“ The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of spirit of despair; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified, for the display of His splendor…” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Are you in a death moment right now? Under the Savior’s good hand of mercy, you are a Son-kissed, dancing splendor. Collect those moments and reflect on them often. It will build your faith—and help you never forget that the Lord is committed to making even death a beauty to behold.