how faint a whisper

glimpses of God in a heaven-crammed earth


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dying beautifully

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Yesterday morning it was cold. I walked the gravel path, hands tucked up into my sleeves to stay warm, hood up and framing my face against the late fall morning. I walked because I could – because I was in a place where, slipping out early enough, I would see no one else and hear nothing else but the rustle of leaves, and my shoes on the path. I walked because I needed the clarity of prayer that sometimes it seems only movement can bring me. I felt full to the brim of conversations that bring life, and glimpses of joyful hope. Yet I felt stripped by sin, by shared grief, by the weight of love of those I prayed for as I walked. I felt like the leaves under my feet.

Familiar words drifted across my mind, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” Sure, the parable is easy to see when we’re speaking of seeds, but trees don’t grow from their fallen leaves. They just bloom and grow to fall and die again, year after year after year. In my state of heart it almost seemed cruel, a purposeless cycle of nature.

Walking along the path I turned to the right to see a quiet cemetery nestled away just down a hill – its edges rimmed by trees of every imaginable color, and a blanket of red and orange coating the ground. Walking down the hill and crouching near to the ground as the sun began to fight its way through the clouds and trees above me, my restless heart was silenced, as I desperately hoped it would be, by the reminder of a deep, simple, truth: yes, the leaves die, and they fall. But in their process of dying and of falling, they make the world more beautiful.

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The process of death requires much change in the leaves. When they hold on, staying on the tree and embracing a process which can only lead eventually to falling, when they allow the change to be visible, it is stunningly beautiful. Sometimes the wind rattles the trees, more vehemently it seems as the season increases, as death comes closer. And so often the leaves must withstand much wind before they fall. They cannot help being moved by it, but they are beautiful both in their moving and their holding on. Sometimes, it is that last, hard, cold blast of wind that causes them to fall. But often they fall when there is no wind at all, or the gentlest of breezes. Have you ever watched a leaf fall on a still day, all the way from the release from the tree, with seemingly no logical explanation? It doesn’t so much fall as float, in graceful arcs and swoops and turns, bending willingly to unseen movements of air, beautiful even in the surrender of falling. And then it lands, seeming to settle into the ground with a sigh, and it is still. And the stillness is beautiful. It becomes a part of coating the grass with color, and then it dies.

Of course, these are trees. They don’t think about anything like this, not do they have a choice in their surrender. But somehow the Lord still finds it purposeful to repeat this pattern again and again, maybe more for us. For the reminder that while most of the time we long for similitude, we are mostly called to change. That while most of the time we may wish for beaches of endless summer, narrow roads are usually found in rough terrain, subject to the effects of seasons. We are continually somewhere in our own cycles of dying and new life, and perhaps we could learn something from the willingness of the trees.

I have a friend who is walking through a long process of dying. Not a physical death, but a death nonetheless, with the grief which surrounds it: the dying of a dream, a career, a ministry, a decade of work and seeming worth. I had been praying for her as I walked that morning, and it was her real-life example I saw paralleled in the fall leaves. As clear and vibrant as the red and oranges around me, she is making the world more beautiful in her process of dying and of falling. And not only the world, but my own life, as she allows me to walk beside and watch. Her openness to allow the Lord’s changes to be visible in her is stunningly beautiful. And the coming of winter is slow, and sometimes uncertain, and no doubt it would be easier to shake the leaves free and be done with the tension of this active process of dying while still being asked to live. But willingly she waits, a picture of beauty to who knows how many passing eyes, clinging hard through some strong bitter winds, up and through the moment only the Lord knows. It may be a few months or a few years, but she will have to surrender, let it fall, and let it die. And when that day comes, I have no doubt the stillness in which it settles will be the hardest, but most beautiful of all, as it reflects the stillness of a heart which knows we are rooted in the One who conquered the grave.

How I long to die so graciously as I am privileged to watch in her. It is a death that trusts in the promise of new life. That trusts that barrenness comes only for a season. That trusts that even when she cannot see or understand it, there are those who are being blessed by the colors of the change of dying who could not have been in the season of lushest life. It is a death that trusts that we are created to make beautiful things, and enrich the world, and then die to them. Their beauty was never our own to hold.

The process of dying will never be easy. Never. Sin brought it into the world, and in it we are constantly reminded that this is not as it should be. We are reminded that we are not as we should be, and that that is the very reason that death is required, a letting go of even beautiful and good things, because our life does not consist in them, and because for whatever reason this is the time that the Lord has decided we will be more beautiful, and more glorious, and shaped more into His image, by the process of a season of dying. And in that knowledge, and that trust, we can understand how it is that we can be both stripped, and oh so full. Grieving all that is not as it should be, while filled with joyful hope in the glimpses we have seen of what can. Life is lived most often in both of those realities held together. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Dying, and yet we live.

How thankful I am for the strength the Lord has given my sweet friend, and that it comes from the strength of Christ. How I long to, in the slightest measure like Him, make the world ever more beautiful by the process of my dying.


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to two little men

You won’t always run and throw your arms around me.¬†Especially not outside the school door, with all your classmates around.

“When I grow up,” you said, “I will make a law so they can’t cut down so many trees.”¬†Solving problems will not always be so simple.

Hand knit sweaters will not always be cool.

IMG_8226smallYou won’t always want to talk on and on and on about anything and nothing…ten minutes about the next lego set you want without even a pause for a comment. Someday you may not want to talk to me at all.

Life will not always seem so conquerable as, “when I grow up, I’m going to be an inventor,” nor as selfless as, “so what would you like me to invent for you?”

Picking up and dropping again helicopters fallen from oak trees to watch them whirl their short journey back to the sidewalk will not always be amazing.

Playgrounds will not always be pirate ships.

It will not always take twenty minutes to walk two blocks, crouching every three steps to pick up a leaf and hand it to me to put in my pocket, “so it doesn’t blow away.”

In fact, leaves won’t always seem beautiful enough to comment on with genuine rapture.

You won’t always want to hold my hand.

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Little one, you will not always be as you are now. But you will not be altogether different, either. This is you. The boy will become the man. Grow up! I cannot stop it even if I wished to, and I don’t. In the boy hides the man, and I cannot wait to meet who the Lord will make you to be.

Little tree law maker, you will be a man. I pray you will tackle problems with the same level of resolve you possess now.

Little pirate ship captain, you will be a man. I pray you will never lose your thirst for adventure.

Little inventor, you will be a man. I pray your heart will be as selfless with your gifts as you now demonstrate so intuitively.

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Little hand holder, leaping into my arms hugger, you will be a man. I pray you will show affection and emotion to the women in your life, even, and maybe especially, when others are watching and listening.

Little leaf saver, you will be a man. I pray you will extend compassion as readily to grown up and far more needing recipients as your tender heart does now to fallen leaves.

Little lego lover, you will be a man. I pray you will talk long and passionately about the things that matter to your heart.

IMG_8201smallLittle sweater wearer, you will be a man. I pray you will be able to discern between true beauty and all else which imitates it.

Little helicopter whirler, you will be a man. I pray the simple things will still fill you with wonder.

Little leaf admirer, you will be a man. I pray you will still recognize beauty, and comment on it with genuine rapture.

Right now, little man, you are so small. And there is much we grow out of that we should instead grow into. You will not always love Jesus like this, but by the grace of God, you will love Him more, and with understanding. And the One you love will not have changed at all. Oh how I pray you will grow into Him! As Aslan to Lucy, may you find Him every year bigger, yet every year more surely the same.

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I do not have the answers to the road of your life. I cannot even see it, much less protect you from it’s stumbles. But I know that whatever the question you face, the answer will be found the same place it has always been,

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
– Jeremiah 6:16

Little man, I pray you will stand. I pray you will ask. I pray you will believe. But most of all I pray for grace from the One who holds the boy, and who will hold the man.

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“Go back, go back to the ancient paths,
Lash your heart to the ancient mast,
And hold on boy, whatever you do,
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way, you’ll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for,
The old roads lead to an open door,
And you’ll find your way, you’ll find your way
Back home.”

Andrew Peterson, You’ll Find Your Way