“You make life worth living
You make me want to start giving
More and more away to you
It’s not mine anyway.”
(J.J. Heller, “Not Mine Anyway”)
Fall is my favorite time of year. There is just something in the air that breathes new life into my spirit. The crisp air, the anticipation of the holidays, the festivals…and the leaves. Oh, the leaves.
I live in the south – evergreen nation – so I’m fully aware that my experience of autumn’s changing colors is not a great example. There are many places where the colors are more vibrant and more widespread than in my home state of Georgia, but that does nothing to diminish my excitement when I see the first hint of fall’s changes.
There is something beautiful about it. I have nothing against green trees and leaves – green is by far my favorite color, so it’s not that at all. The beauty of the colors awakens something in me, and every year I feel as though I’m seeing it for the first time. Red, yellow, orange, and even brown intermingle (sometimes even on the same tree) in a brilliant kaleidoscope that reminds me anew of God’s infinite creativity. And when the sun shines through a tree at the peak of its brilliance? Stunning.
As I watched the change in progress this year, something new occurred to me and I haven’t been able to shake it.
The thing is, those leaves…in all of their colors and brilliance and breathtaking beauty…they’re dying. They only stand out because their life is leaving them. Their next step is to wither and fall to the ground, only to be crushed underfoot or gathered into a pile and swept into a garbage bag. As we drive down the road and admire the colors, what we’re watching is death.
And maybe that should creep me out a little. Maybe I should be disturbed by that. Maybe I should shudder a little at the thought of people scheduling vacations to go watch things die………but really, that only enhances my love for it all.
I have personal experience with this death thing. I couldn’t appear on any sort of TLC special about how I cheated death, and I don’t have a story of the afterlife that could secure a book deal. All I have is my life. It’s a story of being lost and found…of being aimless and finding purpose….of shedding myself in favor of finding who I really am. It’s a story of dying to myself. I’m not unlike those leaves, really.
I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:19-20)
There never used to be much that was special about me. I don’t think I stood out at all. I didn’t have any drive or purpose that was my own, and my main concern was with blending in to ensure that I was not noticed. I was just another green leaf on the tree. Just a face in the crowd.
Over a few years, though, something began to happen in me. It was so slow that it was barely noticeable. Sometimes the autumnal change happens quickly, as though one evening it was summer and the next morning autumn had arrived. The change in me wasn’t like that. It was slow…deliberate on the part of the One in charge. It wasn’t an overnight conversion that captures the awed attention of passers-by, but it was real nonetheless. This change…it made me different somehow. Different from how I used to be, and different from you.
Please hear me. I am not seeking attention for myself in any way, shape, or form. This change in me…it does not make me more special than anyone else. It is no indication of anything extraordinary within myself, but of the extraordinary hand of an incredible God constantly working in someone who really isn’t that extraordinary at all.
But this change…it is beautiful. It is bright. It is vibrant. It is unique to me. It is based on a story that is unique to me. It is based on a journey that I alone have taken. It is my change, but the credit is not mine. All credit goes to the Creator who placed unique gifts, talents, passions, and purpose within me. I am not special because of anything I am or have done. I am special because of the fingerprints of God that cover me.
Like leaves on a seasonally altered tree, my life is only beautiful because I am dying. Dying to myself, dying to my own dreams and wishes and plans. Dying to anything and everything that dotted the landscape of my life before Jesus took over. Dying to what I thought I would be and what I thought my life would look like.
There was nothing wrong with the greenery of my life before. That was pretty…but now that I am dying? My life is brilliant. It shines. It is unique. It will never again look ordinary. It will never again blend in with the rest of the world. And your life, friend? Look at what happened when you, too, began this beautiful process of death. Our colors started to intermingle, creating a picture that no one could have imagined. Our lives caught the attention of passers-by, not because we were outstanding in and of ourselves but because something extraordinary was happening to us. And today, when the Son shines through us as we are changing? Stunning.
It’s a process, this dying thing. It’s not something that happens once and then we’re done. Unlike those leaves, we won’t change quickly and then float to the ground, our stories done. Our colors continue to change, each day more stunning than the day before. I’m glad to be undergoing this change with you. Let’s see how bright we can become, pointing all attention to the One who made death a beautiful thing to begin with.
Because of Him,