As a child, I grew up in the beautiful hills of West Virginia then lived in Indiana, Louisville, and finally for more than three decades I lived near the gorgeous orchards of Michigan. In all those places, there was an excitement for Autumn to come to bring relief from the heat and humidity of the summer but also for the opportunity to enjoy the extravaganza of the tree leaves changing from green to vivid colors. Several years ago, when I still lived in Michigan, it dawned upon me what was really happening and I wrote the following description.
Autumn. What a lovely season here in Michigan. Just a few months ago, the trees that appeared dead all winter responded to the gentle Spring breezes and bore new life in lovely shades of green. As Jesus told His disciples: “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner” (Matt.24:32). Throughout the summer our green trees provided shade in our yards and parks and outlined our streets and boulevards as they stretched heavenward and alternately welcomed the hot sun and pouring rains. During the Spring and Summer, a food-making process took place in the leaf in cells containing the pigment chlorophyll. This gave the leaf its green color. The chlorophyll absorbed energy from sunlight and used it in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch. Predictably, however, summer ended. Shorter days and cold nights began to take their toll on the trees and soon deprivation of sun, heat, and water caused significant changes in the leaves. We watched in awe as the chlorophyll broke down and the green color was replaced with varied hues of yellow and red, purple and brown. The most brilliant colors were the result of warm sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights. A few hard frosts would have caused the leaves to wither more quickly and drop to the ground.
Aflame with color, the leaves danced in the Autumn winds—some still clinging to their branches and others cascading delicately to the earth. Beautiful as they were, theirs was the dance of death. It was just a matter of time until those leaves, severed from their source of life, would be trampled under foot or raked into piles and burned. Afterwards, all that remained were memories. The rush of memories does not focus on the transitioning colors or the smell of the burning leaves but rather goes to those events that are associated with autumn—pulling on a sweatshirt with that soft fleece warming the body in the chilly night air. Trips to the apple orchards to pick up a basket full of freshly fallen apples, followed by a stop at the cider mill for a cup of fresh hot cider and a doughnut. Wiener roasts over a campfire in the open field. Flaming marshmallows resembling mini-torches casting shadows here and there. Singing—the ballads, the love songs. The evening vespers and prayers of repentance and gratitude—where tears fell freely in the dark. Moments of impact between the Creator and His creation. It’s no wonder numerous songs, poems, and stories have been written over the years in an attempt to capture the drama of autumn leaves and the milieu they produce.
Folks who do not live in a geographic area that experiences the four seasons in their extremes are cheated out of some of life’s most glorious artwork. The contrast between the Summer heat and the Winter snow, the Spring rains and the Fall frosts, the green ladened branches and the brown leafless trees defies description—all must be experienced to be appreciated.
When Autumn has gone and Winter sets in, there are no more colorful dances—albeit I saw a few dead leaves still clinging to their branches. But it’s just a matter of time now. The grass has turned brown and will appear dead as it hibernates. The perennials are hibernating as well, and all the plant life in our geographic area awaits a covering of snow to provide protection from the deep freeze of Winter. Nevertheless, we are not discouraged. We are not depressed. We’ve seen it all before. Soon the short days and long nights will reverse. Somewhere beyond our hearing, the Almighty Creator’s calendar will turn its pages, and the call to AWAKE! will be given. The birds will return and begin to sing as blades of green begin to appear on the ground and the trees.
Resurrection? Indeed! New life. New hope. New color. New experiences. Something new is always just around the corner—or just a few days away on the calendar. The Bible says, “The intelligent person is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them” (Pro. 18:15,LB). In the eternal scheme of events, we can make the same comparisons in our lives. We look back and see colorful events and situations that happened in us, to us, or through us. Perhaps people marveled at their display and the privilege of reporting, “I saw it with my own eyes.” What they really saw was “the dance of leaves.” Having provided the short-term show of glory, we were separated from them. They are now only memories that gave way to Winter.
The coming of Spring will bring new leaves to take their place: new situations, new understanding, new relationships, and new opportunities. The same ole’ leaves could never experience the same splendor again, but the tree will grow new ones.
The nineties for me were a decade of contrast as I experienced first hand that “to everything there is a season” (Ecc.3:1). Both my children graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. My mother-in-law, father, mother, and husband died and went to heaven. I wrote and published a book that somehow made its way around the world and was translated into various dialects and used in Bible schools and churches in nineteen nations besides the United States. This is just a partial list of once colorful, now fallen, leaves that left me barren and looking lifeless. Changes had to take place inside me in order to allow the Holy Spirit to grow new leaves and bring forth new fruit in my life. The seasons were about to change.
Death and resurrection are facts of life. God’s Word admonishes us: “Don’t cling to the events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I [God] am going to do!” (Is. 43:18-19) Jesus described this principle with a different analogy when He explained about the old making way for the new. “New wine,” He said, “must be stored in new wineskins” (Luke 6:36-38). In those days, there were no containers as we know them today. Instead, they sewed animal skins together and used them as bottles. With time, they became hard and brittle. Cracks formed and the liquid seeped out. If they poured recently made wine into these hardened containers, it would continue to ferment and eventually explode.
Our previous happy experiences are gathered like the fallen autumn leaves and pressed in our mental memory book. We close the chapter and anticipate the next one. Our former ways of acting and thinking need to give way to the new ways we are learning as we encounter new circumstances. My priorities are drastically rearranged with my husband and parents now gone and my children grown. We cannot use the same parenting skills for our adult children that worked when they were young. We study God’s Word and allow it to give us direction for new situations. “Our attitudes and thoughts must be constantly changing for the better. We must be a new and different person, holy and good” (Eph. 4:23-24,LB). Otherwise, we wither and die.
What’s it like to feel dead and fruitless during a period of hibernation—a time when new growth is taking place? Apostle Paul said, “We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row; that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally – not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!” (2 Cor.1:8-9, MSG). And here in Michigan we see that happening in nature every Spring! We must always be willing to let God lead us to new situations. His mercies, grace, and faithfulness are new every day. Let’s not be satisfied with past colorful displays in our lives, and using the old wineskins that worked before. Let’s move on…venture out in faith, but always in line with His Word. Enjoy the dance of the leaves, but always look forward to the new growth that will soon follow.
THE DANCE IS OVER. The following stories are about people who couldn’t see beyond their time and/or whose knowledge was limited. To us, in retrospect, they seem so foolish. Actually, they are ideas that have died! New ones have taken their place—thankfully.
-Sneezes During the 6th Century, it was customary to congratulate people who sneezed because it was thought that they were expelling evil from their bodies. During the great plague of Europe, the Pope passed a law to say “God bless you” to one who sneezed.
Weird Laws. Yes, there still are some weird laws on the books.
-In Washington State, it is against the law to boast that one’s parents are rich.
-In Maryland, it’s illegal to play Randy Newman’s “Short People” on the radio.
-In Alabama it is illegal to play Dominoes on Sunday.
-In Minneapolis, double-parkers can be put on a chain gang.
-An old statute in Kentucky states that men who push their wives out of bed for inflicting their cold toes on them can be fined or jailed for a week.
-In Normal, Oklahoma you could be sent to prison for “making an ugly face at a dog.”
-And if you’re in Hawaii and laughing at these odd laws, stop! In Hawaii it is forbidden to laugh after 10 PM.
-Forks were first used in the Middle Ages, but eating with one was considered scandalous. In the 11th Century, when a Greek princess died shortly after introducing forks at her wedding with a Venetian Doge (chief magistrate) Domenico Selvo, it was perceived as divine punishment.
-Radios and Airplanes In 1894, the president of the Royal Society, Lord Kelvin, predicted that radio had no future. The first radio factory was opened five years later. He also predicted that heavier-than-air flying machines were impossible. Today, there are more than one billion radio sets in the world, tuned to more than 33 000 radio stations around the world.
-The Wright Brother’s first flight covered a distance equal to only half the length of the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
-In the early 20th century a world market for only 4 million automobiles was made because it was thought, “the world would run out of chauffeurs.” Shortly after the end of World War II (1945), the whole of Volkswagen, factory and patents, was offered free to Henry Ford II. He dismissed the Volkswagen Beetle as a bad design. Today, more than 70 million motorcars are produced every year. The Beetle became one of the best-selling vehicles of all time.
-The telephone was not widely appreciated for the first 15 years because people did not see a use for it. In fact, in the British parliament it was mentioned there was no need for telephones because “we have enough messengers here.” Western Union believed that it could never replace the telegraph. In 1876, an internal memo read: “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” Even Mark Twain, upon being invited by Alexander Graham Bell to invest $5k in the new invention, could not see a future in the telephone.
-Trains. Irish scientist, Dr. Dionysius Lardner (1793 – 1859) didn’t believe that trains could contribute much in speedy transport. He wrote: “Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers ‘ would die of asphyxia’ [suffocation].” Other scientists believed that those who even looked at a passing train would faint with dizziness.
-Computers In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM forecast a world market for “maybe only five computers.” Years before IBM launched the personal computer in 1981, Xerox had already successfully designed and used PCs internally… but decided to concentrate on the production of photocopiers.
-Patents Perhaps the guy who got it wrong most was the director of the US patent Office: in 1899 he assured President McKinley that “everything that can be invented has already been invented.”
The above examples are of people who could not see beyond that which already was or appeared to be. Even though several of them became renown because of their innovations and inventions, their fame was not all it could have been because they lacked imagination, creativity, and vision in areas that appeared dead or impossible.
A NEW DANCE There are so many directions to take this study of leaves. For instance, consider that when leaves start changing color they are really dying because they don’t have enough light. Obviously, this is why so many groups have picked up the title “Autumn” for the “old age” of our lives. But when we consider that we are as “trees planted in the house of the Lord,” it only stands to reason that it’s not the tree that dies; yet the old leaves must fall away in order for new leaves to grow (See Is.61:3, NKJV). Many times it appears that the tree is dead, but in reality it is undergoing unseen changes which, in due season, will result in visible new growth to bring glory to Him.
Through Isaiah, the prophet, God told His people: “This isn’t a variation on the same old thing. This is new, brand-new, something you’d never guess or dream up. When you hear this you won’t be able to say, ‘I knew that all along’.” (Is.48:7). This is a life-application to the unsearchable riches of God in Christ Jesus. “So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause” (Isa.55:12).
Are you witnessing the dance of leaves in your life? Enjoy it! Resurrection is just around the corner.
(You can find these stories on several websites. For starters, http://www.didyouknow.cd/laws.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are taken from The Message. (c)2002. Used by permission of NavPress Pub. Group
(c) C. Yvonne Karl, Volume 18. Number 11. 2003. The Alabaster Box. firstname.lastname@example.org