All Saint’s Day is one of those church calendar traditions eclipsed by the pesky draw of a secular event. It takes intention to remember it, to practice it. From the early church fathers to those who touched our lives and inspired us to grow in faith and vocation it is a great time to pause and ponder the testimony of their faithfulness.
As I watch grape leaves fall from the vine, their purpose fulfilled, I remember the faithfulness of those who preceded me to glory and received their reward (or however that works in the grand eschatological scheme of things). Like the falling leaves, their kingdom role of fruitfulness resulting from transferring water and sunlight to literal life, is now physically over. These men and women fulfilled what they were created to accomplish, the days numbered for them in His book are complete, and I thank God for their influence in my life. I endeavor to carry on the mantle of the callings that they imparted to me. With each home-going, I am surprised with the realization that I am now the Titus to another generation of Timothies.
This makes me more grateful for the Titus women who remain who are in the winter of their life span. Cancer has left one ministry-founding friend deaf, when her primary gift was listening well. Another globe-trotting author and speaker has been grounded by Parkinson’s. Others have had strokes or heart attacks, resulting in suffering and diminishment of their strength to serve. They, who gave so faithfully, now need the service of others. People who meet them now may see a frail body before the sword-sharp heart and strong voice of decades gone by. They are aware their days are numbered, and are coming to peace with the fact that their worldly influence may be fading. Or not; perhaps their greatest influence is in their slower years, where tired eyes choose to see only the best, words are refined so that only gold is spoken, actions are measured that only the most necessary task is performed. Time as a limited commodity is spent on only the most valuable of endeavors. This knowledge is a new legacy my saintly sisters have imparted.
I realized I myself am now at the cusp of my autumn years, and the chill and unknown of winter lies ahead. Yet it is not a fearful place, this new awareness, as ageing once was a few decades ago when the pace was frenetic and busy. Watching outward beauty and physical strength diminish is not all bad, as it is replaced by the contentment of hearing Jesus say “Peace, be still”.
The life cycle of trees taught me much about the truth of the life of aging saints. We live in the deserts of Arabia, where we are water and tree-poor. Recently we spent six months in mid-America, and were able to enjoy the fullness of fall in all its day-to-day glory, for the first time in decades. After much summer rain, the leaves were still that vibrant, translucent living green, still busy collecting light for life-giving photosynthesis. We marveled at the wild canopies of tens of thousands of leaves, all busy creating the sugars that build the seed pods to reproduce life, providing shade and shelter from the sun. I remembered my sisters then, when I met them at this stage, birthing babies and books and ministries. They were strong, supple, bending in the winds of adversity as it strengthened their core, driving roots deep into Christ for stability and sustenance.
Later, harvest winds then released those seedpods casting them up and out, some flying to find their destiny and new soil in which to plant far, far away. Some stay near, and the cycle begins again as they take root, each in their own time, in their purposed place. Just like the fruit of my sister’s families, and ministries.
The chill of fall came, and a glorious and colorful dying began. From the uniform greens came every yellow, orange, brown and red of God’s spectrum, a mosaic changing daily on every tree in the neighborhood. It reminded me of my sister’s unique and varied faithfulness through brokenness, betrayal and disappointments, yet the little deaths of soul reveal dramatic beauty as well. It is at this point when the rising winds make music in the leaves, harmonies that cannot be heard when the leaves are soft, this symphony can only be experienced when the leaves are dry and brittle.
Then they fall, individually and in groups, some violently ripped from the branches by harsh wind, winds strong enough to break branches. Even in that there is continuing life-giving purpose. Leaves are carefully raked and create compost, nourishing life yet to come. Broken branches are added to woodpiles, to cure and warm homes in future winters. Mature trees don’t bend to the winds; they stand tall and solid and firm as their roots have depth.
For some there is depressing bleakness in the darkened and stark silhouettes of bare branches and tree trunks. Yet it reveals a beauty of its own. Squirrels, once hidden from view, are now visible scampering up and down in their frenetic toil of seed-gathering. Their homes dug deep within the trunk, the storage deep within the roots. The winter of trees is still a place of warmth, safety and comfort from the chill and storm.
Additionally, vistas unfold, new views emerge to frame the sunrise and sunset from my kitchen window. I can see my neighbor rise to brew her coffee when I do. The true terrain of hills and valleys are revealed once more. But for me, the best revelation of all is what can now be observed down at the river, where eagles nest, the scenes that excite me about adding years to life.
It is only in the winter when you can watch eagles with clarity. The leafless trees reveal the hidden treasure of eagles nesting, their fish-hunting, and their pure enjoyment of riding the wings of the winter wind. It is the place God reminds me of His promise to His ageing saints, my sisters and me too, from the prophet Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Wendy Merdian has lived with her husband and four children in Amman, Jordan, for the last two decades. She journeys with victims of child sexual abuse, has written for nearly every magazine in Jordan, and works on her book on Thursdays.
Images: Wiki Commons, FreeImages.com/Cheryl Empey