An envelope full of leaves

One day, walking to the post office, I noticed the leaves were starting to turn colors. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I walked slowly, stopping to pick up the prettiest leaves, gently shuffling through the blanket of leaves, trying to uncover the most colorful and interesting ones. Bright green centers with orange and red edges, some all red – you know, the vivid-beyond-anything-you-can-imagine red/orange/pink color of maple leaves in all their fall glory. Each one is a work of art. At the time, Pastor Nathan was in Afghanistan, and I missed him so much. So, that day, I gathered a handful of the prettiest leaves, and when I got to the post office, I laid them between sheets of white paper, sealed them inside a cardboard envelope, and sent them off to Afghanistan. I figured by the time they got there, they’d be all brown and brittle, and it was likely Nathan would end up with an envelope full of crushed leaves. But I sent them anyway, because I love the colors so much it makes my heart hurt, and because when I studied overseas during college I missed seeing our version of autumn, and because it broke my heart to think of Nathan missing out on this beauty, this annual display of God’s splendor that takes our breath away every single time.

Of all the care packages and letters I sent, this is the one Nathan most often mentions. I don’t know why it affected him, but I know why I sent them. I missed him, and I wanted him to know I was thinking about him. And the colors were too beautiful not to share. I thought Nathan needed to see this quintessential part of life back home, and remember all the things he loved, and long to come home so strongly that nothing – no matter what, nothing – would keep him from returning.

I think this might explain why God gave us His Word. He loved us, and long before we had been born, He already longed for us to return to Him. He knew of the incredible beauty waiting for us and wanted to stir up a longing in our hearts that would sustain us. And, being the Creator of all, He knew intimately of the beauty of His home, and of His love, and of the beauty He placed within each of us. It was all too beautiful not to share. So He did.

Going back

I went to my daughter’s swim meet this weekend. It was held at my old high school, in the pool in which we swam in P.E. The whole building has changed around it – new wings added, new hallways and entrances and classrooms, but the pool is just the same. Sitting there looking around this place I didn’t even know I remembered, memories flooded in. The fear of having to jump off the diving board, feet first, going all the way to the bottom of the pool before I was allowed to resurface. The humiliation of wearing suits color-coded by size, stretched out in front by girls more “developed” than I, tied closed in back with a shoestring. P.E. teachers giving first aid demonstrations over there. My asthma making it hard to catch my breath; always swimming in the lane by the wall so I could stop if I had to.

With distance, sometimes we forget. But when we go back to a place from our past, emotions and feelings and events and details float up from the depths of our memory, fresh and strong and vivid. I was surprised at what I remembered after so long (gasp! It’s been 25 years!). Maybe we need to go back spiritually sometimes, too. Back to the place where we first found God (or where He found us). Back to the spot where we were when it happened. Back to the way we used to pray or worship. We need to remember how He got our attention. Why we fell in love with Him. What He said to us, and what we were doing when he said it. We need to let His love wash over us in waves. We need to flood our senses with the feeling of His presence. We need to dive right in, into the deep, deep waters of faith, without any fear. Without hesitation. Just jump right in.

I'm not a cat lover

I am not a cat person. Never have been. Never planned to be one. I could not have imagined any circumstances in which I would have any possible reason to be persuaded to be one. I just don’t like them – and, if that’s not enough, my whole body joins me in my resistance. I touch one, or get near one, or spend time in a car with someone else who held their cat before meeting me, and I sneeze and wheeze. My eyes itch and water and turn red. If I mistakenly touch a cat, even if I wash immediately, I get hives. Trust me, cats are just not my thing.

A few months ago, we moved into the house next door to my sister. They have an outside cat named Hudson. My daughter Anna adores him and carries him in her arms like a baby. She brushes him, feeds him, brings him cat toys. My husband stoops to pet him whenever he walks by. Did I ever touch Hudson myself? No. Did I pretend to like him? No. But, perversely, he took an instant liking to me – me over anyone else. It seems that is what most cats do.

So, anyway, as the weather turned colder, my family became worried about Hudson. Never mind that he has a thick coat of fur and that animals were designed by God to live outside. But finally I gave in to the pleading and allowed them to let Hudson into our laundry room, just inside the back door. He cannot go into the house because my allergies truly won’t permit that (however, try explaining that to a cat).

Many times this winter, I would notice Hudson looking through the door at me. He would stand on his hind legs and paw at the glass with an anxious look on his face. So, assuming he needed to be let out, I would go back there and open the back door. Hudson would sit down and look at me, or walk over to his food dish and nibble on a bite or two. He would then proceed to ignore me, pretending that the door is not being held wide open. Exasperated, I’d go back to whatever I was doing. A little later, I would notice him again, and go back to let him out. Again, he would ignore the door and come towards me, doing figure 8’s around my ankles or just looking at me. A friend of mine who IS a cat person explained it to me. Cats choose their humans (not the other way around). I am his human, and it’s an irreversible, irrevocable thing. It’s not because I wanted to be, or did anything to earn it. Not because I was nice to him or loved him first. It’s simply because he chose me. When I thought he wanted to go out, he really just wanted me to come spend time with him. She said her cat will only eat when she’s there watching him. It’s a sign of affection and attachment.

Although I hate to say it, I see a connection to God. He chose us, simply because He loves us, not because we first wanted Him, not because of anything we did for Him. It’s an unshakable thing (much more permanent than the affections of a feline, no matter how determined). Sometimes we feel Him calling to us and wonder what He wants. Perhaps he wants us to come to Him and just sit, quietly, together. And one of the millions of really great things about Jesus? He won’t make you itch or break out in hives. He might make you dance, though, or lift your hands in praise, or feel compassion on your neighbor or rethink the way you treat people. He might change your heart and mind and soul from the inside out, and transform you into someone you never thought or even dared hope you would be. But no matter what, he’ll never make you sneeze.