It’s still hard to believe that I can take day trips to places like this.
My wife and I used to save vacation time so that we could travel to places where Fall matters. Los Angeles doesn’t provide much along those lines, so visiting Pennsylvania and Maine in October was an exotic treat, the highlight of the year.
Thanks to our move to Northern Arizona, that is no longer necessary. We now live among impressive Fall colors in our own town – even in our own yard – and we can drive less than two hours to see truly brilliant displays of God’s artistry.
Last Friday was one of those opportunities. The leaves are turning in the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff (or, as we cool Arizonans call it, “Flag”). The bright gold of the aspen leaves stood in vivid contrast to the green pines and the blue sky. As my daughter and I soaked up the beauty, I couldn’t stop smiling. This is only our second autumn in Arizona, and we love it this year as much as last year.
Strolling across this stunning canvas, we tend to avoid the reality of what we see. To put it bluntly, the leaves are dying. Soon they will fall to the ground (hence the name of the season), creating a carpet of fading color, and will decompose into the soil to fertilize the trees and ferns for next year.
Yes, the leaves are dying. But it is a beautiful death.
That phrase came to mind the next morning, when I spoke at a memorial service for Carla, a wonderful lady in our church who had died of cancer last month. Her family and friends took turns sharing memories of her life. Several of us, including her husband and son, read excerpts from a letter that she wrote before she died, a letter full of faith, and hope, and love. Her faith was in Christ, her hope of eternal life came from Him, and she deeply loved her Lord, her family and her friends. They all loved her back.
I’ve sat beside enough deathbeds, including hers, to see how ugly death is. It is a monstrosity, an abomination, a violation of all that should be. I hate it, and I always will. I look forward to the day death will die.
But a death like hers has something different about it. She knew where she was going, and eagerly looked forward to the welcome she would receive. She asked in her letter that her service be a celebration of her life, because she would not be dead. Not really. In her words, Carla was going to “hot-foot it straight to heaven!” We all knew that she did, and we wondered what her new life was like.
Is it possible to refer to a death like hers as “beautiful?” I admit that the word catches in my throat a little. But I’m encouraged by God’s perspective on the question, revealed in Psalm 116:15 – “Precious in the sight of God is the death of His godly ones.”
You can call it precious, or you can call it, in its own way, beautiful. Either way, I’m glad that this is the kind of death that is waiting for me. I’m glad that, thanks to Jesus, my death will be no more than a door from one kind of life to another; a death that exchanges a lesser life for a better one; a death that takes me home.
I want that confidence to change my life. I want to remember that the autumn of my life, when it comes, will lead not to winter, but to Spring.
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