One day before Thanksgiving:
I awoke on this late November morning just one day before Thanksgiving at 1:55am to the sound of howling wind. Even for me, who normally gets up each day between 3 and 4am, this was too early.The priorevening’s forecast had predicted very high winds with unseasonably cold temperatures, freezing rain and snow. They were right. My curiosity caused me to check the weather on the internet as I sipped my early morning coffee. We were experiencing a temperature of 29 degrees with sustained winds of 35-45 mph and gusts well above 50 mph.
I often spend my morning prayer time inthe hot tub onthe back deck ofmy home that is nestled in the mountains of upstate South Carolina. The back side of my property drops off sharply into a valley. Even though my home enjoys long distance views from the mountain, I am only about a third of the way to the top. The valley behind my property serves as a wind tunnel channeling and amplifying the wind it draws down from the higher altitude.
As I stood there at my back door contemplating going outside to get into the hot tub, the ferocious wind, freezing rain and bone chilling cold made me question my own sanity. Nonetheless I scurried outside, the wind nearly ripping the screen door from my hand. I hurried to open the hot tub cover and quickly climbed into the warmth of the 104 degree water. This was my private space. This is where I spend my mornings with God.
Today however it was scary! I worried about falling tree limbs or worse yet an entire falling tree. Until my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could only hear the swaying and near breaking sound of the trees. Eventually my eyes adjusted to the milky gray translucence of the cloud filled, starless night and I could begin to see the shadowy dark outline of the many trees that occupy my four acres of mountain property. The trees, all but two, stood naked having lost all of their leaves over the past few weeks. Standing in stunning contrast against this milky darkness were two trees swaying in the wind trying desperately to hang onto all of their dead leaves. It was at this point, on this frozen morning, that I felt God nudging me to make this my next 4thdayletter, and so here it is, “Holding on to Dead Leaves”.
As the icy rain-snow mix fell onto my bald head, I sat in the warm water mesmerized by those two trees still with their leaves. Why hadn’t they, like all of the other trees, abandoned their dead leaves? It was as if these two tress were holding on to days gone by. They were not prepared to let go of those now lifeless brown shriveled leaves. I was startled as one leaf, in stealth like fashion, fell through the darkness and landed without warning on my shoulder. In that instance I was reminded that these two trees would eventually have to give into natures plan, relent and drop all of their leaves too.
Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit in the form of the howling wind on this cold morning that allowed me to see these two trees as human beings hanging onto their past. Don’t we, just like these two trees, often hold tightly to things that we know we must eventually let go of? Maybe we refuse to forgive ourselves for hurting someone. Maybe we are holding on to pains from the past and refusing to forgive someone for something they did to us. It is so easy to become chained to something from our past that we cannot change.
The past is past and we can’t change it. The future is not here yet and it serves no purpose to worry about what lies ahead. We only have here and now. Is now the time to let go of “our leaves”? What good does holding on to the dead leaves of our past serve? Are we just like those two trees harkening back to the summer’s sun and refusing to let go of “our dead leaves”?
Perhaps we spend too much time looking backwards. My thoughts drifted for a moment to a few of the lyrics from the song “If I Could Turn Back Time.” These words came to my mind from that song:
If I could turn back time
If I could find a way I’d take back those words that hurt you and you’d stay
I don’t know why I did the things I did I don’t know why I said the things I said.
Pride’s like a knife it can cut deep inside.
Words are like weapons they wound sometimes.
Too strong to tell you I was sorry
Too proud to tell you I was wrong
I didn’t really mean to hurt you
I know I made you cry
If I could turn back time!
Do you wrestle with thoughts like those expressed in this song? In the cold of this dark morning, in my heart, I heard this message: If we are called to a new life in Christ we must let go of those things in our past that keep us from a better relationship with Him and prevent us from having a better relationship with others. We can’t hold on to the past forever!
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
Eventually these two trees will be forced, begrudgingly perhaps, to give up the last of their leaves. When they do there is a cold winter in store for them, but it is during this time that new leaves will be formed. By God’s design and out of our sight during the cold of the winter, new life is already in progress. Before we see the small buds signaling springtime these trees must first stand stark naked in the cold. For these trees, perhaps this is their season of Advent.
We have just begun our season of Advent. It is now time for us to relinquish all of our dead leaves. Let’s be willing to strip away the pains of our past just like the trees were stripped naked of their leaves. There is a time of new birth just a few weeks away. Soon we will be celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus. Soon we too can celebrate a new birth inside of ourselves. With the old stripped away during the cold winds of Advent, we can prepare room for the birth of Christ in our hearts and we too can become a new creation in Christ.
There is a beautiful song by Beth Nielsen Chapman called “Every December Sky” that contains these words:
Every December skyMust lose its faith in leavesAnd dream of the spring inside the trees.How heavy the empty heart,How light the heart that’s full.Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know
To listen to this song and watch a beautiful YouTube video that captures what I am trying to write about click here
One day later…Thanksgiving morning:
Thankfully it is not quite as early as yesterday as I open the door to step into the darkness and onto my back porch. My bare feet creep gingerly across the ice and snow still blanketing my deck. The crystalized ice snaps as I open the cover to my hot tub. My morning aquatic prayer ritual is about to begin again as I slip into the warm water.
Today I am greeted by a stark contrast to yesterday’s frigid tempest. This day it is eerily silent and death-like still. This, even colder morning than yesterday, has a clear sky illuminated by the moon and stars. These nightly luminaries allow me to see the lifeless looking trees more clearly than yesterday, and yes I see the two trees still clutching tightly to their remaining leaves.
It is at this moment that I hear God speak to my own heart with these words: “Brian, what is it that you are so tightly holding onto from the past?” “Trust in me,” He tells me. “Let it go!” I sit there contemplating His question. As I do, the first orange beams of light fracture the darkness to signal the oncoming dawn of a new day.
Yes my friends, Christ has prepared for us the dawning of a new day. God wants us to bask in the light and warmth of His love. We must let go of the chains that bind us to our past. Make this the advent that you allow all of your old leaves to fall. I will close today by asking you the same question that I heard in my heart. What is it that you are holding onto from the past? Let it go!!
Dear Heavenly Father, during this season of Advent, when once again we prepare to celebrate the joy of Christmas, give me the strength and courage to trust in you and let go of anything in my past that prevents me for more fully experiencing your warmth and joy. Make room in my heart for the birth of your son. In Jesus name I pray, amen!