Beauty in Death
October 4, 2012 | My Jottings
After an almost suffocatingly hot and humid summer (which is not typical for our area), fall is in full bloom now. Or should I say fall is in full death? The leaves on the maples, birches and oaks are dying, and there is such beauty in that process it’s breathtaking. There are some streets in our neighborhood that are completely overhung with huge maples that are aflame in orange, gold and scarlet. To drive or walk under these canopies seems to almost slow down time for me. It’s an ethereal experience that seems to hearken to something deep in my soul and all I can do is whisper a thanks to God that I’m allowed to see such beauty.
Can one ever grow tired of red, orange and yellow? Especially red, orange and yellow against the contrast of the dark blackish green of the towering pines? I don’t think so. Because if I live to be ninety (which I won’t) I will never cease to be stunned at the magnificence of a colorful autumn.
Here’s a smallish tree that I see every day outside my office window. It’s in a neighbor’s yard, and the bare branches at the top reveal that the tree is dying. But even in death this little tree is pumping out all the beauty it can, and each time I gaze at it I feel that impact.
You might be able to see some of the green-turning-orange leaves on the tree across the street too. The words I frequently employ at this time of year are “oohhh!” and “aahhh!” Dying leaves bring such beauty to our world.
I think there’s another kind of beauty in death too. When a follower of Christ dies, no matter how unexpected or sad the situation, there’s a beauty about that kind of death that I can’t put words to. There’s a peace and an assurance that permeates, even though sobs wrack and tears flow. It almost seems too sacred to describe, but I know it’s a gift from the Lord. We get glimpses of Him and His beauty when someone who has followed Jesus dies. Whenever I attend the funeral of a Christian I always remember that they didn’t stop living, they just stopped living here.
My friend Carey told me yesterday about a video she had seen that blessed her so deeply. I knew by her description that I would love it too, because two of my favorite people are in it: Fernando Ortega and Ruth Bell Graham. Do you have any of Fernando’s music? If you don’t, may I encourage you to get something by him soon? All he has to do is sit down at the piano and begin to sing, and I’m transported almost immediately. Peace and praise well up inside, and it’s easier to remember Who is on the throne when Fernando Ortega sings.
In this short video, he’s playing in a tribute to Ruth Bell Graham. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that Mrs. Billy Graham actually called our house years ago and spoke to my husband Michael, and we still marvel over that story, which you can read about here, if you like.
Ruth Graham was a vibrant woman of faith and prayer. She knew how to laugh and have fun, she knew how to grieve and persevere, she knew what it meant to live a life wholly given to Christ. I’ve read that in her latter years, she was terribly afflicted with arthritis and could rarely leave her bed, requiring constant help from caregivers. The pain was horrible. Yet as that small woman wasted away, she perched on her bed each day with her Bible, her journal, study books, and paper for letter writing, spread all around her on the blankets. She wrote letters of encouragement to people. She made telephone calls for her son Franklin’s organization Samaritan’s Purse, she prayed, she studied her Bible, she communed with the Lord. And when she died, she left a huge void in her family’s life. But they had peace and assurance about where she had gone, and this beautiful video conveys that.
Long ago I wrote in my funeral instructions that I want Fernando Ortega’s song “Give Me Jesus” played at my funeral. I would never even hope or presume to be anything like Ruth Bell Graham, but as I grow older I’m ever aware that day by day, my death draws closer. Even if I live to be much older than I am now, each day brings me that much nearer to the end of my earthly life. To me this is not a maudlin or even terribly sad thing. I was born to live, I was born to die, as we all are.
How true God’s Word is when He reminds me that my life is like a vapor! And how sadly true it is that I have squandered so much of the time He has given me. Oh, but His mercies are new every single morning! So this morning as I sit here in my red plaid flannel nightgown, I thank the Lord for the new mercies He has poured out on me already. Thank you Lord.
Yesterday I was rude to someone I didn’t even know, and my heart was immediately smitten with sorrow over how quick I was to utter a clipped, caustic word. If we think we do not need a Savior, let’s try to live just one single day being kind and generous and patient and forgiving and pure-minded and encouraging and selfless, and not greedy or peevish or lustful or bitter or prayerless or self-pitying or mean or lazy. One day. I don’t think it can be done.
I see heartbreaking beauty in the little red tree outside my office window. I hear heartbreaking beauty in the song of Fernando Ortega, and see it so clearly in the life of Ruth Bell Graham. I don’t see it in myself, but I will not concern myself with that. Today, I have life! And I have some new mercies pouring down over me, straight from the hand of the Lord. I ask the Lord today to be with me, to be with you, to open our eyes to His beauty and His ways, and to help us not waste this beautiful day we’ve been given.