It was a late spring day. The kind where the breeze contains subtle whispers that foreshadow the coming of summer: a season that intrinsically holds the promise of freedom, opportunity, and endless possibilities. Ever since I was a child, summers constituted those few precious months each year that were ripe with the chance to cut loose, run barefoot through the sprinklers, and spend time with friends and family. As I got older, my summer experiences broadened from the backyard to the globe. I traveled to Scotland in 2013 followed by Nepal in the summer of 2015. Other summers were brimming with various activities with church and family. The nights were long and time seemed inconsequential. Summers were packed and productive and full of.... life.
On that late spring day, however, the impending coming of summer felt like a weight. I had graduated from college almost a year and a half earlier, and summer looked as if it held not much besides working at a place where I really struggled to see God's purpose. I had been looking for ministry jobs, especially internationally focused ones, and had been in the researching and interviewing processes for several positions for quite awhile. I felt pressured to find what was next in life, and so much of what I was doing day in and day out felt meaningless.--especially as I stood on the cusp of summer, a time that had previously held such fruitful and purposeful experiences in my life. These feelings heavy on my heart, I went to a local park to walk and pray. As I walked the dusty track seeking some kind of encouragement or sign about where I was supposed to go next, my attention was drawn to some trees that were clustered together on the far end of the track.
Suddenly, I felt the Lord say, "These are just trees, and yet I have given them purpose in life. I have created them to do something." And how true that is. I began to notice all of the ways these trees fulfilled a purpose of some sort. They provide shade and their branches serve as a resting place for countless birds and insects. They produce oxygen and stand as reminders of strength and fortitude. They have withstood years of wind, rain, and scorching heat to fulfill the purposes that they were created for.
In that moment I was reminded by the Lord that if even these few simple trees have purpose and meaning in their lives, then how much more do I, a human being created in the image of the living Creator God, have purpose. Even if I don't always see or recognize it, there is great purpose in every season of life. Our lives are never meaningless or insignificant--even on the most mundane of days. We are called to greatness, and the Lord uses our small efforts to do His great work. Even the season of life that I was in that felt so purposeless was absolutely full of purpose. Looking back now I see that. I just needed a tree to point to that very obvious fact, one that rings out clear in Scripture: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). I began to seek out the Lord's work and purpose in my life more in the season that I was in, and a month or so later was offered the position in South Africa. The work that the Lord had been doing in me since graduating was purposeful, and I see clearly now how it prepared me for what still lies ahead across the ocean.
Fast forward to a few days ago this December. Visas, tickets, Christmas.... The madness of it all slowed down for a few moments as I again walked the track at the same park. I soon came to the trees that had helped me unlock some of God's truth many months earlier. In place of the full, decadent green leaves that once graced the branches were some scraggly yellow leaves clinging to branches that hung stripped and bare in the harsh winter wind. When trees are blooming in spring and flourishing in summer, it is easy to see their purpose on full display. But the decay and death that fall and winter usher in make it less obvious. The trees couldn't provide much shade, and there were no birds to be found perched on the branches. "Where is the purpose now," I wondered.
To be honest, I feel a bit like these bare and dying trees. Preparing to leave the only life you've ever known for something you know nothing of can do that to a person. My life here in America is changing and falling away from me, piece by piece, like leaves spiraling to the earth below each autumn. Soon there will be nothing left, and I will be uprooted and planted in a whole new place.
But there is purpose in the decay. In the changing and the falling and the dying. If trees didn't shed their leaves each year, they wouldn't be fulfilling their purpose in that season. Their falling leaves act as nutrition that feed the soil for months or even years to come. And the bare branches that are left leave room for new life. For growth. For budding, blossoming, and blooming. And I believe that it is so with people as well. We go through seasons of decay in our lives, and things or relationships or even seasons that we find comfort and purpose in may be stripped from us. It's painful, but it allows us to grow. It helps sustain us in the bare winters of life and makes room for new things. I am so glad that I am not the same person that I was even a month ago, let alone years ago! Aren't you? The death and decay of fall and winter allow for that change. They allow for renewed purpose. There is a time of harvesting that makes way for new things to be planted.
As I prepare to move overseas feeling a little bit like a tree whose leaves are changing and falling away to make way for something totally foreign and new, there is peace. The Maker of heaven and earth has arranged everything, every season and falling leaf and bare branch, for my good and His glory. I would not want to go to South Africa as a full and flourishing tree because then there wouldn't be much room for growth. Fall and winter are humbling, and definitely bring new meaning to what it is to be an empty vessel. But for the purpose of this season of change and decay, and the renewed purpose that it brings to my life, I am grateful.