Free “Fall”-ing

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I love autumn.

Yes, I know that today is December 1st. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas trees are already bedecked with lights and ornaments. Starbucks has transitioned out of its “Pumpkin Spice everything” phase and is now advertising its winter drink menu. Radio stations have their holiday playlists (which I swear only contain 17 songs max) playing on repeat. And everyone is bustling about trying to stock up on some more holiday cheer.

But here in Atlanta, where summer reigns supreme and winter only comes once every few years, autumn isn’t quite ready to let go. The trees, though slightly less full, still boast a fair number of persistently colorful leaves. Although we reached the low fifties last week, the temperatures continue to hang out in the upper-60s range. And yesterday, as if in a deliberate attempt to stick it to winter, the weather forecast included a tornado warning. Don’t let the lights and décor fool you; Atlanta does not yet feel or look a lot like Christmas.

But honestly, I’m okay with that. Partially because I know that in a few weeks I will return to the Midwest—the real land of tornadoes—where I will get to break out my winter coat and fluffy scarves. And partially because I don’t think I’m quite ready to let go of fall. You see, I’ve always loved fall. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my favorite season. I love all the leaves and how they turn colors, especially on maple trees. I’m a sucker for flannel shirts and bonfire s’mores. And I can think of few things more satisfying than that first Saturday morning when the air is finally crisp enough for a hoodie and my favorite pair of jeans.

Last year, I didn’t get to experience much of a fall. In Berlin, the seasons change almost overnight from summer to winter, with barely a breath in between. The leaves had barely turned and then they were gone, replaced by 6+ months of colorless winter. It was miserable.

Maybe that’s why this year, like the dry brown leaves of an oak tree, I find myself clinging to fall, as if this would help it last longer. Or maybe I’m not ready for fall to end because I’m simply not ready for another transition. Maybe this year, perhaps more than all other years, I find myself identifying with fall, that perpetually in-between season, more acutely than ever before.

The last year and a half, and especially the last two months, have been filled to the brim with transitions. I’ve hopped from city to city, continent to continent, and now state to state with barely a moment to catch my breath. While that time has been good and I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything, it’s also been difficult. Apart from the obvious things, like missing my friends, Berlin, and European public transit, I also feel homesick in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint or articulate. Everything feels so transitory, as if I’m stuck in a place I can’t fully identify, lost somewhere in between. And to make things worse, even as I am reunited with family and friends, I find myself missing them too, or missing that sense of home that I once felt with them. And all that to say that, in this moment, I’m not quite sure where I belong anymore; all I know is that, like fall, I am stuck somewhere in-between.

And even in this feeble attempt to put my thoughts on paper, I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of displacement is somehow at the core of the human experience. If perhaps this sense of loneliness, this deep but elusive feeling of homesickness isn’t part of what makes us alive. After all, if we didn’t feel an emptiness inside of us, we wouldn’t turn to other people to fill it. If we didn’t desire something greater than ourselves, we would never seek after God. Maybe seasons of transition, with all their unsettling and reshuffling, are actually a backwards sort of gift, a “severe mercy”, a blessing in disguise. Not only do such times remind us that “this world is not our home”, but they can also stir up a longing for the One who is constant. Like a child asleep in its mother’s lap, we can find refuge in His unchanging and everlasting arms.

That’s what I’m trying to remember right now, in these moments when all these transitions and uncertainties leave me feeling lonely or sad. I knew this was coming—in fact, my very first blog post here dealt with reverse culture shock—and I know this too shall pass. So in the meantime, I’m going to keep trying to do the next thing, embracing all the emotions that come with it, and turning to the God who has been with me all along. And to my fellow homesick transitioners, keep hanging in there and don’t lose heart. Autumn may be over, but winter won’t last forever, and spring will come again. It’s okay to grieve the fallen leaves, but don’t forget that new ones will be here soon.

… and if all other mood-boosting attempts fail, at least Starbucks still has their Pumpkin Spice Lattes. 😉

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Photographed on November 30th. Autumn in Atlanta really does last forever. 
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Make Like a Tree and “Leave”

Autumn is—hands down, without a doubt, no question—my favorite time of the year.

Now that I would make such a judgment is rather significant in itself. For some reason, I have never been willing to “choose favorites” about this sort of thing. All my life, I’ve somehow felt bad about saying that I prefer one thing over another. For instance, it’s taken me years to decide that country music is my favorite genre. I’ll proudly tell you that the sunset is my favorite time of day. Now I will finally state that my favorite color is green, especially of the lime variety. It wasn’t until recently that I decided that “O Holy Night” is my favorite Christmas song. As a child, I think I convinced myself that it would be unkind to leave something out. However, rather than an irrational fear of hurting the feelings of inanimate objects or concepts, the real source of my non-favoriting (yes, I did just invent a new word. Call me “Shakespeare.” Haha) was actually indecision. Bizarre, but true.

Okay, so back to autumn. Note that I called it “autumn” rather than “fall.” I was chatting with my friend Fraser in Scotland awhile back, and he politely reprimanded me for saying “fall.” So, Fraser, it’s out of respect for you and your kinsmen across the pond that I say “autumn.” (But I still refuse to spell “realize” with an “s”. haha) 🙂

Okay, so why do I love autumn? Well, I’m so glad you asked! I have many reasons. Where to begin?

One wonderful reason to love autumn is the wardrobe change. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Nike shorts (aka “norts”) and t-shirts, and I enjoy wearing a sundress now and then, but I get very excited about my autumn clothes. When the weather becomes brisk enough that I need a cardigan or jacket, I could do a dance of joy (don’t worry, I will spare you the viewing dis-pleasure and refrain from doing one now). Call me simple, but I love donning a fresh, crisp pair of jeans and warm, cozy sweatshirt. Mmm, heavenly.

For all you sports fanatics out there, football is another fantastic reason to root for fall’s arrival. Autumn wouldn’t be complete without those Friday night lights or those “Boys of Fall,” as Kenny Chesney so poignantly sings. Whether you played this all-American sport or cheered from the stands, football likely holds a very special place in your heart. Whenever I watch a high-school football game, I can’t help but smile as I remember standing for the entire game, holding up my fingers to signal the arrival of the fourth quarter (and our impending victory), and waking up hoarse the next morning from yelling… except during my stint as mascot. Big fuzzy tigers don’t yell. Haha.

Although the majority of my readers probably won’t agree with this next reason for loving fall, I’m going to share it anyway: School begins. While the rest of the world mourns the end of summer, I always get a little giddy. Each school year is a fresh start, full of new things to learn and new experiences to have. As an unashamed nerd, I find autumn exciting and exhilarating, like inhaling the brisk October air.

But without a doubt, my favorite of all favorite parts about my favorite season (yes, I did just use “favorite” three times in one sentence—wait, now four times) is absolutely, positively, resolutely, undeniably, indefinitely, ecumenically, metaphysically, and presynaptically…

The leaves. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, the sunset is my favorite time of day. For half an hour each evening, pinks and oranges and yellows swirl together to create a masterpiece on the sky’s canvas. As often as possible, I enjoy this ever-changing, ephemeral magnum opus, soaking it in one color at a time until it fades into the shadows of twilight. Unfortunately, sunsets are very transient, lasting only a few minutes. But autumn’s leaves last much longer, like a month of constant sunsets to brighten up my day.

However, like each sunset, autumn must come to an end. One by one, the beautiful leaves fade to brown and fall to the ground, soon to be raked into a pile and taken away. And here in this pile of wilted leaves—or rather, above this pile—is where we find our lesson: the tree.

Not long ago, the tree was beautiful, the center of attention. The tree had fulfillment, security, and joy in its leaves. The leaves completed the tree, and as a result, the tree was happy.

But then the time came for the tree to lose its leaves. So the tree obeyed, slowly surrendering its precious, once-vibrant but now brown leaves one by one to the expectant ground below. Soon, the tree was alone again, bare and leafless. But not without hope.

You see, the tree knows something vital: Spring will come. Even though the leaves are missed. Even though the winter will be cold and long. The spring will come, and new leaves along with it. And so, the tree lets go of the old, dying leaves in faith, knowing that the new, living leaves are coming, just around the seasonal corner.

I would be a terrible tree. Instead of letting go, I hold onto things with a white-knuckled grip for as long as I possibly can. Desperately, I cling to the past because I understand it; it seems safe. I know the past; it’s predictable and it isn’t going to change. I don’t want to let go of it; I’d rather hold onto it, even the painful parts because at least it’s something. I’m an oak tree, stubbornly gripping my ugly, crusty leaves for as long as I possibly can.

But that’s not how God wants me—or you—to live. On the contrary, He comes to give us life, and life abundantly. So often, though, we choose our brokenness and heartache instead because it’s familiar; it feels safe. But when we do that, we miss out on the joy He longs to give us. We miss the hope He died to bring. We miss the life and plan He has for us. And most importantly, we miss Him, our Savior.

But when we let go, when we finally surrender those bits of our pasts, those parts of ourselves, those things that are so afraid to give up, that’s when we find freedom and hope. That’s when the healing begins. And that is when our life really starts.

…Which I guess makes spring my second-favorite season. 😉