The kind of good smell of rotting leaves (Part 1)

A couple weeks ago we were walking, all 6 of us, in our new neighborhood (well, Baby Titus had the luxury of being pushed in a stroller. That kid, 2 months old and yet to carry his own weight). There was the perfect crispness in the air, the perfect crunch of fallen leaves under our boots, the perfect melody of a dog barking at us as we passed by his yard. This dog even went so above and beyond as to chase us through piles of said leaves and nip at ankles of said boots for an entire block, while we resisted temptation to subtly kick him, hoping no one would see. Just a typical, lovely, somewhat awkward family walk.

The kids noticed a missing cat sign, which has since become a bit of an obnoxious obsession , noble charitable mission. Suddenly every cat we see might be the missing one. "No, that one has a hint of grey. The missing cat is more of a blackish-grey." Wait! Oh, no. That cat has a white dot on the very tip of its toenail. It can't be the missing one." "Look! Its the...oh no its not. Its a squirrel." Sigh. So close. But despite all the kids' training in "eye py wid my nittul eye" and all their valiant efforts, I am assuming the cat is still missing because the signs are still up. If in fact the cat has been found can someone please take the signs down, for the love of God?! Or host a block party in celebration? Or put up a new sign, saying "Gavenda kids: I have found the cat (or just given up looking). Thank you so very much everyone for all your time spent searching for my cat. I will reward you by giving you a million dollars, or ice-cream with sprinkles before dinner, whichever you prefer. "?

Other than the missing cat propaganda and the ankle biting dog (who could probably lead a search party for the cat. He was persistent enough), the kids noticed a smell in the air. When I told them it was actually the smell of dead, rotting leaves they asked "How can something dead smell so kind of good?"

That stuck me as funny. I always noticed that smell growing up. I always wondered that same thought. It is one of those things that you forget to notice as an adult, but when you do, it kind of makes you chuckle. The observations of a child. I forgot about it for a while. Then one morning, I looked out our bedroom window at the tree whose branches greet me each day. I have watched them turn from verdant green, to vibrant yellow and now they are more of a dusty brown. This particular morning I looked at the leaves and thought "Why does everything have to die? Why does everything beautiful have to become brown and shriveled and fall apart?"

Sometimes thinking constantly in metaphors makes for beautiful thoughts- pieces of poems dancing and twirling each other around in my head. Sometimes though it just means that I look at a tree that I swear was vibrant and radiant and full of hope just yesterday, but today is losing its leaves one after the other, falling, and I see my dad. And I see Alzheimer's. And as I sit on my bed, I see another leaf fall. And I feel my arm reach involuntarily towards the window, towards the leaf, as if I am going to catch it. My fingers tremble. And I know that even if I caught it, another one is going to fall... and another. I look at each leaf, just hanging on their branchs, grasping, trying. I hear the wind, inhaling-ready to let out a gust, and I feel my fingers dig into the edge of the mattress, bracing. Now they fall, too many to count, too many to catch. Soon the tree will be more bare than full, almost unrecognizable.  I cried a tear or two, for the tree, for my dad, for me, for everything that is slowly losing its color and falling all around me, and for all the people who think in too many metaphors.

But then I was reminded of the smell from our walk and the question the kids asked: "how can something dead smell so kind of good?" .

In their frailty and death, the leaves make a beautiful aroma. I am not sure all of the implications of this thought. I know really not much of anything else smells good as it dies. But, just the same, I like the thought of the dead and dying leaves still having a sweet scent-a fragrant offering to our God.

I like it because it reminds me our life, our days-even our most frail ones, are never wasted. And I like it because it reminds me that our suffering and our grief are never wasted either. It means that as my dad's memory and abilities fade, he is worth no less to God than when he had all his faculties. Every day is an opportunity for him to bring glory to God, to be used by God. And for those of us who suffer alongside my dad, who grieve as each "leaf" falls to the ground, we know we do not suffer and grieve like those who have no hope. We know that our hope is in heaven. Our hope is here now, in the opportunity to be comforted by Christ and to live in the midst of our Autumn in a way that glories in our Redeemer. What grace. God wants to bring something beautiful, something fragrant, something that outlives us- outlives the season of suffering, outlives the pangs of grief. Just as the brilliant yellow and orange and maroon leaves shout worship of the creator, but then in falling and dying still bring fragrant worship; so too can we. What a privilege, to be able to bring God glory, no matter what season I am facing. My life, whenever and wherever is buds and peaks can be like a radiant Autumn tree, pointing up into heaven. In my suffering, in my struggles, in my grief and even in my death I long for there to be a lingering, resonating scent that brings worship to the God who brings beauty from ashes.

I love the idea of it smelling kind of good. The worship is not without tears; the sacrifice is not without pain. The smell is bittersweet, just as this season we are walking through is. The bitterness will always linger, but the bitterness makes the sweetness that much more sweet. Bringing beauty from life and fullness is easy, and though it is still beauty you can pass by it without much admiration. Bringing beauty from ashes is another thing. It begs you to take notice. What was once bitter, now has sweetness. What was once morbid and meaningless now has purpose. What once seemed empty darkness is now glowing- even as an ember, with deep, steadfast light and warmth.  That is the work of my God.

So, as they leaves fall, so too will the tears. But they are not only bitter. Because I know that nothing-no season, no suffering, is ever a lost cause, except maybe that poor missing cat.

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