Always Autumn

by: Kate Cannon

School and autumn … this is a combination I have always always loved and looked forward to each year.  I love how it begins as the warm summer fades into chilled nights and the more structured, scheduled days are full of productive and meaningful studies of subjects that enrich and sustain intellectual and emotional development.  I love that school allows children an opportunity to not only work and study on their own, but it also simultaneously gives them ways to interact and engage with others in a setting that teaches kindness and bravery all at once in a place that at its core, is one of the more pure places in our human experience.  I love the way in which the world changes during the beginning of school in autumn, right before our eyes… in color, in song, in scent.  Leaves are seemingly shy as they turn shades of crimson, gold, and amber while geese blast out a catalyst for flight to warmer regions. The once-beautifully bursting pink and purple hydrangea blooms send a new message that tells us all to rest as the flowers fade into dusty, quiet shadows.  All the while, children are near, preparing for their own unique and special metamorphosis as the school itself becomes the cocoon in which they will stay for the cold winter ahead until they emerge new and changed next spring.  

Fall also brings a host of other special events: parties with shiny apples and vibrant orange pumpkins, contested elections that change a nation, Veterans Day in which we thank all those who have served, and certainly Thanksgiving Day in all of its bounty and history - stories which make us all who we are. It is necessary for people to reflect upon their heritage and blessings, as the more grateful we are, the more grateful we become. In addition to all of these special days, autumn also brings a haunting moment in September: the call I received regarding the untimely death of my younger brother. This is a date in the autumn season which I have been utterly unable to see any hint of a blessing, amidst so many days full of joy, despite God’s word that we should give thanks in all circumstances.”  Impossible. Completely and totally impossible.  His death is not a blessing, and isn’t it ridiculous to even say such a thing? A heavy portion of anger, along with a heaping amount of sadness, coupled with a nagging feeling of continual guilt and including great amounts of disbelief, and the sense of shame involved do not begin to describe my walk through that difficult day of my life. My husband (of only three months at that point) and I heard that news in the middle of the night, and just hours later we were on a flight to the hospital where my brother lay, swollen, bandaged, and being kept alive by modern medical science and a team of highly skilled medical professionals. Shortly after our arrival, and following a brief and uncomfortable greeting to all family members, he was pronounced dead. We spent the next three days in the trauma unit waiting for his young, healthy, perfect organs to be placed in others’ bodies. I could easily relate to Martha when she must have uttered to Christ in complete despair, Lord, If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I was standing there with my own sister, attempting to understand what Mary and Martha endured so long ago. 

Autumn... cold, dark, lonely, sad and scary … this also part of my autumn.  Those months I spent in sadness, confusion, and fear asking more why” questions than I ever knew existed.  Not even the excitement and love I have for school could help, or being newly married, or having dear friends who went out of their way to call, text, and write to me in the aftermath, or having my own family with whom to walk through some of our darkest hours … nothing could ever possibly fix this. It is Death.

Red-hot anger in those days and weeks turned into a cold wind of bitterness and that chill gave way to rock-hard resentment in my heart for years. I shut God out and really blamed Him, thinking that if He were a loving, kind God as I know He is said to be, then He would never, ever allow such a tragedy to happen. He would simply not allow such a thing to occur, especially to me or to my family. He must not exist, I concluded.  And then, just like that, back to school my hardened heart went as I continued telling Him that He is not fair, that He is not there, and I simply continued to do what I know how to to: teach. School is comfortable for me because I love children so much, and gradually I gave bits of my heart back to the students and families with whom I worked, and I did not talk about my brother with anyone. I was simply told Christ how angry I was …  and this was a turning point, dear one — I began talking to Christ directly for the first time in my life.  I told him how angry I was for allowing this to happen and I said to Him directly that there was nothing left in which to hope, and I told Him that it was always autumn in my heart. 

And then, my dear friend, after many years of hiding from Him and blaming Him, God spoke back to me in a quiet voice during a dream. He made clear that He loves me and loves my brother, even though I am not able to understand all of His ways. He made clear that my brother, just like Lazarus, had been resurrected and is now with Christ in the heavenly realms.

Three times.  

He gently, quietly, clearly showed me in three different dreams that my brother is loved, healthy, alive and saved. I did not create those dreams, and yet they have prompted me to find out more about Christ and His Father. The worst tragedy of my life has become the very event which has allowed me to begin to process how God will "provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”  This verse, Isaiah 61:3, has comforted and challenged me since I began to see the power of Christ in our lives - yours and mine.

Every year, on my little brother’s birthday, God does something special just for me!  He makes some miraculous detail in the day happen that lets me know that I didn’t make it all up in my mind wishing that it were true. For example, several years in a row there has been a red cardinal who comes and perches just overhead, following me down a path of beautifully blooming trees on the 27th of May every year in different locations, but always on his birthday.  My brother was my best friend.  God wants us to know Him deeply and intimately, in ways that we only will if we have walked through the valley of the shadow of death with Him and then come out on the other side, still walking with Him. When autumn is over, when the winter seasons have come and gone our lives, I want to be able to say that I have a crown of beauty, the fragrant scent of oil, and a garment of praise. I am still working on it… but now I am working on it with Him. Friends, He is asking us to join with Him to conquer sadness, disappointment, pain, fear, and even Death itself, by the power of Christ on the cross.