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God’s Ordinary Masterpieces

(Re-posted following loss in website update.)

On a walk with Anina in the back alley one day (or was it under the red tree on Jefferson Street?), I stooped down to pick up a colorful leaf. Sometimes Anina walks too. Correction. Sometimes she runs at breakneck speeds beside me, interspersed with moments of motionless fixation on the pebbles beneath our feet. She has no moderate pace. But today she was in the stroller, so I offered her several fallen leaves.

Would you like a red one? Look, there’s a yellow one!

As I picked up the leaves, I thought of how almost all things in the world belong to someone. Even the rest of the clutter on the sidewalk did belong to someone at one time. The flattened Styrofoam plate, the plastic bottle cap, the food spilling out of an abandoned package.

But, as I handed the delicate leaf to my daughter, I wondered, whose is it? For a second I think, “Is this allowed?” Is there a rule that prohibits stealing leaves? And if not, why not? What makes the leaves on this sidewalk different from other things in the world that a person can’t just pick up and take?

God’s Ordinary Masterpieces Have No Lack of Beauty

Perhaps in our old age, as adults, we fail to lose ourselves in the miracle of the fallen leaf. We have more important things to do (like rake our leaves?) so we rush off down the sidewalk, because we want to succeed at finding happiness, and that means making it to our next appointment. Meanwhile, a child who knows nothing of appointments stands amazed in the presence of God’s master artwork.

Most people take a moment to look at the colorful tree outside or the patchwork landscape as they drive past. But how many adults have stopped this fall season to hold a fallen leaf in their hand, and stare at it for sixty seconds? To note how it differs slightly from all the other leaves, yet with those other leaves creates something beyond exquisite? To note the life-giving veins that give the leaf its individuality, yet show how dependent the leaf was on the tree? To think of how this one glorious leaf, born just last spring, has completed it’s God-glorifying mission and is now at the end of life? To marvel that, instead of dying out with disgrace, the leaf’s most glorious moment comes at death, resplendent in powerful colors, traveling free with the wind, scattered like rose petals down the aisles of the world?

You’ve probably seen this poem, but I’ll share it again for good measure even though it’s not talking about fall. (Yes, Joyce Kilmer was a man. He died in his 30s fighting in World War I.)


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.–Joyce Kilmer

God’s Ordinary Masterpieces Have No Lack of Importance

Trees have immense economic value, but it would be lost if the leaves failed to appear in the spring. We don’t think of this when we watch a shower of leaves shaken out of a tree.

We could say that one leaf doesn’t matter. But the individual leaves make up the whole.

Forgive me as I wax symbolic for a moment. Isn’t this like a group of Christians serving God together humbly? It reminds me of my neighbor Mary’s recent prayer. “Whatever you are doing in this world, God, don’t do it without us, God! Don’t do it without us!”

God doesn’t exactly need us. But he wants us. And he will use us if we are available and actually interested in serving Him more than ourselves. I love Mary’s passion to be a part of his work in this world. We are fragile. We are small pieces in the grand scheme of God’s work. But together, we create not just our own individual church community, but the broader forest of God’s kingdom on earth.

But back to the question of why it’s okay to pick up leaves and take them.

Most Likely we Take God’s Masterpieces For Granted Because of their Abundance

Supply and demand are a funny thing. Items you take for granted become precious when they become scarce. I suspect if there were only one maple tree in the world, the fallen orange and red leaves would not be free.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the 17 hostages who were kidnapped last year by a Haitian gang. It was such an honor to get to know them through the process of writing the book, Kidnapped in Haiti. Of course, now they’ve moved on with their lives. But the anniversary of their ordeal brings it back in everyone’s memories. Last year this time on October 29, they were on Day 14 of 62 days of captivity. They had just arrived at Gangster Camp B, their hut among the pine trees. Ironically, it was a place of great beauty as well as suffering.

With my mind mulling the topic of beautiful things we take for granted, I reached out to the 17 hostages to ask them what things they most missed that they had previously taken for granted. I’ll share their list with you.

Things the hostages did not have in gangster camp:

  • Bibles and other books
  • Large, comfortable beds
  • Being able to work and provide for my family
  • Ability to stretch out at night without bumping into another hot body
  • Privacy (especially in makeshift bathrooms)
  • Ability to take a walk alone
  • Ability to communicate with friends and family
  • Hot showers
  • Greens and other nutritious foods
  • Toys (Shelden’s contribution to the list! I’m sure Andre would agree.)
  • Normal routines like housework

Why do we struggle to appreciate God’s ordinary masterpieces, like this list or a simple fall leaf?

It’s not because they aren’t glorious gifts. Perhaps you and I owe a prayer of thanks to God for these ordinary masterpieces.



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