It was September 21, the first day of autumn. That morning I awakened to a special sense of God's presence in the room. I was just on the brink of my 60th birthday, and Proverbs 4:18 had come to my heart with a special warmth and richness of promise: "The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day" (NKJV). The prospect of stepping into my first decade of "later years" had not troubled me, but God's Word seemed to prompt a special welcome to their high hope and bright promise.
Minutes later, as I was at my morning devotions, a sudden sweep of expectancy washed over me as that verse's truth began to glow within my spirit. How like our Creator, I thought, to fill the autumn of our years with promise!
And that instant, like a distant echo from a high, heavenly plateau and not inspired by mere human imagination, I heard a Voice, deep within, whispering: "I am going to bring you the blessings of autumn. It is your loveliest season, and one always filled with continued harvest and the most beautiful holidays."
My eyes misted in the moment, for I felt the immediacy and personal attentiveness of the Father's care toward me so profoundly I could hardly find words to adequately respond in praise for His love--a gracious, mighty and superintending love, watching over me...going before me.
Taking my journal in hand, I began to write my impressions of the moment. I also logged a kind of teaching I felt I was being given--one for me, personally, but perhaps useful for others as well.
A Thanksgiving delivery. It was only eight weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, my favorite of all holidays. Among the special qualities of that day, I treasure the early morning worship service at our church--a gathering that has become a warm tradition for thousands in our congregation.
As I walked from the sanctuary, having just concluded our annual event of high praise, deep thanksgiving, victorious testimonies and very touching interaction with the whole church family, I was met by my assistant. "Call Doug," she said. "He has just taken Christa to the hospital; they think she has begun labor!"
Our youngest daughter and her husband lived about 200 miles away and were expecting their first child--but not for nearly another three weeks. I found Anna, who was still hugging a host of members in the sanctuary, and told her about the call. We both felt excitement, but the earlier-than-expected onset of labor could also be reason for concern. We smiled and waved to others of the congregation as we hurried to my office. We phoned, and were quickly assured by our son-in-law that the doctor gave no reason for concern.
The baby was born about four hours later--a thumping, more-than-seven-pound boy--his birth-weight providing solid evidence that he wasn't premature. And he had arrived on Thanksgiving Day!
Arguing against childlikeness. Later that day, I was musing over the joys of the day, especially over the birth of our grandson, when a thought probed the corners of my mind; one I at first inclined to dismiss. Could it be...since He knows this day is my favorite? I speculated, but almost instantly dispensed with the emotionalistic notion and quickly gave place to cool, human reasoning.
No, Jack! I thought to myself. Don't be so juvenile as to even think it. God didn't cause the delivery of the baby on this specific day for your sake!
But I was jarred by an internal reprimand; one that was demanding that I answer such questions as:
"Who is the author of life?"
"Who oversees the timing of birth and death, when He is trusted as Lord?"
"Who has called us not to the cool reasoning of human intellectualism and its companion: doubt?"
"Who has invited us to come as children and believe in His love, His promise and His personal care for us?"
I was being brought to an accounting for my own fears, which argued that "while God is loving and good, it would be too much to think His love and goodness made such arrangements as these."
While facing the reality and simplicity of God's gentle grace and merciful loving-kindness, I humbled my soul to confess the fear-born pride that hesitates to receive the tenderness of the Father's graces. Just as I did, again, that Voice was there: "Why did you doubt? I told you, 'I am going to bring you the blessings of autumn!'"
It was more than I could contain--praise overflowed my heart and filled my mouth with song, "Loving-kindness, loving-kindness, His loving-kindness, O, how great!" That could well have been the end of it, and it would have certainly been enough. But the "blessings of autumn" prompting to my heart from the Father's--and its harvest of loving-kindnesses from Him to me--weren't yet finished.
More gifts from the Father. It was fully 11 months later, the following October, and Anna and I had taken a drive to the San Bernardino mountains to enjoy the fall foliage. While there, sampling the apple harvest, salivating over scrumptious hot apple pie a la mode and delighting in the colors of the season spangling the narrow valley, we slipped into a small art studio.
It was there that we discovered a certain painting of Thomas Kinkade's. Not only were we struck with the golden splendor of the canvas, but we also were especially moved by its title: "The Blessings of Autumn"! We had never seen it before and were at once captivated by its brilliant artistry, evoking every autumnal emotion, as well as the name of the piece and the special meaning it held for us.
The copy at the gallery was sold, so we placed a reservation for our own and awaited word of its availability. In the meantime, Anna was sharing with a friend about our excitement over the painting, when surprisingly--and with a certain awkwardness--the friend suggested we cancel the reservation.
"Forgive me," she apologized, somewhat amazed herself, "but I happen to know there are plans for that exact painting to be presented to you as a gift."
She naturally didn't name the party, but by reason of her intimacy with us, she had been asked by someone else--only days before--if she thought it would be something we would like. Knowing our affection for the autumn season (but not the story of God's personal prompting to me regarding the blessings of autumn), she urged the individuals to proceed if they wished.
Just two weeks later, a young couple came to our home, bringing the magnificence and color of "The Blessings of Autumn" and presenting it to us. "In gratitude," they explained, "for your fruit-bearing influence and mentoring in this just-passed first decade of our own pastoral ministry."
We were overwhelmed by their love--and stunned by the magnitude of their gift. But "staggered" better describes what happened next, for the passage of just 12 more days brought the arrival of a second gift copy of the same painting! Can you believe it? It was exactly Thanksgiving Day, again!
It was now exactly a year to the day since the baby's birth that had come as a heavenly-timed reminder of God's good grace promising forthcoming years of continued fruitfulness, family happiness and holiday joys. Now, as I walked into my office following our Thanksgiving morning worship service, there before my eyes was propped the painting. Attached was a love note from yet another young pastoral couple: "Pastor Jack and Anna--For the years you have blessed us!"
Don't forget His love. I was bewildered as I drove home, wondering what we would do with two paintings. How could I explain to the second couple?
I was feeling so deeply moved, thinking, No one could deserve such lavish kindness, when God's voice spoke to me: "These paintings are to indelibly impress the words of My promise upon your heart--that I have committed to bring you the blessings of autumn." The impression was clear; He had arranged for us to have two paintings--one in the parsonage, the other at our writing retreat--"So you won't forget!"
So it is that both our valley dwelling, provided by the church, and the getaway site Anna and I have for rest, relaxation and writing, radiate the brightness of "The Blessings of Autumn" rendered by Thomas Kinkade, "the Painter of Light," whose creative gifting is used to inspire so many. But most of all, we marvel over how they were arranged for us by the Creator--"the Master of Light."
He used two precious couples to overflow our hearts with dual, providentially timed reminders of His Word: "brighter unto the perfect day." What a promise, summoning us all to welcome the wonder-filled love and the promise of eternal joys He offers as we walk with and serve His Son, the Light of the World.
Our Father went to special lengths to get my attention and press me with unique evidences and loving reminders so I would not forget it. I've shared it, not as a testimony to any worthiness on my part, but to the loving-kindness on His part.
I won't forget. Don't you, either, for He loves each of us equally. The creator of autumn's wonder knows how to color our years with His abundant mercies and overflowing goodness.