The Red Leaf
During my time in seminary in Southern California, I had a spiritual director named Larry. I also talk about him here. Larry was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. He never wore shoes during our direction sessions, flipped coins to help me make decisions, and encouraged me to blow bubbles and dance with ribbons as spiritual disciplines. But the real reason he was fascinating was because he was one of those people who saw God not only in the great but also in the mundane. His motto was “find God in all things,” which was derived from St. Ignatius of Loyola.
This leads me to the billboard story. One morning Larry was commuting on the 5 freeway and noticed a billboard on the side of the road that had only three words on it, “God Loves You.” He thought it interesting that he had never noticed this billboard before. Maybe it had just been put up? The next day he was driving to work on the same freeway and the billboard was different. “God Loves You” was no longer there. Instead of trying to convince himself that what he saw yesterday was only his imagination he wondered, “What if God put up that billboard yesterday just for me?”
Now I know what you may be thinking. How could he assume that billboard was specifically just for him? The point of his story was not whether or not God would actually put words up on a billboard just for Larry. The point was that he was paying attention to the world around him and how God may be communicating specially to him. Hence the motto to “find God in all things.”
At the time, this was a whole new concept to me. Doesn’t God only speak to us through our quiet times or during church? Don’t we always have to be quiet and contemplative to have an experience of God? I thought about his story and wondered about the ways that God may be communicating to specifically to me.
The next day I went out for a run on a chilly autumn morning. I am one of those crazy people who loves to run just as the sun is rising. While on my usual route that particular morning, something caught my eye that made me stop in my tracks. Standing before me was a tree that was completely barren except for one large red leaf on it. It was quite striking. Striking because I do not think I have ever seen a tree with just one leaf on it and striking because the leaf was my absolute favorite color of red. I just stood there looking at this tree and Larry’s words came to mind in that moment. “What if God left that one leaf on this tree just for me?” I went on my way thinking about the tree briefly and with the memory eventually fading as I began my day.
Now stay with me because this is where the story gets good. That same day, I had an appointment to give spiritual direction to a student on campus. The room I preferred to use while giving spiritual direction was occupied, so my directee and I had to use another room in a different building. I sat down with my directee and immediately noticed a picture hanging on the wall behind her. My mind flashed back to the tree I had seen that very morning.
Notice the small red leaf in the bottom right corner. Now you skeptics out there may argue that this photo of a picture with one red leaf was due to mere coincidence. However I like what Albert Einstein has to say about coincidence, “coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.”
If I had not gone out on a run that morning with an openness to what God may be desiring to show me, I could have run right past that tree and missed an opportunity to see a way in which God was showing me His love.
This picture not only affirmed that God sees me but that He can use anything to communicate His love to His children. How many “red leaves” do we run past everyday?
Maybe we struggle to be open to God in all things because our hearts were never trained to do so.
I don't know about you but I can easily believe God loves the world. I often have a harder time believing God loves me as an individual. I love the quote that is often attributed to Augustine, one of the great church fathers: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
So here is a simple way to begin to notice and experience God’s personal love for you:
First, slowly read the verses below:
“Each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.”
“Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.”
This week, look for ways in which God might be showing his unique love for you. Maybe it is through a sunset, an unexpected gift, an encouraging text through a friend, or a moment when you feel his presence. I challenge you to keep a note pad on your bedside table and write this question on it: “Where did I notice God’s love for me today?”
Sometimes God communicates his love to us in a variety of ways but more often, I find a theme strung throughout his reminders. For me, it’s red. Whether I see a red leaf, a cardinal, or a red flower, it puts God’s love for me on the forefront of my mind. That is one of the reasons I painted my front door red. For my husband, he often notices and receives God’s love through people or in community.
God has a deep, infinite, one-of-a-kind love for you. Can you see it?
My prayer for you is that the Lord would open your eyes to the many ways he shows his love for you and open your heart to receive it.