Arriving back to work after a couple of weeks away on holiday, I noticed that my office was suffused with a strange kind of light. It was not a sunny day, but the light gave a bright glow to the room such as I had not seen before. As I turned to the window, this was the sight that met my eyes. The photo does not do justice to the shades of yellow, gold and red which met my gaze and which I realised was the source of the warm light in the room. This tree has been a constant daily companion since I arrived here in Latvia – stark and bare when I first arrived, I have watched it through Spring, into the Summer and now wearing its glorious Autumn outfit. In short, I have watched it ‘through all the changing scenes of life.’
Over the past few weeks since I last wrote, events have made me think about the ‘changing scenes’ and seasons of life.
It was an immense joy and real privilege to be asked to share with The Salvation Army in Harrow, UK, the celebration of the official re-opening of their hall after it had been completely refurbished.
We realised during the weekend that it was almost 10 years to the actual day that they had left the hall to go into temporary accommodation, with high hopes that they would be back in a new hall within 2 years. I was invited to the re-opening because I’ve shared closely with them much of the time that they have been without a permanent home. To carry the seasonal metaphor further it had seemed at times as if this corps fellowship was in a winter which lasted so long one wondered whether it would ever end. When the Spring did arrive the celebration was all the sweeter, because God’s purposes and faithfulness through the trauma of that winter experience could now be so clearly seen.
The following Sunday I was in Scotland for a completely different kind of celebration. I attended a lovely family event, the christening of my great-niece, daughter of my niece Pauline and her husband Richard. The picture shows the star of the show, Freya, done up in her christening finery! It was a day of unalloyed joy – Spring-time on the grand-scale – as we all joined to celebrate Freya’s new life and the recognition of her as a child of God. It’s also seen the start of a ‘changing scene’ in the life and marriage of Pauline and Richard as they have had to adjust to the sleep patterns of a baby, and their pristine home has had to accommodate an array of baby-related toys and equipment – a reminder, if one were needed, that even changing seasons that bring us joy can come at a cost to our ordered existences.
I think what brought these thoughts on life’s seasons into sharp focus was the fact that, on the very same day that I was celebrating the gift of Freya’s new life, my Latvian Salvation Army family were remembering and celebrating the earthly life of Ieva who had gone to Heaven two weeks earlier. Ieva, a young woman of 37 years of age, died within only two or three weeks of receiving the diagnosis that she had cancer, leaving her Belgian-born husband of two years, Filipe, a widower. Ieva has been a part of the ‘Army’ family here in Latvia since the early 1990’s and is greatly loved here for her deep faith and strong relationship with Jesus Christ, which gave her a sense of peace about going to Heaven. We, with our more finite understanding, ask why Ieva has been taken in such an ‘unseasonal’ way. Why, when her earthly life should have been coming into the full-flowering of summer, has that life been cut short? Such a question stays hanging in the air, unanswered. Unlike my Harrow friends, the purposes of God in Ieva’s dying are not so clear – except to the eye of faith which sees that, in the hands of God, even the Winter of bereavement can have hidden in it the renewing power of Spring – for someone. In the way that Ieva faced death, in the way she spoke to those closest to her about Jesus in her final hours, it seems likely that she knew this to be absolutely true and believed it with all her heart. Having met Ieva only once, I for one have been deeply moved and challenged by the way that she lived her dying – Spring will come, I’m sure.
‘Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble or in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.’