When I was a little girl, I was entirely convinced that when the sky would burst forth with zig-zag patterns of light, it was made especially for me. Each time I stared in awe at a lightning show, I imagined the Lord saying to me, “Here you go, Tara. Here is my gift to you.” I often sat in the darkness of my bedroom, darting my eyes in every direction across the night sky, trying to ensure that I would not miss one bolt of uninhibited light. This is when my mom usually walked in and turned on the light to tell me it was time to get to bed, and I would beg God to give me one more good strike before I had to close my shades, before the only proof of the lightning outside was the shocks of thunder, heard from my bed.
“Just one more, God. I just need to see one more.”
My eyes seemed to always be diverted just slightly away from the exact location of the strike, causing me to excitedly look in the direction of the lighting, only to have missed it and find myself disappointed. I just could never have my eyes in the perfect position to fully appreciate a good strike. I would think to myself that if only the sky sent forth some sort of warning each time lightning was coming, giving all its spectators a chance to snuggle in and become completely absorbed in the precise direction the strike was to come. There would be no disappointment, and I would never miss a strike again. Sadly, my mind and my eyes could not move fast enough to catch every bolt of power; for one brief second it was there, and the next it was as if it never existed and my eyes were stuck staring at total darkness.
The college I attended sits upon a hill where the wind is fierce and the sunsets are heart stopping. Throughout my years there, I would regularly perch myself upon one of the many benches sprinkled on the edge of the hill, and stare into the valley below. Usually surrounded by friends, we would revel in the beauty of the day’s last minutes, as the sun said its goodbye. When I would begin to notice God’s colors fading, with the sun no longer visible, I would plead, “God, just a few more minutes. Just a few more minutes of this beauty.” To my dismay, He never answered this prayer—my friends and I always walked back to our dorm in partial darkness, only the dim light of the horizon guiding us home. Opening the heavy dorm door, I would look back one last time at the Western sky and a twinge of familiar disappointment would settle into my stomach. Another sunset—gone.
My husband and I had our first Fall in our new house last year. Everything in our lives was new—our marriage, our son, our jobs, our house—and this made everything, even the mundane, a bit of a thrill. As the days grew colder, God tucked each of the trees in our neighborhood to bed. One by one the colors would change and the leaves would fall. Each morning, another tree would not resemble its former self—without its leaves, it looked harsher somehow, less full of life. Each tree resigned itself to the cold, but the perfectly shaped Maple in our front yard held on. As the dead and Fall-stained leaves blew through the grass below it, our Maple refused to embrace the winter cold, clutching the green pigment in its leaves like a vice. It held on so long my husband and I began to wonder if it would ever give up.
On a frosty, November morning, everything eerily still beneath the cold, I rushed out the door to a church retreat and stopped midway down my front stoop: the Maple had finally succumbed to Winter’s brutality. Almost overnight the leaves had turned a golden yellow, and with the morning sun gazing at the tree with an oblong look, the tree glowed like it was made of gold. The leaves that had already let go littered the ground beneath, forming a perfect circle around the trunk. With the green pigment gone, the Maple had no strength left, and the leaves fell in rapid succession like a summer drizzle. Despite my hurry, I looked in wonder at the sight before me. The pitter patter of the frost laden leaves knocking against twigs, branches, and the unwelcoming cold of the ground sent a shiver down my spine as I snapped a couple pictures, trying to capture the simplistic complexity of a single moment in nature.
I hopped in my car and drove away reluctantly, saying to my Father, “Please, God. Don’t let it be over when I get home. Just let me see it one more time.” As I arrived home that night, a familiar disappointment crept along my spine when the Maple matched the barrenness of every tree on the block.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized perhaps the very thing that made lightning such a gift was its unpredictably, my anticipation, and its briefness in time. Perhaps God’s strokes with His paint brush, a perfect blend of colors—pastel and bright—never mimicking a former painting and filling the evening sky for just a few minutes is the very reason I cannot take my eyes off of a sunset. Perhaps my first ever Winter goodbye to my Maple would not be a thing to retell, had it not been so rare, so brief, like a whisper in a long period of raucous conversation.
If life were the sun always setting, always sitting upon the horizon waiting to take its last leap from daylight, always stretching its glowing fingers across the land, basking us all in a warm glow, a sunset would be no more noticed than the cars along the street. It would be an ordinary sight, no matter how unique and beautiful. If lightning was more considerate to my human limitations, more willing to lend its beauty whenever I desired, I would, very soon, stop asking to see it, stop begging it to show its face one last time.
It is the briefness of a beautiful, perhaps flawless, moment that distinguishes it as beautiful in the first place. God’s unwillingness to answer a prayer that begs for more is His gift to us. This is why it is such a treasure. He wants us to let go and put Him in control–He desires for us to thrive in the midst of answered and unanswered prayers, in the midst of the mundane and big changes; whether He gives or takes away, He will create beauty. When a moment of beauty ends, fades, or is taken away from us, God’s plan continues to reign in the midst of our disappointment and He will work in this loss to establish one of His most perfect pieces of creation.