We were walking around our driveway, each in our own thoughts, when Charles spied a red leaf ahead of us, picked it up, and handed it to me with a knowing smile. We both knew what the red leaf meant so no words were needed. I treasured the red leaf for several hours until it started to turn brown.
We’ve been enjoying this little gifting of a red leaf for almost 56 years. One or the other of us finds a red leaf and gives it to the other. More often, red leaves are found in the fall, but some shrubs put forth stray red leaves other times of the year, like nandina. It only needs to be a red leaf, regardless of size.
This is how it started. When we were newlyweds, Charles in vet school and I working at University housing, we were asked to help chaperone a Baptist college retreat. It was very odd, being chaperones for our classmates. We forgot most of the time that we were responsible for making sure everyone was safe and reasonably proper. Most of the time we just enjoyed the opportunity to be away from campus a day or two, studying God’s word and having hilarious good times with our friends. One of the speakers talked about ways to build good relationships, even very small, silent ways. He’s the one who told us about the meaning of a red leaf.
We were in the north Georgia mountains in the autumn, and there was beautiful color all around us. It wasn’t hard to find a red leaf. On a rare quiet walk, just the two of us, we each found a red leaf to give to the other. We have found delight in continuing this little ceremony ever since.
Of course the exchange is more romantic when it’s between sweethearts or spouses (who are still sweethearts!), even grey headed ones. But this tiny gesture can mean a lot when practiced by good friends, cousins, parents and children.
The red leaf simply means “I love you.”
When I think about the One who provides the beautiful red leaves of sweetgum, maple, sourwood, dogwood, and red oaks, I’m so blessed with the realization that God is saying “I love you.” It’s just one of His many imaginative ways of communicating with us. To receive the message, though, we have to see the red leaf and accept it. Just as we may walk past a red leaf without noticing it, we can often miss a word from the Lord as significant as that of the still small voice He used to talk to Elijah.
Remember, when you see a red leaf it means “I love you.” Maybe there’s someone you’d like to gift with a bright red leaf today!
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16