Autumn always fills me with nostalgia.
Since moving to Oklahoma a year ago, I can hardly tell when summer ends and fall begins. Right now the weather still pretends to be summer and the sun still burns my scalp. But for one split second the other day, I smelled autumn.
And when I smelled the first whiff of fall in the air, the memories crowded in, close and vivid.
I remember crisp autumns in New England, where my family and I used to enjoy a magical kaleidoscope of colors as we traveled to minister in small northeastern churches. I remember clearly the majestic sweep of the Green Mountains in Vermont, the white lighthouses on rocky shores in Maine, and the long walks deep in the woods in Connecticut. I remember eating crab soup and trying to like lobster.
Every other year we traveled to the West, and come October or November we’d find ourselves in Washington and Oregon, with their drowsy mists and rain and fog. The glorious rainforests in Washington still make me gasp as I think of the miles of tangled vines and towering trees, with the evening light seeping through branches to cover everything in an ethereal blanket.
Although we enjoyed the beauty surrounding us, daily life in the Marshall household carried a delicate balance between routine and flexibility. Sometimes we would sing for a random school chapel or go to a restaurant with a pastor, but Mom liked to keep to a structured schedule. Regular school work and practice sessions filled our days.
Finding a quiet Sunday school classroom in which to do my homeschool proved a challenge. If I was lucky, there might be a heater in the room I chose. Even so, I would usually wear my winter coat.
Soon the call for lunch would resound throughout the church building. Crowding into the bus with my siblings, we would eat potato soup Mom had prepared and maybe a ham sandwich. The heater chugged mightily as we sat on pink vinyl couches and listened to my older brother, Jonathan, provide the day’s comedy routine.
In the afternoons you would inevitably hear my older sisters practicing songs from the John Thompson books on the church piano. Then it was group practice time. We would spend a couple of hours practicing old and new songs, then hurriedly get dressed for church, and prepare to minister through music and preaching that evening.
Recently, my dad mentioned that this month marks forty years since the day our family began traveling in evangelism. Forty years! Curiosity tugged at me, and once again I pulled out our first family diary from those days. On September 23, 1976, the entry reads:
11:35 a.m. Bronx – Departure
“We had a frantic day of moving out of the parsonage, with everyone tired and dazed from three days of moving, with many visitors and a crowd of well-wishers to send us off. We left . . . with a prayer circle in the driveway.”
Such simple words, but they mark the beginning of the Marshall family adventures. That day was just another fall day in Lynbrook, New York, but for one family it was the next step in a life of faith. Dad and Mom and six sisters left that driveway, uncertain of anything but God’s direction for the next few stops.
Looking back is a good exercise, as long as it leads us to look forward.
Now that I can look back and trace God’s hand on my family’s journey, I see how God led all of us, step by step. The path was not always easy, but His presence was always near. We watched God provide for our needs, give us opportunities to serve, and send us little miracles.
Having taken a few steps of faith myself in the past few years, I can say that God has done the same for me. Autumn brings back not only the memories of how God has led my family, but also the memories of how He has led me—walking beside me, holding my hand, forging a new path in front of me. And I am thankful to know that He will keep leading me, step by step.