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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

How Will You Know When You're Done?

I’m making peace with fall, y’all.


Two weeks ago, I admitted with some trepidation that the shorter days and colder nights of autumn often make me morose. Marking ¾ time in the year has always seemed to be music in a minor key, no matter how beautiful the composition.

Offering no judgment, many of you made an impressive case for your favorite season. So, thanks to you, I’ve been rethinking my annual assessment. Spending the last ten days in New England when fall foliage was at its peak certainly didn’t hurt.

Along with friends old and new, I walked country roads, ate in vintage diners, and celebrated the Creator in a great company of his daughters on the weekends, all the while stealing glances at Autumn. She strutted her stuff on a red carpet of leaves as if on the biggest runway in the world. I wanted to get her autograph.

The second of two women's fall retreats at Camp Monadnock in Jaffrey, NH. Both were wonderful!

But then again, I’m familiar with her Designer label.

In between teaching sessions, I asked a lot of questions of Autumn’s Maker, and mine. Do I fear the fading year because in her, I see myself? Not the showiness, no, but the sense of the spring and summer of my life long gone, and winter fast approaching?

When I turned 65, I read Joan Chittister’s reflective work The Gift of Years, and at nearly 70 I’m journeying through its pages once again. Last week, these particular words stopped me, arresting my attention as if they were a constable on patrol for my soul:

“The truth is that this new stage of life liberates in a way no other stage of growth can possibly do. All the striving is over now. We don’t have to prove ourselves anymore…
"The only thing required of us now is the blooming of the self. Like autumn flowers, rich in color, deep in tone, sturdy in the wind, our lives not only have new color, they bring with them the kind of interior depth a fast-moving world so desperately needs.” - Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years

Autumn flowers.

Mums! My view from Peace Ridge as I write this morning.

Bright yellow mums, sunny and cheerful.

Delicate pansies with their pensive faces, surprisingly sturdy.

Stately goldenrod, lovely but problematic. Best to keep at a distance.

Some of you share my season of life. What kind of late-blooming beauties do we want to be? Sour or sweet? Open to learning, or closed to new ideas? Still moving, or sitting in place?

As Chittister notes, there are many older people who refuse to adjust, who die years before their time. “Their souls spoil in their shells.”

What kind of fragrance will become our signature scent as we obtain the blessing of generous years?

This past Saturday, a vibrant young mom named Kaeley led a group of us on a Reflection walk through the woods bordering the New Hampshire camp where we were on retreat. We shuffled through the leaves, sometimes silent, occasionally singing, always listening.

And watching.

I am older than most of my walking companions these days. I have a responsibility to younger women to welcome them to the table of ministry, setting out spiritual food and drink to nourish them as my mentors have done for me.

Traveling to serve groups is more tiring than it used to be, though. I nearly crawled off my final flight home to North Carolina last night. My body has a mind of its own, though as Twain once observed, age is a matter of mind over matter. If we don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

As we walked under a canopy of leaves on Saturday, our little band of sisters stopped often to remind each other of promises from the Word. I remained silent, needing to hear from them, from our Father.

Should I continue traveling to minister? I’m a grandmother now, with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. Three of our littles have just moved less than an hour away. Given their needs, how much of myself can I give away? Do I have the energy to continue to go where I’m invited, guide as I’ve been guided?

How will I know when I’m done?

I craned my neck skyward as our young leader, Kaeley, prayed over us with passion, sunshine illuminating her tears as she spoke to the God she serves, the Lord she loves.

Wind blew through the trees, showering us with leaves of deep gold, burnt orange, chili pepper red.

Why are so many letting go, I wondered, while other leaves will cling firmly to the branch, surviving the harsh winter to come?

And then Kaeley spoke another promise into the wind.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

A single leaf detached, spiraled down, landed at my feet. It didn’t let go until its Creator said so.

And neither will I.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2022

Maggie Wallem Rowe is a speaker, author, and dramatist who writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the mountains of western North Carolina. She owns a rocking chair just for show.



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