The Autumn Leaves Have Got Me Thinking

The Autumn Leaves Have Got Me Thinking

by Cathee Poulsen

At 76, let’s face it, I’m dwelling in the late autumn years of life. More honestly, pretty close to winter.

We grow old and die in the same way we’ve lived our lives.
~Parker Palmer

At the outset, I’d like to say this post isn’t about growing old gracefully. Like Parker Palmer in his book On the Brink of Everything, I can say my life has been richly graced, but it hasn’t been graceful.

The Perfect Autumn

We’ve just returned from a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and what felt like the most perfect autumn I’ve experienced. The trees changed every day and the vibrant colors took my breath away. Driving from Asheville to Waynesville felt magical and I had to restrain from taking pictures around every curve.



But autumn brings with it a nostalgia of fading glory, coming bare brittle limbs. In nature, fall is a season of decline. At my age, I can’t help but think of how I’m living this season of my life. And to talk to you about how you’re living yours.

Where Have I Been?

There’s been a six-month gap between this and my last blog. I chastised myself for months about not writing. I couldn’t put my finger on the “why” until recently. The truth is, I’ve been so immersed in writing curriculum for our family groups that my creative writing has taken a hit.

Can’t blame anyone else. I’ve neglected reading those articles and books that usually stoke my passion for writing, and to be honest, I’ve also been a bit discouraged. Teetering on empty.

As I look at the church in America—the model of Evangelical Christianity—there’s a deep disturbance in my spirit. My heart tells me clearly, “This is not what Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘I will build my church.’” It just isn’t.

Francis Chan’s book Letters to the Church rocked my world. When he shared the question he asked himself a few years ago, “If I was on a desert island with only a Bible to define what church should look like, would it look like this?” And of course, we all have to say “No. Nothing like this.”

Could There Be Another Way?

Francis gave up Cornerstone Church and his 6000 people congregation and moved to San Francisco with no salary and not even an agenda other than gathering a group of people who value community and want to share their faith one on one as God brings them encounters. Or something like that. He oversees 40 of those groups now who meet in homes. Read the book!

I could just drop out of my own church and join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have taken that route. How then would I obey the scripture in Hebrews?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10:24,25.

The passage in Hebrews instructs us to gather regularly — not just for dinner and social interaction — but to share our lives, pray with and for each other, and study God’s Word together. To do life with each other. Not just one on one, but as a group.

Yes, I know. We are the church! But the New Testament word is ecclesia which is “a called out body of believers” and it has the definite connotation of a gathering. The church can never be viewed as an individual. It’s always and forever a corporate body. Likened to a temple, a physical body, an army, a family. Just take a look at the 59 “one another” commands and you’ll understand we have to do this together.

The closest thing to the true church Jesus had in mind is a small gathering that meets in homes. There we are able to “stir up one another to love and good works.” You can’t do that in a corporate church service and neither do I think much discipleship takes place there. It ends up costing thousands of dollars to maintain buildings, pay salaries, keep the programs going and what does all that really accomplish?

There are many followers of Christ today who follow this model. And once a month or so, they come together in one large group for a night of worship and testimonies. It seems more in line with the New Testament than almost anything else I’ve experienced.

A Journey Fraught with Danger

I don’t know where you are, but in my autumn years, when I can see the end of the road clearly, I want my time here to count. I’m so weary of the status quo, the predictable weekly hour and a half, the lack of supernatural, that we call church.

The notion that you’re going to have an ordered and orderly life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is bunk. You want a conventional, consistent, predictable life?  Then don’t follow Jesus!                              ~ Leonard Sweet

We assume God wants order, conformity – obedient children.  Instead, we find that He wants our passionate involvement and utter awe in the mystery of His glorious character…He draws us to the extreme edge of life, where we cannot live by careful, well-planned control.  This is where the desert begins.  It is where darkness draws us to a realm of desperation and dependence.  It is the place where trust can grow.  God’s passion is to rig our world so that we are compelled to deal with whatever blocks us from being like His glorious Son.                                                    ~The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender

Look at Jesus’ daily walk and what you see is wild compared to our plodding lives. Something akin to watching a lion in a cage eating the meat the zookeeper throws him every day or observing a lion stalking his prey in the Serengeti.

Jesus calls us to a dangerous life. This part of the journey is not meant to be a middle-of-the-road, play-it-safe, boringly predictable trip. It is meant to be beyond-the-imagination, over-the-top, and explosively joyous. Of all people on earth, we are meant to savor the taste of real life.

Like Eagles’ Don Henley in his song Wasted Time, “the autumn leaves have got you thinking…” and it’s my conviction that whatever form of “church” we adhere to, if its simplicity, beauty, and peace doesn’t feed our spirits so that we’re equipped to pass that on to others who don’t know Jesus, something is gravely wrong.

 No brilliant line to close with here. Just one girl seeking to find the forgotten way and make the autumn years count. 



  1. Very inspiring, Cathee. As always, your writing strikes a chord in me. Thank you!

  2. Greg G Billings

    O, how I’ve become exasperated with the modern evangelical Christian church.
    I recently left one, after 10 years, for expressly the reasons you present. I thought I’d take a break and serve a medium size conventional Protestant church on Marco, and lay low for awhile. I was there about a month when they announced plans to spend a million dollars to expand the narthex. This is a church that is a beautiful campus with a beautiful sanctuary that is never more than 30% full except ‘Christmas and Easter’. 6 months of the year it is 10% full. We rarely have more than 35 people for the 9:00 ‘contemporary’ service.

    I haven’t said a word. But spending a million (now 1 1/4 million) improving the facility isn’t going to change anything, and it is certainly not the ‘church’ Jesus had in mind. There was a time, years ago, when your ministry in Naples had a vibrant home church program. That felt like church. I miss that feeling.

    • Thanks for showing up here, Greg, and for your thoughtful comments. Those were the halcyon days of being fully alive. It all seemed a great adventure and the community was real and precious. I think back to it often and wonder at all that was lost.

  3. Jo Beth Viggiano

    Can relate on so many levels, Cathee. And the church seems to keep trying to reinvent itself and missing the mark more often than not. Harsh words, I know, but these are troubled times. In losing the sense of community and relationships, minus solid teaching is taking a huge toll.

  4. I am so blessed. Our church is a strong Bible teaching church and I leave almost every week filled with His Spirit. With all going on in my family God has placed us in this wonderful church. I love your blogs and glad you spoke about this. It’s a real problem in our nation.

  5. Cathee,thank you for your words…I remember talking to you about this a few years back..I appreciate you putting into words what I have been feeling for many years….I don’t know what the answer is…I remember saying to you..”I’m not sure what is is what I’m looking for…but I know what I’m NOT”… and miss you!!

  6. a message of many colors for sure-straight forward and real-i too being in the autumn of my life am amazed at my path’s. In a small full up church that reaches up and out with HIS message–i know that i’m blessed and yet know that my walk should be showing HIS love more especially in just the daily things i do. sometimes the path’s aren’t colorful at each turn but its still His steps i will seek to follow

    • So glad you are in a wonderful fellowship, Sandy. Just know you are loved exactly as you are. Rest securely in that, my friend. As you follow the Spirit’s leading daily, you are fully pleasing to God.

  7. Thank you for speaking my mind! In the early 1970s when Arthur Blessett and Corrie ten Boom spoke in my Baptist church, I was captured and 40-plus years later have yet to find a local church that allows “such things” even in a home group. Celebration Church in Naples came pretty close!

  8. I am sorry Cathee that writing our family group lessons has inhibited your writing to some degree but also want to make it clear what a blessing it has been to me and the entire group of family groups at South Oak. We are diving deeper into God’s word than we were previously and though you do not always get to see the impact, trust me it has had a huge impact on all of us. Thank you so much for all you do and for this writing as well. Your sister in Christ. Diana Council

    • Sweet, sweet Diana. I did not mean to imply that I had to choose one or the other. It’s only been me making excuses for not settling into what’s required of me to do both. I really love writing lessons. But thank you so much for letting me know that you see a shift. I love that. And YOU!

  9. Lynne Jones Lawler

    Oh, Cathee…this was both beautiful and thought provoking!
    I guess I am in the early Autumn of my life now but I spent so much of my life trying to figure out where I belonged and how to “do this Christian life” that I feel like I’m behind.
    I want to catch up! Thanks for the reminder, my friend.
    Love and hugs to you~

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