This year, I’m appreciating fall in a new way. I credit my sister-in-law, the one who has moved back to Ohio after seven years away from our version of fall, with this heightened awareness of the beauty around me.

I usually notice it, mind you. This is one of my favorite times of the year. But I can’t help doing a double take more often when I pass a tree with flaming red leaf tips or a particularly brilliant patch of orange. I spy a combine in a field or a tractor pulling a load of grain down the road, and I think of how she’d be pointing her camera without a second’s hesitation.

Her enthusiasm for the changing leaves and the many forms of harvest all around has me smiling. On her way to take her daughters and our nieces and nephew to school, she’s bound to stop and take a picture. They laugh, but she challenges them to look around and see the loveliness they have taken for granted.

It’s so easy to take things in life for granted, from the exquisite fall fashion show right outside my window to the people who pepper my life with blessings. In this season of things dying and gorgeous color, I find myself reflective. As a foot edges into my ribcage, proof of new life within, I think of the life we can’t forget and the grief that hovers on the edge of our days.

I find myself wondering if there were flowers blooming on the path winding to Golgotha, if there was evidence of hope even there, in the desolation surrounding the Cross. I clutch my rosary this month, in the midst of rainbows in trees and cerulean skies and apples everywhere, and I think of how it took the Cross to achieve the Resurrection.

There’s some comfort in that, but it’s distant somehow. The fact that there’s a host of shocking color and breathtaking splendor everywhere I drive feels more concrete, more like evidence of God’s love and His hand in the working of things.

Fall is a time of things dying, and the dying is beautiful. How can this be? When I examine it closer, I struggle to apply it, to make it more than a theory that applies only to agriculture and nature.

These pictures I found on my camera, evidence of a passion that can’t be dampened even in the face of heartache and tragedy, give me hope the same way that meditating on the crucifix gives me hope. They speak to me of so much more than Ohio autumns and someone with an eye for my taste.

There is hope. There is always hope.

I think this must be the way that Mary, even as she faced the incredible pain of the Cross, comforted the disciples and those around her. I think of my sister-in-law, facing her own struggles, as my very own Mary, living proof that God not only loves me, but that He will reach down constantly and touch me through every aspect of my life.

Maybe, in fact, that’s what we are to each other, each of us, as we face the uncertainties of life and the hurdles in front of us. Maybe we have Mary beside us to guide us in how we are to minister to each other, how we are to, most importantly, love each other.

For that, I’m thankful. With a dose of apple butter and a bright streak of maple leaves on top.