Eleven-year-old Ashley slowly made her way down a crooked path that wound through the frosted hush of the October woods. She paused in a little patch of misted light that sifted through the leafy gold canopy, softening the early morning chill. She rubbed her arms, shivering at an inner cold that the sunlight couldn’t reach, the same cold that had frozen her father’s face in a mask of sorrow.
Ashley couldn’t see the unhappiness on her father’s face, because she had been blind since birth, but she could hear it in his voice and in the silence that had replaced his laughter when her mother died. It had been almost a whole year, but still—
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden burst of wings. Something or someone had startled a large bird nearby, and it erupted skyward.
A moment later a gentle voice said, “It’s me, Ashley—Michelle.” Ashley felt Michelle’s hand slip about hers. “You should have waited for me at your cabin.” Michelle’s voice was as light and airy as the wind-spun autumn leaves that danced in the yellow wood. “I was on my way to get you.”
“It’s OK,” Ashley said. “I know this path almost as well as these trees do. I’ve been coming here every day for the past two weeks.”
Michelle glanced about at the golden silence. “It is pretty,” she admitted, “but well—since you can’t see, what is it that—” The sadness she saw in the dark, sightless eyes made her pause.
“You said that there are lots of yellows here at this time of year,” Ashley explained. “Remember when I asked you what yellow looked like? You told me it was a happy, warm color—like the sun, like a smile.” She reached through the blackness of her world and touched a yellow aspen leaf. “That’s why I come here. I keep hoping that somehow it will help me feel happy so that I can help my father smile again.”
Michelle squeezed Ashley’s hand. “It is beautiful here. But even if you could see, I don’t think all the yellows in the world could mend a heart for more than a moment.”
Ashley leaned against a leafless tree, feeling as empty as the branches above her. “You’re happy, Michelle. Why? I mean, you lost your brother in that millpond accident just last summer. And then your father’s fruit crop failed because of the late freeze, and he had to sell half his land.”
“I guess our testimonies keep us happy,” Michelle said thoughtfully.
“Knowing that God lives,” Michelle returned simply, “that He loves us, that He allows us difficulties in our lives to help us grow. My mother says that a candle shines brightest in the blackest night.”
I know a lot about the blackest night, Ashley thought as the two girls started down the path in a rush of tumbling leaves. What she wanted to know more about were testimonies. “Tell me more,” she begged.
“They’re growing things, Ashley,” Michelle explained. “A testimony starts small, like the first light at dawn, then gets bigger and warmer like the sun at noonday, like the brightest of autumn leaves. But you have to work at it,” she added as the pair walked toward her farmhouse for a day of play. “You have to feel your way along like you do in these woods, only with your heart. All of it.”
“Will you help me get one, Michelle?”
Michelle stopped and faced her friend. “I can’t give you a testimony,” she answered kindly. “All I can do is share mine with you, and—” Michelle’s voice relayed her sudden idea. “Maybe there is a way I can help you, Ashley! Tomorrow is Sunday, and someone very special is coming to speak at our meetinghouse.”
“Who is it?”
“A prophet, Ashley. A prophet of God.”
Later, as Ashley waited impatiently for her father to return home from his job at the factory in Harperville, she listened to the wall clock tick like a tired heartbeat. At length she heard the rattle of a flatbed wagon and the snorting of spent horses outside. A few minutes later her father stood in the doorway.
“Hi, Ash, it’s me.” Papa’s voice sounded tired. “It was a long day, hon.” He sat down beside her and sighed wearily. “A long day.” He regarded his daughter in the ruddy haze of late-day window light. “What is it?”
“It’s a meeting, Papa! Tomorrow morning at Michelle’s church. Someone special is coming to talk to them. Will you take me, Papa? Please.”
Papa sighed again. “On my only day off? Not tomorrow, sweetheart. I’m so worn out I could sleep on a fence post for a week! I need tomorrow to—”
“Please, Papa?” Ashley implored again.
“Not tomorrow. Another time maybe.”
Papa patted her head, rose to his feet with a tired grunt, and disappeared into his room. “Wake me when the clock chimes again, and I’ll fix us something to eat,” he called back.
That night Ashley prayed that her father would somehow change his mind about the meeting, then drifted off into a troubled sleep.
Early the next morning, Ashley felt someone gently waking her “Ash? If we’re going to make that meeting on time we’d better get ourselves ready.”
Ashley sat up. “Papa! But I thought you were too tired.”
“It’s hard to believe,” Papa replied, “but when I woke up this morning, I felt more rested than if I had slept for a week of Sundays. So are you going to get up, or grow old in bed?” Papa ran his hand through the girl’s tangled hair, then left the room.
For a moment Ashley just lay in bed, reflecting on an answered prayer. She felt as if something was glowing inside her like the dawn’s first light streaming unseen through the curtains on her bedroom window.
At church, Ashley sat with Michelle on one side and Papa on the other, listening to a prophet’s voice. Ashley didn’t have to see the man behind the pulpit to know that he spoke with authority. She could feel it. The comfort, peace, and sweet assurance of his voice settled over her like the patchwork comforter her mother had made for her. He spoke with penetrating assuredness of the living God, the resurrection, and the reuniting of loved ones in the world to come.
Papa’s hand found hers, and squeezed it. Tears filled her sightless eyes and spilled down her cheeks. She felt her father’s body shake with emotion and knew that he was shedding tears of his own.
At that moment Ashley knew what yellow autumn leaves looked like. They were bright and beautiful, and they glowed—like her testimony. Like happy months and years ahead. Like a certain little cabin by the October woods, now even on the darkest of days.