It is June, and I count my blessings.
Vines dripping in snap peas. Bowl after bowl of strawberries. Lettuces grown so large, I cradle one leafy head like a toddler in my arms. And carrots. I’ve never had much luck with carrots, but, this year, carrot tops are waving in the breeze like a dense fern forest.
And these are not my only blessings. Four wild, whooping noisemakers munch on raw peas and hunt for strawberries. Two boys can usually be found up a tree. One small girl runs after the kitties, grabs small green cherries from the low-hanging branches of the sour cherry tree, and never looks back at the big sister who follows, calling, “Elsa, come back. Elsa, are you ready to go inside?”
Yet even blessings can weigh you down and wear you out. Four small faces sticky with berry juice seem to ask more of me than I have to give.
We like to speak of callings. We acknowledge the dignity of difficult work when we say I am called to this.
And parents do the same. I am called to mother. I am called to father. But I have always imagined a calling to be like the revelation of something already there. God has called me to be a writer. God has called you to be a teacher. Or an encourager. Or a farmer. This is calling as the meeting place of God’s work and your talent.
Which is why I have never said I am called to be a mother. I am blessed, richly blessed, with four young children, but I have no particular talent for the work involved. On tired afternoons, I might even say my need for quiet, alone time makes me especially unsuited for the job.
Perhaps I have misunderstood the word. Perhaps a calling has nothing to do with talent or giftedness or any kind of suitability at all. Was a poet shepherd suited to battle giants? Was a young boy asleep in the temple especially gifted at hearing the voice of God?
It seems he wasn’t. Three times Samuel got up from his bed having confused the voice of heaven’s King with the voice of his master Eli.
And so I acknowledge all the ways I can never measure up to the blessings I’ve been given. But I will follow in Samuel’s incompetent but faithful footsteps. I will say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
And I will tell of what I hear.
Because our God calls.
I recently discovered that my house is surrounded by azaleas.
I came to this brilliant conclusion because spring arrived (our first in this new home), and the bushes I’d never really noticed turned brilliant pink and flowery almost overnight.
Next to the extravagance of these azaleas the flower beds in the front of our house suddenly looked sparse. There were big empty spots, and I worried about finding time to purchase and plant perennials. My days are overfull as it is just making snacks for children. In the small spaces of time when I am not making snacks, I am trying to get the new vegetable garden planted.
That’s when I noticed the fiddlehead ferns. Well, not the ferns, just the fiddleheads, really. It looked as if bright green violins had begun sprouting all around the azaleas.
I vaguely remembered seeing ferns when we moved in late last summer. I realized I could probably hold off on planting. I could wait and be surprised. Who knew what else might emerge.
Like the dogwood tree. Also, a second dogwood tree. Apparently, I can’t identify most trees unless it’s spring and they are flowering. There’s also a crabapple in the corner I’d never noticed. And roses. So many roses are tucked along the fence line, but I had no idea how many there were until I went around inspecting every square inch for poison ivy.
For me, this first spring is all about surprise. My eyes are wide-open, and I have begun expecting hidden wonders to reveal themselves at every turn.
It has reminded me of the birth of my fourth baby, Elsa Spring. When I first looked at her she felt both familiar and utterly surprising. I loved her, she belonged to me, but I did not know her. She would reveal herself to me only in time. Anticipating that slow revelation carried me through so many heavy, hard newborn days.
I hardly know this place, but it is home. We are planting trees and putting down roots (quite literally), and the horizon of our dreams is farther out than we have ever seen it.
When I imagine teenagers, they are slipping through these bedroom windows to sun themselves on the roof of the porch. When I imagine weddings, I picture them here beneath the avenue of maple trees. When I consider grandchildren, I see them playing beneath the apple trees that are, today, more like apple sticks.
Until this spring, home meant familiar and comfortable. The place you know so well you no longer see it.
I’m discovering that home might be familiar and surprising. Our true home is not the place we no longer see, but the place (or state of mind?) that keeps us wide awake with wonder.
Home is where we expect good things. Home is where we say, with shining eyes and hope in our hearts, What next? What next? Is there more?
And there is always more.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle