Earth spins the dust off another day, and the sun melts orange across my Iowa sky.
I grab the Nikon from the kitchen counter, and slip feet into dirty flip-flops by the back door. Anna says she’s coming, too. We head to the patch of grass where etched stones mark the lives of the saints.
“Are you scared of cemeteries, Mommy?” she asks from the backseat.
“No… Are you?” I look in the rear-view mirror, and she’s looking out past fields, counting up her fears.
“No, I’m not scared of cemeteries either,” she pauses. “But I am scared of bears and sharks. What are you scared of, Mommy?”
“Just snakes mostly, … I guess.”
I turn west, squinting into the sinking sun. And I consider the things that really do scare me — things I don’t think I can articulate to a six-year-old who measures fear by the number of sharp teeth in a mouth.
I suppose we’ll be buried here, in a graveyard established five years after the Civil War ended. It’s across the road from the country church where we worship every Sunday; it’s one mile from the home where we’re raising crops and kids.
Yes, I ‘spect we’ll be buried here. But only God knows, really. I scan the horizon, wondering where our grown-up family might gather, huddled, by holes cut in the Iowa dirt. I think a spot near that big old Norway spruce might be nice.
But I’m not scared of dying — not anymore.
And truth is, I don’t much care where these old bones lay. I just want to know that I’ve satisfied His calling on my life before the spade turns dirt for my grave. Before they etch the stone with the dates.
For this is my deepest fear: That I will have missed my calling before I die.
When the sun melts orange across my life, will I have lived these years the way He had planned for me?
It could easily go the other way. Because I’m easily charmed by all of the vain things. These are the things that threaten His calling on my life: the pride and the search for man’s approval and the hope that someone will notice me and that they’ll like me — that they’ll really like me. Will vanity will stand in the way of what I was really supposed to do?
I don’t think I can articulate all of that to a six-year-old. I’m not sure — even now as I write — that I can articulate it to myself … and to you.
“There’s my favorite tombstone, Anna, the one with the big cross.” I point it out, and she says it’s her favorite, too.
We walk past rows and fake flowers and fresh humps of dirt to stop at the stone, to stare silent at the Jesus nailed to the cross. She has a pocket full of red craft sequins, and I don’t want her to litter, but I let her leave a few at the base of the gravemarker.
And I leave a few things there, too — a few burdens I’ve been carrying around. What I drop is invisible, but it’s litter all the same.
All of this life finds proper perspective in the place where three nails meet the depravity of humanity. At the cross of Christ, this I know: our richest gains are loss in comparison to knowing Jesus.
I know that if I’m ever really going to answer His calling on my life, I must fully grasp that truth — not just in words here, but in the daily practice of my life.
I bend down on a knee to snap a picture, and I whisper a prayer that somehow my girls will see their mama living in a way that seeks hard after her calling, not for personal glory but for the glory of the Father.
And I call out to Him — spirit to Spirit: Help me, Lord, because I don’t want to miss it.
He must become greater;
I must become less.
— John 3:30