Maple syrup is on our list of “a few favorite things.” We put it on pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, milk–and it never hurts to just eat it off the spoon! For the last three years, we had the privilege of boiling down our own maple syrup at the place we rented in Michigan. Last August, when we moved to Missouri for training, we carefully and wistfully packed up our remaining jars (“only” eight gallons!) and drove away, not knowing if we’d ever get a chance to experience “sap season” again.
It’s the small, simple things in life that give you a sense of belonging. The traditions, the smells, the companionship and laughter, the familiar tastes and sights and sounds. During maple syrup season, we always smelled of woodsmoke and fresh air; the boys delighted in their freedom to romp outside at all hours and experience the slow onset of a northern Spring.
This year, maple syrup season in Michigan has come and gone without us. Family and friends back home have carried on the tradition as usual, but we’ve only experienced it through photos and comments. And there’s a strange little pain inside us that goes deeper than just missing out on the good flavor of fresh maple syrup.
It’s a growing realization that we might never feel “at home” again. It’s a sense of lost identity that’s all wrapped up in homey, familiar things like morning frost and squashing mud and billowing steam. The thud of a mallet and the crackle of burning logs and the sting of smoke in your eyes. And along with all of this, we know that we’ll be saying goodbye to more important things–the friends that would stay up past midnight with us, finishing off that last gallon of syrup. The easy camaraderie of chatting around the fire. The loved ones that have received a Christmas bow-tied jar of the sticky goodness every year.
It’s this poignant, homesick feeling that keeps reminding us of what’s most important. He is worthy. He is risen. And there are a lot of people far away from our beloved maple trees who need to hear it. The apostle Peter calls us “the people of God…strangers and foreigners on the earth” (1 Pet. 2:10, 11). This is the identity we must embrace in this life. Yes, it’s painful at times. But our comfort comes in knowing that the God who holds our citizenship in Heaven is the same God who makes the maples flow.