The Stuff of Our Lives

Dear Mom and Dad, I’m having a blast at camp.  We won the cleanest cabin award!  We had a bear hunt, and someone dressed up as a wolf!  Love, Tallie

We laughed so hard that we cried as our children sorted through boxes of stuff that I saved for them over the years.  Sitting on the living room floor we made 5 piles: trash, keep, paper recycle, other recycle, and Goodwill.  I was astounded at number of boxes I had accumulated over the years.  Now it was time for the kids to decide for themselves what to keep and what to let go. 

Dear Mom and Dad, I am homesick, and I want to come home.  Will you come and pick me up, please?  Love, Sarah

For some reason, Sarah, Garth, and Tallie got the biggest kick out of the letters they wrote home from the United Methodist camps they attended as children: Lake Michigan, Wesley Woods, and Crystal Springs.  By the time they made it to Lake Louise as teenagers, they were no longer interested in writing home!  United Methodist summer camp was a big part of their life.  Our children made friends with whom they still keep in contact, and I suspect they always seemed to feel closer to God at camp.

Next day: Dear Mom and Dad, I am so so.  I still wish I could go home, but I know I have to stay.  Maybe you guys can be counselors next year.  Monday was a very long and horrible day.  P.S. I’m kinda having a little fun today, but I miss you a lot.  Love, Sarah

How do you sort through the stuff of a life, even for children in their 20’s who have just entered adulthood?  A necklace made out of snake bones; a soccer jersey, a pair of baby shoes; that first little suit and tie; a Tae Kwan Do uniform; a cross country jacket; a golf team shirt; a Little League hat; a favorite church dress; trolls and unicorns; pogs and baseball cards; stickers and Barbie dolls.  One child said, “Mom, thanks so much for saving these things for us.  They are bringing back memories that I would have forgotten forever.”

Dear Mom and Dad, I am having fun at camp.  There is one girl who keeps taking pictures of the boys. I am having fun.  Love, Garth

Leaf collections; spelling bee trophies; original stories, poems, and papers; assorted casts and splints; varsity letters; honor society pins; a dreadful Odyssey of the Mind project which garnered second to last place; a drawing of a dream house, complete with casino, movie theater, arcade room, 5 pools, tennis court, ice cream shop, library, and snack bar.  Another child said, “I never realized how much writing I did as a child.  I think I should start writing again.”  

2 days later: Dear Mom and Dad, I really like the food here.  It is better than Crystal Springs Art and Athletics Camp.  I still wonder why that girl keeps taking pictures of us.  I lost the addresses of Mimi and Pop-pop and Grammy and Grandpop.  Love, Garth

A few weeks ago Gary and I visited one of our retired pastors, who showed us his new apartment at Clark Retirement Community.  We talked about the paintings on the wall of every church he had served as well as the various mementos that symbolized the places and people that were important to him.  He said, “In this apartment I am surrounded by nostalgia, and it is a sentimental journey.  The few things that I have been able to keep remind me of the people who have meant the most to me.” 

Dear Mr. Gillette, I especially liked going to the Hall of Justice and being able to listen in on a real murder trial.  I also really enjoyed going out to eat at the fine restaurant, Tinsel Town.  Fortunately, my mom got the ketchup out of my shirt!  Thank you again for taking the time to mentor me.  Sincerely, Garth Haller (letter to an attorney whom Garth shadowed in 8th grade)

As we look back on our lives, we cannot fail to acknowledge the help, support, and prayers of family, friends, teachers, and church members.  Garth did not end up becoming an attorney, but he never forgot that Bob Gillette graciously allowed him to tag along for a day and learn what attorneys do.  In the end, stuff doesn’t matter.  What matters is people.  None of us journey alone.  We’d never make it to adulthood without those who cared enough to love us unconditionally, teach us, discipline us, mentor us, encourage us, and pray for us. 

Dear Mom, Dad, Tallie, and Sarah, I’m having a good time at camp.  Some of the food is good, the rest is yucky.  My friend just said, “Garth made us be quiet during horizontal hour.”  So long for now.  Sincerely, Garth  P.S. Send candy.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, we are reminded of Jesus’ life and ministry as the light of the world.  I wonder what Jesus’ life was like before he became a traveling preacher with no place to lay his head.  Did he have any treasured possessions?  Wooden animals, balls, puzzles?  Did he ever go to a Jewish camp and write letters home?  Did Mary keep a few favorite items that would later remind Jesus of who he was as a child?  From the gospels I can only surmise that Jesus was not attached to things.  He lived fully in the moment, relied on others to supply his needs, and did not hoard money or stuff. 

Dear Garth, Don’t let the bedbugs bite!  Just kidding!  Mom ate the Snickers that was in the fridge, and sorry to say, but I have no candy to send you.  How are things going at camp?  Elizabeth, Sarah’s friend, found out that, on average, every person eats/swallows 6 spiders a year at night asleep.  Spiders can easily get into your tent!  Love Talitha (the letter includes a drawing of Garth in his sleeping bag with a spider in its web above him)

I’m not big into stuff, including spiders.  I like to think that I travel lightly through life and recycle what I don’t need.  Could I get rid of everything, though?  I don’t think so.  I am just now parting with seminary textbooks and notebooks and am scanning pre-computer sermons and papers.  As I sort through my own stuff, I am so grateful that I kept pictures, diaries, and letters that bring back vivid memories of my life.  I just discovered the diary that I kept during 1974-75 when I was studying at the Berlin (West Germany) Church Music School. 

October 18, 1974 Dear Diary, It was almost like a dream when I was called to the phone yesterday, and it was my father!  He said, “Guess where I am?  I’m in Germany, and I am flying to Berlin tomorrow to visit you.”  I can honestly say that I have never been so surprised in all my life as when he called.  I was literally shaking with excitement for about a half hour after he called.  How many times does your father come to visit you in Berlin?  Praise be to God for giving me a father like I have.” 

It’s ironic.  The box where I found my diary from Germany was labeled “Laurie’s Treasures: College.”  There is no treasure on earth that my father has ever given me that will outlast the memory of his surprise gift of time and presence in October of 1974.  But each box that I carried up from the basement for our children to sort through had the same label: “Sarah’s Treasures 1st Grade; Garth’s Treasures 5th Grade; Talitha’s treasures: 11th grade.”

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)   

Dear Garth, I hope you’re having a great time at camp.  Despite what Talitha drew below (a picture of a person throwing up, which is what Tallie said she planned to do when Garth came back home), she does miss you.  It’s pretty quiet at home without you around.  Tallie is at the church with me, and we are about to go home.  Love, Mom

I tape up the boxes with the treasures that we decide to keep and store them back down in the basement.  The parable of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 pops into my head. “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 

Could it be that the “treasures” of our lives are really the treasures of heaven and point us to the One who created, nurtured, and loved us into birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age?  Stuff reminds us that loving relationships, security, curiosity, adventure, possibility, hope, connection, laughter, joy, and servanthood lie at the heart of faithful living. At the same time stuff is not an end in itself.  Stuff cautions us to be on guard for the ways in which money and things can consume our lives. 

Could you and I let go of the stuff of our lives and cling only to Jesus?  Could we give up our cell phone, computer, and car?  Could we make it with only a Bible and the clothes on our back and give the rest away?  Why do we continue to acquire so much if the treasures of heaven are all that we need?  As I keep sorting through the stuff my own life, one day at a time, I wonder.

Blessings,
Laurie

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