An aluminum double boiler, hand-embroidered tea towels, pocket knives, Papua New Guinea weapons, army metal ammunition boxes, 50 gallon drums, vintage suitcases, antique cameras in pristine condition, melamine dishes we used as children, a Samurai sword my father brought back from Japan, the 1953 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook my mother fed us from—all things that caught my eye among my parents’ possessions as I helped sort, distribute and clean out their home last week.
Some were from childhood days—melamine dishes. Some were newer acquisitions—Grandpa’s handmade bookcase. Some brought back vivid memories—a jar candle that sat in our bathroom unlit. Others I had no idea even existed—army rings from Manila. Others were curiosities—a 1911 manual on “Nature’s Secrets.” And some made us laugh—gourds from PNG village men.
But it was the volume of letters, cards and photos that my mother saved from her children, family and friends that truly blew me away. These pieces of paper were the only means of connection we had with loved ones who served God so far away. They represented hours and hours of time invested in handwriting and typing letters that took two weeks to cross the ocean. And so mom painstakingly folded, catalogued and stored each one.
And then of course there were the nick nacks, kitchen utensils, clothing and unwanted furniture we carted to Goodwill. And then finally the stuff to be thrown away. Large items on the front curb and small stuff in trash bags. Dusty, dried flower arrangements, costume jewelry, magazines, things dad said he was going to fix one day, and every cardboard box ever received and every used. Junk, really. But as the adage goes, “one man’s junk….”
We will never know what it all really meant to them. Why did they save the things they did? I ponder what this teaches me about what they valued?
The saved correspondence tells me my mother valued connection with loved ones. The many translation materials and Bible-helps speaks to their value of the Scriptures, the Word of God. The memorabilia from Papua New Guinea, the suitcases and the drums depict the value of serving God as missionaries. And the saved boxes, jars, plastic items, magazines fairly shouts of their value to never throw anything away, to repurpose whatever they could and to accept any gift that was given to them.
Honoring ones parents is a strange thing. Suddenly they are gone and the stuff, the material stuff, stays here. What was collected over a life time, used, treasured and stored is now touched, remembered, laughed at, kept or tossed by the ones left behind. My siblings and I seemed to keep the things that brought either an emotional or a practical response. So what does this say about our values?
Dad’s pocket watch had meaning because it came from his grandfather and he played with it as a boy. Their wedding rings symbolized the love and oneness that created our whole household. Mom’s good silverware set reminded me of her gift of hospitality and the many meals I helped her prepare for guests. We valued the items that were loved by my parents.
So as I reflect on last week, I wonder what Jesus valued? He tells us in the Gospel of Matthew:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.Matthew 22:36–40
Jesus valued his Father, love and relationships. When we value someone, we value the things they value. I experienced that last week.
Do you value what Jesus valued? Do you retain what meant the world to him or do you hang onto things that he would throw away?
Thank you Lord, for my parents, for my siblings and for my heritage you blessed us with. Going through mom and dad’s belongings was hard work but it provided reminders of love, home, friendship, the Word of God and service to you. Help me to put the physical stuff in it’s rightful place and value what You value.