In our basement there’s a closet that holds the really old stuff of our lives. Some of it’s necessary—income tax forms for the past ten years—but much of it is just old: My collection of organ and piano music—a relic of the time in my life when that was my passionate capability. Photos from my parents’ early days. Home decorations from Chris and my first apartments. Our college-era correspondence. The stuff of memories, these artifacts help us recall who we were those many years ago—way back in the mid- to late-20th century!
Another closet-dweller: A large covered bin labelled COLLECTED WORKS. Stored here are single copies of every one of the published resources I developed or authored over my more than fifty years of professional ministry. (A number of these items are Chris’ works or the projects we worked on together.)
From time to time I find a reason to rummage through the contents of that container. They include curricula—Sunday school, Vacation bible school, intergenerational learning, youth ministry—for several church bodies, multiple-session courses, devotions, filmstrip sets, posters, journal articles, professional papers, family devotional books, and even a Christmas card idea that Chris and I once tried to sell to a now-shuttered Catholic publishing house!
Each examination of these writings brings to mind some important observations. Because my mission was always to create useful resources for congregational leaders, that container is more like a toolbox than a museum display case. Remarkably, much of what I/we wrote all those years ago could still work today. (Even the filmstrip series!) The concepts carry weight, the learning activities are exciting, the writing is crisp and inviting. Because Chris and I often worked at the front edges of congregational life, few of these tools seem outdated, supplanted by current materials or approaches.
Another thought: I don’t know how/when/where these tools were actually used. After each item was published—and made available through denominational channels—I couldn’t answer the tool-maker’s lingering question: “Did these resources accomplish something?” This phenomenon—the invisibility of the users—is true for many creative endeavors, so I understand that I may never know if any of these tools made a difference. That’s a normal part of any word-related craft, so I’m thankful that I was privileged to be that kind of steward.
Broadening my perspective here, I am quite sure that many of us who are older may also have our own collections of artifacts–items that might show our usefulness over decades. I’ve been in enough dens and family rooms of older workers to have seen shelves and walls filled with trophies, certificates, awards, hobbies and photos that establish a certain fact: The old stuff of our lives reminds us how we’ve been useful over the years. (And yes, those photos can tell the story of our devotion to family members, friends and colleagues who may walk in our footsteps.) These items also remind us of God’s grace in our lives, and can spark gratitude for our blessings over time.
These artifacts of our past can gently unfreeze our memories and assure us that we have been good stewards of what God has given us. Because they can last beyond our lifetimes, the memory-makers in our homes can extend into the future the effects of our faithful witness to God’s presence.
Today might be a good time for you to poke around in your closets, looking for the old stuff that could reignite joyful appreciation about your life, and that could offer your loved ones some perspective on your personality, thought processes or lifework.
Perhaps as far back as a previous century!
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