David and I spent Thanksgiving week in Louisiana with his family. We have a friend there who does estate sales. He goes into the homes of people who have died or who are seriously down-sizing and organizes and sells their stuff. When we were there, he was working on the largest sale of his career, and we were invited for a private preview.
The “estate” wasn’t what I expected. It was a rather small two-story house on a tiny lot. It was old and shabby and didn’t look like it would contain much of interest. Inside there were cracks in the wall and holes in the ceiling, and even though our friend had put over 100 man hours into cleaning and organizing, the air was still musty and the dust threatened to throw us all into a sneezing fit.
Once inside, we were drawn into the experience – looking through the trash and the treasures that had
been accumulated throughout a lifetime and left behind when that life ended. There were trinkets and knick knacks that would probably be marked down as the sale progressed, finally selling for pennies or ending up in the church thrift store. And there were treasures – expensive china and crystal, jewelry and furs, furniture and artwork.
The woman who had owned the house and its contents had never married. She spent the last 9 years of her life in a hospital bed on the sun porch with the drapes drawn. She died at the age of 99 leaving behind a couple of siblings but no one who cared about the material things she had collected. As I wandered through her home, I wondered about the stories behind all those things and why they were important to her.
A couple of weeks earlier, I had an opportunity of a different kind – an opportunity to see someone who wasn’t concerned about seeing how much stuff he could collect but rather how he could use what he had to help someone.
David and I were at our local hardware-and-everything-else store looking for a new wheel for our wheelbarrow when we ran into “Bob” and his wife. We chatted for a while, and then he asked David if he knew anything about installing a water heater.
“Sure,” said David. “I had to put a new one in our house this summer.”
Bob went on to explain about “Jane,” a lady in town who was having a hard time. She had been very ill, but had continued to work throughout the extensive treatments required. She works in a small retail store where she has been for 16 years. She’s a loyal employee who has risen to a responsible position, but the pay isn’t much. She has medical insurance, but deductibles and co-pays have put an added strain on her already stretched budget.
On a recent visit to Jane’s store, Bob was chatting with her, checking to see how she was getting along. She was thrilled to be finished with her treatments and excited to show off her new hairdo – ¼ inch of velvety peach fuzz. He probed to see if she needed anything, and she finally confided that her water heater had given up the ghost several months before. When we ran into Bob, he and his wife were on their way to spend their Christmas money on a water heater, and he was enlisting help to install it.
A couple of days later I tagged along with Bob and David and another friend when they went to install the new appliance. I visited with Jane while we watched the men work. She proudly showed me pictures of her granddaughter and encouraged me to run my hand over her soft, new hair. There was no hint of complaint in her stories, but her eyes sparkled with anticipation.
“I’ve been washing all my laundry in cold water, boiling water on the stove to wash dishes, and taking cold showers. The cold showers aren’t bad when it’s really hot outside, but last week when we had that early freeze it wasn’t much fun.”
As I thought about these two very different situations, I was reminded of what Jesus said about treasure in Matthew 6:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I wonder what the woman in Louisiana thought about during those last nine years on the sun porch. Did she know that her collection of expensive purses was crumbling from dry rot? Did she know what was in those stacks of things outlining narrow paths through the house, and did she remember what was in those unpacked boxes in the garage?
Then I wondered about Bob and what he might think about in his last days and hours on earth. He probably won’t remember that, on Christmas morning of 2013, his tree was a little bare because he spent his gift money elsewhere. But I have a feeling he’ll remember Jane’s hug of thanks and her excited phone call after her first warm shower in months.
And I wonder what Jesus would have to say about these stories. I have a feeling he’d look at Bob and say, “Now that’s what I was talking about.”
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