We moved my dad into an assisted living apartment last week. It’s going to be a good place for him. He is safe, will get good meals, has his meds regulated and has friends there that he has known for decades. Dad embraced the move with genuine joy and gratitude, and already seems more settled and at peace than he has been in weeks.
But in order to get him there, my brother John and I had to move dad from the house in which he has lived for nearly 45 years—and that was a major task. Forty-five years in one house means there’s a lot of stuff tucked in lots of nooks and crannies. (OK, there was a massive amount of stuff in every single nook and cranny!)
You see, my mom and dad were children of the Depression, part of that generation that doesn’t throw anything away because ‘I might need that someday”. They were also interested in antique collectibles such as model cars, tea pots, canes, teddy bears, whisk brooms, corkscrews, etc.
But on top of all that, they simply kept everything. So, opening drawers or files or digging through a pile of magazines was constantly yielding some surprising treasure. We found numerous items from our school years, their first passbook savings book from 1958, dad’s Army-issued Bible from when he served during the Korean conflict, and several of Mom’s old eyeglasses. There were boxes with every letter my brother or I had ever written them, and another with all the Valentine’s, birthday and Mother’s Day cards my dad had sent mom through the years. There were multiple church bulletins, vacation memories, concert and play tickets. There was the letter the pastor wrote me when I made a profession of faith in Jesus. Then there were some really odd items that you wouldn’t believe if I told you—the sort of find where John or I would shout to the other room, ‘You’re not going to believe this” and then stand there together in open-mouthed, shake-your-head amazement. To borrow James Earl Jones’ great line from Field of Dreams, “the memories were so thick we had to brush them away from our faces.”
In a weird sort of way, this was like going on an archaeological dig into our own family history. Every layer we peeled back told us another part of their story, which is, truth be told, our story. There was love and grief and activity and work and play and family and church and faith and finances and hobbies and doctor’s visits and more. It certainly isn’t the whole story, but those saved items are solid, tactile and remind us of aspects of our parents’ legacy to us.
Of course, today we live in a much more temporary world. Financial statements are on-line. Letters are replaced by e-mail or Facebook posts or tweets. Items we buy are planned to be replaced. So, tracking a story by stuff is going to be increasingly difficult.
But I still wonder…what am I adding to the layers of my life that will tell my story in four or five decades? What do I want people to excavate that will tell the story of my life? It’s not so much the stuff (though somebody might want the books or the CD’s), but relationships—deep friendships marked by love, patience, authenticity, grace and laughter; being a disciple—an apprentice to Jesus whose life fleshes out His, leaves the fragrance of grace behind, and consistently points to Glory; disciple-making –investing in people’s souls to help them take the next step in living with Jesus at the center of life and serving with a faith-family to reach the word with His life; delighting in and living out the gospel—and sharing it with far-from-God people; spreading beauty and wonder – through creativity, words, music, drama and more; and serving the real-life needs of people who are often the last, last, lost and left out.
Every life has layers– some profound, some ordinary, some trivial.
I want my layers to leave a legacy—
a Jesus-shaped, gospel-saturated, love-for-others legacy.