I admit it, I am a “box guy,” that is, I use boxes to organize my life … always have. Even as a kid, I kept my Christmas presents in their boxes until July! Some people use computers for storage, not me. Examples? I am so glad you asked. In my study were boxes of illustrations, articles to read, papers to file, correspondence with congregants and sermons. At home are boxes of photos, personal memorabilia, books, letters, cards, and more.
Having recently retired, remarried, and relocating, I am currently sifting through dozens of boxes which contain in large measure the story of my life. I invite you to take a few minutes to join me in opening a few of these … and see if you can relate.
Box 1 contains my sports memorabilia – baseball and basketball trophies, Varsity letters, even a 2nd place medal in the “Punt, Pass, and Kick” competition when I was 10 years old. There are two letters of invitation to the Reds and Pirates try-outs (nope, didn’t make it), signed baseballs, and, well, you get the idea. These trophies represent fun times and significant athletic accomplishments, but they fade and tarnish, along with the clarity of memory. Peter calls us to rejoice in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Pet. 1:4).
Box 2 contains my children’s memorabilia – report cards, academic awards, homemade cards and drawings given to Mom and Dad when they could barely write their name to eloquently-spoken sentiments when grown. Someone said, “We never cease being parents.” How true! Where do the years go? The Lord has graciously given us eighteen years to prepare our children for launching into the world. Then, by faith, we trust God’s Spirit to continue His work. As believing parents, we long for our children to follow Christ. John says it well, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4). We remember our failures while trusting our gracious God to work in spite of them.
I gently open Box 3 – oh my, cards, letters, correspondence from family and friends over the decades. I even find a box within the box holding dozens of letters from our home church when we went off to Dallas Seminary in 1980. What an encouragement they were at that time! Those, along with the many pastor’s “Blue Monday” notes remind me how powerful a personal hand-written note can be. I think of the relationships forged over many years. I have said often that no one crosses paths by accident. God has had a purpose in each encounter, some brief, others long- term. Paul told the Thessalonians, …we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thes. 2:8). Here is a box filled with mission trip memorabilia and another filled with sermon manuscripts and outlines. Looking over a few of the more yellowed copies, I can’t believe I preached some of those messages. But I am grateful that God worked, not because of the preacher, but because of His Word. These boxes remind me of the kingdom work to which He calls each of us and His equipping us for the task. As Jesus commanded, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33).
The boxes speak to me. Perhaps you can hear them as well. My boxes shout God’s enduring goodness and steadfast love. Yes, the boxes are a gift from God – gently unfolding notes penned years ago by a loving hand and caring heart … holding a childhood Bible given in Sunday school … leafing through hundreds of photos that make up a road trip of life. At every stop, every detour, every destination, God has been faithful and good. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm. 118:1).
But these boxes of mine also gently whisper that God is sovereign over every box and its contents. Let’s face it, there are some boxes we would rather not open, preferring to keep on the shelf. They elicit painful memories, broken dreams, and personal heartache. But God grants His grace and courage to give thanks even for those boxes because of what He accomplishes through them in our lives – lessons we could learn no other way than through the valley.
But perhaps more than anything else, these boxes remind me that one day there will be no more endings. As I go through the boxes, I am reminded of endings – great family vacations end, childhoods end, children become adults, relationships end through death and divorce, youthful vibrancy wanes, once grand dreams fade away, and careers come to a close. There is a kind of joyful lament as I sift through my boxes. There is joy in the delights of the journey, yet there is a lament that the best of times ultimately end. I used to say at times that I wanted to freeze-frame my life at that moment – all going well – but of course, that is impossible. We were not created for endings. They are dissonant to our souls.
We were created to live and love forever. Sin ruined that, but God, through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, rescued and restored us to Himself. One day “endings will end” and we will live forever with Jesus in the light of His glory and grace, never to end! So, thanks for keeping me company. You have boxes of your own to go through, whether literally or figuratively. Go ahead, begin the journey. See if your boxes don’t speak to YOU. Let me know what they say at Schlonwg@aol.com.
Bill Schlonecker is a retired BFC Pastor. He was the church planter and long-time senior pastor of the Bible Fellowship Church of Newark, DE.
boxes photo by Dan Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash