A while back, I wrote an article about an old chest beneath the creaky basement stairs at my parents’ house. I had never seen the contents of it, ever, in my entire life. When I was a kid, we asked about it, wondered about it, told spooky tales about it, and my brother all but convinced me it held a dead body. I pestered mom about the contents….what it could contain… and she would reply that it was nothing but junk. I remember thinking, if it was nothing but junk, why not open it? Why not empty it? Why not show me? She never did. She went to her grave, as did dad, without the chest ever being opened and its contents displayed for me. The house passed to my brother, Bill, and he lived there until he died in the fall of 2017. He never opened it either. I often wondered if the tales he made up about it were just a little too real for him.
As executor of my brother’s estate, I spent months combing through not only his belongings, but the remnant of mom and dad’s estate as well. It was all still there. In seventy-three years of occupancy, nothing had been removed. Nothing. I found a greeting card from my great grandmother postmarked April, 1911. I found dad’s graduation certificate from eighth grade in 1928. There were Readers Digests from 1932 forward and every Church of God magazine from the forties to current day was there. I found sugar and gas ration coupons from World War II and a campaign button that read “I Like Ike” from Eisenhower’s 1950’s presidential run. We found the jack to dad’s old Model A Ford and the harness for mom’s favorite plow horse. All these things and thousands more were filling a house, a basement, and three out buildings. It took forever and I wondered if I would ever come back to my own life.
Finally, well over a year later, when most everything had been removed and we could get to it, my oldest sister could stand it no longer and pulled the old chest out from underneath the stairs. At last it was open, and just as mother had said, it was indeed full of junk. There was an old toddler snow suit from the Shirley Temple era that none of us had ever laid eyes on. There was a bag of just random articles of clothing, nothing seeming to match anything else…a fabric belt to a missing dress, a little baby shirt that was meant to button on to a matching pair of absent shorts, a knitted cap with one tie-string missing, one infant shoe, left over ribbons and stray buttons, old insurance advertisements dad had saved, and bag after bag of now ancient rotting fabric scraps, probably reserved for a quilt that Mom always intended to make someday.
I’ve thought about that a lot over the last few months. What a disappointment to learn that the “treasure chest” you imagined as a child was just junk after all. But lately I’ve begun to look back on it a bit differently. Maybe the real treasure of that old chest was the intrigue…the stories we made up and told each other about it…the fun we had imagining as kids. Maybe the real treasure was finding out sometimes mama knows what she’s talking about because she’s lived long enough to know junk when she sees it.
I couldn’t tell you why mom and dad kept that old chest and all of its junk, except that it was so tightly wedged in there…had so much stuff sitting on it and around it and had been there so long, it just seemed too daunting a task.
Today that old chest has been cleaned out, dusted off, and is sitting in my sister’s living room. Yes, it’s a little beat up. Okay, it’s a lot beat up. It’s rough and it needs refinishing, but with a little throw tossed over it, it serves well as a coffee table. New purpose! Imagine that. Maybe that’s the treasure! Old trashy things cleaned out of worthless junk can be repurposed and become something worthwhile after all. Hmmm. Sound familiar?
You may have been drug out of life’s junk pile. You may have been beaten up and scarred by a thousand things crushing in on you and filled with nothing but trash, but once you’ve had Jesus’ robe of righteousness tossed over you, your purpose is brand new; and, yes, you’re still a little rough, but in time you’ll be refinished and shine like you were meant to all along.
Maybe the real treasure of that chest is yet to be discovered. I think the future sounds bright.
Glad to be back