A while back, I read Leigh McLeroy's book Treasured: Knowing God by the Things He Keeps. In it, she tells the story of receiving a cigar box after her grandfather's death, full of tangible objects he had chosen for some reason to keep. She then explores the way we hang onto precious tokens of our memories, and suggests that God has his own collection of treasures:
"I've known God longer than I ever knew my grandfather, although I have never seen Him. I've not once touched His face or heard His voice or felt the weight of His hand on my own. Still, I suspect that He has left more than a few scattered bits of His rich and mysterious identity for me to examine, tucked away deep in the pages of His Word. An olive branch here. A golden bell there. A faded strip of fabric, spotted brown with blood. A length of scarlet thread. A few grains of barley. These keepsakes tell His story, and they help me to understand my own. He treasured them, and He treasures me too."
By the time I finished reading, I was inspired to start writing. I wanted to build my own treasure chest, to ask: What tangible pieces of my spiritual history would I place carefully in my own cigar box for safekeeping? What stories have shaped my journey with this ever-faithful, treasure-keeping God? Below is the first.
I. A broken piece of cornerstone
We gathered that sunny afternoon, gray-haired men and women, families with young children, to remember and celebrate. Our church, with its polished wood beams, vast expanses of stained glass, curved balconies and blue-cushioned pews, was 150 years old.
We probably potlucked that day, and oh, the potlucks we used to have. My current church hosts a potluck lunch every single Sunday, so the concept has lost its glamour. When you have to bring food to share week after week, you bring the same simple dish, you bring what’s quick and easy, you buy a package of chips on sale. But when you potluck only on special occasions, a few times a year, that potluck is a FEAST. The ladies bring their specialties: tables are laden with the casserole she’s famous for, the award-winning beans, pie after mouthwatering pie. We’d all file down to the low-ceilinged fellowship hall, load up plates at tables stretched the length of the basement, and gather to eat until we were stuffed.
After lunch, we headed outside. The gray cornerstone of that beautiful brick church was a time capsule, and today was the day to break it open. Men carefully chipped at the mortar that cemented it in place alongside the front steps, and we waited eagerly to see what our grandparents in the faith had sealed inside.
I don’t remember a single thing that was raised to life out of that cement tomb, but I remember even as a child sensing the anticipation and the gravity of the event. I picked up a jagged piece of stone and tucked it away, a tangible memory. I was inclined even then to save treasures, to gather stones of remembrance.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church was potlucks and singing “Arky, Arky” and finally growing old enough to wear a red robe and be an acolyte. It was Sunday school flannelboards and youth group games and sitting with my friend whose grandmother passed a plastic bag of butterscotch candies and brought fun activities to occupy us during worship. It was Mother-Daughter banquets and Christmas pageants. It was the place where I sang my first solo and preached my first (and only) sermon (at the tender age of 12!). It was home.
My parents chose this church when they were new in town; I was just two and a half. I don’t know how they selected St. Paul's over the five other churches within two blocks, but they visited, and they stayed. They remained for 28 years, even when other families fled to hipper, newer churches, even when the pulpit seemed like a revolving door.
I spent too many Sundays passing notes with my youth-group friends in the balcony, but I can still recite one pastor’s pre-sermon prayer with the exact inflection he used every week, words rising and falling to the same cadence. I hear his voice in my head whenever I read Psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be holy and acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…Amen.”
I left that church during college, when it was no longer the right fit for the woman of faith I was becoming. Yet I left with a wistful heart, for as much as I needed to go, these were my people. Finding a new church meant saying goodbye to my Sunday school teachers, my cherub choir directors, my confirmation mentor and my Chrysalis sponsor. This was my faith heritage, and though I would find that the theology needed revising and replacing, I could never replace these saints who had loved and nurtured me.
However much I may have grown to differ from the Methodists, I can’t deny the fact that in that old brick church, a cornerstone was laid. While I was there, I came to know Jesus, and the foundation endures.
[This post is part of the series "31 Days of Seeing Jesus"--click here for a list of all posts.]
Other Treasures in the series:
II. A sharp pebble
III. A pastel index card