Once again it was time in the preacher’s life to downsize. There were boxes of papers that had become less and less meaningful since their creation. Every year it seemed fitting to identify files, books and other memorabilia that needed to be discarded. In no way did that guarantee their demise. In reality, things often got moved to other boxes and put in a different storage place. This time it was different. The move was back home, over 1500 miles. Things had to go. After having been gone for over 30 years the preacher was going home. Each file was now being approached meticulously and items were being identified as worth saving or not. The question came, how should these memories be discarded? It seemed rude to put all the paper in the shredder and just throw them away. It was decided that they should be burned. Very carefully each item was put into the fire. Each time a story or special moment came to mind a short prayer of thanksgiving and dedication was uttered. “Thank you Lord for… and please be glorified in the lives of those who participated in this memory.” If it conjured up something negative the prayer changed, “Forgive me Lord for my trespass and my debts.” As the fire burned on tears came to the preacher’s eyes. He choked up as he contemplated all the Lord had done in his life. Then there was the one box that had stood out over the years. In it was the paperwork from that first pastorate: the church bulletins, sermon notes, letters and brochures. This one box continually survived the purging. Often the preacher would sit back, close his eyes and remember. Often the memories ended in laughter and a simple “Thank you Lord, for that was good.” This box was then added to the fire. “Please Lord, be glorified in the lives of those who dared to be a part of my life and gave so much, and thank you for Jasper and how that calf became such a blessing.”
The move was finished and the preacher was back home. A new life was started once again.
Days and months went by.
One day as the preacher was sitting back and contemplating life he remembered the boxes that had been purged and burned. He laughed as he remembered Jasper and how people had responded to those stories. He wondered if anyone remembered things as he had. He thought about it and decided to make a call. He went to the computer and did the search for a phone number. He found it. He dialed, the phone rang, a person answered. “Hello,” said the preacher. After identifying himself he asked who he was talking to. The young man on the other line identified himself and began to laugh. He said we were just all back together this evening and mom brought your name up. We laughed and told stories about your haystacks, how you broke the wheel on the tractor, tried to fix the deacon’s tractor, broke your finger and you said you just hit the wrong nail, rode Jerry from the auction and then tried to walk the next day. Then there was Ralph the three legged dog who adopted you, the corral and your gate, the times you drove the tractor too fast… and then of course there was Jasper. We have laughed so many times about Jasper and how you refused to let him die. You always checked up on him. You forgot he was a calf, you treated him like a pet. Do you remember how you prayed for rain when all the farmers wanted to get their crops in? It rained every day until the evangelism conference was over and then everything dried up and we had a bumper crop. There were just so many things that happened in such a short time. There was the baptism question, the time you rode into camp on a horse pretending to be a circuit-riding preacher. There was the time when another one of the deacons got really sick and you asked for everyone to pitch in to help with harvest. Then when it was time for you to leave you reminded us how we must seek God’s will for who would come to pastor next.
Then you stayed to celebrate your birthday with us. We knew you cared and for that reason we knew God cared.
The preacher hung up the phone. Tears had again come to eyes. He had heard how and what everyone was doing. He also knew it was best for former pastors to move on. The church was not his. The church belonged to God and he was grateful for the life these people had shared with him. Perhaps someday they would share time together again.