I’m cleaning out my study at Legacy today. Boxing up books. Packing the commentaries and knick knacks. Pulling the pictures down from the walls and throwing away a bunch of stuff, too. It’s taking me longer — a whole lot longer — than it should to pack up and clean out a 17′ x 11′ room. That’s because I keep coming across the gifts.
The framed autographed photo of Steve Martin taken from a scene in “The Jerk.” Todd D gave it to me a couple of weeks after I had referenced the scene in a sermon on the distractions of material possessions. Plus an original promotional booklet for the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” also presented to me a couple of weeks after I compared Ethel Merman’s character to Peninnah in 1 Samuel. Todd D is also the same guy who snail mails me an envelope full of random cartoons every couple of months. I’ve found several of them today. My favorite is the old lady behind the counter at a sidewalk kiosk proclaiming to passers-by, “…and I’m wearing a thong!” The caption says, “The Too-Much-Information Booth.”
A tiny little three-eyed alien from Toy Story sits on top of my tape dispenser, a gift from our Children’s Minister, Jennifer. She had used the little guys in a staff devo one morning to remind us that just as the toys are chosen by The Claw, we are chosen. We are chosen by God. We belong to him. We are his.
A roll of Life Savers with a note attached: Preacher Timer – Upon reaching pulpit, place one unit in mouth; when Life Saver disappears, so should the preacher! Howard C gave that to me a couple of years ago.
A bar of goat milk cheese given to me by Salvador Cariaga, our missionary to the Philippines. The Christians there are becoming economically self-sufficient by the grace of God as he works in and through all those goats. I joked from the pulpit one Sunday while Salvador was in town that I was glad our elders didn’t pay me with a goat. The next morning, I was greeted in my office by a live goat, courtesy of Jack’s Sunday morning Bible class!
There’s a big white posterboard on the door to my study that declares me “the best preacher ever.” It was made and colored and scotch taped there by Camryn and Brighton, two of the sweetest little girls at Legacy. It fell a couple of weeks ago. I taped it back up.
Here’s an electrical outlet spray painted gold hanging from a string of electrical wire and couplers. Keith R gave this to me after installing five ceiling fans in my house and discovering up close how un-handy I am with and around electricity.
The wooden carving of the old pioneer preacher was given to me by Steve P. Dana J gave me the beautiful crown of thorns that I used during our four week sermon series leading up to this past Easter. Joe A gave me a framed copy of our first family picture for the Legacy pictorial directory. Dawson B gave me the little miniature Homer from his Simpsons happy meal. Wayne S took and framed a picture of Whitney and Carley and me standing in a long line in the Academy parking lot at midnight to buy T-shirts celebrating the Rangers’ American League Championship victory over the hated Yankees. Paul Dennis just gave me this copy of Yancey’s Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church, figuring it might be good reading right about now. And the picture of Quincy and me at his naturalization ceremony sits to my left among photos of my kids.
Gifts. My office is filled with gifts. Every wall, every shelf, every corner contains a gift from somebody here at Legacy. And it takes me longer to pack this stuff because each gift is connected to a person. A story. A relationship.
Those are the real gifts.
It’s not the wood carving; it’s praying with Steve and Pat in their home while he endured multiple foot surgeries and amputations and prosthetics and rehab related to his diabetes, crying with Steve as he recounted the kindness shown to him by his brothers and sisters at Legacy who remodeled most of his home to accomodate his wheelchair.
It’s not the poster; it’s Camryn’s deep friendship with my youngest daughter and Brighton’s really loud comment to a crowd the Saturday night before my last sermon here: “Preach for two hours, Allan, and if anybody has a problem with it, they can come see me!” It’s my love for both of their families who have encouraged me and supported me and loved me unconditionally for every moment of my ministry here.
It’s not the bar of soap; it’s getting to know Salvador’s son and encouraging him in his studies and his Christian ministry; it’s being there for the funeral of Salvador’s father-in-law; it’s praying with him for the poor people in the Philippines and then being inspired by his life of selfless service.
It’s not the little green alien; it’s remembering that Jennifer always tells me — usually right before or after prayer together, sometimes through tears — church work and ministry is not supposed to be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t take faith.
It’s not the book; it’s being there at his house within an hour of Paul finding out his son had been killed in a car accident; it’s the huge bear hugs and his tears and his sensitive heart. And his great pain. His unspeakable pain.
It’s not the Homer toy; it’s knowing that I’ll be there to tell him how proud I am of him when Dawson puts on our Lord in baptism this next Sunday.
It’s not the pictures and candies and crowns and cartoons and books. It’s the lives. Those are the gifts that are handed to preachers every day. The gifts of people’s lives. They open them up to us. They give themselves to us. They pour themselves out in front of us. Every day they share themselves with us. They say things to us they would never say to anyone else. They confess sin to us. They dare to dream really big dreams with us. They make promises. They express concerns. They cry. They pray. In front of us. For us. They are vulnerable with us. They give and give and give to us. Nobody else gets gifts like these. And we get them every day!
What a blessing. What a burden. What a beautiful and amazing thing it is to receive these kinds of wonderful gifts.
That’s why it’s taking so long to pack up my study.