An old humpback steamer trunk sits in the corner of our guest room. It is small compared to today’s luggage – a mere 20” x 26” x 18.” For most of its existence the trunk resided in the corner of an attic. Prior to that in 1929 it traveled on a steamship as the baggage of a 20 year old Irish man immigrating to the USA. That trunk carried all the worldly possessions my father would bring from the “old country.” Over the years the trunk has been the depository of miscellaneous artifacts that were saved by my parents as memories to recall in the future. I have often wondered how my parents determined what was significate enough be placed in the trunk. The contents filling the trunk include several Bibles, a variety of small boxes containing pictures, trinkets representing events in their lives, and sundry documents recounting marriages, births, and deaths. The trunk is rarely opened and sits there containing memories that hopefully will be recalled and explored. In the past 45 years my wife and I have added to the contents items we wanted to keep as memories. In some ways this trunk is a treasure trove of the history of the Reid, Potts, Shenk and Ebersole families.
Recently, my son has been interested in tracking down the history of my father. He has poured over documents both in this country and Ireland that I did not know one could even access. In many respects, he now knows more about my family background than I do. He asked months ago to look at some of the pictures he heard were stored in the trunk. Several weeks ago, I took boxes of pictures to his house and we began to pour through them. It was then I made a sad discovery – much of the treasure trove of history and memories was lost. They were there physically but they had no meaning. The pictures were clear but now they were a mystery. Who were these people? Where was this picture taken? What time period did they represent? Most of the pictures were unlabeled and my family had never reviewed them with me. Occasionally as we reviewed the pictures, I came across one that stirred a memory and I was able to recount to my son the picture’s story. Well over the half of the pictures in the box were a mystery, a lost memory. I should have prodded my parents to review the stories that the pictures represented. Did I come across as too preoccupied with my own life that they assumed they had nothing worthwhile to share?
Psalm 71 records for us the words of an older person who finds his strength diminishing (vs. 9) and the signs of old age were obvious (vs. 18). Rather than become self-absorbed by his many problems or assume that at his age he had nothing to contribute, he boldly prays, “O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to those who come.” He has a mission even in his older years to “praise you yet more and more . . . tell of your righteous acts . . . your deeds of salvation . . . for their number is past my knowledge” (vs. 14, 15). To draw an analogy, he is saying that he needs to open the “trunk” of his memory and share from the treasure trove memories of God’s blessings and lessons. To do less is to cause the next generation to lose knowledge of how God has worked in the past, lose valuable lessons that could impact their lives today, and possibly rob them of the hope that God may work in a similar way in the future.
In my role as pastor at large at Lancaster Bible College, I spend most of my time with students that are decades younger than me. Each day, I have coffee or lunch with a number of them and we talk about life. They share the burdens of their life and I relate to them things that I have experienced in my life’s journey with the Lord. Sometimes, what they are experiencing is foreign to me, yet often there is a Scriptural principle that comes to mind that may relate to their situation or give them encouragement. We can always pray together. Age makes no difference when one comes to “the throne of grace to obtain mercy” (Hebrews 4:16). Additionally in my role, I minister in churches and to pastors of all ages. Sometimes pastors just need to share a burden and I listen. Sometimes pastors need to hear of how God was faithful in another pastor’s life that made big mistakes, faced large discouragements, and saw God pour out His mercy and grace. All I am doing either with college students or pastors is “proclaim . . . your power to those who come.”
Many of us can do the same thing I do in my role. I have seen teens this summer talk to children and “proclaim God’s might.” I observed older married couples mentor younger couples who are wanting to strengthen their marriages. It essentially requires two qualities: interactions of the various generations and a willingness to want to listen and learn from one another.
Sitting around my son’s kitchen table and looking at pictures generated great conversations of God’s faithfulness in our family. My son remarked, “It was good to do this.” There was a great value for me too. In sharing the memories the pictures sparked, I too was recalling the way God has worked in our family and in me. Too often, memories fade unless the stories are reviewed and shared. Our lives are more than a tweet. They are a book with many chapters that need to be reviewed and shared. There is a tremendous value of various generations opening up the “memory trunk” together and sorting through both the painful and pleasurable experiences of life. Those memories contain many life lessons. Perhaps it is time to stir up the fires of our memories!