“The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the Giver of all good things.”
– Rich Mullins
Several weeks ago Hilda’s nurse called and asked if I could get over to see Hilda right away, she was dying.
Hilda, due to years of living with some kind of dementia, lived in a memory care facility. I generally am not comfortable in memory care units because they remind me of those turn-of-the-century sanitariums. You’ve seen those old black-and-white movies of people with disheveled hair running around screaming, or curled up laughing hysterically by themselves, or giving speeches to invisible masses—pretty creepy stuff. Memory care units tend to be all-too-much like that, only in living color not black and white.
Fortunately when I got there, Hilda was in her room resting comfortably in a fetal position on her bed. It was quiet and peaceful in there. As Hilda was uncommunicative, I simply pulled up a rocking chair next to her bed and silently sat there praying for her safe passage.
I had met Hilda several months before. Her daughter had moved her here to Oregon from Houston shortly after hurricane Katrina. Actually, Hilda had been in a memory facility in New Orleans when the hurricane hit, and was then unknowingly to her daughter, evacuated to someplace in Houston. That’s where Hilda’s daughter found her and brought her the memory facility I was now sitting in.
As I sat there praying for this small frail woman whose sporadic breathing was punctuated with an infrequent rasping sound, I started to look around her room and notice her few scant possessions. There was a painted dinner plate with a picture of Elvis Presley. She loved Elvis. There were a couple of porcelain Japanese dolls, some snapshots of grandchildren and great grandchildren taped to the wall by her bed, and several cheap vases stuffed with plastic flowers. That was it.
I thought is this what it all comes down to in the end? Plastic flowers? After eighty or ninety years of living a life filled with hopes, dreams, loves, griefs, heartaches, and joys – to end up on a bed somewhere surrounded by a few pieces of stuff that will end up in a garage sale?
I began to contemplate all the hours I work to earn money to buy a house to fill with stuff that my son will eventually have to cart off to Goodwill after I’m dead or institutionalized. Fruits of living in a consumer culture. Insanity. Stuff.
Refocusing my thoughts to pray for Hilda (that’s why I was there after all), some words of Jesus floated into my consciousness.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Two ideas spoke to me. First, Jesus seems to be warning us to choose wisely what we treasure because whatever that is – our hearts will follow. What do I treasure? My books? Another degree? My IRA? My house? Career? Reputation? Family? Friends? Jesus says our hearts follow our treasures, not the other way around.
Secondly, he seems to suggest that while we can’t take it with us – we can wire some ahead. “Do store up for yourselves treasures in heaven …” I think we do this when we give of ourselves and from our treasures for the benefit of others.
After a few more moments of prayer I kissed Hilda on the forehead and said goodbye. As I was driving to my next appointment I got a call that Hilda and gently slipped away into that good night. Some words from a martyred Christian missionary named Jim Elliot came to mind …
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”