Attentiveness: It is Only Things
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I made a table.
I was only about 24 years old and knew very little about woodworking, but I wanted to learn more, and a table seemed like a good thing to make for a growing family. So, with one wife, one child, and another child on the way, I began making a colonial drop-leaf table. I rough-cut and then hand carved two white oak pegs that held the center beam and the large legs together. It took about six months, and that included three coats of marine varnish (I assumed children would spill milk).
When Nancy and I were students at Gordon-Conwell, we sat at that table with one and then two high chairs, and then with a booster seat. Our third child was born when we were studying.
I was sitting at that table one dinner when our first born, Caroline, announced on her fifth birthday, “Mommy, I invited Jesus into my heart today!” Some things are etched in our memories. I can still remember sitting on her left and looking her in the eyes and thinking, “Where did she learn about this? I have never used this language. Amazing. Thank you, Jesus.”
It was from her Sunday School teacher. Thank God for Gordon-Conwell trained pastors and staff! Caroline has never departed from that prayer. Jesus still resides in her heart and now in her family.
Fast-forward. The six of us (one more born in Princeton, New Jersey) sat at the table when I was working on my PhD. I remember using very hot water and some industrial cleanser to scrape off the bottom edges of the table where dried food had been planted by happy little fingers over the years.
We had to put the table in storage when we served as missionaries. We gave away or sold all our winter clothes, but the table we kept.
Eight years later we found the table still in excellent shape and we moved it to Allison Park, Pennsylvania where we spent hours and hours around this memorable table: our family of six, then five, then four, then three, then two (off to college and then jobs!). We ate, prayed, dreamed, entertained guests, and cried. So many good memories!
Then we moved to the East End of Pittsburgh, into a duplex with no kitchen eating area. With my grandmother’s dining table (over 100 years old), we had to decide which table to keep and which to “leave behind.”
There was really no reason to keep a table in the garage or basement. My hand-made table was now just collecting dust.
After a long time of thinking and praying, we decided to let go of one of our family centerpieces: my hand-made table. It had served our family well. Very well. So many good memories. But now . . . ?
Having observed the neighborhood patterns (including garbage collection), I decided to take the table apart and leave it by the road.
I kept back one of my hand-carved pegs to remember. A type of icon of remembrance of family.
Then, after putting it by the road, I went up to our spare bedroom on the second floor and watched from the window. Sure enough, within an hour, two men in a truck pulled up to our house, got out, looked at the table, pulled out the legs, talked, looked again, and then smiled. I cried.
They put the pieces in the back of the truck and drove off into the night.
I may seem a little overly reflective these past few weeks, but it is important to reflect, pray, remember, and pray again. In fact, we are commanded to remember many times in Scripture. Remember God’s faithfulness.
I remember thinking at the time the very words that my sister said when her home was destroyed by a tornado (really). “Scott, we are fine. Everyone is safe. The home? That is only things. What is important is that we have each other.”
But God uses things: stone tablets, a staff (former snake), or a burning bush. God used that table I loved, and God uses desks, chairs, conference rooms, Wilson House, and Pilgrim Hall—and so many other things on the Hamilton campus and beyond—that contribute to our Gordon-Conwell experience. They have all been used by God. But they are used for people, so that we will know the love and faithfulness of God. We can thank God for how he uses things. I am thankful.
And I look forward with hope to what new things he will use to show us his faithfulness and love.
For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:12-13)
Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.