Tuesday, May 5, 2009
The frigid, winter rain pelted the large window overlooking the golf course as I sat in front of the empty fireplace with the box in front of me. It was another cold, wet March winter day alone in this beautiful condo my wife and I had purchased only six months earlier. The ninth fairway outside our window was still covered in grayish, spring snow...the remnants of the cross country ski trail still visible in the slowly receding winter blanket.
I had brought the last of the boxes up out of my Jeep and had sorted and filed. A few things, I threw away. I had only one box left. And it had my "stuff" in it. The plaques and awards and trophies that I had accumulated over the course of working 24 years as a public educator.
There was a plaque of appreciation from the local community college where I had supervised their local education extension program. The completion award for my superintendent's program. A trophy from a golf tournament. And numerous other awards and recognitions. But today, they were all meaningless.
As I sat there, looking at each one...slowly reading the words engraved on the soft metal, I could hear a voice telling me that this was not who I was any more. I tried to push the voice away...but it wouldn't leave me. Each of these pieces identified who I was. But that was it....who I "was", not who I "am" now. I could feel the tears well up as I knew what I needed to do. I fruitlessly tried to argue with the voice in my heart, but I knew deep down this was an argument that I couldn't win.
Reluctantly, I slowly began to peel the glued on metal with the words of recognition and acclaim from their wooded backs. As each one came off in my hands, I would bend it and mangle it before I tossed it haphazardly into the box. Piece after piece, the box slowly filling. These things that had identified who I was for the last quarter of a century, now nothing but a box of trash.
The last item was the last item I had received. And...it was the one that had most recently defined me.
The solid piece of oak that bore that inscription was too solid for me to break. The engraving in the wood, so I couldn't peel it off. The sting of the the tears as the rolled down my cheeks caused me to hesitate for just a moment. I held the award in my hand as I rubbed my shirt sleeve across my cheeks, clearing away the tears. And then it too, went into the box.
I carried the collection in the cardboard container to the door as I slipped my shoes on and slowly walked down the stairs to the dumpster. Setting the box on the ground, I flipped the top up on the garbage container and then slowly dumped the reminders of my last 24 years in with the rest of the waste. Numbness filled my body as I walked back up the stairs and into the emptiness of my home.
It has been over five years since that cold, March day. I had often wondered "why" I had been asked by throw it all away. Couldn't I have simply stored it away in a box, as a reminder? Something that I could one day put back on a shelf for everyone to see...to remember...to admire? I was given the answer last week.
I was listening to the testimony of a man who had been one of the best paid make-up artists for New York models in the 1990's. But a life of drugs and hard living had caused him to lose it all...and to ultimately end up on the streets of New York City...homeless, destitute, slowly dying. But through the prayers of a friend and the merciful love of God, he found salvation and a new lease on life.
As he shared his testimony, he used the analogy of a trophy. We spend our entire lives in this world creating an image of ourselves through our work and our behaviors. In our frail state of humanity, we make choices where our lives end up mangled and tarnished and bent. But when we allow it, God will take that broken life and restore it. The trophy will be reformed. The bent parts straightened. The scratches buffed out. The tarnish polished away. And the engraving...changed.
As I listened to his story, the voice and the memory in my condo living room five years ago came flooding back to me. And at that moment, I realized the "why" that I had asked my self so many times since that frigid, winter day. I am destined to be a trophy for God!