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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
When we bought our 13 acres of woods 24 years ago, we were little more than squatters. We’d bought the land and its dilapidated single-wide trailer from a man named Stephen, who had spent his time on that land squatting as well. He had no well from which to draw water, but relied instead on a long row of black barrels, which collected the drops of rain coming off the trailer’s roof. I still shudder when I think of him drinking water that originated from his mossy, leaf-strewn roof.
The trailer itself was very cluttered when we first met Stephen and stepped inside, but lightly swept up and wiped down, as though he’d done a quick spit-and-polish when he heard our tires crunching the gravel on the hill above the property. I could only see a small piece of the carpet hiding below all his multi-colored throw rugs, and it was dirty. At odds with his furnishings, every appliance in the house was pink: the kitchen sink, the double-stack washer and dryer, the toilet, the tub. And when I say pink, I mean Pepto Bismol pink. A fire flickered in the wood stove in the corner, but that only served to warm and enhance the smell of garbage coming from the many bags in the kitchen.
Our closing date was on a Wednesday. We learned from our banker, as we sere signing papers, that Stephen had just been about to be foreclosed on when we made an offer. I felt sorry for him, and wondered where he planned to move next. Immediately after signing, we drove straight to Marysville. We couldn’t wait to step foot on “our” property. Our dream of land-ownership had come true with a few signatures and $53,000.
We drove down the long gravel road, down the steep, steep hill, through the woods, and up into the small clearing that held our new home. The whole drive over, I’d talked to Dave about my plans for sprucing up the trailer. “It’s going to take a ton of work, but I know we can make it livable.” I had high hopes for the place, and was already trying to adapt myself to the notion of pink.
But when we pulled up to the trailer, the first thing we noticed was that the front window was still full of Stephen’s books and wine bottles.
We knocked on the door; Stephen answered.
“Hi,” Dave said. “Did you remember that today was the closing on the property?”
“So … are you able to leave today?”
Stephen shook his head. “Maybe tomorrow.” And he shut the door in our faces.
I had a huge bin of Windex, bleach, Pine Sol, paper towels, rags, scrub brushes and rubber gloves in the back seat of the car, and nothing to clean.
It goes without saying that we were disappointed on the drive home. And a little alarmed. But we headed back the following day and went through the exact same conversation. Stephen’s belongings were all still in place, and his departure was pegged at “possibly tomorrow.”
Not to be. Not the next day, or the day after that, or two weeks later. He wouldn’t budge. Finally, we contacted the sheriff and asked what we could do. He informed us that it could take four months to evict someone.
We didn’t have four months. We had sold our home a few months earlier and moved in with my grandmother to help care for her, not knowing that within a very short time, she would pass away. By the time Stephen was digging in his heels, my grandmother’s home was about to be sold. We ourselves would be homeless if we couldn’t get him to move out of what I was now thinking of as our “home.”
Stephen avoided all our calls, and was never there when we drove out to try to talk with him. One day, a month after our closing date, Dave drove out alone in his truck and saw the front porch of the trailer piled high with freshly cut firewood. This was the last straw. Stephen wouldn’t speak to us, wouldn’t move out, and wouldn’t pay rent on the property we owned and were paying a mortgage on … and now he was cutting down our trees for his own firewood.
Dave was both angry and frustrated. He thought, “If he’s not going to pay us rent with cash, he can pay us with firewood.” So he loaded up his truck and brought it all home.
And, of course, the phone rang not long after. “That’s my firewood!” Stephen yelled.
“No, actually, it’s not,” Dave answered. “The trees and everything on that property belong to us now, and I’ve got a mortgage to prove it.” But he is a calm, gentle, forgiving man. Within a few minutes of talking, a plan was hatched. Dave would give all the firewood back to Stephen, but only if it went to the new trailer Stephen had rented in a nearby trailer park. He already had a place to go … he just had refused to leave his beloved pink trailer.
Dave even went the extra mile. He moved the firewood to the new location, stacked it for Stephen, then came back and helped Stephen move all of his belongings out of the trailer and into the new place.
When he came home, his face was grim. “We can’t live in that trailer.”
We drove out and walked in, and I started crying. The trailer was filthy … hoarder filthy. It looked like Stephen had been collecting cat hair all his life, and had spread it nicely below our feet as a welcoming carpet. Mice feces dotted the kitchen floor, the sink, and every flat surface within eyeshot. With the curtains gone, we could see that mold had crept up the sides of the single-paned windows. Parts of the floorboard were already rotted out. Dust huddled in corners; spiderwebs graced the ceiling like ghostly crepe paper. The smell that permeated the trailer was of rotting garbage; some of it still waited in the kitchen for Dave to collect and take to the dump.
The long and short of it is that we found and bought a newer (but still very old) double-wide trailer and had a friend come out and help us tow Stephen’s trailer out to the far corner of the property, where nature claimed it as its own. Many years later, a scrapper came and demolished what hadn’t already crumbled, then towed the remaining “treasure” away … except for the pink tub, which we used as a watering bin for our goats.
Our double-wide? The one we we so relieved to find? Eleven years later, my brother-in-law discovered that all the beams underneath had rotted away, and there was almost nothing holding it together. By this time I had two children, and they needed a floor that wasn’t in danger of collapsing beneath their little feet. We had ridden the pony to the ground, and it was time to build a house. So we listed the trailer in the Little Nickel as a freebie, and gave it away to the first person who called.
That was a very long way to say a very short thing: Nothing here lasts very long. The things we clutch as treasures are destined for the trash heap — every last one. As more evidence to that, our lack of storage over those eleven years (we had no garage) meant we had to store many of our boxes in Dave’s small work shed. One year, going through some of the boxes in the back corner, I found all my high school trophies from tennis matches, debate tournaments, honor society, girls’ club, etc. Every single one of those “treasures” from my youth had corroded and rusted away to nothing. I had to toss the whole box.
If you look at it right, the whole notion of rust and rot is a gift. Because the sooner we recognize how transitory the world’s treasures are, the quicker we are to lift our eyes and gaze at the only place of permanence. Heaven’s riches are forever, and whatever God-thing we earn here is stored for us there. No moths. No rust. No rot.
The knowledge of that makes living your life for heaven the only reasonable thing to do.