A Time to Gather and Cast Away Stones

Karen Gempel // Tales From the Trenches


June 21  

Next month, my ninety-one-year-old mother-in-law, Mary Ellen, will be moving to assisted living near my sister-in-law in Austin. She is moving to a place half the size of her current apartment which is in an independent senior community, near us, in Dallas.

Ten years ago, she came here from a large family home with my father-in-law, who thought downsizing and moving would be a good idea, in case he died first.

He did.

Ten years ago, there was a big estate sale, in which Mary Ellen had to decide, with considerable angst, what possessions should come (her mother’s sewing cabinet) and which should go (the player piano).

Now she will downsize once again. The choices are much simpler now. The photo albums, not the greeting cards. The recliner, not the sofa.

She says that these material choices have now become more bothersome than difficult because this is her time to cast away stones. Like millennials who subscribe to the edict that less is more, that experiences are what matter, not things―Mary Ellen keeps a full house in her heart and mind.

In that house of her heart, there are sixty-five happy wedded years, six births, three living babies, an artist husband with strong opinions on what is beautiful, and their house that was beautiful―a house of feasts and celebrations. Mary Ellen was a renowned and gracious hostess, but now her eyes are looking forward, away from the things of this world.

And I see in her casting-off of material possessions a lesson I increasingly understand. As my grown children build their lives and raise our precious grandchildren, I know it is their time to gather stones and construct their own dwellings of love and faith.

This Father’s Day, we all met for a big family dinner, and this parable of Jesus from Matthew 13:47-49 ran through my mind:

The reign of God is also like a dragnet thrown into the lake, which collected all sorts of things. When it was full, they hauled it ashore and sat down to put what was worthwhile into containers. What was useless they threw away. That is how it will be at the end of the world.

Perhaps Jesus, in his infinite love and wisdom, did not just mean the separation of the wicked and the just, but the physical veil between heaven and earth that we must be willing to one day draw aside to find him. As we cast off those physical things in our lives that we once clung to so fiercely, we ready ourselves to have nothing in our way as we walk into his kingdom and view him face to face.

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  • Beautiful sharing and strong message to live by. God bless Mary Ellen and may all her loved ones continue to make the most of the opportunity to love and serve her the way our Lord ask us to do. The message touched me personally for the long beautiful life I witnessed in my grandpa who passed at age 96. Thank you for sharing!

  • Karen,
    this is a beautiful post! I really appreciate the new light you shed on that notable verse from Matthew and the perspective of detachment and simplicity. Thank you.

  • Karen,
    Thank you for this beautiful post. What a great reminder that we are living in this world but not of it. Our life on earth is merely a blip on the eternal timeline. I love how she said, “cast away stones” this could be both physical and emotional- so that when our time comes we’re ready to unite with our maker.

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