“Look Mom, you don’t even get to take your slippers with you.” That poignant observation was made a decade ago by my then 16-year old daughter right after her father had died and the undertakers had left our home with his body. A cozy pair of fleece-lined slippers sat alone beneath the hospital bed in our family room where my husband had spent his last days on earth.
Those words, and the gripping truth behind them, constantly echoed in my mind in the days ahead. As I struggled through the difficult task of going through all of my husband’s earthly belongings, I was reminded of the truth that we really don’t take anything with us.
A year later, those words came rushing back to me the day my own father died. I had given him a pair of slippers for Christmas that year and there they were, sitting alone, underneath his empty hospital bed.
My parents had lived through the Great Depression, and seemed to have saved everything that “might come in handy someday.” When a person has been “without” for an extended period of time, it understandably has an impact. After my parents’ deaths eight months apart, as I again and again went through possessions and made countless trips to Goodwill, I was reminded of the simple truth: “we don’t even get to take our slippers with us.”
Several years ago, I met a dear couple from Slidell, Louisiana. They had lost all of their earthly possessions in Hurricane Katrina. And as they described the mountain of destroyed, waterlogged belongings that sat in front of their home awaiting removal, they both commented how that loss had taught them “stuff is stuff.”
Just last fall, as I prepared to move from my home of 30 years, I had the opportunity to apply those words personally. And it wasn’t easy. I’d spent decades filling my basement and attic with accessories to brighten every season. But I no longer had the need or the space for all of those lovely things or for most of my furniture.
Different reasons for belongings no longer being used by their owners. But all pointed me toward the truth that Jesus shared: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t get me wrong. I love nice things and creature comforts and am still way too materialistic. Even in my new, much smaller residence, I still have too many possessions. Apparently, I’m not alone. The self-storage business – a largely American industry – generated more than $36 billion in revenue in 2018, more than twice as much as the global music industry! It has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the last 40 years. The sad truth is that we Americans have so much “stuff” that when it expands beyond the capacity of our own homes, we often keep it in self-storage instead of sharing it with someone in need.
But I continue to be challenged and inspired by my daughter’s words: “You can’t even take your slippers with you.” I hope you will be too. It’s the reason I have shared this story several times over recent years.
Someday, each of us will draw our last breath and have to leave our slippers (and everything else) behind. Would you join me in taking a fresh look at your belongings and share just a little more with those in need?
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