The Cedar Chest

January 30, 2018 | Dick Duerksen

“Get rid of all your stuff now. It may have meaning for you — but not for us.” — the children and grandchildren

Growing old can be ugly. Stressful, even, especially as our parents grow ill and require additional time and resources. It is painful to feel the fabric of life unwind as we try to wrap it more tightly. “Safety,” “dignity” and “protection” shift meanings as muscles defy commands and memories fog.

A ringing phone brings rational fear. We check the area code and pray for God to wrap our hearts with His wisdom. “Has Dad fallen again?” “Is this from the hospice caregiver?”

My mother, June, died in an auto accident when I was 21. Two years later, Dad married Arlene, a good family friend. Arlene was the bright light of our family for nearly 50 years, teaching the kids to paint ceramics, healing bruises of body and heart, loving the unloved, and constantly uplifting Jesus. She was “Mom” to all.

Her last years were hard. Not just difficult, HARD. The dimming of her eyes brought tears as Bible words became unreadable. Untreatable pain ruined even the good days.

She died softly, at 97 1/2, after praying hundreds of nighttime prayers begging God to allow her to sleep until His bright morning. Finally, He agreed.

My father, age 99-plus, is following. Painfully. Recently he asked me to remove all the books from his house. “I don’t want them here anymore,” he announced. “Take them and anything else visible. The plants too. I can’t keep them alive.”

That required 10 boxes for books and four for “stuff.” Then he added the chest.

“Take it to your daughter Joy,” Dad said. “It belonged to your mother, June, and Joy ought to have it.”

That took much more space, but we brought it home. For Joy.

But first, for us.

The chest was purchased in Korea in about 1925 by my great aunt, May Ames Rue, the wife of Dr. George Rue. Together, they started the Adventist medical work in Korea. Aunt May gave the beautifully lacquered chest to her mother, my great-grandmother, Vashti Ames. Vashti gave it to my mother.

The chest overflows with 80 years of black-and-white photographs, a palace glittering with tales of family challenges, missionary adventures, successes, failures and the victory of God’s grace.

The pictures have led us to contact cousins, aunts and uncles for additional information. Those conversations have been like relighting dormant lightbulbs. We have shared old stories and new ones, and this time we’ve written them down so we can share them with the next generation of this worldwide family we treasure.

The old cedar chest is far more than a piece of furniture. It is a five-generation link from great-grandma Vashti to our daughter Joy and her family. It is a trail of tears and a trove of celebrations. A reminder of how God works within families. Especially as we age.