During the last month or so, during the planned chaos that went along with re-finishing the hardwood floors, I found, evaluated, organized and threw out a fair amount of "stuff." (By the way, we're still doing this, and probably will be for some time.)
One of the things I found, in the back of a dresser drawer, was a small plastic container, oblong and kind of a mustard yellow. It had a piece of masking tape on the top of it, and my dad's scrawled writing of explanation: "Screws for Diane's Bed."
I no longer have the bed. In fact, I haven't had the bed for ten years.
A long time ago, about the time I was entering seminary, I purchased an inexpensive futon with a simple wood frame. This was not the kind that you can make into a sofa; it was just a frame for a bed that would always be a bed. But my dad figured out right away that I was going to be moving a lot, taking apart and putting together this simple frame many times. So he found this little plastic container so that I would never lose the screws and would always be able to put the bed back together.
Did I mention, I no longer have the bed? But I do still have all of the screws.
I suppose I should throw them away, along with the two dowels I also found recently. The piece of furniture that they fitted into at one time no longer exists, at least not in this reality. So far, though, they are still sitting on the dresser, waiting for the final judgment.
I went to visit my dad at the nursing home this morning. He has Parkinsons Disease, and he alternates between lucidity and confusion. Sometimes he seems good-naturedly confused, at other times he is frustrated and he says he "just wants to get back to normal." He's supposed to be doing some occupational and physical therapy, so that he can return home eventually. Today he reminded himself several times that, "Everything will work itself out," and that "Worry never did anybody any good." He also mentioned "the promised land." A few times he started sentences but couldn't quite get to the last word. A couple of times he said, "I love you," and he started reciting Bible verses. He threw out for our consideration, "The wages of sin is death...." a few times. I wondered why he was thinking about that verse.
When he was a boy, he went to the Lutheran church with his mother, but she also took him to all different kinds of services, at the Children's Gospel Mission, and the Salvation Army, and just about any place they had a fiery preacher. They seemed to emphasize sin and judgment much more than grace or forgiveness at those venues.
"The wages of sin is death...."
I tried several times to get him to stop repeating that verse. I trotted out a few different Bible verses; I changed the subject; I sang some of his favorite songs. He persisted. "The wages of sin is death...."
I tried another tack, supplying the missing bed for which he held the screws.
"But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," I answered. He smiled.
It's hard for any of us to make sense of our lives, at one time of another. All we have is a box of screws, but not the bed; all we have is half of a verse, but not the half that gives us a place to rest, and be comforted. There is chaos and fear and things that were meant to be saved were lost, and other things have been saved, but we no longer know what they were meant to do. That is the way our lives are. And that is why we need each other, to remind each other that where there is sin, there is the free gift, where there is death, there is eternal life, where the sentence trails off, there is One who is willing to supply the last Word.