She was born in 1927, the 6th of 7 children. Raised during the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression, in some ways she epitomized that generation. She grew up stern and loyal, the hardest-working and the fiercest-loving woman I’ve ever known. Recently, I went through a small wooden box filled with her “treasures,” things she had saved from her childhood, items that represented what was formative, precious, and real about her girlhood days. It’s always a revelation to see what was held closest to a person’s heart, particularly since I had not known her until she was five decades past the contents of this box.
So, I lifted the lid on the old wooden box, oblong and homemade, with tiny nailed-in hinges. I think she made the box herself; as she made most things in her life, by hand from what she found at hand. The first thing I noticed was that the fairly small box was fairly empty. Considering her years as a young girl in a big family during spare days, I thought I understood. That she had a box to hold private thoughts and personal belongings was probably a luxury in that place, at that time.
Laying on top of everything else were a collection of seashells, some white, some in shades of pinks and corals, each fanning out from a flat base to an arched top. All of the same general shape but of many size and color variations, they were no doubt gathered while her family lived near the lighthouse on a beach that no longer exists. They made their lives in the sand, surrounded by the sand and the fog and the seagulls, until the government came and made them leave, confiscating their precious community for a priceless port. I suppose these few shells comprised all the small world she could gather of that life, then.
Underneath were a few scraps of tickets, a Bible Memory pin, a broken necklace chain, a birthday card her grandmother sent for her fifth birthday, a brooch shaped like a bicycle, and a brown paper packet labeled “My Sunday School Cards” scrawled in childish letters, in crayon. As I picked up the packet, I realized it held a thick stack of various sized small cards. What in the world could this be, that would so capture the heart of this long-ago-child? I tried to open the end of the packet, but the paper was so old the flap disintegrated and fell off. There they were.
Hundreds of cards, no doubt collected over years. There were “Beginner” and “Primary” cards, the old-fashioned name for the divisions of many church’s Christian Education departments. Yet these cards hardly looked like something we would give a small child today! Slightly bigger than a playing card, each has an elaborate full-color painting reproduced on the front, a realistic illustration of an event or person from the Bible. And on the reverse, in tiny print but child-friendly prose, is the retelling of a lesson from the Bible, or the discussion of a person from the Bible, along with questions and answers, and a key Scripture verse.
I know she got these cards in the 1930’s. To think – they are nearly a hundred years old, yet look at how striking the pictures are even today. Can you imagine, in a little girl’s close, meagre world, how many times these pictures were studied? In her quiet world, without television or YouTube or streaming cell phone videos – how many times might these Bible lessons have been read and re-read, carefully tucked back in their brown paper envelope, and placed within the wooden box under her bed?
That much of her precious solitude had been spent handling and reading the little lesson reminders was evident by the wear on the sides of the cards. The reverse of many of the cards showed they had once been pasted in a scrapbook, but then later pried off and returned to the stack.
As I admired the quality of the paintings and the simple lessons they carried, I thought what a precious thing to give a child: truth. Yet, most of us as parents desire to do just that. Is there anything from these cards that I could learn about how to present truth in a way that is winsome to the heart of a child? I think there is.
Consider the paintings – beautifully done, especially for that time, but completely realistic. It is obvious these are real people, in a real far-away setting, and their lives of service to God are real in both the telling and the illustration. No comic book portrayals or cartoon speech bubbles blur the line here between fantasy and reality.
Then, think of the way the lesson is presented, in easily accessible but still profoundly serious language. Truth is not diluted. The mere fact that a very young child protected these cards carefully and treasured them for a lifetime is evidence that children are capable of understanding the weight of truth. That we keep growing in our understanding for a lifetime reminds us that it is not necessary to completely grasp an idea in order to comprehend its consequence.
And, of course, obviously the gift was intrinsically valuable. These cards were an investment by a church into the lives of children’s hearts. At the bottom, we can see that the cards cost 4 cents per quarter, but that would be per child, and that was in a day when a jumbo loaf of sliced bread could be purchased for 5 cents. This was a commitment, continued over years. Adults gave sacrificially, during a time of great deprivation, so that the children in their church might receive this gift of truth to treasure.
I must admit, however, that there is something else to consider. This gift was given into a vacuum, a place of scarcity, which no doubt increased its worth in the eyes of the recipient. This young girl, and probably most of her agemates, would not have had a lot that was either more interesting or more attractive to catch their eyes. In that void she concentrated on what she had, and thankfully she held truth in her hand. Who would have thought that rather than want, plenty might be the fiercer enemy to those who aim to make a lifelong impact on the hearts and lives of children?
Holding these cards in my hand, I can feel the weight of their worth. More than simply treasured objects from time gone by, they are a challenge to me today. The long-ago-little girl who once played with and cared for these lesson-cards grew up to be a pastor’s wife, a mother, a Sunday School teacher, and a grand and great-grandmother who lived to see the faith embraced by many in those generations. It seems worth considering how God’s truth became so precious to her, and how I can impress it on the children within my reach today.
Am I willing to invest not only my money but my time sacrificially, in order to be effective and potent and bearing fruit still, a hundred years from now? What is the best way for me to impress upon young hearts and minds that these were real people, encountering our real God, living out real-life adventures in their service of Him? And is there a need to clear space in my life, as well as my children’s, that we might all be freer to listen, to hear ourselves think, and to respond to the call of God on our hearts?
I’ll put these cards back in their envelope, but I’ll keep them in my own special box now, as reminders. I might not know the answers to the questions they pose, but the challenges they present are worth my time. I will keep coming back to consider and pray over, because I want to rise to the challenge they present. The answers are worth searching for because the truth is worth passing on.
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