“The Lord Passed by”: Boat Potatoes
Sometime after Florence, my paternal grandmother died, my grandfather called my mother with an unusual offer.
--Kathy, he said, in his heavy Swedish accent, I was going through some of Florence’s things in the attic when I came across a box of old dishes. I was going to get rid of them, but I noticed that they’re blue—you’re favorite color. Why don’t you take a look at them, and if you want them they’re yours; otherwise I’ll give them to the Salvation Army.
So my mother went through the attic, expecting to find some run-of-the mill dinnerware. Instead when she opened the box she was looking at some of the most exquisite china she had ever seen.
Each plate had been individually painted with a pattern of forget-me-nots. The cups were inlaid mother of pearl. The dishes and cups were rimmed with gold.
The plates had been hand-crafted in a Bavarian factory that was destroyed during the second world war, so they were literally irreplaceable.
Yet my mother had been in the family for twenty years, and she had never seen this china before. She asked my father about it. He had grown up in the family—and he had never seen it either.
Eventually they found out from some older family members the story of the china. When Florence was very young, she was given this china over a period of years. They were not a wealthy family, and the china was quite valuable, so she only got a piece at a time for gifts—confirmation, or graduation, or a birthday.
Why had my parents never seen it? To know that, you have to know something about the character of Swedes. We are a cautious kind of people. We don’t roll the dice easily. For instance, my two great aunts lived for 80 years in a beautiful Victorian home built my my great-grandfather in the 1800’s. The most beautiful room in the house was a parlor. It was generally reserved for when very special guests would come to the house. No guest that special ever came to the house. So it didn’t got used much.
When Florence got a piece of china, because it was so valuable, because if it was used it might be broken, she would wrap it very carefully in tissue, put it in a box, and store in the attic for a very special occasion. No occasion that special ever came along.
And my grandmother went to her grave with the greatest gift of her life unopened, unused.
Then my mother got the dishes. She uses them promiscuously. Every chance she has. They’ve finally made it out of the box.
The two ways
Any time a gift is given, the recipient must choose to respond in one of two ways. The First Way says: This gift is so valuable it can’t be risked.
Those who follow the First Way realize that when the gift is brought out of the box, into the open, things may not always go well. The gift may be poorly used sometimes. It may not always be admired by others the way we want. It may even be broken. Taking the gift out of the box is always a risk.
The Second Way says: This gift is so valuable it must be risked.
Those who follow the Second Way understand that if the gift is not brought out of the box, it will never be used at all. To leave the gift in the box is to thwart the desire of the Giver. There is no tragedy like the tragedy of the unopened gift.
You too have been given a gift. We’ll look in the next chapter at how to discover what’s inside your box—how to discern what God has gifted you and called you to do.
But for now I want to invite you to do a bit of ruthless self-assessment. For along with the gift you have been given a choice—whether or not you will open and use what was given to you. Is your life following the First Way or the Second?
The disciples who stayed in the boat were—like my grandmother--followers of the First Way. They did not want to risk brokeness or failure. They treasured safety over growth. The Lord wanted to “pass by them,”—to reveal himself in his adventuresome splendor—not to by-pass them! The ultimate adventure of faith was something they were content to watch from the sidelines. They didn’t want to be passed by, just passed up.
They understood the cost of getting out of the boat. They were very clear about the pain of potential failure, embarrassment, inadequacy, criticism, perhaps even loss of life.
But what was not so clear to them was another price—the cost of staying in the boat.