(Encore excerpt from Ch. 15 of Leona's recently published book LIVING THE TREASURES IN THE LAND OF MORE.)
When I was about five years old and growing up in the Iowa heartland, my mother announced that she had a surprise for me. As an only child, I always hoped the surprise would mean that at last there would be a baby brother or sister on the way to alleviate my loneliness. Perhaps a puppy? No such luck. She said Daddy was bringing my surprise from the furniture store where he worked.
Then it arrived—Daddy carried in a large, reddish-brown chest with a distinct cedar fragrance. “It’s your HOPE CHEST, Leona!” My mother, grandmother, and aunts gathered around enthusiastically admiring it and planning for the beautiful linens they would sew and embroider to put into it for me.
Duh! I would rather have had toys or books—or that puppy.
According to our Czech tradition brought over by my ancestors from Europe, a family would buy a new chest for a very young girl and load it throughout her growing years with handmade quilts, crocheted pillow cases, tablecloths, napkins, and other needlework and crafted items to help head start her household when she became a bride. It had a lock and a key which Mother let me keep in my decorated wooden cigar box where I hid my own childish treasures—favorite rocks, dried butterflies, and other keepsakes.
Becoming a bride was far from my childhood mind; I was just entering kindergarten and had no marital prospects! That chest was certainly a deferred treasure.
Fast forward sixteen years. I was excited about my forthcoming wedding which was to take place immediately after my college graduation! In my mind my HOPE CHEST had magically morphed into a real TREASURE CHEST! How delighted I was to examine each precious item so thoughtfully prepared by beloved family members, some of whom had by that time departed from this life.
My HOPE CHEST and its contents went with me when my husband and I lived abroad as missionaries in China and in different places in this country where we moved in our ministry. Despite scratches and one broken foot, the chest has survived more than eighty years since Daddy brought it home for me. It stands proudly at the foot of my bed even now and holds mementos, photos, stories, school records, and collected memories and prayers for my grandson Jeffrey.
Invisible HOPE CHESTS
As a Christian, I have two more HOPE CHESTS in my faith life. Both are founded on HOPE. Both are marked with my name and are intensely personal. No one else has the key to them. Both of them are spiritual and therefore invisible.
The first HOPE CHEST contains all the potential experiences and blessings and graces and favors that God in His love foreordained for me from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-6 and 11). When I was born and baptized into His family, the Lord stocked this invisible chest with all the Treasures that He planned for me. I continually pray even into my late-season years that I may keep myself open to, welcome, and accept with thanksgiving all that God has for me in my life on Planet Earth. He continues to surprise me with new things he wants me to experience and learn as He nurtures me and gradually transforms me into the image of Christ.
The second HOPE CHEST is being filled with all the Treasures of good works and good deeds of love that I have been sending ahead into the Father’s House. The Scripture says that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
I have not been doing good works in order to merit eternal life—I receive salvation by God’s grace alone. Nor do I do good works in order to receive rewards; rewards are God’s idea. Jesus told us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Among the contents of this second HOPE CHEST are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that flow from our genuine faith in God and desire to help others. Until I arrive in heaven, I will not know, nor do I need to know, what I have “laid up for myself” in Glory. That Treasure is under God’s lock and key. Good works and spiritual fruit are what the Lord expects of me and of all His children to the very end of our lives. I may not know while on this side of heaven which of my works are truly indestructible “gold, silver, precious stones” or which are combustible “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
Everything is safe in this HOPE CHEST without a worry that the contents will be stolen, eaten by moths, or corroded by rust. The chest is fireproof, unlike my childhood HOPE CHEST which was constructed entirely of cedar wood. The scent was meant to keep insects from chewing the irreplaceable linens within. Similar chests in China are made from camphor wood for the same reason. Jesus said He wants our fruit to be preserved, to abide, to remain (John 15:16).
I would like the first invisible HOPE CHEST to be empty when I leave my “earth suit” behind. I want to have lived to the fullest every opportunity God planned for my growth in virtue and holiness. I want to have received all that God meant for me to have now, and to have savored every ordained-by-God experience regardless of how negative or joyful it may have seemed to me at any given moment.
And I would like the second invisible HOPE CHEST to be full…NO, wait a minute…In fact, I hope it will be empty too! I'm sending those Treasures ahead to God not to have them stockpiled selfishly for my private use when I get to heaven or to merit for me a higher status. I want to offer those good works to God on behalf of others who may need them for their purification and expiation. I’m asking the Lord to keep distributing to others whatever I send to Him. I hope to keep replenishing what He gives out. If there are any leftovers, I offer them to God to put in His Great Storehouse, which Saint Paul called “the riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19) to join with the merits of Jesus, His blessed Mother, the apostles, all the saints of the ages, and those who died in His friendship.
So I won’t worry if my second HOPE CHEST will also be empty when I come into God’s presence. When I do need some graces for myself, God holds the keys to His Storehouse and can summon an angel to generously obtain some for me. God's Storehouse will never be empty!