A few weeks after my father passed away in January 2000, my siblings and I re-gathered to go through his stuff. And I resolved to keep less stuff.
Dad left us, and many more people as well, a legacy worth more than gold. He also left a prodigious amount of paper.
Some of it was correspondence of real historical value for anyone interested in the history of "our" little group of churches. I've only scratched the surface, but the letters I've read bear testimony to the Christlike heart, wisdom, and gentle spirit of my father, his devotion to his Father, and the struggles he, perhaps as much as any single individual, helped lead this little group of churches through. By God's grace, Dad left a legacy of love that will long be blessing folks who never even knew him.
Yes, and I repeat, he also left much paper. Records. Files. Bible teaching materials. Most in English. A good bit in Spanish. (He loved to teach and preach in Spanish and did so fluently.) Dad kept records of every sort. Amidst years of bank statements, I found the check he wrote to Amarillo's Northwest Texas Hospital at my birth.
I've never thought of myself as any great bargain, but it turns out that I was. At least if you compare 1957 dollars to 2013 dollars. My younger brother found the check paid for him as well. I don't remember if we compared amounts, but it would be only proper if they got him a good bit more cheaply.
When our sister died in 2007, my brothers and I gathered in Houston for more stuff-sifting. She had the same packrat propensity but on steroids. And I swore a solemn oath to keep less stuff.
Ah, but there's a reason Jesus told us to avoid oath-making. And, sadly, the only resolution I've ever come close to keeping is my resolution never to make resolutions. Give me a full month to do just two things–breathe, and work on tossing the "stuff" that's threatening to bury me–I might make a small dent in the pile. If this were the only reason my kids should pray for my longevity, it's a good one.
But yesterday UPS delivered to my door a new shredder. Only three or four "overheat" cycles later, I'd destroyed a decade or a few of old checks and bank statements. I feel freer already.
I knew better than to look at the checks much, but just the glimpses I caught as I was feeding the machine took me on side trips down Memory Lane–and bolstered the not-so-surprising but stark truth that we write in our check registers the real story of what, and who, is most important in our lives. Two file boxes down the road, I'm nowhere near where I need to be on this journey, but … Jesus told us a long time ago that the only stuff truly worth piling up is "treasure in heaven." The rest of it, you can't take with you.
With apologies to my children, may I say a resounding and heartfelt, "Good!" When I'm gone, I suggest to them some combination of a front end loader, matches, and a landfill–and a swift kick in the pants to any sibling who says, "Oh, I don't know, we might need that."
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at