Lost Coins and Boxes

Luke 15:1-10  – The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them . . .” ((Luke 15:8)

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_ArkUnlike Jesus’ parable of a woman scouring her house for a lost coin, my mother’s quest for a box didn’t have a happy ending.

In August a year ago, Mom had moved from her home of forty-six years to a retirement community. Many of the contents of her suburban house were donated, itemized for a garage sale or bequeathed to my two sisters and me. She would only bring what she needed to her new residence.

When I arrived for a first visit a couple of weeks after her move, the new apartment had packed and unpacked cardboard boxes everywhere . . . on her floors, piled in closets and also in the dishwasher-sized storage unit in a separate area. Mom had already filled her assigned space with several empty suitcases, Christmas ornaments and more boxes.

After a hug and chitchat and how-was-the-drive-from-Fresno, Mom’s demeanor flattened like air escaping a tire.

“I’ve lost a box.”

A box. There were scores of boxes in Mom’s apartment. It was a condensed version of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones’ wooden box was stored in a government warehouse with a zillion other similar containers.

“Which box, Mom?”

“It’s the one with a thousand dollars in it.”

Ah. That box.

Mom and Dad were born in the first decades of the twentieth-century. That generation survived the interminable “Great Depression” and then saved the world from the tyranny of dictators. Though I didn’t know when I was a kid, as an adult—and privy to a few of my parents’ “secrets”—I’d learned they kept cash hidden in the house. The financial woes of 1930s demonstrated that a bank might abruptly close its doors. World War II revealed that normalcy could shift to panic and only fools wouldn’t prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Of course they hoarded a stash of cash.

“I think I put the box in the storage unit,” she said.

We looked. Indeed, over the next hours, we investigated the smallish storage space multiple times. We opened and closed and opened every carton of any size in her apartment. It didn’t matter if a box had been labeled Photo Albums or Kitchen Stuff, we thoroughly searched the apartment’s nooks, crannies and, like Jesus’ woman with the lost coin, lighted a lamp to illuminate the darkest reaches of rooms and corners.

It wasn’t World War II, but Mom’s normalcy had shifted to panic.

Had the box been stolen? Probably. Soon after moving in, Mom recalled carting the box with the tucked-away cash into the storage area. She planned to unload and itemize it when the apartment was less cluttered. Had she properly secured the padlock on the storage unit’s flimsy mesh door? Maybe, but maybe not. Before I departed the next day, we reluctantly guessed the box had been opened by someone that quickly discovered a tidy sum of money and threw the rest of the contents into a dumpster.

We would never know.

The lost was lost.

Unlike Jesus’ determined woman, Mom’s “coins” were never found.

What have you lost . . . and found? What have you lost . . . and never found?

We think of divorce and death as loss, with the person never “found” again. And there are endless headlines where the “lost”—the kidnapped child, the terrorist-held adult—were never “found” again. Finding does not automatically follow being lost, and often the lost that are never found become lifetime wounds for loved ones.

Being lost and being found was an essential and recurring theme for Jesus. The simple parable of a woman’s search for a coin was followed in Luke by the complex “Prodigal Son” story . . . where a younger son is lost, and then found; where a father loses then finds; where an older son seems—depending on the interpretation—forever lost, though he never left. To be lost and found represented the easiest and hardest ways to understand redemption, the return to your senses, the return to faith and the return to God.

A woman found her coin and rejoiced.

Mom never found her box.

And yet I don’t think it was her “stuff” that mattered. It wasn’t even the cash stash that mattered. In her move, from a known home to unknown apartment, from the old comfortable normal to the new scary normal, she was vulnerable. Everything felt lost.

A year later, in this here and now late summer of 2013, Mom has died. A sudden, terrible diagnosis of cancer and its complications took her life in the span of four weeks. My sisters and I have closed her apartment, and every box once there—empty or full—is gone. In the last days of her life, I read Jesus’ parable of the woman’s search for the lost coin to her. When I read it, in the quiet morning of Mom’s room at a skilled nursing facility, she was already non-responsive. But they say hearing is the last of the senses to go. Perhaps she heard me read the scripture, perhaps she didn’t.

As Mom lay dying, I told her I felt lost because of losing her. But I also told her I’d found my way in life and faith because of all the daily love she and Dad had shared with me. I can humbly claim I thanked Mom for her love when she was at her best (and never fretted about lost cash). And I thanked her when she was at her worst (and near the final breaths of her earthly life).

We’re all lost coins and boxes, aren’t we?

But I still believe God is the forever finder, seeking to guide us to open our hearts to the treasures that matter most.


(Image from here.)

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  1. Once again, quite stupendously amazing. Your words, filled with such grace and insight, bring such peace and joy to my heart. God bless you.

  2. Larry, your story is a refreshing course of, the many times your dear Mother, and my friend, retold that same story to me about her lost box. She really did feel very invaded of her privacy during those beginnings at the “place” where she spent her last days. She only referred to it as home once that I recall, but very soon realizing what she’d said, she recanted those words as if she’d betrayed how she really felt. It only was home to her when her precious kids were there with her. I appreciated all of you and the time you devouted to making your Mother feel she was the luckiest Mother in the world. The loss of her box was a reality of ,how what we try to store up here on earth will not endure in eternity. We come to cherish the memories, but even they fade . It’s whats done for Christ and His glory that endures in the end. Thanks for writting and please don’t stop. JC

    1. Thanks so much, Joyce! No surprise that Mom once slipped up and called the apartment her “home” . . . and then immediately corrected herself.

  3. What a wonderful memory of the lost box with your mother. And how an old story still fits us all today. As I sat here reading, tears falling down my face, I recall the loss of my mother far too soon when I was 17. Memories haunt me so to speak, she was a wonderful mom, and can only hope I was a mom like that to my son and daughter. Thank you yet again for putting into perspective our scriptures into our everyday lives. And also tying into the scriptures of “stuff” last week. Hope you have a blessed week. Nancy

  4. Your reflection touched my heart, Larry. I ‘lost’ my mum on March 10th while she resided at a nursing home. My last words to her, while she was nonresponsive, were much like yours…But our mothers are never lost to us as they are genetically and spiritually apart of us – and their hope and faith live on through us! Blessings always…

    1. And blessings to you too, Jennifer.

      Thanks for reading . . . and I so agree with . . . our mothers are always a part of us!

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