I have a tendency to let things sit in my cupboard and refrigerator that have expired dates. I’m not even sure there was such a thing as expiration dates on food items when I was a child. My mama believed in using everything so as not to waste things. Along with other Depression era folks, she believed:
Use it up; wear it out; make it do, or do without.
Mama – a well as my aunts – modeled it well.
My kids come home and have a fit about expired medications (how can Tylenol get old?!) and expired salad dressings in the refrigerator. I’ve been trying to do better, and the other day my toilet had red, brown, and blue liquid because I dumped a variety of liquid and capsules into the toilet. [Don’t worry; we live in the country and have our own septic system.]
Another day I was trying to find salsa in my pantry. I couldn’t find any, but I found two containers in the refrigerator. You do not even want to know the year that was on those jars. You will probably also be glad to know that the contents went down the garbage disposal.
I also needed some enchilada sauce, which I found in the pantry. Trouble was, the lid was not flat and it had a distinct bulge on the top. I couldn’t find an expiration date on the can. What to do?!
Standing there in my kitchen, I discovered the real cause of my dilemma: It is hard for me to throw something away because there just might be something good in it; something that can still be used.
Saving to Salvage
I grew up in a home and community where everything was salvaged for later use. One never knew when an old, fraying blanket could be used for the inside of a brand new comforter, so why throw it away? My mother kept a pantry and two chest freezers stuffed full, but she could tell you exactly on which side of which freezer that item was that she needed someone to bring up from the cellar for her. Her bathroom cabinets were full of unused, slightly musty towels (gifts given to her that she was saving because she might need them some day.)
We, her children, kept shaking our heads at how much she was willing to keep because she might need it some day. In 1999, my husband told her that he was just going to move us all to Maryland to live with her when Y2K rolled in because her stash was so great that we’d never be in want.
In the past months, I’ve been working at de-accumulating. It does not come naturally for me because I’m sentimental and relationship oriented. The front of my refrigerator is full of photos, cards, notes, and letters from people who matter to me. I visit other homes and marvel at how neat the refrigerator looks. When I come home, I try to clean mine off (you know, ’cause I’m comparing and want to be like her.)
Somehow, I manage to dispose of a few things. Yet, the notes and the photos are significant to me for various reasons, and I end up keeping them because I believe in these people. There’s a little girl who writes a story every time she comes to my house. One day she came “home” and discovered that one of her stories had disappeared. “You threw my story away?!” she wailed. That’s why there’s a stash of papers in one huge magnetic clip on the door. There’s a thank you from a couple of kids who rode with us for an event; the fact that their parents are teaching them to write thank you notes matters, and so that note will stay a while longer. There are kids who have lived at our house and are not here any more. I miss them, and seeing their photos reminds me to pray for them. In those photos, I see lives that matter to Jesus.
Salvaging = Redemption
Older folks are like that. Even though we might think they’re beyond their expiration date, every person has value and worth. Troubled teens are like that. Even though some folks might give up and reject these kids, they have something to offer. Children are like that. Sometimes they come to us bent or bulging with physical handicaps or emotional outpourings; yet, there is so much in them that can be turned into something good. Unborn, “unwanted” babies are full of promise and potential if only they are allowed to give.
My husband tells me that I’m too gullible, too lenient, and too trusting of people. He says I let people take advantage of me – rather like keeping containers with expired dates on them. In some ways, he is right.
In some ways, I’m right. How tragic it would be to give up on someone because they’re bent or rusty. How tragic to not open up the can gently and find that there is still something good inside.
Like the fraying, used blanket, lives can be redeemed and restored into something helpful, useful, and good. The musty, unused towel can be washed and renewed and still find purpose. Sometimes the item with an expiration date of long ago really isn’t spoiled. Ask me how I know.
In our families and communities, there are many who are deemed unusable or unimportant. From the unborn to the centenarian, let’s focus on repairing and restoring.
It’s called Redemption.