As my second-born cupped his latest “collection” in hand and elbow-kneed his way into the van, I had to smile. Carefully, he deposited each treasure into the cup holder next to his seat…a paperclip found in the parking lot outside the grocery store, a rock with a sparkly glint, a feather from the dead bluejay that we pass each day on the walk from the bus stop. These and a dozen other motley items constitute this child’s current trove, the things he promises to turn into an invention when he grows up. He’s the child whose first blink set the gears of an unplummable mind in motion and it’s a whirling I know well. My own childhood was full of compulsions about collecting, though unlike his prismatic tastes, I was a homogenous collector. I used to walk around my grandfather’s farmyard with a brown grocery bag in hand, picking up every chicken feather I could spy. And I had a stack of magazine-clipped horses that I kept in an old manila folder under my bed. These were the early indications of my budding packratery.
As I aged, the chroma of my collections also deepened: albums full of unpeeled stickers, popsicle sticks from a summer of cousins, remnants of fabric from Grandma’s sewing room, quotes from Reader’s Digest in neatly labeled envelopes. I went through phases of stamps, yarn, pressed flowers, pinecones. When I decided to become an English teacher I scrounged for old textbooks that might be headed for the dumpster. I sketched out lesson plans for novels I didn’t know if I’d ever have to teach, but just in case. 30 years later, my hobbies still center on collections: seeds for gardening, paper for scrapbooking, old documents for genealogy.
Usually my gathering starts with a practical purpose. The popsicle sticks and yarn were for making fabulous God’s Eye tree ornaments. Remember those from VBS? The quotes would make great discussion starters in class. Scrap fabric would make a lovely quilt. Pressed flowers were for bookmarks and pinecones were for bird feeders. But some of my collections are pointless, like the tangerine wings I find around the butterfly bush in the side yard each summer or the box full of cat whiskers in my top dresser drawer that I’ve gathered just because.
What draws us to make these piles? For me, I think it has something to do with imagining a second chance, dreaming ahead, knowing that mundane pieces can be part of a glorious whole. The age-old foiler of plans, of course, is time. Until Heaven, we aren’t getting free from its fleeing and so the piles grow as purposes lie in dormant daydreams and we attack piles of laundry and dishes instead. I feel sad sometimes when thinking of the projects that won’t be created and of the time wasted in collecting for them. I wonder what it would be like to have no desire for the constant pursuit of gathering.
"You (God) keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected my tears in your bottle."Ps. 56:8
"See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..." Isaiah 49:16
"Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered."Luke 12:7
What a flood of reassurance comes in knowing that even with an entire creation to oversee, our Heavenly Father spends part of His day gathering mindfulness about the ones He loves. A wall of bottles, salty water filled, connecting our sorrows to His tender heart toward us. A brag-book, abounding with pages of the children who bring Him delight, chiseled on palms that carry the world. And an endless stack of paper next to His throne for the tally marks counting strands of hair, like my cat whiskers, just because.
I know what drives me to collect, but why does God? Perhaps because I’m created in His image, the things that spark me originate first in His catalyst.
Packrats love to repurpose the seemingly broken or spent and that’s also very central to His nature.
“…beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning…” Isaiah 61: 2
Packrats dream forward and so does He.
“For I know the plans I have for you. To bring you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Packrats imagine possibility in pieces before the whole can be seen and His attention to detail follows the same pattern.
“…God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them,
just as he wanted them to be.” 1 Cor. 12:18