Heart Verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

My great-nephew, Mason, has just entered US Navy basic training. I am so proud of him. Within a matter of weeks he graduated from high school, turned eighteen and departed for Great Lakes Naval Station. I have never met Mason. We live 2,000 miles apart. But, as with all of our long-distance nieces and nephews, my husband and I have been intentional about forging relationships with them. As I sat down to write Mason a letter, I decided to enclose a photo of my dad from his Navy days. This would be the Great-Grandfather whom he has never met.

With excitement I abandoned my pen and paper and moved to the room where all things memorabilia are stored. I located the appropriate bin, dropped onto the carpet and opened the dusty lid. A smile slowly formed. There sat the handmade treasure chest that held all of Dad’s WWII artifacts. For this story to make sense, let me first tell you the history of this precious wooden box. Long before meeting my mom, Dad was married to a beautiful woman named Anne. They met when he was a young sailor far from home and she an office worker at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he was stationed. They fell in love and planned to marry once he completed his six-year tour. He soon shipped out on the USS Mt. McKinley, a flagship commissioned to drop Marines off in the Palau Islands in preparation for the Battle of Peleliu. I know this because, due to the lack of mail service aboard ship, Dad penned love letters in a diary of sorts, which he would send to Anne once the ship had reached port. These love letters contained snippets of news about the ship’s movements. This would have been considered against regulations if it were not for the fact that the events mentioned would have already taken place by the time the diary was mailed. Dad went on to fulfill his duty to country, and then the two were married, enjoying eleven wonderful years together before Anne passed away.

Decades later after Dad’s death, Mom and I were clearing out our family home to prepare it for sale. In the attic we found the wooden box that I now held in my lap. It was skillfully hewn with hand-painted Old English letters across the top spelling Anne’s name. I was captivated to discover this piece of my father’s story that I knew so little about. Pleading with Mom to allow me to keep it, she graciously agreed. I stowed it safely, eagerly awaiting the solitary time in which to unearth whatever precious gems this treasure trove held. Throughout the years since, I have spent countless hours tenderly poring over its contents: Snapshots of young sailors at sea and in foreign lands, early family photos of Dad’s life with Anne, a few Navy- issued documents—pay slips, etc., and of course, the volume of love letters written from the longing heart of a boy missing his girl. The 4” x 6” book held page upon page of my dad’s heart poured out in faded blue ink. On the gray linen cover he had sketched a ship at sea, with the words “To Anne” in the upper right-hand corner. For all this time I believed the diary to be the greatest treasure that the box contained. But I would be wrong.

Perusing the contents in search of the perfect snapshot to send to Mason, my fingers touched a small, smooth piece of paper tucked among the thick, cardboard photographs. As I pulled it closer, my eyes blurred with tears. I beheld a business card-size Gospel tract. Scrawled at the bottom was a signature. It was from Anne’s mother. Had she given it to her future son-in-law before he shipped out, not knowing how the raging war would impact him? Had he propped it in plain view in his bunk to remind him of God’s ever-present love? My Dad was a believer to be sure, but in retrospect, I realize that he had never shared his salvation story with me. I wonder now if he had received Christ while aboard that ship in response to the faithful gesture of a mother who loved the Lord as well as her daughter, the woman Dad loved.

I turned the fragile tract over and over again in my hands, studying every detail. The paper had yellowed from age, the edges were tattered, but the message was (is) clear ̶ John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Suddenly, all of the photos and letters and papers fell away. THIS was the true hidden treasure in Dad’s box. And also in his heart.

When we search the scriptures regarding treasure, we see both the up and the down sides. In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus instructs His listeners as follows: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He warns, not only to avoid making gods of money or riches, but of anything that could occupy the throne in our lives. He is to be Lord as well as Savior to us. Jesus is a brilliant storyteller, whether using life-on-life examples or parables as He often did. I am struck by the searing dichotomy He illuminates between the rich, young ruler, who desires what Jesus is offering but is unwilling to release his earthly wealth to acquire it (Mark 10:17-31), and the man who joyfully sells everything he owns to purchase the hidden treasure (Kingdom of Heaven) that he found buried in a field (Matthew 13:44). These, for me, irrefutably hit His “heavenly vs. earthly” treasures message home. He is the only treasure any of us will ever need, a treasure hidden in plain sight. And one that beckons a deep look inside.

This treasure is the one that my Dad’s future mother-in-law shared with him as a homesick young man. It is the one that he and Mom shared with my brothers and me as they raised us, and the same one that my husband and I shared with our children. Unlike what the world models, this treasure is to be kept and given away; to be held closely and set free all at once…and every day. The enormity of its impact is exponential when we share it. That is our mission after all.

In a few weeks, my husband and I will be meeting Mason for the first time as family from coast to coast gathers to celebrate his graduation from basic training. I hope to share with him the story that I have just shared with you. Although Dad and Anne’s love story is beautiful and worthy to be told, it pales in comparison to John 3:16, which is the ultimate love story—the one that Mason most needs to hear. When I consider the similarities between him and Dad at 18 years old, I find it uncanny. They are two young sailors committing to an endeavor bigger than themselves in the service of their country, both love struck teenagers navigating the trials of long-distance relationships. I see wide-eyed hopes and lofty dreams, adventurous spirits and, perhaps, a smattering of innocence or even naiveté, which is how we all start out. And although Mason may not be heading to war as Dad was, I still see them as two youthful souls in need of Jesus. I know by the fruit of Dad’s life that he found Christ, savored Him and shared Him. That chapter of Mason’s story has yet to be written. Only God knows where his adventure will lead. Whether it carries him by land or by sea, through storms or calm waters, through gain and through loss, and through questions yet answered, I pray that Christ will be the one and only treasure that he seeks and then finds. This is my prayer for my great-nephew, but not for him alone. I pray it for every soul who is still spiritually at sea.