It sits prominently way up on the third shelf to the left of our fireplace. It’s a robin’s-egg-blue 1961 Chevy pickup truck and trailer with white trim made by Tonka at 1/18th scale. In the trailer is a plastic Black Angus steer with one horn slightly chipped. The box the toy came in is long gone, but I remember it clearly: it was printed in matching white and blue and black and had plastic windows allowing a peek at the glory inside.
The truck was a birthday present from my parents. I was turning maybe 6 or 7 years old. At our house, a present not already owned or played with by someone else was rare. This was special. It was a very happy birthday.
Years later, after my siblings and I were all grown up and had kids of our own, my mom, in purge mode, boxed up each of our childhoods and called us to pick up our packages. In my box were report cards, vaccination records, clay finger pots, letters from camp, and all manner of stuff given to (or taken away) by my parents. Resting on top was the robin’s-egg-blue 1961 Chevy pickup truck. I took my box home.
After a few days of the box sitting on our kitchen counter, my wife set it down near the stairs to be taken to the attic.
Our kids were too young to read the words “Dean’s Life,” which my wife had written clearly on top of the box. But they had heard us talk enough about the contents to be curious. Together, when they were alone, they opened the box and took out the truck. As the truck made its first trip around the living room, my wife and I walked in on the little merrymakers.
Without thinking, I yelled—screamed, more like—“Put that back! That is not a toy!” Alarmed, my wide-eyed kids fell away from the truck, more from shock than obedience, I’m afraid. My wife, less shocked, raised an eyebrow and gave me one of those Oh, really? looks.
I think of this truck whenever I’m involved in a long-range planning or strategy event. And I wonder if too often our approach to churches or organizations is handled the way I handled my 1961 Chevy pickup—as if they belong only to us or are too precious or sentimental a thing to be taken off the shelf and played with. To be enjoyed. Or maybe even to have a little fun with now and again.