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Gathered Fragments

Words by Harriet Michael // Image by Marisa Albrecht

“And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’” (John 6:12)

I first noticed this verse in an old handwritten book my father has on his shelf. It was handed down to him by his mother, who got it from her mother. It appears to be an old journal, and on its pages are poems gathered and carefully written by its first owner. Some are famous poems while others are original works by family members, some hand-written by my grandmother and by my father. The treasured book is titled “Gathered Fragments,” and John 6:12 is written in beautiful penmanship on the first page.

These words in Scripture were actually an instruction by Jesus to his disciples after the miraculous feeding of five thousand people. The crowd, which gathered to hear Jesus, was hungry. It was lunchtime and the people were without food. Most of them had gathered spontaneously without planning ahead even enough to have brought lunches. Rather than going home, the disciples found a little boy with a small lunch of five loaves of bread and two small fish. After blessing the food, Jesus broke it into pieces, and offered it to the hungry crowd who consumed it eagerly. Then, when the crowd had eaten all they wanted, the disciples were told to “gather up the . . . fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Isn’t that a beautiful instruction? How do you gather fragments? Do you have a collection of some kind? Perhaps you collect rocks, coins, or stamps. Maybe you like to make scrapbooks. Do you keep old photos and relics from years gone by, polished and put in a place of honor in your home or given away as special gifts?

My father has a plaque hanging in his home of an old letter he wrote to his mother from camp when he was a child. His sister found the letter and made a very special birthday gift for him with it one year. Maybe you have carefully held onto family heirlooms so you can pass them to the next generation. Or perhaps, you gather fragments in other ways. Maybe you can produce for winter eating, or maybe you gather and dry herbs, fruits, or vegetables.

Through the years, I have learned another way to gather fragments. I have had more than one occasion to help gather the pieces of a loved one’s shattered life. Sometimes these lives were shattered at the person’s own hands, often by sin, or at the hands of another. Even so, I find myself drawn to the gathering role. While others are shattering through accusations, anger, or gossip, my heart aches and longs to help the broken friend or family member gather his or her life back together. I remember how God has gathered my broken life and put it back together so many times.

What or who needs gathering in your life? What or who is in danger of being lost?

Perhaps the shattered, broken lives are not people you know. Maybe you learn from the news of others, even groups of people whose lives have been shattered, and your heart longs to help in whatever way you can—through donations, service, or prayer—you are helping to gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost.

Whether simple and fun, or deep and meaningful, may we be aware of the things around us that need to be gathered. When the disciples gathered the fragments in the Bible story, they had 12 baskets left over. Though this was a miraculous occurrence, the underlying principle is still valid. If you or I form fragment-gathering habits, we will find abundance in our lives too. And so will others whom we bless with our fragments—carefully gathered and lovingly given.