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Originally published Friday, November 2, 2012 at 7:44 PM

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Lost family photos hold story of what's most important

Like the debris from the Japanese tsunami that recently has been washing up along the coastline of our state, many of us have gone through storms that scattered what we consider most precious to far-flung places.

Special to The Seattle Times

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More about Elaine Tolson:elainetolson.com

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My dear friend Elaine Tolson has a knack for finding old, discarded things no one else wants and turning them into exquisite treasures. Her unique home-décor creations (re-purposed from the most unlikely objects) and handmade charms bring a touch of vintage beauty to many of us throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Back in 2009, Elaine was browsing through a secondhand store near her home when she came upon an old family photo album with pictures dating from 1918 to 1934. The store owner, she learned, had acquired it at an auction. Ever the artist, Elaine just couldn't wait to take it home with her. She began dreaming of the wonderful pieces she could make out of the scanned and copied photos.

Settled back at home with her new purchase, Elaine browsed through page after page of old pictures. Whoever had captured the images obviously knew a lot about photography — though nearing a century in age, the pictures were stunning. But what really grabbed her heart was the poignant story of a real family, clearly deeply devoted to each other, written wordlessly in the collection of faded photographs. Actually, there were a few words scrawled throughout the album — some captions about events, and the names of family members, scattered here and there.

As Elaine continued to pore over the pages, she began to think less about what she would make out of the album and more about the lives it represented. She says, "For most people, it would seem odd to develop a connection with a family that lived so long ago, when there was no personal connection whatsoever. It's hard to explain. It partly comes from my own love and devotion to family that penetrates through many generations. It also comes from a devotion to things of the past — clothing, shoes, homes and mannerisms, as well as the colors and textures that come from the wonderful old black-and-white and sepia-toned photos."

At that point, Elaine began to feel the album really didn't belong to her. So she and her husband, Ben, decided to do an Internet search for remaining family members, using clues from the album to guess where any descendants might be living these days.

After about an hour of searching, they found a name and email in another state as a starting point. Elaine wrote an email message describing the album, mentioning the names in it, and asking if there might be some family connection. It was a longshot, they knew, but she pushed "send" anyway. Sooner than expected, they received a reply. In an amazing twist, they had sent the very first inquiry to the grandson of the only living child of this family of five children. He was thrilled to hear about the lost album and couldn't wait to look through the old pictures with his grandfather.

Shortly, Elaine's reclaimed treasure was on its way to the rightful owners. And not long after, the grateful recipients sent her another "family photo" to view, a much newer one — this time of the grandson and grandfather happily looking through the family's old picture album together. (Here are links to view photos from the old album, seati.ms/UP2BMx, as well as pictures of its return to the family, seati.ms/Pa4II7.)

I love this story and what it says about the heart of my friend Elaine, who went out of her way to return a long-lost treasure. It reminds me to be thankful for the people who go to great effort to restore what has been lost; among those are pastors and spiritual leaders who help others find their way to a relationship with God, counselors who help the hurting find peace and hope again, and life coaches who help stuck people regain their momentum and purpose in life.

Like the debris from the Japanese tsunami that recently has been washing up along the coastline of our state, many of us have gone through storms that scattered what we consider most precious to far-flung places. Or like the album Elaine discovered, perhaps just the passage of time — incessant busyness, perplexing struggles and constant change — has caused us to lose track of the most important things in life: our families, our friendships, our values, our faith. We may feel little hope of ever getting back what was lost.

Referring to himself in Luke 19:10, Jesus said:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

New International Version

This tells me that no nameless face and no discarded history is beyond being found — not even mine, or yours. Reclaiming a lost story and restoring it to a place of honor — that's what God's love does so well. And guess what? He does his best work with faded lives and longshots. Just picture that.

Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com.

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