Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dusty Books and Living Water

Cleaning out the attic has become an annual event at our house. I look forward to it almost as much as a trip to the dentist or an afternoon spent scrubbing out the oven. I could feel the blast of cold air as I tugged open the miniature doorway to our attic. The scent of dust combined with insulation and stale air wafted across my face inducing an immediate sneeze. I zipped up my fleece and bravely poked my head into the nether regions of our second story. Boxes were piled haphazardly on top of one another, suitcases blocked the entryway. A basket of out-grown toys had spilled over onto pink, plastic lined insulation. A dismantled crib lay forlornly on its side. I collected my thoughts and attempted to formulate a plan for organizing the chaos. For more than a fleeting moment, the plan involved simply closing the door and saving the project for another day, any other day.

I began dragging out boxes and baskets, crib parts and Christmas decorations. I was determined this would be the year that I would do more than just re-stack everything. This year, I would take the time to sort through each and every item; discarding, re-gifting, donating, or packing away the treasures we have accumulated. After almost an hour of work, I unearthed a treasure trove too good to pass over lightly. Books. Hundreds and hundreds of books, lovingly packed away to make room for a growing family. We had promised ourselves that we would pull them back out of the attic as soon as we could find room. Six years later, the books lay covered in a blanket of soot and dust. Eleven crates in total, all waiting to be re-discovered and re-claimed.

I spent the rest of the day sorting through the crates. I found old friends—books that had been gifts and treasures from friends and family. A book my grandfather had read as a child, complete with his neat, grade school autograph. A pamphlet I was given when I accepted Christ. A collection of song books and hymnals given to me by saints of the faith. I also found enemies—theology books from college that denied the deity of Christ, but were required reading. A Book of Mormon left by a passerby, lost to our pleadings for truth in his life.

The best find for me, though, was our collection of Bibles. A Bible from Charlie’s infant baptism and another from his baptism as a youth. My father’s old King James family Bible, largely unread and unused, but containing precious letters he wrote before his death. There was a stack of Bibles that had wandered into our home over the years, used for their commentary or wording, giving us a different way of knowing the Word. There were some old Bibles and one brand-new Bible. A Bible from a friend who had lost the courage to give it to her father and one from a friend who had decided in college that she was giving up on God.

In one of the last crates, I spied a familiar shape. Reaching down, my hands grasped the worn leather and the gates of memory lane were thrown wide open. This was my very first Bible, one given to me at my confirmation ceremony around age twelve. I remember the day I received it, not understanding the treasures contained within, rather treasuring my name embossed on the front and the leather cover my parents bought to accompany it. For several years, it stood at attention on my childhood bookshelf, unused but respected. Somewhere in high school, God’s calling on my life began to dawn and this Bible was pulled down from its dusty home and became a constant companion. I carried it to school, to work, to church, to Young Life meetings. I never went far without it.

As I unzipped the cover, I found a gateway into my past. Inside, I found flowers from my father’s funeral pressed between pages of scripture. There were pictures of old high school friends—many of whose names escape me today; scribbled questions about who God is and where He is and what He is doing; the name of a junior high crush doodled over and over. Towards the back, I found an encouraging letter from my mother, telling me she was proud of the young woman I was becoming. Sermon notes with questions about the teaching and whether it could be trusted. Searching, burning, searing questions…Missing, though, was Jesus. I noticed immediately that this Bible was all about me; about preserving memories and emotions, thoughts and moments. Jesus was missing. Not one passage of scripture was underlined. Most of the pages still felt like new. This Bible’s purpose had been to preserve important moments; not to preserve important principals. I had stuffed between the pages, evidence of my life. Looking back, I can see clearly that there is no evidence that any of the life-giving words contained within this Bible had been stuffed into me. It was a spiritual filing cabinet and key files were missing: application, alteration, repentance, resurrection.

Words of scripture came to mind,
“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…” Hebrews 4:12
Living, life-giving, sustaining, nourishing. Active, working, helping, guiding. This was missing from my past, missing from each memory and moment pressed between the pages of holiness. I had consecrated each paper scrap and picture, letter and note, failing to understand that I had within my reach words of living water, bread of life…I carried in my hands precious light, but God’s light had not yet penetrated my dark heart.

After looking through the memories contained within my Bible, I carefully placed each flower and letter in its place. I zipped up the cover and sat, wondering what to do with it. I was tempted to throw out the evidence of my ignorance. Instead, I found a home for my first Bible on the shelf amongst our others. Seeing it standing in line with so many others, I knew that it—and the memories within—have a place in my testimony of God’s love for me. Even when I was ignorant of Him and His Word, He was ever-faithful, gently drawing me into His love. I wondered how I would look back on this time in my life and if I would see things that He was trying to teach me. Seeing that Bible on my shelf, I took comfort knowing He is in complete control and will be faithful to complete the good work He has started within me. (Philippians 1:6)

I finished sorting and stacking the books and other attic treasures. Happily, many items had found a home outside of ours. As I prepared for bed, my fingers danced across the bookshelf with glee—so many books, waiting to be re-read and re-discovered! I pulled down my first Bible once more. This time, I opened it to the book of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has not come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” John 1:1-4

Though I did not know it then, the Word had always been with me. In fact, nothing in my life had happened apart from His knowledge…including the memories contained within my Bible’s pages. I placed the Bible back on the shelf, this time on the shelf containing my “must reads.” Maybe, just maybe, God isn't finished using it in my life…

Thank You, Lord, for being real to me, for being more to me, for simply BEING. In Jesus' name, Amen.


Ann said...

What an awesome story about your first Bible! I have a feeling you're not the only one whose first Bible was a filing cabinet, and I'm so glad it's not about that anymore!