I remember the Wednesday night youth group so vividly, for some reason. I was in late high school or early college, that part is a little fuzzy. But I’d recently received a new Bible. I said something about it being new at our youth group meeting and a couple of guys in the group (older than me) wanted to see it. To ‘approve’ it.

One of the guys asked, “You’ve already written this much in it??” Another guy grabbed it, looked at it and said (while tossing it back to me), “Nah. She just copied it all from her other Bible.”

I felt immediate, and yet unexplainable, shame. They’d ‘busted me’.

I have thought of that interaction a few times over the years when I’ve purchased a new Bible. As I sit and copy my notes and underlinings from old to new I think, ‘Big freaking deal!! I LIKE reading my old notes. I LIKE that at one point in my life a scripture meant one thing and at another point in life it means something slightly different. I LIKE comparing my growth and understanding! Why did I have to feel any amount of shame for that?!

I love the stubborn SO WHAT that happens as we mature through life. Calling out someone’s BS, even decades later and only in the presence of yourself, is still therapeutic.

For some reason, the little tear in the leather cover of my current Bible became a huge mess during our recent move. The whole front cover is torn up and even though I’ve tried to ‘work with it’, I came to the conclusion the other day that I would certainly need a new Bible sometime soon.

I looked on my bookshelves for a different Bible to use and saw, sitting there, my mother’s Bible.

A sacred piece of my mother who is now gone – renewed to new eternal life after fighting the stupid disease of Alzheimer’s for the last eight years of her life.

My mother. The spiritual giant. The Sunday school teacher. The prayer protector. Her Bible was a sacred book that I’ve cherished having on my bookshelf.

I pulled her Bible down from the shelf and looked it over. It’s been awhile since I’ve flipped through the pages. The thought began to percolate. ‘Could I just use her Bible?’ Would it be impossible to make it my own? Would it feel wrong – like committing the cardinal sin of rummaging through her purse without asking first?

Mom used a red pencil to underline important scripture. (A crossover from her career as a 7th grade English teacher, perhaps?) I usually use a mechanical pencil. Plain ol’ gray lead. I very quickly decided I would adopt her Bible as my own.

So as I have always done, I first transferred my notes and underlinings. Time after time after time I would flip through to the correct reference and, pencil ready in hand, I would start to underline only to find the thin red markings of her own hand. The same scripture. The same yearning to mark this passage as important and timely. What was she experiencing at the time that she underlined those words? What life event was she praying about or worrying her way through? The lump in my throat grew harder and harder to swallow.

It was no surprise to me that she was a Bible-reading, passionate-praying mother of two daughters and four grandchildren. I know full well that our lives have been covered by her petitions before God.

But to write in my handwriting next to her delicate penmanship felt like joining hands together. It felt like an adult woman and an adult woman, combining forces to pray as one for the same people they hold dear. It was invigorating to imagine her struggles and confusion and developing understanding of grace and love from a Father who loves us both. Same ages. Different times.

I began to understand that the thing I was saving as precious and sacred was not the book with the onion-skinned pages, but the cries and struggles and triumphs of the red-lined words from the woman who forged the way before me. It is her spiritual journey that is sacred, not the book that housed the words. The God she served is the same one I turn to in complete frustration as well as amazement and awe. Her imperfection is what stood out to me as I held our now bonded book of promises. Her perfection was always clear and obvious in life. But to imagine her insecurity and imperfection as a mother, a wife, a child, sibling and believer – that is what I needed to see. Uncertainty and falling short – that was something with which I could relate.

Sacred moments are so often dusty and dirty and completely unexpected. They are found in the tiny places in our lives, not in the grand moments of success and accolades. The sacred is quiet and holy and unquestioningly saturated in love and understanding. Sacred is a red pencil in the hands of a faithful believer.

I have looked forward to returning to ‘our Bible’ this week. I imagine her thoughts as I read stories of characters who walked the earth in a much earlier time but that experienced the same moments of humanness that we are still going through today.

I cherish the book, her Bible from years past. But it is her selection of certain passages due to the journey she chose to follow – that is the sacred moment of eternity as I run my own fingers over her red-penciled life.

Finding the sacred among the ordinary. That was the unexpected gift I received as I now hold the same book of truth she held and pray for all those that come behind us. Sure, may they find us faithful. But may they also find us flawed and bruised and worried – but continuing to believe in a God who saw our brokenness, and loved us all the more.

Mary Oliver

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

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