One of the reasons I prefer “real” books over Kindle books and other types of E-Readers is my propensity to underline, highlight and make notes while I am reading. Something about the process of marking the particular word or phrase serves to cement the concept in my mind.
My bible is the place where I most often leave behind a trail of ink as I find particular words and verses meaningful. The bible I use most frequently was a gift from my mother in 2000, so this book has been my companion throughout most of the 21st century. The notes in the margins, in combination with the many underlined verses, tell the story of my journey with God and his word over the years and the ways in which I heard him speak through scripture during particular seasons of my life. Just yesterday, while reading Psalm 46, I noticed a date in the margin which brought back haunting memories of a terrifying day, September 11, 2001. I remember finding some measure of comfort in those words during a time when many of us were searching for answers to a horror beyond our comprehension. Remembering the solace I found on September 11th in the familiar reminder to “Be still and know that I am God” continues to remind me how to navigate less daunting challenges. Every time I see the note, I remember.
A few weeks ago, I began a new bible study which asked us to write down the issues in our life where we most wanted to seek God’s wisdom and guidance. Among other things, I wrote down my heartfelt prayers for my daughter Alex who will be graduating from college next week. Like many other parents witnessing their child achieve an important milestone, I prayerfully noted my desire for her to find work she loves, healthy and nurturing relationships, and a powerful sense of God’s presence in her life. I prayed for her to feel at peace as she begins this new chapter of her life and to feel proud of the hard work she has done to get to this point. I asked God to protect her and guide her as she embarks on this adventure and help her find her way to a life of joy, service and meaning.
Later the same day, I was leading bible study at The Lamb Center, as I do every Tuesday afternoon. We were discussing verses in the bible where God reminds us to be brave, have courage or take heart. As we made our way through my prepared list of verses, we came upon these underlined words:
Deuteronomy 31:6-8 Be strong and courageous…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
In the margin, right next to this verse, I had written these words:
Alexandra’s 1st day of 1st grade 9/5/2000
Sixteen years ago, I had prayed those powerful words over my tiny 6 year old as she headed off to 1st grade. Although I don’t remember the details, I suspect I clung to those words and found peace in the picture of my big strong God heading into Poplar Tree Elementary “before her and with her.” Perhaps I even shared that reassurance with her.
As I look back over the 16 years since I made the notation in my bible, the evidence of God’s continued presence in her life abounds. I am certain He knew his way to the middle school and high school as well. Through hard tests and mean girls, broken hearts and first loves, big auditions and learning to drive, mission trips and college decisions, He was a constant presence in her life. God was there for her. Just as important, He was there for me and her dad as we tried to be good parents.
I remember leaning on a similar promise and offering a similar prayer when I moved her into the dorm for her freshman year in college just 4 short years ago.
When I saw the words scribbled in the margins that day, my eyes filled with tears as I shared my story with my friends at The Lamb Center. How kind of God to give me an illustration of the power of scripture to speak to our hearts the words we need to hear just when we need to hear it! In my experience, all we need to do is ask and then open our eyes.
God is faithful. Through the ups and downs, through the fears and worries, through the big challenges and the ordinary frustrations, He is present and as close as our thoughts. He goes before us and will be with us. He loved my baby girl as His own when she was 6 and He loves her just as much at 22. Wherever she goes next, He will be right there beside her.
Be strong and courageous, friends! Our mighty God goes before you and will be with you. It’s a promise we can count on.