Rip! The fragile paper tore beneath my fingers as I hurriedly flipped the page. Cringing at the sound, I closed my eyes tightly, afraid to look. The battered old book in my hands had seen better days. The marks of soiled fingers marred its dog eared pages, each one a unique canvas of hurriedly scribbled notes, underlines, references and multi-colored highlights. The binding was beginning to fail and the leather cover was ragged and torn; It was a real mess.
Slowly I looked down at my fingers, tenderly pressing the newly ripped edges together as if the gesture might somehow heal the fresh wound. "One more scar," I sighed. "Sorry about that old friend." The book seemed so alive in my hands that I half expected it to answer. Over the years many of its pages had developed their own personalities as the notes, underlines and scars accumulated. It seemed to anticipate my questions and moods, engaging me in dialog by easily falling open in my hands to the words of comfort, insight and wisdom needed in the moment. It was more than a book; It had become an irreplaceable companion.
I lifted the old Bible to eye level, rotating it in my hand, carefully examining each flaw. "You're sure not much to look at," I wryly observed. I thought back to the first time I had held it, a Christmas present from my parents in my sophomore year in high school. There among the tinsels and bows of that magic morning, at a time when it seemed like my transition into adulthood had been suddenly accelerated, the parental gesture of a "grown up gift" to help me find my way in the world was sincerely appreciated.
As I pulled it from its box, I could sense by the smell of its new leather cover and the gold edging that I was holding an expensive book. It would be years before I grasped its value though. I sure didn't imagine at the time that it would ever look like this old battered volume I held in my hand at the moment. There was no clue that bright Christmas morning that the first real scars of life were just around the corner for both of us.
As a young man I tore into life with a reckless abandon and life tore right back. I had a strong work ethic that became an obsession. By the time I was 20 years old 120 hour weeks were the norm and I was burning out fast. I approached "good times" with the same intensity, blowing through money, alcohol and relationships like a bullet train. Train wrecks at that speed leave a real mess. By the time I found my way back from the proverbial far country the strings of regret were long and dark. This old book had paved the way home. We had been through a lot together.
Running my fingers down the ragged edge of the old Bible I thought of my two young sons. "God, please..." The words broke off as my eyes welled with tears at the very thought of their lives reflecting mine. "God, please," I began again; "Please help me guide them toward a better way." There in the unexpected emotions of the moment I could almost feel the supernatural fingers of my heavenly Father running down the battered edges of my life. My spirit opened effortlessly to his touch as my attention returned to the book in my hand. A thought so vivid it was almost audible rolled into my mind, "I could never replace you."
The book really was a mirror, the greatest earthly treasure I owned, not in spite of the scars, but precisely because of them. I realized that I would take away the damage if I could but never the marks, annotations and highlights. The years had made it mine. There was not another one like it in the world. At the moment it was conveying a truth that went beyond words. In the hands of an almighty God, the scars, the marks and the highlights of life add value, they don't detract from it.
I thought about the stories of slaves, prostitutes, murderers, thieves and vagabonds stumbling their way into world changers, becoming instruments of grace, beauty and wisdom as they grew through their trials into their potential. Few if any ever make much of life without crawling over the mountains of their own failures and regrets to get there. Take away that struggle and you remove character, mercy and strength, all essential to faith, hope and love, the true marks of a successful life.
Walking across the room, I picked up my oldest son's Bible, a gift from his mother and I at his baptism. The inside cover was already marked with words of encouragement and praise from both of us, just as my Bible had been marked by my own parents that Christmas morning. Several of the pages were already wrinkled where he had carelessly tossed it aside to run and play. A finger print or two were the only marks he had made so far, but he was only seven. There was plenty of time for him to make it his own.
Tears again, this time unchecked, at the fresh realization that I was raising a man, not a boy. A man that would one day step beyond the covering of my home to find his own way, make his own scars, and leave his own marks on life. I would guide him to the best launch possible, but there is no better way...
Stretching a piece of tape across the new rip in my Bible I found the courage to pray again, this time with the perspective of a bold new realism. "God, please, help me steer these boys of mine away from my foolishness - And keep me well stocked with dad tape will ya? The good stuff, that's clear and stays stuck. As they find their way, may you pick them up often and carry them home. Most of all, may your highlights, underlines and annotations grow to outweigh their scars. And Lord, whatever you do, whatever it takes, just make them irreplaceable."