She was maybe only 3, that cherubic doll with Shirley Temple curls, when she slipped her chubby little fingers through the pages in my Bible and waddled away with my beautiful new leather bookmark, you know, the one that had the words JOY JOY JOY JOY inscribed in gold lettering from top to bottom. Holding it in her mouth to facilitate her getaway, off she scampered, Joy dangling from her teeth, slobber drenching that fresh cowhide, my bookmark, my precious, my Joy-filled objet d’art!
It wasn’t just any old bookmark, mind you. That year I had attended a Bible conference in the U.K., North Wales, to be exact, and at said conference I had purchased this reminder of how wonderful the whole experience of a Joy-filled life could be. Such a glorious rapturous gathering! Sweet fellowship and oh! The singing! Such – shall I use an overused term? – anointed teaching! The lot of us in that congregation had attained the unattainable, lofty spiritual heights, so close to the divine, that we scarcely needed a plane to fly home!
And now, here I am frustrated, hot-n-bothered, frantically searching my house for that beautiful reminder of God’s grace! In that flustered flurry of frustration, I happened into the family room and there she was! That toddling thief with her bright brown eyes, smiling, giggling, and chewing – chewing – on my memento, masticating my Joy! The taste for that new-smell leather superseded any flimsy claim that I may have had. That sassy little angel with her winsome giggle! Why should she be bothered with trivial details about dad scrounging and doing without to pay for that trip to England so he could worship God? (And purchase that bookmark!)
Teeth marks! A full dental impression – evidence for all to see! My chin trembled, my hands shook. Ruined! Spoiled for eternity! What good was the stupid bookmark now? In a godly furor, I snatched the precious from her drooling lips and stormed from the room. I, a man of God, profoundly and righteously indignant, mad at Miss Giggles for a month!
Two years later her mother and I laid her to rest in a small country cemetery at a little Baptist Church in South Georgia, her frail five-year-old body having succumbed to the ravages of leukemia. Gone, the winsome smile and sweet laughter! Gone the luscious curls that danced so playfully about her face when she chased her sister around the house! Gone the sweet lips that bit my bookmark!
Perspective is everything. Today, I keep that same bookmark in my Bible – almost 30 years later. Sometimes I hold it lovingly in my hands and a tear will roll down my cheek. Sometimes I stare at the imprint of her teeth and I remember that day I was so mad at her and how I held the grudge for so long! How stupid it all seems now! To touch that sweet face again and hear her say Dad, she could chew up every bookmark in the house – and then I’d go buy her some more to chew on!
I learned a few things with my little Ruth. Life is so fleeting. The Bible says it’s a vapor. It’s like grass that grows up in the morning and in the evening it’s cut down. Vanity! I learned in her passing the truth about the peace that passes understanding. In my great grief and sorrow, He lifted me up in His arms and held me close. I don’t know how He did it, but that peace! He gave me first-hand knowledge that the Almighty can take away the sting of death.
How? How is it that He does what He does? I honestly don’t know. But, I do know that I am in no wise the lone recipient of this Amazing Grace. It’s there for the taking. Do you need peace? Is your heart broken? Have you lost a child, a husband, a wife, a dear one?
Call out to him! He will answer and in that place (the place where it hurts the most) He will give peace!
Psalm 18:6 (HCSB) I called to the LORD in my distress, and I cried to my God for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.
May the Prince of Peace bless you in your arduous journey through life.