IV. An NIV Study Bible with the spine broken somewhere in Romans, blue ink bleeding through the page margins
The Bible had been given to me on the Sunday I was welcomed as a full-fledged member of my church, a gift to each preteen who completed the confirmation class and recited vows affirming her baptism. Those vows meant nothing to me at the time; the class was just something all the sixth graders did, and the Bible merely took up space on a shelf. When I took it to camp, one of the aforementioned hot college guys remarked that it was the same Bible he had. Only his looked well-used, the cover edges worn. Mine was pristine.
But then I began digging into the Word for myself after camp—no longer relegating my Bible to a church accessory, but keeping it beside my bed, a necessary part of my life. I went crazy underlining. It had never occurred to me that you could make *marks* in such a sacred book (gasp!), but I began to see margin notes as the sign of a committed, healthy Christian. In fact, inwardly I took obnoxious pride in getting my Bible all marked up and then comparing it to others’ whose pages were still crisp, unmarred by teenage scrawls. Sigh. (At some point, thankfully, I came across a quote from Julie Ackerman Link: "What matters to God, I realized, is not how many thoughts of my own are written in my Bible, but how many of the Bible's thoughts are written in me." I copied that down on one of the front pages to remind myself.)
I was amazed to discover that this old, intimidating book was actually relevant to my life, that it could comfort and challenge me, speak exactly into my heart and circumstances. I drew blue lines under verse after verse, starring especial favorites. Later I read through the New Testament in The Message version, and when a verse particularly stood out to me, I copied the fresh paraphrase right into the study Bible margins.
Eventually you could tell which books I spent the most time in, which passages were favorites; the Bible would fall open to 1 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 40, Habbakuk 3, Galatians 5-6, 1 John 3-4. Four years later, the hardcover spine had broken completely; you could actually remove Romans through the concordance. But I couldn’t bear to replace my beloved Bible. I could see in my mind where a verse was on the page. I cherished my notes and marks. And so, as one of the best gifts I’d ever received, my best friend Julie had my Bible rebound for my high school graduation.
I had to go without it the entire summer after I graduated. But when I got it back, it was perfect: My familiar pages, their tissue-thin paper creased and crinkled, tightly bound in a stiff blue faux-leather cover. It was brand-new, and yet it was old; it was mine.
During my first awful, lonely semester of college, I filled margins in the Psalms with “Was David reading my mind or what? But God was faithful to him, and He'll be faithful to me, too!” and “God hears me, encourages and listens to my helpless sobs...I'm not alone here..." I drew music notes next to verses I couldn't read without hearing songs in my head; I jotted down quotes, sermon notes, Greek word definitions.
Somewhere along the way I learned to pray Scripture, and I taped a list of carefully chosen Scripture prayers for close friends and family members inside the front cover. Also still tucked in the front cover is a scrap of pink paper on which my mentor, Diane, scribbled in black Sharpie a few suggestions for battling pride. A crocheted cross bookmark from my grandmother has a permanent spot in Job 19:25-27.
Later on, I discovered highlighter crayons, and my Bible got color-coded a bit. A quick flip through could tell you a lot about major themes and struggles in my life: orange for forgetting and remembering, green for pride and humility, yellow for fearing God. The faux-leather cover began to wear through at the edges of the spine, so it got repaired with clear packing tape, and a couple more pride verses got taped to the front, needed reminders of how to open this precious book:
"God opposes the PROUD, but gives GRACE to the HUMBLE" (James 4:6)
"This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2)
A few years ago I switched to the English Standard Version, and my once-again-in-need-of-rebinding NIV Study Bible was once again relegated to a shelf. I pull it out every now and then to marvel at the times God spoke to me over all those years. It is an heirloom, something I hope my kids will one day cherish as a testament to His grace at work in their mama's life.
A broken piece of cornerstone
A sharp pebble
A pastel index card