She had folded and unfolded the letter so many times that its edges were feathering to a fine fabric.
He was gone; what she had left were his words, irrefutable in their black ink, and the faith that he would remain true to all of them until he returned.
Neither of them knew when that might be, so in the meantime her fingertips traced the lines on the paper the way they had followed the contours of his face — those lines that could never be fully captured in photographs but which were part of every expression he made.
She carried the letter with her wherever she went. She would have laughed at anyone who called it a talisman for his safety, but she was always aware of its outline in her pocket, and of the comfort that flat square brought during the long years of waiting.
She didn’t realize how greatly she’d come to depend on that comfort until an afternoon when she went to visit a friend, who wondered aloud how he was doing. Unconsciously she put her hand up to her pocket — and it was gone.
She tore through her house, retraced her steps, knocked on neighbors’ doors, but all to no avail; the paper sheets had vanished, and with it, so many of his words.
She could not be sure that she remembered all of it, word for word. Her friends tried to help her reconstruct the parts she knew —
I remember him this way;
I have no doubt he would have said this to you, or meant to, anyway;
That’s how he always seemed to me
— but their words drove her deeper into sorrow.
What she missed wasn’t her idea of who he was.
She missed, most of all, his own representation of himself.
For the letter wasn’t only about his love for her; it was full of the way that he thought, the words he chose that were unlike her own, and the essence of his person that she could not conjure in his absence.
So the day that she found the tattered white bundle, muddy and half-buried under gravel by the side of the road, she wept. She uncurled the pages as carefully as she could, so that she could see his words and store them up against her cloudy remembrances and broken perceptions and misgivings, and took them home with a glad heart, to wait.
A long time ago, but not so long that I’d forget a single face, I assisted and then led a Bible study group for college women.
We shared life, food, and lists of prayer requests, and somewhere in the whole privileged process of meeting with those earnest sisters every week, I gained a certain conviction about the words they needed to hear:
They weren’t mine.
Joys, griefs, and dilemmas spilled over from the passenger seat of my somehow-running blue-green clunker, and occasionally a perplexed face would turn toward me and ask, “So do you have any advice?”
Sometimes I did. But no matter how carefully I worded it, or searched my experience for reliable patterns, the words with the greatest help were always those that were remembered directly from and looked up in the Word of God.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise — because what daughter seeking to follow her Father would not find the best relief at the sound of His own voice? — but over and over again, even now when I am more than a decade removed from those days, I’m astounded by the power of the Word that is not like the word of any man.
“Don’t believe it because I said it,” a headmaster once long ago said to my class. “Go and look it up in the Bible. Go and make sure it’s there.”
Over the years, I have.
I still read it irregularly — almost never in the same place or at the same time twice in a row. I might be sprawled on my stomach in the closet at midnight, drooping at the head of the bed with bleary eyes on a weekday morning, or sitting across from a certain duo of busy colorers at the breakfast table.
But wherever I am, and whatever its material state, this is the Letter that speaks truth:
the truths that break years and years of bondage,
the truths that enable people to feast on joy even when their circumstances go unchanged,
the truths that make up one un-fragmented whole and tell us so much about ourselves, the readers, until the day we realize its primary gift is to tell us about its Author.
So if you take up the welcome to open old doors and spend any time in this sun-steeped place, you might find words in blue. They are there to direct you to the place in Scripture that gave rise to my thoughts, so that you can see them for yourself, and not be led down any rabbit-trails of my well-meant but foolish making — so that you can see Him, beyond my representations.
Because the greatest hope in all this writing is that after the stories have been shared and we’ve drunk all the tea and gotten up from the table, you’ll see that time for the faint reflection that it is — and reopen the Letter in your pocket — and celebrate coming to the better place at the feet of the One who loves you deeply, and who is preparing for his return.