She was sixteen, and her world had been washed clean, and the wonder hadn’t begun to wear off. He had found her in the wilderness and spoken words of comfort, offering everything and requiring only that she believe His love had created her and really truly saw her, and His plans and purposes for her would bring far more joy and peace than any she might devise for herself.
There was no sinner’s prayer. No aisle to walk. It was a private transaction. A real counting of the cost and a total surrender to grace. She’d wrestled with the what-ifs, and Love had prevailed, and she’d let go of everything else to place her hands firmly on this unfamiliar plow. Now she was trying to wrap her mind around what it meant. All she knew for sure was that she’d never been this free or known a peace this deep, and the delight had lifted her so high, she sometimes had to check to make sure her feet were still on the ground.
But how to proceed from here was one big unknown. What now?
Then she saw it.
She was driving her ’65 VW bug down a busy road in Dallas, and there it was in the turn lane. A large brown volume, sprawled unceremoniously, its pages splayed across the cement. Someone lost a dictionary, she thought as she sped by, but hours later when she returned home by the same route, it was still there.
So she did what any sixteen year old would do. She veered toward the book and — easing her speed ever so slightly — opened her car door, leaned out, and snatched it off the ground. Then she tossed it in the back seat without looking at it, because, you know, it wouldn’t be safe to examine a book while driving. Ahem.
By the time she got home she forgot about the book, but several days later a friend noticed it in the back seat.
“Where did you get this?” she asked.
“Oh, that? I found it in the road. I think it’s a dictionary or something.”
Her friend laughed. “This isn’t a dictionary. It’s a really expensive New American Standard Bible. Leather bound with gold leaf pages. I would love to have a Bible like this.”
Obviously, they agreed, someone had placed it on top of their car, and it had slipped off into the road. But there was no name in the front. No way to find the owner (who probably felt extremely annoyed and frustrated and never imagined that their precious, expensive Bible had landed in the hands of someone who didn’t even know how desperately she needed it).
And so a love story began.
He had whispered simple, tender words, calling her to Himself. That hint of a glimpse was all she knew of Him. But now He had given her The Word – had literally dropped it in her lap.
Now she would see Him.
And she remembers holding that book, and it felt so heavy, so full, so vast, and her longing was so intense, she wished there were some way she could consume it, digest it, and own it all at once. This book felt like life, meaning, mystery — all at her fingertips, but she knew it would take a long time to read it, and much longer to grasp its depths. So she did the only thing she could.
A portrait of her Beloved sat before her, and there was only one way to see Him.
One word at a time.
Forty years ago this month, that sixteen-year-old girl first opened the gold leaf pages that revealed to her the heart of God. And forty years later the longing is still there, an abiding ache she now recognizes as a gift from Him. She has read and re-read, studied and memorized, and the well of mystery never runs dry. The depths she does grasp lead her deeper still, and this portrait of her Beloved grows more dear the more she’s willing to see.
She’s older now, and educated, and she understands rules of interpretation and literary forms and the difference between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” passages. But she also knows this Word is alive, and it’s the only true portrait of Jesus she has. The only portrait anyone has. Every word is like a tile in a mosaic. Every page is a piece of the puzzle. The dark and messy, the jagged and hard — they’re just as essential as the lovely and uplifting. (If the dark and messy aren’t part of Jesus, how can any of our stories fit into His?) And sometimes she wishes Jesus would just walk up beside her like he did with those disciples on the road to Emmaus, and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He’d interpret to her in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Because she knows He’s there. In all of it. Every tile in this mosaic matters. Every single tile, from “Let us make man in our image” to “Surely I am coming soon.” And she wants to see the real Him, not a construct of her own or someone else’s imagination.
So when a Word goes hard against her grain and even harder against the culture she lives in, she prays for grace to approach it with humility, remembering those first words He whispered — that His love chooses well, and His plans always, only lead to joy and peace. He is good in what He gives, and good in what He forbids — the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And just like that, she’s sixteen again, and the wonder is back. This beautiful book — so heavy, so full, so vast — it is her life, and she won’t let anyone diminish it or argue it out of her hands.
It’s the only true portrait of her Beloved. The full revelation of His heart. And she won’t take anything less.