After my dad passed away in 2012, I inherited several hundred books from his library. Most of them are commentaries on the 66 books of the Bible. To prepare for teaching from Ephesians this weekend, I pulled a number of those books off the shelf. His name – in his own handwriting – is on the first page, just inside the cover, of every book. Before Chapter One, before the copyright info and the Table of Contents, there is a blank page. Well, it was a blank page, but now it’s got his name written at the top.
Dad wrote his name in all of his books, at the very beginning of all his books. I suppose it was his way of saying, “Hey, if this gets lost or misplaced, it’s mine. I’d love to have it back.”
Dad also marked up his books as he read them. Underlining. Scribbling notes in the margins. Using symbols to form categories for easier reference. He was a voracious reader, and a voracious re-reader.
As many of us would do, he used the jacket cover of hardback books to mark his place. One of the commentaries on Ephesians had been put back on his shelf that way, and it remained that way when it was moved from his office to mine. It was while preparing for this sermon that I noticed the bookmarked page. I put my studying on hold to focus on what he had underlined. I began wondering when he last read this very page. Where was he seated? Who was he preparing to speak to? Did he have any idea that it would be the last time he would mark that book? Why did this particular sentence capture his attention? How did it transform his way of thinking? Was it something new that he learned for the first time, or was it a timely reminder of something that he’d forgotten?
Every time I open one his books and see his handwriting, I pause and reflect on my dad – his life and his influence. I may grab the book in search of knowledge, but when I open it I’m reminded of a relationship.
I went on to do my research in Ephesians 1 where Paul talks about God’s plans for us – plans and purposes that He set into motion even before we were born.
In other words, before your parents could dream your life’s Table of Contents, before you breathed your first breath in Chapter One – on that very first, blank page of your story – God signed His Name. His autograph hints at your purpose.
Wednesday I went to lunch with a new friend. I felt honored that he was, well, an open book. I never told him this, but I should: From the very beginning – from before the very beginning – I knew God’s handwriting marked his life. God’s signature continues to shape his purpose.
I listened as this guy flipped pages, stories told one after another. I noted meaningful activities and transforming characters and recurring themes, all underlined by God. As he shared his story, I could tell that he himself more clearly recognized God’s handwriting in the margins – those seemingly ordinary spaces made sacred by the scribbling breath of the Holy Spirit. Have you noticed that the stuff written in the margins of your life is always more legible when reading through your story a second time?
All this comes together in a way that reminds me of why it is vital that you and I share our stories with one another. If all we do is pull a person off the shelf to use them in practical and self-serving ways, we miss the point. That’s because you and I have more than knowledge to pass on to each other. We have an amazing opportunity – if we pay attention and look for it – to see God’s handwriting. There may be a chapter of your life that jumps off the page, not because it’s exciting or dramatic, but because it’s God’s way of inspiring me to live my life with purpose. As we open up, we gain a deeper relationship with one another and with our Creator. Ya see, when I hear your story, I don’t just learn about events in your life. Much more, I see underlined moments that highlight your big, God-ordained purpose.
Here’s a thought: What if all our conversations began by noticing God’s handwriting? I mean noticing to the point that God’s handwriting causes you to stop and reflect on His presence and influence in another person’s story. We can so easily become speedreaders living life so fast that we overlook God’s signature.
Begin by opening to the first page of the book of your own life – the blank page before your life began – and notice God’s Name, His signature on your own story. Then share your story. Please. A world needs to hear your story. As you share it, look for God’s handwriting in the margins.
If you are currently facing hardships and challenges, this may be difficult for you to believe, but it is true: Even the long, dark chapters are marked and highlighted by God-encounters. When you feel lost or like you are a discarded novel, God’s signature says, “You are mine. I’d love to have you back.”