The truck shop shower was spartan, but adequate to the task. I texted the pastor and his wife before I left Laurel to let them know I was running a few minutes late – I was only about 20 minutes from where they lived. They greeted me with a hug, but I was a little self-conscious that I was still slightly damp from my shower and I figured they’d suppose I was sweaty. Anyway I presented their Bibles to them. John’s was a 1964 Thompson Chain-Reference, King James Version. When he sent it to me the cover was falling off, but the pages were in good shape, though slightly yellowed with time. I rebound it in olive/brown distressed goatskin.
Alice’s was also a TCR, but New King James Version. Hers was much newer and was filled with notes and highlighting and, at first glance, appeared to be in much better condition. In fact, she’d attached a note that she didn’t think it needed a new cover at all; she just wanted the pages resecured to the binding. But when I looked at it, I could see that its signatures (the folded layers of pages that are sewn together through a book-block) had failed in addition to the glue, which meant that the Bible would soon come apart, even if I reglued it. Through texts and phone calls I informed her of the Bible’s actual situation and that I thought the best solution would be to rebuild the whole thing. After a bit of back and forth, I learned that she wanted the archaeological supplement left out of the rebind to reduce the Bible’s girth. I suggested that we just rebind ALL of the Helps section separately, and she liked that idea. The result was that it was like rebinding two Bibles. So hers took a lot more time and problem-solving, but in the end the main Bible itself was reduced to two-thirds of its original size. I rebound it in navy blue goatskin, with raised hubs on the spine, and I rebound the Helps in the same material, but without decoration.
I’d suggested the idea of rebinding a Bible for each of them as thanks for their many years of ministry into my life, and Sikki’s life. I chatted with them for some time about things that had happened since we left Delaware, and John and I talked in particular a good while about the Word and what God is saying to the churches. I was amazed that many of the things he was relating to me were almost verbatim what our pastor in NC has been teaching recently. It was really nice catching up with them.
Before I left, I got to the real point of why I wanted to see them. I recounted how so much of my life in Delmarva seemed to be about losing things: how it felt like God was stripping things away. Many of these things were iniquities and sins that needed to be exposed in the light, but others were just difficulties and a sense of emptiness – even with church life – that I just couldn’t understand at the time I was going through them. I told them that God had helped me see that when He wants to build something eternal in a person (or marriage, or group), He begins with the foundation. The wider, taller and more powerful the structure, the deeper the foundation needs to be. But before a good foundation can be laid, a lot of rocks and roots and impediments must first be removed. I told them much of our time in their church was just that: removing of things. False beliefs, assumptions, traditions of men, expectations. John and Alice were extremely loving and helped me and Sikki through many difficulties. Whenever I called, they answered. But towards the end of our time there I became critical of many things in the church, and even of him (the pastor). I was upset that the men of the church were so disengaged and that there didn’t seem to be any passion for Christ in the congregation. As I did in my situation at work, I tried to change things from the inside – even if that meant making some waves. But I was frustrated and even angry that so one seemed interested in what I was trying to say. We left the church without really saying goodbye, and the members of the church whom I had known for nearly two decades knew we were offended. Perhaps it was a relief to both parties when we left, but there wasn’t closure because we left without a word. That was wrong. That wasn’t love.
I told them it was wrong, and that I had always regretted it. I told them of the huge part they played in “laying the foundation” of my life, marriage, and ministry, and thanked them for their faithfulness. I wanted them to know I loved them and was sorry for how things played out. John and I were near tears, and he was very gracious (as I knew he would be). We parted with hugs again and I felt right then that my trip had not been a waste of resources, but was a redemptive moment in the timeline of my life.