I want to tell you about my most valuable possession – my Red Book. Actually, it’s an accounting ledger book circa 1979. Tall and thin, the 12” ledger never seemed to fit well in a bookshelf. The corners are a little bent and scuffed. The binding is loose. The edges of the cover are beginning to reveal their soft, cardboard innards. Though there isn’t water damage, the book no longer closes completely. My Red Book is a book of handwritten letters from my mother – twenty-five years of them.
The first letter was written in the kitchen of our little family’s Missouri home. She wrote as she watched me smear hot chocolate chip cookies all over my chubby, 10-month-old, measle-covered face. For twenty-five years, she told me the stories of my life as she saw them. In between the stories were her expressions of love and belief in me.
I remember being four or so years old – just the right size to fit in a grown-up’s arm as she holds a book. Mom and I sat up straight against the wooden headboard of her mostly-made bed. Our legs stretched out straight, feet crossed at the ankles. She wore her favorite dark green socks. But, instead of reading library books, she was reading stories from the Red Book–stories about me. And, the four-year-old me loved it. Who doesn’t want to be the beloved? Who doesn’t want to be the object of a story someone felt compelled to write?
The Red Book lived on the bookshelf beside her bed. It was always there, available to read, and available for her to write in. It never left that shelf for long until one July. It was the July just after high school graduation, and I was feeling sick already as I packed boxes to move away from home. The Red Book didn’t go in any of the boxes. She informed me that it would stay in the front seat of the car with her. She wrote for thousands of miles.
After we had arrived and shared goodbyes that seemed to have no capacity to express what was inside us, my parents were gone. I was alone – alone in a room with a bare mattress, carpet bearing the tracks of a recent steam cleaning, and a stack of the boxes I had packed. And, there was the Red Book. I didn’t know what else to do to help the crushing feelings in my chest, so I held the book close to me. After awhile, I began to read, from the beginning. Silent hot tears welled up. As I choked, the tears slid freely down my cheeks. I read the stories I had heard before, touched the pages where her hands had been, and wondered if I could bring myself to read the newest entry.
I couldn’t bring myself to do more than glance at them. If I started reading, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop a torrent of emotion. But, in glancing, I did notice that she had traced her hand, even drawn on her watch and wedding ring. She was signing “I love you.” I laughed once, through those tears.
College was years ago. The Red Book is still on my shelf now, and each letter in it is a piece of time, a touch of her hands that I can hold in mine. This gift is one that teaches me and presses me to bless others. Here are two lessons in blessing that the book teaches me.
First, express love, admiration, and hope in tangible ways. What if the words of love and encouragement in our lives were recorded so that we could linger on them? What if we could hold them in our hands and touch the places that had been touched by those who believed in us? As I watch children at Anasazi safeguard precious letters, I realize again and again the sacredness of those records. Is there someone who you should write a hand-written expression of belief or love to today?
Second, the Red Book has taught me about the power of expectation and commitment. These letters came as a volume. With only one letter written, my mother anticipated there would be many more to write. She knew the pages would be filled before she knew what they would say. That fixed, firm expectation for good was an invitation for future that awaited us. Furthermore, a book is meant to be held, looked at, displayed, re-read and loved – indicating that the same is true of its subject. What would it mean if every child were the subject of a book of praise, stories, and counsel? What would it mean if we offered such confidence and expectation?
I am sure that you’ll find a way to record your love and belief in those who walk near you. Here’s to your letters, your votes of confidence, and perhaps your own Red Books.