Bible Day at Shiloh

on March 27, 2011 in Bible Day at Shiloh


Written for and read at Shiloh United Methodist, oldest church in Forsyth County Georgia

Theme: What My Bible Means to Me

When I was six years old, my mother and father gave me a special Christmas gift. That Christmas morning when all the gifts were opened, my mother handed me the last gift under the tree.

“Diane, this is for you. It’s not from Santa. It’s from your father and me.”

My two sisters quickly took notice. Mama defended her statement, “Diane is six years old now; she can read as well as anybody. Patricia, you got your special gift two years ago – remember? And in two years, Barbara, you’ll get your special gift. This year is for Diane.”

All eyes were on me. I removed the red ribbon and white tissue paper. What was it? Of course, it had to be a book, but what kind of book? What made it so special? For the life of me, I could not remember what Patricia’s special gift was two years ago. I took a deep breath and carefully opened the box. Inside the box was a black leather bible. To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed. I mustered up a weak smile and thanked my parents. I tried, but could not hide my disappointment.

My father sat on the living-room hardwood floor next to me, and took my bible into his own hands, “Let’s see that,” he said as he admired it, “that’s real leather, and look here, there’s your name in gold letters. This isn’t a toy you know, it’s the real thing. You’re a big girl now. You can read. Keep this by your bed and read it – even if it’s just one verse a day. You can learn all about Jesus in the New Testament, look here,” he said as he flipped through the pages. “You know Jesus was a carpenter, an honorable profession,” he said as he smiled.

“Diane, your father is a carpenter too,” added Mama.

“I know.”

Sisters at Easter

Daddy handed the bible back to me and gave me a hug as he winked at Mama. I took the opportunity to leave the room and stash that bible away in my bedroom. I wanted to get back to my new toys. It was a few years later before I read any verses at all from that bible. But, I did take it to church on Sundays, so I could get a gold star by my name.

About a year later, I became sick with scarlet fever and then rheumatic fever. I was examined by many doctors. One day I noticed Mama packing a suitcase with my pajamas, house shoes and robe. Biting back her tears, she reached for my bible and said, “Let’s don’t forget this; I want you to read it – that is if you feel like it. Anyway, always keep it near.” She went on talking as she packed, “I know it seems like a lot of words – it’s a big book for a seven year old girl, that’s okay; don’t worry about it. Just read the red words. They’re the most important ones.”

I knew something was really wrong when Daddy came home in the middle of the day. When Mama saw him she left the room. I heard her whisper, “You tell her.”

Daddy could hardly look at me, but forced a smile and cheerful voice, “We’re gonna take you to Atlanta to see another doctor. He wants to run some tests – so – you may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. You’ll be home before you know it.”

Daddy hugged me, picked me up, and put me in the car. I stayed at the hospital for two long weeks. I shared a big room with lots of sick children. It was called a children’s ward – sick children for as far as the eye could see. I wanted to go home. I wanted to play with my sisters, Patricia and Barbara. Mama came to see me every morning and left late in the afternoon.

One evening, a night shift nurse came over to check on me. She noticed my bible on the night-table and could not take her eyes off it. She left and came back frequently to admire it. “What a treasure!” she said.

“Do you want to read it?” I finally asked.Red Words of Jesus

“Oh, Diane, I see it has your name on it!”

“Of course it does. It’s mine. My parents gave it to me.”

“It sure does have your name on it! And just do look at the fine tissue paper pages! I know you are proud of this! How much of it have you read?”

“Not much,” I really did not want to admit even to a stranger, that I had not read one word of it. “Do you want to read it?”

“Oh no, I couldn’t, I mean – I really wish I could…”

“You can.”

“Really?”

“Sure you can read it all you want, just make sure you have it back before Mama gets here. She’ll be here early in the morning.”

“You don’t mind? Oh, Diane, one day I’ll have a fine bible like this one.”

“Why don’t you have one now? I thought all grown-ups had a bible.”

“Well, I’m still in nursing school and work the night shift so I can support my family…”

“Oh. Well, that’s okay; you can read my bible all night if you want. That is, when you’re not working.”

She ran her hand across my bible as though it was pure gold. She could not take her eyes off it. “I’ll have it back before the sun comes up. You can go to sleep and be assured I will return your bible, and maybe a special gift for letting me borrow it.”

“You don’t have to do that, just make sure it’s back before Mama gets here, or I’ll be in trouble.”

And she did borrow it often; and she always returned it. And each time I awoke to a piece of gum or a pink flower made of tissue paper and a pipe cleaner – on my bible. Every night she told me how lucky I was to own such a treasure. She cherished her reading time, and thanked me over and over.

Finally my stay at the hospital came to an end. I went home, but everything was different. I no longer shared a room with my sisters. I had my own room. I could not play, could not watch television, nor could I walk. I was on strict bed-rest. My parents assured me it was for a short while, but a short while turned into almost a year.

To entertain me, Mama read all kinds of books to me. She read so much, she frequently lost her voice. My father spoke to Miss Cookie Thomas while he was in downtown Tucker one day. When she asked about “Helen,” Daddy told her how Mama was losing her voice from reading to me. She called Mama on the phone and volunteered to do the reading.

Miss Cookie Thomas brought in a big bag full of children’s books. She opened it and said, “You pick it!” We had great fun together. She loved to read and I loved to listen. One day I was a bit blue, “What’s wrong? Not feeling well today?”

“I tired of being sick – I’m tired of being cooped up in this room. I want out of here.”

Miss Cookie Thomas thought for a moment and then said to me, “Did you ever hear about a man who healed sick people?”

Miss Cookie Thomas had my attention. “He could not tolerate sick children. It broke His heart to see a sick child. Everywhere He went, He touched people and in that instant, they were healed. There are lots of stories about Him.”

I looked in her big bag, “You won’t find Him in my bag, but you will find Him in here,” she said as she reached for my bible. She flipped through the pages and said, “Let’s try this one.”

I nodded in anticipation.

Diane's 12th Birthday

Miss Cookie Thomas read from the Book of Mark. Jesus, the Healer was approached in a village by Jarius, a father in distress. His twelve year old daughter needed help. The father of the girl was told to not bother the healing man, because his daughter was already dead. The Healer told the father of the girl, “Be not afraid; only believe.” Then the Healer went into the little girl’s house as the crowd laughed at Him. Jesus paid no attention to the mockers. He focused on the sick child as he held her hand, and said, “Talitha cumi!” which meant – “Little girl arise and live.” And she arose and walked. Everyone was astonished.

“What’d He say? Talli…?”

Miss Cookie Thomas said it again, “He said, ‘Talitha cumi!’” She wrote the strange sounding words on a piece of paper in red crayon. “Diane, any time you feel sad or tired of this bed, look at these words, remember them, you’ll feel better.”

After almost a year of bed-rest, I was allowed to walk again, and eventually returned to school. But soon thereafter, I relapsed and spent many more months in bed. I recovered once again, only to relapse again.

Miss Cookie Thomas came as often as possible, but now had other small children to read to. I was getting older. Now she left her big bag of books at home, since she had read everything in it. She read from my bible.

I loved it when she read about the Healer’s followers. Jesus taught them how to heal too. Every time she mentioned James and John, the sons of thunder, she made a loud noise like thunder. She made me laugh and forget about being sick, and it was thrilling to hear about sick people getting well in an instant.

One day she asked me how I’d like it if I had two sons called, the sons of thunder. After that question, I didn’t want to hear about the sons of thunder anymore. Recently, the doctors told me that I could never have children. Now at such a young age, I really wasn’t thinking about having my own family. But it made me sad to realize I had no life now, nor would I have a life in the future. And it was hard being sick while aware that life was going on all around me, as I was secluded in this back of the house bedroom.

And then there was Miss Winnie Collins.

While painting the house of Miss Winnie Collins on Old Norcross, Daddy got to know this odd little lady. She was an artist and puppeteer who went about Tucker on a bicycle. She strapped a black suitcase onto her bicycle and would pull out all kinds of strange things from her suitcase. One being a huge wide brim black hat layered in long black silk which hid her face while making a perfect stage back drop for her puppet shows. She gave me art lessons and entertained me and my sisters with her shows. Miss Winnie Collins kept me busy drawing and painting. I used my bible to steady my paints and turpentine. Mama gave me a look of shock when she saw green oil paint on my bible. Then she smiled and said, “Well I did say to keep it with you.”

Needless to say, there were many discouraging days when I could only dwell on my loss, especially on pretty days when I could hear the students play at recess time at Tucker Elementary. Nothing Miss Cookie Thomas read, not even Miss Winnie Collins’ puppet shows, could cheer me. I was approaching twelve years of age and was not allowed to stand on my own feet. Mama fed me. I could not draw or paint anymore. I eyed my bible and thought about the strange sounding words of the Healer. I looked at the red letters Miss Cookie Thomas made for me, now crumpled and ragged with age. I thought about the twelve year old girl in the bible, and how her father went out and found Jesus, the Healer.

Dianes Birthday with parents

Diane's 12th Birthday with parents, Tom and Helen Story

I closed my eyes tight and imagined my own father driving up Morgan Road and turning right onto Chamblee Tucker and then down Main Street – Tucker. I imagined that Daddy parked his van and walked out into the Cofer Brothers Lumber-Yard. While purchasing lumber for his next job, Daddy ran into a stranger in town; a carpenter. I imagined that my father told that particular carpenter about his daughter at home in a sick bed. This carpenter told my father that his name was Jesus, and He was here ready and able to heal sick children.

In my mind’s eye, I saw the Healer get into Daddy’s van and come to our little Morgan Road home. They came into my room and the Healer said to Daddy, “Be not afraid; only believe.” The Healer held my hand and said, “Talitha cumi – little girl arise and live!” I imagined myself standing up. I saw myself being received with open arms and astonishment by my family.

I concentrated on my soon approaching birthday and my attitude changed. Now, when I heard my family talking and seemingly enjoying life without me, I imagined they were preparing a home coming party for me as did the father of the Prodigal Son. In my heart of hearts, I knew that soon, I would join them. I would get out of this bedroom! I looked forward to my birthday – my twelfth birthday. The day came when my mother placed a birthday cake on my lap in bed. My cousin, Rachel, took pictures of the celebration. I keep those pictures in my bible, so I can always remember that day. I became twelve – and that year – I became well. I left my sick-bed and never returned.

Diane's 13th Birthday, happy to stand in the kitchen.

Diane's 13th Birthday, happy to stand in the kitchen.

I still go for yearly check-ups for my heart. The doctors cannot believe it. “It’s amazing,” they’ll say, “how you can have such a long history of heart disease and not even have the slightest murmur – it’s beyond reason. And, you have children?”

“Yes, I do. I have two sons, James and Jon. They’re the sons of thunder, you know,” I tell them as I hear Miss Cookie Thomas make the sound of thunder in my mind. It makes me smile from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.

Diane with sons James and Jon

As you may have guessed, I learned to appreciate my special Christmas gift from my parents. It is now ragged around the edges and the pages are pulling loose, but after all, it has been well over fifty years since I first received it. It has been a life long journey in which the book revealed itself to me. It’s a gift that I have sometimes ignored, sometimes mistreated, but I know it is a treasure. It’s the place where I learned that Jesus was far more than a carpenter. My bible has parrot green paint and turpentine circles on it. It bears my name in gold letters. This is my bible!

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