Red-Letter Days

Well, it happened again. Right there in Dunkin Donuts this morning, while I was enjoying an oh-so-good vanilla chai and an oh-not-so-good chocolate mint oreo donut.  Serves me right for eating carbs AND refined sugar, I know.  But right there, in mid-bite, it happened: I had one of those “apostrophe” things.

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: [gestures his fingers to his head] Lightning has just struck my brain.

Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt. (Hook)

It didn’t really hurt, but it *did* stop me, make me think, give me pause, and cause me to go “hmmm….”  And ultimately, it convicted me, which I am assuming was the point.

To catch you up to speed, I need to provide a little backstory.  Let’s travel back in time to my freshman year of high school.  I don’t care to admit the actual year, but let’s just say that it was  a time before the internet, a time before cell phones – heck, it was a time before CORDLESS phones – a time before email, texting, and skype.  When you wanted to talk to someone who lived out of state, you had to call them…after 5 PM or on weekends to avoid paying exorbitant long-distance charges.  If you wanted to send a written message to someone who lived far away, you had to write a letter, put it in an envelope, seal it, stamp it, and drop it in a mailbox.  There was nothing “instant” about it.

That was the year of my very first boyfriend.  We met – of all places – at summer camp.  In New Hampshire.  A girl from Miami, Florida and a boy from way-up-north New York state.  Amazingly enough, though, when camp ended, our relationship didn’t.  And that posed a bit of a problem.  I mean, it’s awfully hard to go on a date when you’re separated by thousands of miles.  When in order for him to pick me up in time to make the 7:30 showing at the movie theater on Friday night, he’d have to leave his house no later than noon on Thursday, and drive straight through.  Despite the challenges, we managed to not only develop a relationship, but keep it going for nearly two years…thanks to the U.S. Postal Service.

Because we couldn’t afford to call each other very often, and because seeing each other was beyond impractical, we developed a habit of writing letters.  At first it was once a week, but that quickly morphed into every few days and ultimately every day.  Sometimes even twice a day.  But back in those days, stamps were expensive: a whopping 20 cents.  So we developed a money-saving system: I would hold all my daily letters until I received one from him.  Then I’d put mine in an envelope and mail them the next day.  Meanwhile, he’d keep his daily letters until he received mine, then he’d compile them and mail them to me.  We became very skilled at stuffing a week’s worth of notebook paper (college-ruled, of course.  We were serious about this whole letter-writing thing.) into a #8 size envelope and shipping it off with only one stamp.

You’ve probably heard of “red-letter days.”  Well, for me, during that time in my life, a “red-letter day” meant something else entirely.  This young man, to represent his love and devotion, would write in red ink.  Every word on every page.  I’m convinced that for those two years we were responsible for keeping PaperMate in business.  No day of the week was more highly anticipated, more eagerly awaited than my “red letter day.”  And time never passed so slowly as it did on those “red letter days”, as I endured school and the hours afterward waiting for my parents to finish working so we could go home.

My heart would race as I approached the mailbox.  My hands would tremble as I opened it.  My pulse would quicken as I glanced inside, seeking the treasure I hoped so desperately to find.  And if the envelope was there – addressed in red – I would blush slightly as I pulled it out.  I would race inside the house, dropping the rest of the mail on the nearest counter, and dash up to my room.  Shutting my door, I would spend as much time as my parents would allow before dinner tearing open the envelope (carefully, since they all had been “sealed with a kiss”) and reading – and rereading – those precious words.  Words of love and adoration, penned by a teenage boy caught in the throes of first love.  Words of affirmation and affection.  Words of encouragement, of strength, of support.  Words that stirred butterflies in my stomach and lit a fire in my heart.  Words that put a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.  Words that made me giddy with happiness and swoon with delight.  Words that gave me a glimpse into his character, his heart, his life.  I treasured those words.  Every single one of them.

After dinner, I’d reread the letter.  I’d read it again before bed.  Before school, during study hall, at lunchtime, in those long afternoon hours after homework was done, or practice was over, I’d open the letter and read it.  Over and over.  Before the next “red letter day”, I’d practically have every page memorized.  I’d have his letter beside me as I wrote back to him, so I could answer his questions, respond specifically to things he said, and write my own words of love and adoration for him to cherish.  Being as geographically remote as we were, it was the next best thing to having him right there beside me, hearing his voice, and sharing our lives together.

And now, the epiphany.  Or apostrophe.  You know, the part where lightning struck my brain.

I’m currently leading a Bible study on prayer.  It’s a pretty intense, in-depth study, really one of the best and most comprehensive I’ve seen.  This week, our study was on using scripture in prayer.  One scripture in particular stood out to me.  It’s a verse I’ve known for a long time, as it is my “name verse”.  In Hebrew, Deborah means “the bee.”  The modern meaning is “seeking one”.  And the verse associated with that meaning is this:

You have said, “Seek My face.”

My heart says to You, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” (Psalm 27:8, ESV)

The authors of the study point out that the reason God commands us to seek His face is because the face is where all the organs of communication are located: eyes to see expression and body language, ears to hear nuance and inflection, and a mouth to respond.  In other words, seeking God means to seek intimate communication with Him.  And without His tangible, physical presence with me, how do I know what He is saying?  How do I hear his voice?  Through His word.  His love letter.

But as I thought about this, I realized that I don’t have that same excitement, that same passion, that same desire to spend reading God’s love letter to me as I did my boyfriend’s.  Do I eagerly anticipate the moment I can have my quiet time or read the family devotional?  Do I rush to my room, dropping everything else, so I can listen to my daily Bible readings?  Do I count down the hours until I can complete my Bible study assignments?  Do I savor every word, reading and re-reading until they’re sealed in my memory?  If I’m being honest, the answer is “no.”

Sadly, the truth is that these words are also words of love and adoration.  Words of affirmation and affection.  Words of encouragement, strength, and support.  Words that tell the love story of my God, my Creator, my Savior, and my Friend.  Words that breathe life into my soul and fill me with hope.  Words that bring joy to my heart and peace to my anxious and distracted mind.  Words that give me a glimpse into the infinite character of the awesome King of the universe.  Words that He spoke – literally breathed – into existence through the painstaking labor of mortal men.  Words that teach, words that guide, words that promise, words that bless.

And far too often, I’m too busy.  Too distracted.  Too disinterested.  Too tired.  And that love letter sits by my bed, unopened, unread for days.  Days that could be “red-letter days” where I hear His voice, enjoy His presence, and respond to Him.

That thought was sobering.  How willing I was to give hours of my time to a 15-year-old boy, but how selfish I am with the timeless, ageless, indescribable God, whose love for me was sealed not with a kiss but with the blood of His Son, written in the crimson stream that flowed from His battered and beaten body.  The ultimate “red-letter day.”  A day not where an envelope was ripped open, but a thick veil was torn, from top to bottom, so that I could have instant and direct access to His very presence.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some face-seeking to do…and a love letter just waiting to be read.