I’ve lived with her for over forty years and, still, she gets me into trouble. I’m sure I would never fall for these traps if it weren’t for her. Well — almost never.

It all started innocently enough.

“I need to pick up a few books at the used-book store, dear. Would you go with me?”

She knows the answer to that question. I can’t say no to a chance to expand the library. Especially at bargain prices. We went.

I found books. Many of them weren’t at bargain prices. I’m lamenting most the book of children’s poetry with hand-colored prints. It could have been mine for only a hundred twenty-five dollars.

I settled for a smaller volume that set me back only four. Four dollars for a book over a century old. There was no extra charge for the yellowed paper on which it was printed. None for the musty odor that emanates from the turning pages, either. A bargain. Really.

But you’re still wondering how she got me into trouble, aren’t you? Clearly, the cost of the little poetry book wasn’t the issue.

It’s just that I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the trap until it was too late. Caught! Sucked in like the tiny ants ambling past the doodle-bug pits in

the dirt under the carport of my childhood home.

They never intended to go into those pits, either.

Okay. It’s just that the snack-cake bargain outlet is right next to the used-book shop. Thirty strides away from where I parked the pickup. Maybe fewer. I know it was close enough to smell the honey-buns. And, the Swiss cake rolls.

I haven’t yet been able to do the math required to determine how many miles I’ll need to ride on my bicycle. In truth, I’m barely starting to add up the calories I’ve ingested. Tomorrow.

But now you understand how it was that I came to be sitting that evening under the old table lamp, reading the little volume of poems, coffee cup in hand. There may also have been a honey-bun close by (or was it an oatmeal cream pie?).

I read poem, followed by poem; after some, affirming the wisdom of my purchase and, after others, bemoaning the pricey volume that remained sitting on the shelf at the book shop. Still, for four dollars, it wasn’t a complete disappointment.

After half an hour of sitting — well, flopping really — I don’t sit while I read. Anyway, after half an hour… You know, I still remember the red-headed lady who raised me — years ago — sternly reminding me to get my feet off her coffee table. That was only moments before she shouted at me to get my feet off her wall. That’s right. Turned upside down, heels dirtying the wallpaper, I would read for hour after hour. As a child. I can’t read that way any longer. (You know — blood rushing to head, stiff joints, and everything else that comes with age.) Now, I simply scooch down in the easy chair, just far enough to get my feet on the chair facing me. It just feels right.

I never realized how low this position put me in relation to the lamp beside my chair. There never has been a reason to notice it. There certainly was this night.

After half an hour of sitting (You knew I’d get here eventually!), as I turned a page, a shadowy image appeared momentarily behind the print. As the page laid back against the others, the image disappeared. I searched for it, but couldn’t find it again.

Thinking I must have imagined it, I continued reading the old volume. But, moments later, as I flipped another page, the image was back.

What was going on? Did I buy a haunted book? What was this strange image?

I separated the pages, holding a single one up to the light. There it was! Along

with the skeleton-like lines that showed in the old laid paper, a watermark was clearly visible. A circle of leaves on stems, curled around the poet’s initials.

On every page held up to the light, I can see the same watermark. Somehow, I feel better about my purchase now. A watermark simply informs the interested party of who had made the paper, a modern-day signature of the artisan, if you will. I made this!

We don’t see watermarked paper much anymore. Not the real thing, anyway. I bet if the shop had known about it, they would have charged six, maybe even eight, dollars for the little volume! Or, maybe not.

Funny, isn’t it? Something most people would never see makes the book more valuable to me.

As I write, I begin to wonder if I’ve lost the interest of my readers. It is, after all, a discussion of things of antiquity, meaning nothing to most who will read these words. Perhaps something a little more up-to-date might help.

Those of my readers who live in the United States see watermarks in use almost every day. The purchase of a container of milk or a loaf of bread will suffice. Put your groceries on the counter and reach into your pocket as the cashier tells you the total. Smiling, you draw out a twenty-dollar bill and think nothing of the nice lady holding the bill up to the light to — that’s right! — verify the presence of the watermark. All modern U.S. bills over one dollar have them. Many overseas currencies use watermarks, as well.

It matters who printed the paper and put the watermark there. It matters a lot.

And then, I stop to think about the times we describe our future, the days and moments lying just ahead, like a blank page waiting to be written upon.

And suddenly, I wonder what sort of paper my life story is being written on.

I know what’s being written on the paper (and I’m not always happy about how it reads), but when my pages are held up to the light, what appears for all to see?

Is there an imprint on every page, and whose is it?

Am I writing on paper that will last?

Some time ago, I noticed a fellow working in his garden, but he wasn’t plowing or planting. He was burying paper. Really. Burying paper. I stopped to express my puzzlement and he was happy to explain.

“I have lots of old business records and unimportant communication. The paper turns to dirt soon enough, so I bury it instead of sending it to the landfill.”

It turns to dirt.

I’d like to write on better paper than that.

And, I’d like to see something far better than myself shining through when it’s all — the whole messy project — held up to the light. I believe He’ll do that. The words of the Teacher ring in my head almost daily: Let your light shine as you do good to men, and they’ll glorify God who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

I want His mark on my life’s story. You?

Sooner or later, we’ll all be held up to the light.

Through all the scribbles and strike-throughs, the illegible script written when we had too little sleep and not enough coffee, what shines through matters more than anything we could ever write ourselves.

Quality paper. Clearly marked.

Definitely worth more than four dollars.

God does give us more than we can handle. Not maliciously, but intentionally, in love, that His glory may be displayed, that we may have no doubt of who is in control, that people may see His grace and faithfulness shining through our lives.
 (Katie Davis ~ American author/missionary)

But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
 (1 Corinthians 3:13–15 ~ NLT ~ New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


Paul Phillips is a Christ-follower-in-training. Formerly the owner and proprietor of a small-town music store, he now describes himself as a curmudgeon-in-training (but, without the surliness). As to the rest, time will tell. Visit Paul at SPaulPhil.com.
Paul Phillips is a Christ-follower-in-training. Formerly the owner and proprietor of a small-town music store, he now describes himself as a curmudgeon-in-training (but, without the surliness). As to the rest, time will tell. Visit Paul at SPaulPhil.com.

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