The church choir softly sang "Silent Night" as the pastor of the Salvation Army church in Milwaukee presented my Christmas Bible to me. He said, "Carry this Bible with you always, whether it's in your heart or in your hand, because where it is, God is."
I took my Christmas Bible back to my pew and lovingly ran my fingers over the hard, crinkled, black cover and the gold-embossed letters.
Tears sprang to my eyes as I opened the cover and read: "To Sylvia Jane Bright from Pastor Captain John Payton. Merry Christmas, 12/24/45."
A Bible given ...
I cradled the book and silently wept. I was just 9 years old. But from that day on, I took the Bible seriously.
My Bible was with me everywhere I went. My family and friends thought it strange, but they didn't know what this Bible meant. It was something that was totally mine, something I didn't have to share with my 13 brothers and sisters. My siblings didn't want my "precious" book; it didn't have any meaning for them. But for me, it was a confirmation of all my nightly prayers since I had been old enough to kneel by my bed and talk to God.
My Bible sustained me through my teen years and into my married life. It stayed with me through every home my husband and I shared—until March 1976. We had just moved into a house in North Lake, Wisc., when a devastating ice storm hit. We were without heat, water, and electricity for days.
...and taken away
During that time, our basement flooded. The water destroyed three boxes of books I had yet to unpack. In one of those boxes was my Christmas Bible.
The loss of that Bible devastated me on all levels of my being. My husband immediately bought me a new one, but it was not the same. My Bible had helped me through all the heartaches in my life, including the loss of two unborn babies; my fears and pain from childhood physical and mental abuse; hardships in our marriage; and my struggles in combatting bad habits. It had also led me to triumph over my lack of self-confidence and self-worth and had nurtured my love for our four living children, for my husband, and for our families.
As weeks passed, I went through stages of grief—crying, anger, guilt, depression. I prayed and pleaded and even tried bartering with God to send a copy of my Bible back to me. All to no avail.
Some months later, on Christmas Eve day, as I was driving home after a holiday shopping trip, I felt strongly compelled to stop at a good-as-new shop.
I went straight to my two favorite sections: glassware and books. As I neared the bookshelves, I spied a black, crinkle-covered book.
Immediately I grabbed it. Then I hesitated, trying to summon the courage to look at the book's title. Holding the book in my hands, with my stomach nervously fluttering and my knees shaking, I closed my eyes and silently tried to pray. But all that kept flooding through my mind was the thought, "This can't possibly be the same book ... can it?"
...and given again
Then I bravely opened my eyes and dared to look. It definitely was the same type of Bible with the same gold-embossed lettering.
My hands shaking and my heart beating hard and fast, I anxiously opened the book. On the inside front cover was written, by hand: "The Salvation Army wishes you a very Merry Christmas, 12/19/36."
My knees buckled and I sank to the cement floor. Hugging the Bible, I thanked God and gave in to months of pent-up tears that I didn't know were still hiding in my heart. For you see, the date inscribed in that Bible was the day of my birth.
This was God's gift to me.