There is was. It had turned slightly gray with time but it was still recognizable. Even the ribbon held after all these years. Mother had saved it. She threw most everything out, but this remained.
Standing up, I stretched the kink out of my back. The cardboard shoebox that held the remnants of my childhood lay at my feet. The only thing that remained to be done was to open it - but not here.
I settled on the twin bed of my girlhood bedroom. The green flowered wallpaper had never been changed - not once since I turned eleven. If my mother liked something, it remained; if not, she disposed of it quickly. Her recent transfer to a nursing home now left the removal of the household items to her daughters.
The box languished before me. The ragged ribbon slipped easily free with one pull. Why did my heart hammer so? I shifted my shoulders and lifted the top. A jumble of tokens from my past greeted me. Brownie badges, birthday trinkets, a tiny leather pouch from a vacation souvenir store, a grainy black and white picture of my two sisters leaning against the old Cutlass. My fingers dug deeper.
A postcard from one of my first friends. Two notes folded in tiny squares worn from being passed through too many hands. A silver ring – given to me from my first real boyfriend. I winced with relief when I thought about what could have happened.
Finally, my fingers felt it. Smooth - with the feel of an object that begs to be remembered. I folded my fingers around it and pulled it from the depths of the treasures. Opening my palm, I sucked back a breath as the memory of that day punched me full force in my heart.
“You earned it. Twelve verses in twelve weeks straight. This is the last prize before the big one.” Miss Joanie’s eyes shone with tears. I swallowed at the recognition and lowered my eyes to the worn oak floor. I had one more verse to memorize. She said it was the most important one of all - the one that would lead me to a new life. I closed my fingers around the prize.
When I settled into the Olds that Sunday after church, I couldn’t wait to show my family what I had earned. Dad was in one of his moods and Mother was acting too quiet. I looked at my sisters. Both seemed unusually still. Something was wrong.
Mother turned in her seat. “Girls, we aren’t going back to that church anymore. Your father and I had a disagreement with the deacons and we don’t feel we can attend anymore. I’m sorry.” She turned back to the front and clamped her lips shut.
The bottom dropped out of my world. Only one more verse. Ms. Joanie promised she would talk with me next week about how Jesus would give me a new life. I hated my present life. I was too shy in school, too ugly for boys, and too sad when my parents fought. I needed that new life and now I would never find it.
Blinking, the lime green wallpaper flooded my vision again. Too many memories. I glanced back at the object clutched in my fist. One by one, I opened my fingers and gazed at the tiny cross that lay in my hands. It was still faintly green – its yellow tassel dangling from the top. Flicking off the nightstand light, I watched it glow in my hand. Miss Joanie had told me that Jesus shines for me just like this cross glows in the darkness. After that last Sunday, I’d held the tiny plastic cross in my hand for two weeks. Eventually it found its home in my box.
I flicked the light back on and turned the cross over to read the raised inscription on the back. John 8:12* The green cover of the new testament I carried as a child appeared on top of my pile. It took some time, but eventually I found the verse. It wasn’t one I had memorized yet - I wondered if this was the last one - the verse that would have given me new life. I wiped my tears. It was.
“…I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 NIV*
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