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Reflections on Handwriting

As I sat reading during my daily devotional time one morning, I turned a page of the Bible in my hands and discovered scribbled notes in the margin. They were in my father's handwriting.

I had purchased the Bible as a Christmas gift for my mother earlier when I was a college student. Some time after her tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver, Daddy had pulled it off the shelf of the bookcase where Mother had kept her various books and a stack of Sunday school notes. She had typed each lesson on several 5 1/2 by 8 1/2-inch sheets of paper using her black portable Remington typewriter. (The old Remington had a special ribbon that allowed her to type in both black and red ink. In her lesson notes, points that she wanted especially to emphasize she typed in red.)

Apparently, Daddy had decided to read from Mother's Bible, perhaps somehow to feel closer to her. He was very lonely after her passing. As he read, he must have been struck by certain words, phrases, or verses, and he underlined them or wrote his thoughts, albeit brief, in the margin.

Being a working man--dairy farmer, carpenter, brick mason--Daddy did not have pretty handwriting. His large, rough hand just wasn't built for that. Rather, he scribbled in a jerky, hurried way, although whenever he signed his name to a check or an official document, he took his time in a deliberate and labored effort to ensure legibility. His normal writing, however, most definitely didn't resemble Mother's neat, clean, consistent, and beautiful handwriting. Even her hurriedly scribbled grocery lists looked like calligraphic works of art.

But the day I discovered Daddy's cryptic marginal notes, I tried to look beyond his messy handwriting and imagine what he was thinking as he wrote them. What were his emotions at that moment? What meaning had that word, phrase, or verse held for him? What message or lesson was he trying to preserve with his notation? What effect had the passage had on him after that point in time?

Although Daddy sometimes taught Sunday school, he wasn't really a teacher. He had trouble expressing himself verbally, whether in speaking or writing. Mother, on the other hand, was a teacher. She could express herself either way. But Daddy was a good thinker. It sometimes took him a while to mull things over and reach a conclusion, but when he did, you knew that it was sound. You knew what he believed and where he stood. Any mistakes he made were not the result of haste or rashness or lack of forethought.

I've often compared and contrasted my own handwriting with that of my parents. Sometimes I see Mother's handwriting in my own. It's always when I've taken my time and made a conscious effort to do my best. But too often I see Daddy's hurried scribbles. Like when I'm writing a first draft of something, rushing to get the ideas onto paper before I forget whatever it is I want to express. (Yes, even in this age of computers, I still hand write my first drafts. And I still have trouble remembering what I've wanted to say!) I see his handwriting in the hurriedly written check I've written when the letter carrier is coming through the neighborhood and the bill payment will be late if I don't get it into the mail today!

But I also wonder if, after I'm gone, my own children will one day pull one of my old Bibles from the shelf and page through it, noting my marginal notations. Will they wonder about the things that were going through my mind when I wrote them? Will my handwriting even be legible enough for them to read? Will my notes make any difference in their lives?

The apostle Paul wrote that our lives are epistles (letters), "known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2). Is the "handwriting" of my epistle-life legible? Are my messages clear and unhindered so that everyone who "reads" them knows what has made the difference in my life? Is it something good that others can emulate?

Those are questions I ask myself when I see Daddy's handwritten marginal notes in that Bible.

What does your "life's handwriting" say about you?

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