This was going to require perfection. Not from me so much. At 8 years old I was limited in what I could do. Most of this was on my Mom and Dad. They had to make sure that I showed up for all the required nights at Our Savior Lutheran Church. Oh, I did my part: I reminded, clock-watched, stood at the door, and waited restlessly in the car until the engine started and we backed out of the driveway. This required perfect Wednesday evening Lenten attendance. To win the award Bible I had to be at all six Wednesday nights from Ash Wednesday to the Wednesday before Palm Sunday.
On the last Wednesday in Lent, after the service was over, I stood in line with the other perfectionists holding tightly to my attendance card. My name, written in pencil in the middle of the card in an 8 year old’s script, was surrounded with six perfect attendance boxes signed off with an usher’s initials. One after another we stood before our robed pastor, gowned in the black and white of cassock and surplus, with a dark purple stole – this was official stuff after all. I proudly offered the perfect attendance card in exchange for a King James Version Pocket Bible of the New Testament and Psalms.
The first thing I remember doing with my new Bible was to tuck it into my pants pocket when we went to visit my grandparents for Easter. Mom and Pop, we called them. They were the best, they were my favorite, and so, I hoped, I was theirs. The house on Anderson Way in Sacramento was a kid’s wonderland: the massive backyard with trees big enough for climbing, their little female boxer, Kinder, Pop’s workshop, practice-driving their boat “Littl’ Toot” as it sat on the trailer, and the black and white chessboard tile floor in the living room. Wherever you stood in the room, the lines drew your eyes toward two pieces of furniture: Pop’s chair and Mom’s rocker. Almost like thrones for the King and Queen on the chessboard living room floor.
And so, on that day I presented myself before the Queen, to be celebrated for perfection, Bible in hand for inspection. As I leaned against the throne she opened my Bible with purpose, turning past the books of the New Testament, and only pausing when she got to the Psalms. Psalm 1, 2, 3 . . . she didn’t stop turning until she got to 23. With her finger on the page her face turned toward me and said, “This one – 23 – is my favorite.” And she began to read:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23, KJV)
That night as I got into bed I turned to 23 and tucked into place my Bible’s little black ribbon. “23” – it was now my favorite too.