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Indelible Love Marked the Pages

I watched intently as my little brother was caught in the act. He sat in the corner of the living room, a pen in one hand and my father's brand-new hymnbook in the other.

As my father walked into the room, my brother cowered slightly; he sensed that he had done something wrong. From a distance I could see that he had opened my father's new hymnal and scribbled in it the length and breadth of the first page with a pen.

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Now, staring at my father fearfully, he and I both waited for his punishment. And as we waited, there was no way we could have known that our father was about to teach us deep and lasting lessons about life and family, lessons that continue to become even clearer through the years.

My father picked up his prized hymnal, looked at it carefully, and then sat down, without saying a word. Books were precious to him; he was a clergyman and the holder of several degrees. For him, books were knowledge, and yet he loved his children.

What he did next was remarkable. Instead of punishing my brother, instead of scolding or yelling or reprimanding, he sat down, took the pen from my brother's hand, and then wrote in the book himself, alongside the scribbles John had made:

John's work, 1959, age 2. How many times have I looked into your beautiful face and into your warm, alert eyes looking up at me and thanked God for the one who has now scribbled in my new hymnal. You have made the book sacred, as have your brothers and sister to so much of my life.

"Wow," I thought. "This is punishment?"

The years and the books came and went. Our family experienced what all families go through and perhaps a little bit more: triumph and tragedy, prosperity and loss, laughter and tears. We gained grandchildren, we lost a son. We always knew our parents loved us and that one of the proofs of their love was the hymnal by the piano.

From time to time we would open it, look at the scribbles, read my father's expression of love, and feel uplifted. Now I know that through this simple act my father taught us how every event in life has a positive side - if we are prepared to look at it from another angle - and how precious it is when our lives are touched by little hands.

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But he also taught us about what really matters in life: people, not objects; tolerance, not judgment; love, not anger. Now I, too, am a father, and, like my dad, a clergyman and holder of degrees.

But unlike my father, I do not wait for my daughters to secretly take books from my bookshelf and scribble in them. From time to time I take one down - not just a cheap paperback but a book that I know I will have for many years to come, and I give it to one of my children to scribble or write their names in.

And as I look at their artwork, I think about my father, the lessons he taught me, the love he has for us and which I have for my children - love that is at the very heart of a family. I think about these things and I smile. Then I whisper, "Thank you, Dad."

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