Originally published Monday, 20 May 2013.
"I have an ice-breaker for you. Tell us about your safe place you had as a child."
We were in our small group, gathered at a friend’s house and seated around the living room. I sunk back into the deep leather sectional and realized that I couldn't remember that far back. My first thought was that I don't have many positive memories from my past. As each person described their safe places, I perused the memory files in my brain. I tried to tiptoe through my memories, hoping I wouldn't disturb and awaken anything I'd rather not recall. I listened as the others described their neighborhood, their friend’s houses, and their playgrounds as their safe places. Finally, it was my turn, and instantly I remembered the place I felt safest as a child.
The room was buried deep in the building. Down the stairs, in the basement, it was the last room at the end of the hall. The smell of old magazines and books, musty and perhaps even moldy, permeated the air. It was the room where all the old resources were kept--magazines dating back to the beginning of last century and piles of books that no one cared about.
This was a safe place.
Stacks and stacks of books and plenty of places hide, my local public library was my haven growing up. My mother worked there so I spent countless hours browsing and reading. When I was old enough to volunteer, I helped out the children's librarian. Conveniently, she was also a children's book author with whom I enjoyed talking about all her books. When I was even older and could get a job, this library was my first place of employment.
I loved the quiet, and being surrounded by so much that stimulated the mind and the imagination. Everything else in my life was loud, chaotic, and sometimes frightening. This place I knew was quiet and safe.
I came to know exactly where every book was located. Most of them I checked out and read at home, sometimes staying up late into the night reading. Mysteries, fiction, non-fiction, biographies, literature, poetry were all food for my starving mind and heart. Emily was right when she described a book as a frigate that takes its reader to lands far away. In my reading, I visited places I'll never see, shared emotions with imaginary people who understood me, and solved all the problems in the world in mere hours of reading.
I loved checking in the books in the office and putting them back on the shelves. I especially loved having to go all the way into that dimly lit room in the basement where people seldom ventured. Putting away or retrieving old resources was an infrequent job but one I treasured. And the quiet, oh the quiet in that place...
God found me even behind the stacks of shelves. He found me hiding out from the world and wishing I could bring all my things, and create a nest in the back corner, by the window and next to the 200's. I always looked at each book before shelving it because every one was a potential world to visit. In the 200's, next to all the different versions of the Bible, I found a number of books that brought the encouragement and hope my adolescent soul needed. It was here that I found and read a book by Billy Graham, then one by Joni Earekson Tada, followed by nearly every book in the Christianity section of the library.
During those years, I gathered quotes and scriptures from those books and began filling a journal. Late, in the quiet of the night, I opened that journal and read and re-read the scrawled words of hope. It was those words, hand-copied from borrowed books, which got me through the deep, dark days of adolescence that I learned much later was clinical depression.
One of my favorite names for God is "Strong Tower," from Psalm 61 "from the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe" (vs. 2-3). The library was my refuge and safe place as a child. It was a place to hide from the chaos of my life. But my greatest foe is sin and the truths of the gospel are my refuge and strength. All those books I read in the safety of the library told me that Jesus came to rescue me from sin and to restore my relationship with my Father in heaven. On the cross, Jesus took on all of my sin and gave me his righteousness in return. Because of Christ, there is no more fear, no more shame, and no need to hide.
As a child, God provided me a safe place, a refuge from the storms of my life and then he met me there. And it was there that I learned that Christ has brought me to the safest place on earth--the arms of my Father.
Where have you found safety?