Balm of Gilead

My favorite books

by: Stephanne Morris Marsh, Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid

Growing up as a missionary kid in Ecuador, my books were my one constant. Every time we moved (18 times before I graduated from high school, but who was counting?) we sold the vast majority of our possessions because it was simply too expensive to ship them. The only things that my parents never asked me to sell were my books. My dad would look at my trunk of books and instead of telling me it was too heavy, he would say, “Books are valuable. Everything I know is because I read books.” I agree. Wholeheartedly. People always remark that I seem to know a lot about a great deal of things. In all honesty, I really do. And that is because I love to read and have always loved to read.

My dad taught me how to speed read when I was 3 years old. I would go to the church and lay on the floor in his office and read while he worked. My dad’s library has always been a treasure trove. I think he says he currently has over 3,800 physical books and more than 30,000 digital copies of books. I cut my teeth (literally!) on massive volumes of illustrated Bible stories. I would pull out different volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and read it from front to back. My dad instilled in me a voracious love for reading, and I am so grateful that he did!

Reading is my safe place. My escape. I read on average 5-6 books a week. (I read in my spare time which is hilarious, because I work 45-50 hours a week at my day job, and easily spend 25+ hours a week on missions and Ecuador. Hence, my spare time is usually in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.) As I mentioned, my dad taught me how to speed read. He had a board with letters, like Scrabble letters and it had a contraption that slid words back and forth very quickly and covered and uncovered them. I remember how excited he got when he realized I was reading everything he showed me, no matter how fast he slid it. People would come by the church office and he would say, “Watch this!” and then excitedly show them my genius abilities.

So, while I haven’t been tested in a while, I did take a speed reading test for a college class back in 2010, and I scored 100% comprehension and 868 words per minute for extremely difficult (beyond college level) texts. I tend to skim read, unless something is very interesting to me. I think that if I find the subject interesting, I actually read a little bit faster, kind of like drinking great big gulps of cold sweet tea when you are really thirsty! (I really don’ t know why I am telling you all of this, other than most people find it interesting, and if you know me, you know how fast I read!)

I have several books that are precious to me. My top favorites are ones I have had since early childhood. Anne of Green Gables was a gift from the sweet lady that ran the GMU (Gospel Missionary Union) Guest House in Quito, Ecuador. We stayed there for several weeks while we were waiting to find out where we were going to live for that 4 year term. All of our things, except for our suitcases of clothes, were in a container, on a ship, somewhere between Miami and Ecuador. She found out that I loved to read and she gave me access to her personal library. Once she realized how advanced my reading skills were for my age, she gave me Anne of Green Gables to read. I devoured it the first time in about 2 hours. I quickly read every book in the series, and loved each of them. When we got ready to leave the Guest House, she gave me the Anne of Green Gables book to keep for my very own. I have treasured it every single day since. You can tell, it is absolutely well loved and well worn.

This copy of my favorite book was printed in 1976

Now, let me give you a little more background information. I have always had a very vivid imagination. I have always been intrigued by pretty stories and love painting pictures with words in my own writing. My 8th grade English teacher was Mrs. Opal Bullington and she was the first person to tell me that I was a good writer. She said that I had a way of describing things in such vivid detail that it was like watching a movie anytime she read one of my stories. I never forgot what she told me, and even now, 34 years later, I haven’t forgotten her or her kindness to me. That being said, I absolutely, 150 million percent, attribute my writing style to Lucy Maude Montgomery.

Anne of Green Gables is my all time favorite book. I read it several times a year, even though at this point, after nearly 39 years of reading it over and over again, I can tell you almost word for word every single sentence in the book. Every time I read it, I get the same delicious thrills of delight. Anne spoke to me, deep in my very soul, I identified with her. I took to saying the things that she did, for instance, “I have but one lifelong sorrow, and that is my curly hair,” or when a day didn’t go as planned, I would say, “today was such a Jonah day,” or when I was sad or upset, I would tell everyone “I am in the depths of despair.” I thought that I was very much like her, and believe me, I got myself into just as many scrapes and mistakes as she did, usually because my imagination got away with me and I would lose track of time. The one thing that I DID NOT do like Anne, was set my best friend drunk. I am sure that my best friend was saved from that horrible atrocity just because my parents didn’t drink alcohol and I had no way to access alcohol whatsoever.

One time, just like Anne, I was imagining myself in a perfectly lovely story, while I was making cookies. Somehow, I left the flour completely out of the recipe. I thought they were a little runny, but chalked it up to the high altitude of the Andes mountains. They never did solidify, it was just a soupy mess on the cookie sheet. My mama was so upset that I had wasted so much sugar and butter and eggs! If I got told once, it was at least 25 times a day, “Get your head out of the clouds and for heaven’s sake, pay attention to what you are doing!” I didn’t mean to make messes or intentionally forget to do things, it was just that imagining was so much more fun!

I am sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with “Balm of Gilead”. Never fear my dear reader, I shall tell you before you are tempted to lose interest. But first, one more quick aside. I love Facebook memories. I look forward to them every day! Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. This morning, I laughed long and hard. On this day in 2008, my status was this: “I love words in italics…..they send delicious thrills of excitement down my spine. The bitterest drop of suspicion in my cup today, is the fear I may not use italics enough. Life is short! Italicize.” Can you imagine where I got that statement? You guessed it. Anne of Green Gables. What I found even more funny than my status was the comment from my sister Keely. She said, “Why are you so weird?” Now, I know that reading that has awakened the dormant creative ability deep down in your soul, and you want to go about saying things like, “the bitterest drop of suspicion in my cup today….” Can you imagine how much more interesting our world would be if we all went around speaking like Anne in Anne of Green Gables?

And, as you must have suspected, “Balm of Gilead” is indeed from Anne of Green Gables as well, although, it was actually in the Bible first. (Jeremiah 8:22 to be precise). It is actually used several times in multiple books in the series. My favorite way that LM Montgomery used it was to convey that even though there had been a huge and crushing disappointment in the story, there was yet a bright side, a “Balm of Gilead” was still to be found.

In my life, just like everyone else, I have had many crushing disappointments, sorrows, and failures. If you have read any of my previous blogs, you have heard me recount times where I felt lost, alone, and even out of the very reach of God. I have watched many friends and fellow missionary and third culture kids stumble, fall, and not get back up. Sometimes, when I am laying in my bed, unable to sleep, I wonder what the difference is, and how I have made it when so many others haven’t. Every single time, as I begin to think, I smile, and am able to turn over and go to sleep, because I know that it is the very Balm of Gilead that has healed my soul.

Yesterday, a reader made a comment on my blog about Keds (which if you missed it, you can read it here, Keds – Yes, the White Canvas Shoes). The reader’s comment was this: “I thank God you had a great mama and daddy and a Heavenly Father that had greater plans for you…for you to help heal those hurting, using the best ointment ever…the Balm of Gilead……..memories may last a long time. But memories like those reach heaven. Keep on sharing.” When I read her statement, I knew I had found the title for my next blog. It made me grin so big, because the “Balm of Gilead” isn’t something that you hear very often, but that old sweet phrase, upon reading it, brought me so much joy. When I say it out loud, “Balm of Gilead” it is so sweet, I can almost taste it, like honey.

Yes, you see, I have always had the Balm of Gilead to soothe and heal my heart and soul. My mama and daddy sowed into me, principles, morals, integrity, and most importantly, they made sure that I knew who the Author and Giver of Life truly was. They taught me, by example, to trust in, lean into, and fully rely on God. They taught me that no matter what I was facing, how difficult it seemed, how hopeless it appeared, that God had me in the palm of His hand and He would never leave me or forsake me; and that there was always healing for my broken heart, for my crushed spirit, and for my wounded and sick body, at the foot of the cross. The Balm of Gilead is what reaches far into every crevice of my thoughts, my heart, and my soul and I now know, the Balm of Gilead is actually the Blood of Jesus. All we have to do is call on Him, and He will show us and do great and mighty things. He promised us that He would (Jeremiah 33:3), and His promises never fail. (Romans 9:6-8)

So, yes, Anne. There will always be Balm in Gilead. Even when things seem grim and dim and you find yourself deep in the depths of despair, all you have to do is call on the One who loves you more than anyone, the One who shed His blood for you. Romans 10:13 – “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I am so thankful for Jesus, the true Balm of Gilead.

I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I am for Lucy Maude Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables. Unquestionably, besides the Bible, that book has had great impact and influence on my life. And like Anne, I shall let you, my dear reader, decide if that is good or bad.

Now, I am going to say my prayers, place my head upon my pillow and dream lovely dreams of walking down the White Way of Delight beside the Lake of Shining Waters in my tafetta gown with gorgeously puffed sleeves. Perhaps I shall be lucky enough to encounter the Lady of Shallote while I am there, or maybe I will even have a picnic in Hester Gray’s garden, with tea cakes and raspberry cordial, surrounded by blankets of the sweetest roses.

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