Making Your Mark

This is what life looks like when I am writing a new Bible study. The process is, by turns, exhilarating, frustrating, grueling, and exciting. What I love most is having a reason to pull together ideas from all my favorite books, to go back and read notes I wrote in margins 30 years ago.

My table as I work on a Bible Study

This morning as I was combing through my bookshelves, I noticed on the top shelf a small bound volume, so old the writing was no longer visible on its spine.

Standing on a chair, I reached up and brushed the dust from the cover of an ancient Swedish New Testament I was surprised to find I had. Back in the days when penmanship was an actual subject in school, my paternal great-grandfather had neatly printed his name on the inside cover—Axel Frisk, Arlington, NJ.

I knew little about him, only that he’d been a carpenter, an immigrant from Sweden who had died when my father was a boy. Tragically falling through a roof and landing on a beam, he suffered massive injuries that eventually led to his death some months later from internal bleeding. When I called my father to ask for more details, he had few memories, other than that he’d been a quiet man who was a member of a Swedish Baptist church.

I remember very little Swedish, but as I flipped through the brittle, yellowed pages of his New Testament, I noticed some pencil in the margins of what I could tell was the Epistle to the Romans. How exciting to find a passage marked by my great-grandfather nearly a century ago! I reached for one of my own marked-up Bibles to find the verses he’d found worthy of note:

Axel Frisk old Swedish Bible with marks

My great-grandfather’s Bible with marks in the margin

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” – Romans 8:9

Wow! Today I discovered that my unknown ancestor, who evidently passed along to me my blonde hair, was encouraged enough by this Scripture verse to single it out. The same Spirit that lives in me lived in the great-grandfather I’d never known. We are the same distance apart in the timeline of lineage as Ruth and King David.

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if we indeed share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:16-17.

Although Axel Frisk suffered greatly and died tragically in middle age, his faith lived on in his daughter Mildred. And it was at her funeral that I came to faith in Christ. I am a co-heir with ancestors I never knew!

To “make your mark” is defined as “being successful, distinguishing oneself, prospering.” Axel Frisk was a simple man who came to America to make his mark. He appreciated the freedom he found here to work hard at his trade, to build his own modest home, and to support his family. He enjoyed the freedom of religion America allowed, which was different from the state-mandated membership in the Lutheran church in Sweden. Although he never achieved the kind of material success or prosperity that would result in an inheritance to pass along to his ancestors, the little Bible he left behind shows me that he truly did make his mark in this world in the most important way possible. He left a godly heritage.

I hope that someday my children and grandchildren will one day find and perhaps pass along my well-loved Bibles, and that they will take the time to read my notes and underlinings. It is the markings in my Bibles that are the best indication of what I valued and how I have wanted to live and love in order to make my own mark on the world.

The old Swedish Bible on top of mine

What is your heritage of faith? What signs of your faith are you leaving behind for your children and grandchildren?