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IX: The night our books perished

Everything we own belongs to God. And sometimes I wish He would replace what gets ruined. Instantly. We did not have many treasures growing up in our 700 square foot apartment in East Germany. A small black and white TV, a record player, a rotary dial phone which was tapped by Snoop & Spy INC. (officially the STASI). But we did have wall to wall priceless treasures: books.

Our home was a treasure trove of books, an uncensored island of words, a literary paradise. My father worked for small publishing house and kept every book they ever printed. I believe most of them were sold in the West. We had books from wall to wall, top to bottom, on the floor.  Classics, fanciful picture book, historical accounts, how-to, self help, parenting, Christian books, fiction, you name it. Our assortment far exceeded the average citizens printed assets. Whatever got published in the East required communist approval. You could not speak your mind and put it on paper. Purchasing a typewriter even required a license. I wanted to become an author but didn’t understand there was no future for writers who were not politically aligned. In the East, author = politically submissive spokesperson. No wonder my parents attempted to re-direct my passions. At least we had tons of books to read and be inspired. And nobody stopped me from scribbling my own stories onto paper.

After first grade, we boxed up our paper treasures and moved to a 3 bedroom apartment-more space for the four of us and our small library. On Tuesday nights, my parents served a young adult ministry at our church while my brother and were home, sleeping. Our world was small, our faith simple and leaving young children at home unattended wasn’t particularly offbeat. Crime rates were low (thanks to Snoop & Spy INC).

I suppose God functioned as our babysitter. Being alone felt scary but not scary enough to ask my parents to stay. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my mother often said. The fear was not killing me and I knew God needed my parents for his work. Hopefully God-the-sitter would show up if we required help.

God did show up one Tuesday night, bursting through our locked door like a warrior, scooping my sleeping body off the floor. My brother and I slept on mattresses on the floor and while we slept, our washing machine hose (shoddy East German engineering) burst, rapidly filling our 3 bedroom apartment with water. We didn’t wake up but when water poured through our downstairs neighbor’s ceiling, they frantically called the fire department. God wore a firefighter’s coat that night, rescuing my brother and me from the rising water.

I sat on our couch and couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or awake. Our little apartment was filled with firemen and buckets. “Good grief, these guys have a ton of books!”, remarked one. Our books were still packed in boxes on the floor which now stood in half a foot of water, irreversible poison to our printed treasures and destroying a large part of our personal library. “Those kids are lucky to be alive.” I heard another fireman say. I was sleepy and wondered how half a foot of water could kill someone….Apparently the water had risen dangerously close to our power outlets which weren’t far off the ground.

My parents had no idea what was happening, surprised to see a firetruck outside our apartment upon returning from church. What sort of neighborhood was this? They were horrified to discover the flood. Our downstairs neighbors were irate, our precious books mostly destroyed but we the children were safe, sitting on the couch, intrigued by all the commotion.

Many of our books were beyond resurrection. A few survived, permanently marked by the flood. My kids often request one of those childhood favorites at bedtime, asking: “Hey, why is your book all messy like that?”

I will tell them again about the night our books perished but we lived because: “He reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me from the surging water.” [Psalm 18:16]

Everything we own belongs to God. And though His stuff may perish, His love remains.

This is part IX  “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays and reflections of growing up Christian in former East Germany. This story has a pretty funny part 2 which I will share next week. Subscribe via email to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

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16 Replies

  1. Thank you, Astrid! and the link to your books made it even more interesting.
    Just curious… does sharing these memories drain you emotionally? I am discovering that as I open my memory box, sometimes I am overwhelmed.
    love you!!!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- I hear you. It’s hard when I get interrupted while writing about the past, like my brain needs a slower adjustment to the present….

  2. I love the photos of the books, Astrid. I still think this series is a book in the making.

    1. Astrid Melton

      It is… Just need to write about a million more words to reach the level of writing I would like to see in print. Your free copy as top commenter is secured!

  3. Your title pulled me in from #LiveFree, Astrid, because I treasure books. Remember how sad I was when several expensive illustrated encyclopedias I ordered were damaged by liquid someone’s suitcase. (Visitors from America were bringing them.) What a story. God certainly was a good babysitter for you.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Oh no. ☹ Books & liquids is a fatal combo- it’s especially difficult when you can’t easily replace what’s lost. Maybe redemption in this story also means being free and able to buy any book I want now…

  4. Astrid, you are a treasure, my friend! I absolutely adore reading your words and being taken on the adventure that is your memory bank. What a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness this is! #livefreeThursday

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks! I’ve been resistant to exploring the memory bank and writing about the past has taken more energy than I anticipated. Sounds like the effort is not in vain- thanks for the reminder!

  5. “His love remains.” I love that! It struck my heart. Beautiful. #livefreeThursday

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, Micah!

  6. Astrid, I’m so glad I stopped over from #livefree. I love your story. Wow! You need to write a book friend. Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. What would you get out of my book? I am truly curious…

  7. Laura

    One of my favorites of your posts: love this line “God did show up one Tuesday night, bursting through our locked door like a warrior, scooping my sleeping body off the floor.”
    So glad God is my warrior babysitter too.

  8. rachel

    Astrid! I finally got around to reading your story tonight, well done sister!! Such life-giving words and lessons, such a testimony to God’s grace…LOVE LOVE LOVE how you “… tell them again about the night our books perished but we lived because: “He reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me from the surging water.” [Psalm 18:16]

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. I had almost forgotten about that story… It’s been a good one to remember and retell…it’s not my parents favorite 🙂

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