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Heaven The Company We Keep
By Joanne Sher

"Let's see: Grimm, Haggard, Hardy… Hawthorne. There it is!"

Virginia Collier gingerly slid the volume from its place on the shelf and brushed the dust off its edge. Cradling it in her hands, she meandered toward an overstuffed chair beside a small table in the corner of the room, where she had placed a cup of tea moments earlier. Easing into the chair, she curled her feet under her and opened the book to the first page.

Virginia smiled. This was one of her favorite parts of the day. Her youngest was napping and the twins would be off the bus in 20 minutes or so. She'd gotten the cleaning and a load of laundry done and afternoon snacks were on the table. Now she could enjoy a few moments to herself until she had to get back into "mommy mode."

She wasn't always able to carve these times of solitude out of her busy day as a mother, wife and volunteer, but she certainly tried, and was generally successful a few times a week. During those precious minutes, she'd generally do a little something for herself. Usually, she would pray, call a friend, or perhaps do her devotions or Bible study. But today she'd decided to curl up with a classic.

An avid reader since childhood, Virginia had majored in English in college. She'd kept every one of her required literature books, and purchased several others. Add to that her husband's love of books and the Colliers had quite a home library.

Since she'd become a Christian a few years before, however, she hadn't spent much time up in their library. She'd added a number of Christian books to her collection, but they were kept on shelves in a different room-simply because the library bookcases were filled. This was the first time she'd sat down with a novel from college in at least a year, if not longer.

Glancing up after finishing the first chapter, Virginia practically dropped her book.

"Good book, Mom?"

Virginia looked into the twinkling eyes of her daughter, Sarah.

"Good heavens! How long have you been standing there? I didn't hear you come in."

Sarah tittered. "Just a minute or two. Steve's downstairs eating. You must have really been into that book. He even slammed the door when we came in."

"Guess I was. It's one of my favorite novels I read in college." Virginia stood up and handed the volume to her daughter.

Sarah looked at the cover as the two walked toward the kitchen. "The Scarlet Letter?What's it about?

"Well, there's this woman, Hester Prynne, who…um…"

"What, Mom? What?"

'OK, God, how do I explain this to my nine-year-old daughter without making it sound like a trashy novel?'

Virginia took a deep breath. "It's about a woman who sins with a man, and the consequences of their actions."

"Cool." Sarah headed for the table to grab a snack. Her twin was already there, munching on a cracker and reading from a piece of paper in his notebook.

Virginia walked to the table and tousled Steve's hair. "Have a good day?"

"Yup. I've gotta do my math homework, then can I go outside?"

Virginia nodded, starting to putter about the kitchen, beginning her daily dinner preparation.

'I wonder how many of the books we have up in that library are "Christian?" How many of them teach lessons I don't want my kids to learn? I mean, Hester, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale seem to get what they deserve in the end-but how many others up there are teaching just what we're trying to avoid teaching to Sarah and Steve?'

A piece of paper slipped from the pages of the cookbook she was opening. Upon inspection, Virginia found a short list of quotations. Smiling, she remembered often jotting down things like this in college when she heard something she didn't want to forget.

"'We should be as careful of the books we read, as of the company we keep. The dead very often have more power than the living.' Tryon Edwards."

"What, Mom?"

"Oh, nothing, Steve. Just some food for thought."

Virginia strode purposefully toward the Collier library.
JOANNE SHER is a freelance writer and homemaker who was saved out of Judaism in her 30's. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two small children. She is currently working on her first book, a non-fiction work on God's protection, provision and preparation of her and her family for her husband's health problems. If you would like to write to Joanne, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.