I went downstairs to my office, determined to “simplify.” We have to make room for another baby now, and that means (gulp) my office’s days are numbered. My beautiful, gray striped walls, big white desk, vintage chair office. I spent hours making this room over with the vision of a quiet, creative space where words and ideas and inspiration flowed aplenty. But now it is time to say goodbye, to make room for toddler beds and a dresser full of little clothes. I have mostly made peace with this, because in all honestly much of my writing happens at our kitchen table, accompanied by my great friends Curious George and Daniel Tiger. But there is one thing I cannot, just cannot, part with.
I had every intention of walking in to that office and coming back upstairs with a big box of giveaways. Instead I spent twenty minutes rationalizing why almost every single one of them must find a new home in this house, because I cannot let them go anywhere.
I picked up Cold Tangerines and remembered that sweet flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. in 2009 when I devoured every single word. Shauna Niequist became the patron saint of writing for thousands of young women with her words in that book, and I have no shame admitting that I was—still am—among them. I devoured Bittersweet the day it arrived on bookshelves, feeling comforted by the solidarity I found in her journey of many uncertain years as I faced two long years of knee surgeries and crutches and never-ending therapy.
I grabbed A Reason for God and was instantly brought back to a dorm room in New Jersey where I would stay up well past the time my little soccer campers were sound asleep, grappling with an intellectual side of faith I had never known before. I looked at all my underlines in John Ortberg’s and C.S. Lewis’ books, marveling at all that truths some of the great Christian writers and thinkers taught me about a faith I had claimed since childhood but really knew only the Sunday school version of.
I saw To Kill and Mockingbird and Native Son, books I read as a junior in high school that changed everything for me. These books made me a reader. A real reader.
And then there were the other fiction books that I adored: Redeeming Love and The Help, books that kept me up late and found a way in to my purse everywhere I went; because you never know when you might have to wait ten minutes somewhere and could be reading.
There are the books that made me love teaching, think about teaching, get mad about the injustice of education in many places in our country, and then want to become a better teacher. I am forever indebted to Jonathan Kozol for opening my eyes in Amazing Grace, a book I have read over and over and shared over and over.
Of course there is Radical and Interrupted and 7, the White Umbrella and Somebody’s Daughter. I learned that it is a good thing when something breaks your heart through these books, and I discovered perhaps for the first time in my adult life that finding and loving Jesus means losing yourself. I’m still desperately trying to live that out, but returning to these words always clears the path a little more.
For most of these treasures, I can remember where I was when I was reading them: the library at Arizona State; the starbucks in State College, Pennsylavnia; the hammock in my parents back yard under a warm, blue, California sky. And I can remember many of those seasons; when I was in school or single or hurting or growing in my faith in brand new ways—sometimes all of those things at once. I can remember the inspiration in the middle and the sadness when I came to the last page. These books bring me back to people and seasons and places as much as any picture possibly could. And I know that is why I cannot say goodbye.
Words have always been the most beautiful thing to me. They shaped me, encouraged me, challenged me, taught me. These books that I love and hold on to each tell their own story, but they help make the story of my life, too. They are the reason I write my own words, today. Touching these books again has reminded me who I want to be, and what I want to fill our home with. They have reminded me to turn off the tv, to let my kids find me reading and learning, and to teach them that it is a beautiful gift to give someone your words, your stories.
I want to spend my life adding to this collection, this story that books are telling me. I can’t wait to give Harper and Cannon and baby #3 some of these very words, and I can’t wait to learn what books become part of their story.
I still have dreams to read some of the classics I have not gotten to yet, to finish Les Miserable in its entirety, to visit the New York Public Library and smell the old pages of so much history, so many words shared. I have these aspirations to keep learning, and to remind me to keep putting my words on paper, too. When I line up all the words in my life, the ones I read and the ones I write, I want them to tell the story of a thinker and hearer, someone who laughed and appreciated other perspectives, and someone who humbly submitted that she would never have it all together. But mostly, I hope they tell they story of someone in love with Jesus and longing above everything else to know who He really is.
So let’s keep reading, y’all. Books are still a greater invention than the smart phone.