The Danger of “I Want”

In our upstairs hallway, a cardboard box labeled “donate” is overflowing. A few days ago, I handed off a 2-inch stack of scrapbooking paper to my neighbor and condensed all my paper from 3 drawers down to one. When it came time to move all my patterned paper to the smaller container, I was so pleased to realize how little was left and that each piece is truly one I love. I won’t struggle to find a use for it, and I won’t need to rifle through a bunch of paper I feel “meh” about to find the good stuff. (I totally realize as I’m writing this that some people are going to think, “Wait, what? Patterned paper? This is a thing people own? And love?”)

Not long ago, I found freedom in having an abundance of options: plenty of coffee mugs and water bottles and shoes and cardigans and–of course–patterned paper. I always had plenty of choices to address my current whims. Instead, I now find freedom in having fewer options but knowing they are as close to perfect as they can get: I love them, they bring me joy, I don’t often have reason not to use them, and they suit my tastes and needs just right.

At the same time, I’m beginning to recognize something that’s unsettled me a little bit, and it’s this: I am really uncomfortable with how often I think, “I want…”

“I want” creeps into my thoughts while wandering Target, while grocery shopping, while deciding what to wear, while browsing Pinterest, while following someone new on Instagram, while praying, while journaling, while reading. I am embarrassed to admit how thoroughly “I want” has invaded my consciousness, how it has become like a song stuck in my head and a refrain I can’t stop singing. It reeks of selfishness, greed, and materialism. It reveals discontent and distraction. I hate it. (One day, I thought about making a list of every time I caught myself thinking it, but I decided that might be too depressing. Or too eye-opening? Probably both.)

We visited Mars Hill a few weeks ago, and the sermon was about the Parable of the Sower. It’s one I’ve heard many, many times, but I shouldn’t be surprised by the way Jesus continues using it to teach me new things. Here’s the passage that sparked this whole thing:

When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it. The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” –Jesus (Matthew 13:19-23 MSG)

I am that seed cast in the weeds. Now, each time I catch myself hearing that pesky and familiar phrase, I’m left with a yucky feeling inside. It’s not a shame-riddled, feeling bad about myself feeling, but just a recognition that there must be a better way. I’m praying about this constantly, and I’m keeping it in my ind each time I read Scripture, wondering what else Jesus might say about it. And of course, I’m asking, “What do I do about it?”

“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6, MSG)

So, some super practical ways I’m tackling this (though it’s all a work in progress): 

-I’m avoiding the Target dollar section, home decor aisle, and stationary aisles. I know we all joke about how we just can’t leave Target without spending at least $50, and that’s fine, but I don’t really want that to be true of me, and I don’t like the way I feel in Target, honestly.

-I’m using Pinterest to look for specific things or pin something I saw elsewhere but not to browse aimlessly.

-I’m unfollowing most shops & stores on Instagram. I’m only following people and organizations I find interesting, inspiring, and entertaining. No more follows just for interesting products that I might want to buy. And yup, this means I’m avoiding most giveaways.

-I’m not visiting a store just because I’m bored at home with Ian. Instead, we’ll go to the library, park, or just to a different room in the house. I’m setting aside certain activities and toys just for those moments.

-I’m unsubscribing from promotional emails. (I thought i had done this awhile ago, but it’s amazing how quickly and subtly they creep back into my inbox!) I don’t want to go buy something just because I have a coupon. My only exception to this is Shutterfly, because I actually use their 101 free prints & free address labels often would buy those things anyway. (If Evan & I decide we need something, I can resubscribe and wait for the right coupon to show up then, and only then.)

But mostly:

I am trying to pay more attention to my thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. My hope is that each time I think, “I want…” I can instead pray, “I am enough and Christ is enough for me.”

The truth is, minimalism and simplicity have a lot less to do with how much stuff I do or do not own and a lot more to do with how often I think and say, “I want…” The condition of my heart is not necessarily going to change just because I drop off another box at Goodwill. The condition of my heart will only change when I allow Jesus to do the good work of tilling the soil of contentedness and uprooting the greed that threatens to choke it out.

Why vacations are good for me.

When Evan and I went on our honeymoon, we unknowingly established from the get-go what would become our vacation routine. It goes like this: we pick a large city and spend the entire vacation eating and walking around the city as much as possible. We’ve had good luck booking hotels on Priceline: we’ve usually booked 4 or 5 star hotels in the heart of the city’s downtown area for less than $200/night. (We did try airbnb once, but Evan doesn’t love the idea of staying at a random person’s house.) We usually throw in a sporting event, museums, and parks. And that’s that.

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I love it. I am much more of a city person than a beach or outdoors lover. I like to see culture and architecture, and I like access to lots of coffee and food. We enjoy taking public transportation whenever possible. I have a feeling this routine will change eventually, especially when we’re looking for summery escapes from Michigan’s winter and we have kids who just want to play all day. (Admittedly, I am SO looking forward to the days when my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and I can spend a vacation curled up with a good book.)

It’s been several weeks since we went to Chicago (almost a month already!), but I’ve still been thinking lots about that trip. I felt totally refreshed when we got back. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes about the importance of novelty in increasing our happiness, and I think experiencing big cities is my favorite way to seek out novelty. I always feel invigorated after taking in the sights of a new place, and I come back with greater appreciation for home.

But while thinking about Chicago trip, I think I’ve uncovered another, unexpected reason why vacations are good for me. A vacation forces me to say what I need.

Under normal circumstances, I hate admitting out loud that I need or want something. It’s a frequent issue in our marriage. More often than I care to admit, I passive-aggressively stew because Evan didn’t help with something or failed to acknowledge a need I didn’t even express. The solution is so simple: if I want help with the dishes, all I need to do is ask him to help me. When I ask, he then knows something is a priority for me in that moment, and because he loves me, he’s more than happy to help. He can’t know when I don’t tell him. (I’ll even do things like this when I’m hungry or hot or cold…it’s craziness, I readily admit.)

As I went through the reGroup process, this issue came up again and again within my small group. So often, one of us would say, “The whole situation could have been avoided if…” or “I would feel much better if…” or “If only I had been brave enough to ask that…” At one point, my friend Kailey looked around at us and said, “Why is it so hard for us to say what we need?”

For the most part, I don’t want to seem selfish, self-involved, or needy. It’s rooted in my constant need for approval: I subconsciously think people will like me more if I’m not too needy, because they will need to do less for me. Ironically, my love language is acts of service. So basically, I am getting in my own way all of the time by not giving others a simple opportunity to care for me well. (I’m mostly thinking about my marriage here, but I’m sure this applies in other relationships as well.)

When I’m at home, I’m caught up in my own routine and for the most part, I can do my own thing and meet my own needs. If I’m hungry or thirsty, I can just walk to the kitchen and get myself a snack or drink. If I’m cold or hot, I go upstairs to grab a sweater or open a window. Because I’m responsible for grocery shopping and a lot of other errand-running during the week, if I decide I need something, I usually just get it.

But on vacation, that’s not doable. Everything we’re experiencing, we’re experiencing together. We don’t have a fully-stocked pantry or access to our closets, and I can’t just help myself to what I need. I actually have to say out loud, “Hey, I’m kinda thirsty. Let’s stop somewhere and get a drink.” I have to admit, “I’m freezing. Let’s do something indoors.” Because I was pregnant in Chicago, my requests came even more frequently than they normally would: I need to sit down and put my feet up, I really want something sweet to munch on, I need to use the bathroom again.

Don’t get me wrong: independence has it’s upside, obviously, as does sometimes putting the needs of others before my own. But as an approval-seeking, codependent, recovering perfectionist, I have to ask myself where my desire for independence is coming from. Do I simply enjoy the feeling of taking care of myself? Or is that that I want to appear selfless and flexible so that others will think better of me? I recognize how silly some of this sounds because–hello–I’m a human being, and no one would expect me to not be hungry or thirsty or tired once in awhile. Still, like always, it’s the simple things that trip me up.

Exploring a new place pushes me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but I’m realizing that it’s not just about the culture or architecture or sight seeing. It’s about the ways it forces me to lean into and rely on the people I’ve chosen to adventure with, to personally acknowledge what I need and readily say it out loud.

Ian Right Now

Ian turns 2 next month, which is something I simply can’t believe. I know when the time comes, I’ll be thinking more and more about the little boy he’s turning into. A few months after that, his little brother will make his arrival into the world and into our family.

But RIGHT NOW? Right now, Ian is so fun and funny and sweet. He is changing and learning and blowing me away every single day, and there is so much about this time I don’t want to forget.

I want to remember the way your voice sounds when you say, “Hi, Mama” when I come into your room in the morning.

I want to remember how every day, your dad and I are required to say “Good morning” and “good night” to all your favorite stuffed animals (a blue polka-dotted monkey and Yale bulldog).

I want to remember how you call your blankets “good night.”

I want to remember how when your Gram was visiting us, you were suddenly inspired to try lots of new foods: kiwi, scrambled eggs, pancakes, guacamole.

I want to remember the first little joke you told. I taught you the “Orange…Blue!” chant from Gator Games. We were doing it together one morning: I said “Orange,” and you looked at me with the funniest, most mischievous little smile, and suddenly yelled, “Green!” Then you and I both fell down on the floor laughing hysterically.

I want to remember how exciting it is that you are learning all your colors, and love to point them out: blue, red, green, orange, yellow, black, and white.

I want to remember that when Grandma Shannon sent you a gift, you had no interest in unwrapping it until you saw a car printed on the package. “I want car!” you exclaimed, and started to tear the paper off.

I want to remember how you love to point out “Mama, Dada, Ian!” in family photos.

I want to remember how I need to be strategic when I plan outside playtime, because once we’re out there, it’s very hard to get you back inside.

I want to remember that you call animals by the sound they make: woof woof, ooh ooh agh agh, roar.

I want to remember how you lean into the phone and computer to give kisses when we are Facetiming with your grandparents.

I want to remember that you think it’s hilarious to answer questions incorrectly and then exclaim, “No!”

I want to remember how much you love Pete the Cat books, despite how much the repetition drives your dad and I crazy after awhile.

I want to remember the way you yell “House!” whenever we turn onto our street, and how you start saying, “Dada! Dada?” when we drive by your dad’s work to pick him up.

I want to remember how you immediately start heading a few doors down when I ask, “Want to go play at Sophie’s house?”

I want to remember how you will say hi to squirrels, ants, and lamps, but not to people who say hello to you.

I want to remember watching fireworks on July 4th. You were a bit afraid of the loud noise, but you kept whispering the colors of the fireworks in my ear.

I want to remember that “I want moon, moon, moon,” means you want to listen to a Laurie Berkner song, but it’s usually not actually “Moon, Moon, Moon.” “Pig on Her Head” is your favorite right now.

I want to remember how when we first started attending story time at the library, you wouldn’t participate at all, but you are slowly warming up to it.

I want to remember the way your sweet voice sounds when you say, “No thank you,” and how funny it is when you sometimes say, “No please.”

I want to remember YOU: chubby and energetic, sweet and stubborn, full of ideas and plans.

Learning to Embrace Change

Are you guys sick of me talking about my birthday, yet? I’m a little sick of me talking about my birthday. But, I’ve still been thinking quite a bit about this past year and how much has changed. I’ve already written about how 26 was a full year: Malawi, the Writer’s Barn, Michigan, Chicago, changing jobs, leaving a job entirely, writing, Evan graduating, Ian growing, reGroup…it was a lot. A lot of good. But a lot. I am beginning to imagine that 27 will be a lot like that as well–after all, if nothing else, we’re having another kid–but to be honest, I would like for 27 to involve a little less new and a little more settling in.

I’ve recognized recently that I keep expecting the rate of change to slow down or stop altogether, to give my mind and heart a break from the constant shifting an adjusting. But instead, over the past year I learned that change is not an event or something that happens to us at certain point on a timeline. Change is just the current of our lives; it’s the force that keeps us moving along.

Most of us look at change as a threat. And why not? It’s foreign and jacks up what we know and like. It makes the consistent inconsistent. It typically removes comfort.
But change is not a threat. It’s a fact. If we act as if change just happens upon us — surprise! — in a sudden upheaval, we miss its continuing flow and its lessons and the opportunity to keep up with it. Change is a fact of life. Throughout history, we’ve seen shifts in our culture, our communities, the way we think, and the way we express our faith — whether it comes from a revolution, a movement, or a ripple. Change is a reality, and we’re living right in the middle of it.
The good news is that God can be found right in the middle of it as well. God does not change, but He uses change to change us. He sends us on journeys that bring us to the end of ourselves. We often feel out of control, yet if we embrace His leading, we may find ourselves on the ride of our lives.
Brandon Hatmaker, in the introduction to Interrupted

As I think about everything that’s gone on over the past few years, as tumultuous and wonderful and occasionally scary as it all seemed at times, I also know that the change catalyzed all the growth and personal, internal change I’m so grateful for: letting go of perfectionism and fear, embracing freedom, a willingness to be more honest, a readiness to fail. I guess it’s a bit cliche, but it felt like an “ah-ha!” moment: stop resisting and fearing change. Just roll with it, and trust that good will come of it and the settling in will happen somewhere on the other side.

Part of my problem is that I want all of my life to feel settled all at once. I have been waiting for a moment when everything feels still and nothing is shifting. But instead, I keep imagining my self, standing in the middle of a room in which the floor is completely blanketed in balloons. Do they ever, truly stop moving? No, they just keep shifting, slowly, but noticeably. Right now, my marriage feels nice and settled; I think we are in a good place and a good rhythm. But lots of other things–home, community, church, career, creativity–are all shifting (in ways I don’t even understand yet). And I can fight against that feeling–desperately trying to stand still long enough for all the balloons to settle down on the floor, or I can just embrace the movement.

26 Moments

I turn 27 tomorrow! Yesterday, I shared some of the “stuff” that made my 26th year what it was–food, places, habits, things. Today, I’m sharing the even more meaningful bits of the past year. These are some of the moments and experiences I don’t want to forget about this year.

Malawi: There are so many moments that make up this trip…learning that Melissa wouldn’t be coming and I would be leading the team, meeting Fotunate for the first time, meeting the group of kids sponsored by Base Camp, talking to Steven about how badly he wanted a sponsor, remembering how much I love to teach, singing and worshipping with the girls who live at Chitipi. I’ll never be done processing these stories.

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Celebrating Ian’s first birthday: family and friends gathered, way more food than we could ever eat, and Ian’s meltdown when everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

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Writers’ Lunches with Melissa, Lauren, and Melanie

The Writer’s Barn

Watching Ian learn to walk

Taking Ian for his first haircut

Talking and debating about Serial with Evan (and everyone else in the world)

Ian’s excitement when we would pick him up from daycare

Learning that we would be moving to Grand Rapids (and then, of course, moving)

Visiting Grand Rapids for house hunting, and discovering that I was pregnant

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Watching Ian hunt for Easter eggs in the Poppell’s backyard

The going-away party our Orlando friends threw us

My last day of work at Summit

Watching Evan graduate with his PhD

Watching our first Michigan snow with Ian from his bedroom window, as he said, “Oh no! Uh oh!”

Reading with Ian, endlessly, always.

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Tulip Time in Holland, MI

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Ian’s excitement to FaceTime with his grandparents

Visiting Chicago to see Orlando City play the Chicago fire

Celebrating our 5th anniversary in Chicago

How it felt to look at a Jackson Pollack painting in person

Learning that Baby #2 was another boy

Watching the Gators win back-to-back gymnastics championships AND back-to-back softball championships

Watching the Women’s National Team win the World Cup

Feeling baby #2 kick for the first time

The sound of Ian’s voice when he says, “Hi, mama” each morning.

***

Dividing up the year this way (instead of in January) helps me look at it differently. There are so many things (like Malawi) that seem so long ago. This past year was full to the brim of learning and change and new, and I feel very different because of it all. In the best possible way. 27 has a lot to live up to, but I think I’m up for the challenge.

26 Things I Loved When I Was 26

Well, on Sunday I turn 27. Truth be told, getting older doesn’t bother me one bit. Each year, it just feels like the next right thing. I’m excited for 27 and whatever shenanigans it will bring along. Today, I’m sharing 26 things I loved as a 26 year-old, and tomorrow, I’ll share 26 moments and experiences that made this past year special. (These posts are inspired in part by Elise, who always shares these kinds of round-ups as her birthday approaches.)

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1. Cold brewed iced coffee…over lots of ice, with half-and-half, preferably in a mason jar with a stainless steel straw. (How snobbish do I sound right now?)

2. Trader Joe’s.  Fresh flowers, peanut butter cups, cookie butter, pretzel rolls, cooked sausages, cold brew coffee concentrate, frozen orange chicken, cheap organic produce…yes please, to all of the above. Can’t wait for TJ’s to open in GR this fall.

3. Donuts. I mean, was there a point in my life during which I did NOT love donuts? Of course not. But then I discovered Donut King, and it was all over.

4. My Toms. I left the navy blue pair I had for years in Malawi. Then I got a black pair and a cute floral pair as gifts this past Christmas, and now I have a Toms tan line.

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5. ThredUp. I used ThredUp to help me clear out my closet, and I earned more than $200 from the clothes I turned in. It’s so easy and so awesome.

6. Podcasts. This obsession started a long time ago with “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”, and then Serial happened. The rest is history. 

7. Fixer Upper. Yup. I love Chip & Jo.

8. iMessage. For some reason, it took me years to set this up on my laptop. It changes the texting game, and now I’m way less likely to let several days go by without responding to your text.

9. My journaling Bible. I can’t remember when I started using this, exactly, but my journaling Bible changed my Scripture reading and quiet times for the better. I love it.

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10. Morning pages. This is a creative practice recommended by Julia Cameron (and then a million people since her). I don’t write morning pages every day, but when I do, my days start creatively and with a clear head. It’s the best.

11. Southwest Airlines. Now, I haven’t had a perfect experience with Southwest (including delays and long lines and typical airport issues), but anytime I fly another airline, I think, “I should just stick with Southwest.” This is especially true now, because they fly in and out of Grand Rapids.

12. My only successful Craigslist find to date: a $10 midcentury-modern desk.

13. Grilled cheese sandwiches on the panini press. A simple, go-to, comforting dinner. 

14. S’mores frappuccinos. I almost wish that these never existed, but wouldn’t that be sad?

15. My globe with the signatures of friends. Our friends Courtney & Andrew threw us a going-away party before we left Orlando, and Courtney asked everyone to sign a globe for us. It sits in my dining room now, and it just reminds me of what wonderful community we have in Orlando.

16. My new washer and dryer. My parents bought us a new washer & dryer as a graduation/moving gift. Before that, we just had whatever old W&D came with the apartment we lived in. Our new one almost makes laundry enjoyable. (Almost.)

17. Following painters, art journalers, and calligraphers on Instagram. A few weeks ago, The Nester wrote a post about being “selfish” with Instagram by only filling it with accounts that truly inspire her. Following artists on Instagram just fills my feed with so much pretty and is my go-to now that Pinterest is getting more spammy and overcrowded.

18. The adirondack chairs on our porch. I’ve already waxed poetic about how much I love my porch, and these chairs are just perfect.

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19. My Rodan & Fields sunscreen. I am trying to be better about wearing sunscreen every day, and I love my R&F sunscreen because it doesn’t smell bad, isn’t greasy, and doesn’t make me look pasty. It almost makes me WANT to put sunscreen on every day.

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20. Sharpie pens. Small but simple pleasures, right?

21. Baskets from Ross & TJ Maxx. I always love the giant baskets Target sells but can never justify the price. And then I discovered how cheap baskets are at Ross & TJ Maxx. We have a huge one in our living room corralling Ian’s toys now.

22. Prenatal yoga. This is a new one for me. I just started going a few weeks go, but I love it. It’s a great blend of relaxation and a work-out, which is helpful for someone like me who hates exercising.

23. The pulled pork sandwich (with the homemade pickles) from Chicago q BBQ. Seriously. I think this was the best thing I ate all year.

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24. Chick-fil-A. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. (Also, a lot of these are food-related, aren’t they? Oh well.)

25. Power Sheets. I keep meaning to write a blog post about how these are changing my life: helping me set goals and actually keep them, helping me develop more self-discipline, and helping me clarify what it is I actually want out of life. They are so valuable.

26. Poetry. At the beginning of 2015, I decided to start a “poem a day” challenge. We’re halfway through the year, and while I haven’t read a poem every day, I’ve read more than I have in years, and it is something I look forward to every day.

There you have it!

My New Favorite Thing About Our Neighborhood

Are you ready for this? Look what we have!

A lending library!

My neighbors installed this pretty little library in their front yard, and now everyone in the neighborhood can swing by to exchange books with one another. It makes my heart so happy!

When Evan came home from work the other day and I started gushing about it, he said, “Oh, that makes more sense. As I drove by I thought, ‘That’s the largest mailbox I’ve ever seen.'” Ha!

Until we moved into this house, Evan and I had only ever lived in apartment complexes together, so maybe that explains why we had never built any relationships with our neighbors. Here, we’ve been so blessed with neighbors who have been intentional about getting to know us and sharing life. To be honest, it feels like a complete cultural shift for Evan and I, but it’s one we are so grateful for. I find myself wondering what accounts for the difference. Is it apartment vs. home, suburban vs. urban, or Florida vs. Michigan? I’m not really sure. It’s probably a combination.

***

Admittedly, it’s hard for me to hand over books I love. I stood at my bookshelf for a long time, considering what books to pass along. I want to contribute something that I loved, that I think other people will love too, but the truth is, it makes me happy to see those meaningful, well-loved books on my bookshelf. (This is something Evan and I debate about all the time–is it worth holding onto books we’ve already read and will likely not read again? I say yes, he usually says no.)

But sometimes, I have to remind myself that the value of the book doesn’t lie in the paperback itself. It’s not so much about the passages I underlined or the surprises in the plot. It’s more about the change that took place in my mind and heart as I read; the new things I now understand about a different culture, place or time;  and the glimpses of myself I uncovered in each of the characters. The Chosen means something to me not because it sits on my bookshelf, but because it helped me learn that the tension between faith, family, and friendship is worth wrestling with. Love that Dog means something to me not because of it’s cute yellow and blue cover, but because I helped me understand more about why I love poetry and why kids need poetry in their own lives. Somebody Told Me means something to me not because of the passages I flagged with sticky notes, but because the stories within it broke my heart and helped me discover the power of storytelling. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is valuable not because of its place on my shelf but because of what it taught me about growing up and courage and family.

And so it goes.

So, when I pass along a cherished book to a friend or our little neighborhood library, I’ll remember that sharing means giving someone else the opportunity to change and grow and learn and simply enjoy as they, too, turn the pages. (Isn’t that why we teach kids to share, after all? Because it’s not about the value of the item, but about the relationship building and heart-change that happens along the way?)

And let’s be honest–I can always run to the bookstore and grab myself another copy if it comes to all that.

This afternoon when Ian and I got home from running errands, we dropped off a young adult book I had read during my teaching internship, and in exchange, we picked up a new Pete the Cat book for Ian. (Admittedly, Ian didn’t enjoy the process because he thought were going to play at our neighbor’s house, but he’ll figure it out eventually.) Even our brief time here in Grand Rapids, I’m learning that sharing with my neighbors is so worthwhile: sharing sandboxes, sharing opinions, sharing afternoons on the porch, and now, sharing books.