Margin notes

I have an obsession with underlining and highlighting and making notes in the margin of my books.  I read with a pen in my hand, a habit I’m sure I picked up from my father, a man who was never more excited than when Post-It started making pens that are also highlighters that also come with built-in flags for his pages.  I suppose you could say we’re a family of nerds, of bookworms, of avid learners.  If there’s information to be had, we not only want to digest it, we want to engage with it.  Unlike my father, though, I have this other habit of forcing these books that I love with all these margin notes upon my friends.   And sometimes, though rare, I’ll get a book back with a note in it from one of them.

There are two books I own that have stand-out margin notes that were not made by me.  One is my Bible; the other is my copy of Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God.  To be fair, my Bible is really just marked with an underline of two word phrase found in 1 Peter 1:8 – “joy inexpressible.”   In the middle of a Sunday service, my BFF leaned over my arm as I was taking notes and underlined it.  It’s one of her favorite phrases in all of Scripture, she says, because “inexpressible joy” is one of the great gifts of Jesus, something that we’re given as Christians as an extension of God’s grace.  She’s right, of course, as she is about most things, which I kind of hate but really love about her.   When it boils down, it’s one of the reasons that she’s my best friend. Because she keeps me looking for joy.  And because she’s not afraid to lean over in the middle of a church service to underline in my Bible and remind me again that joy is deeply connected to God’s grace.

I also lent her my copy of Girl Meets God two summers ago, after I had devoured it in a two day span of time.  I was so taken with the book and so enamored with Lauren Winner’s writing that I needed my best friend to read it so we could talk about it. So, she did, because she loves me.  And when I was flipping through after she had returned it to me, I found a note in pencil, in her distinctly bubbly handwriting, in the middle of the chapter about baptism, beside a paragraph I had noted with only a single question mark.   Truth be told, while I appreciate what the note says, I’m most struck by its place in my book in the first place.  It’s another reason she’s my best friend.  Because she humors me and reads the non-fiction I love even though she’s drawn more to novels, and because she talks to me about the non-fiction I make her read, in person and in margin notes.

Thanks for the mark you left in my book & in my life.

I’m sure for a normal person, margin notes are not such a big deal and don’t actually have that much to say about friendship.  But, I’m so far from normal and spend so much time in my books that these margin notes are screaming to me that this person has, quite literally, left her mark in my life.

I hope for you that you have at least one of these kinds of friendships.   I hope you know what it’s like to have someone you want to talk to about the books you’re reading, or the movies you’re watching, or the job you love, or your kids who bring a bit of joy to this broken world.   I hope you know what it’s like to have a friend who keeps you accountable to working through pieces of faith that are hard and who keeps you looking toward God when joy is hard to hold onto.  I hope you know what it’s like to have someone come in and camp out in your life in a tangible way.  If you don’t, start doing the work to have it.  But, if you do, then embrace that friend and make sure to thank them for the mark they left in your life.

3 thoughts on “Margin notes

  1. Yes. I hope and pray anyone I lend to will “mark up” my book, I always tell them to feel free to do so. I love to see what someone was thinking, asking as she read.

    Last fall, I “hosted” a book club – with some of my favorite kids from youth group who are now in college. They are all closet nerds to my all out nerdiness. We worked our way through Naked Spirituality – McLaren, which they came to LOVE as much as I do. ( I made myself hold down my giddiness over this book. Hard to do.) So, you can well imagine how incredible it was to hear them gush and literally cry out their comments of relief and insights of understanding. It was a surreal three months. They have asked for another book selection in the year to come. I am listening, thinking, trying to be sensitive to the HS. Selection and timing are everything.

    I like Winner… but she is too far along in her formative process for them. Any suggestions for this gang of spirtually brilliant, super mature 19 year olds. They, thank God, have very few unhelpful mentalities to deconstruct…so we are building, not repairing so much. So all the great, gentle deconstructionists of today like Rachel Evans, Lauren Winner, Don Miller, David Dark, etc. sort of don’t apply.

    I am considering Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I pretty much have it memorized. But, not settled on it.

    Any ideas?

  2. I love the idea of doing L’Engle with that age of people, though I’ll confess I’ve not read “Walking on Water.” I will remedy that soon, per your love for it. 🙂

    My immediate thought is to consider a Tim Keller book. He’s readable, but challenging in all the right ways. I just started working through “Reason for God” and am totally hooked. He’s written another called “Generous Justice,” though, that you might consider. It’s definitely, I think, the kind of “building” book that you’re looking for.

    (Sidenote: I knew I could count on you, Kim, for some kind of comment on this one. I was just waiting for it. :))

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