As it is written


“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” 

― Lemony Snicket

The YAV program in Northern Ireland is currently operating for its 23rd, and sadly, its last year for the time being.  With 23 years of service and give or take 200 volunteers throughout its time, the collective YAV houses have accumulated stacks on stacks of books. These books range from Ireland travel guides dating back to the 90s, advice books for youth group leaders, cheesy YA and romance novels, books that break down the Gospels, and history books about The Troubles in N. Ireland.  I’ve always talked about having my own library as an adult, and I’d like to think this is the first step in the right direction.

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With a long commute to and from The Vine on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’m thankful for this massive library to sustain my 1-2 hour morning travels.  Since September I’ve read 10 books (which is more than I’ve been able to read in a couple of months since I started university); I have the lovely Translink bus service to thank for its not always so lovely timing.

This years’ completed reading list:

  1. “To Kill A Mockingbird” – Harper Lee
  2. “McCarthy’s Bar” – Pete McCarthy
  3. “Love Wins” – Rob Bell
  4. “Go Set A Watchman” – Harper Lee
  5. “On Chesil Beach” – Ian McEwan
  6. “The Body In The Library” – Agatha Christie
  7. “Velvet Elvis” – Rob Bell
  8. “Traveling Mercies” – Anne Lamott
  9. “Knots & Crosses” – Ian Rankin
  10. “Paper Towns” – John Green

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Some have been library books, some I brought with me, others were left here by past YAVs, and a few have been borrowed from my current roommates.  But what’s so special about this bunch, though, are those that have collected dust on the shelf from past Belfast YAVs. As a huge fan of writing in the margins and highlighting quotes in textbooks and my Bible growing up, I’ve started to do the same with ‘leisure’ reads (as long as you don’t forget which books are borrowed from the library!).  When I went to read “Velvet Elvis” I could identify about 5 different YAVs scrawling messages and marking text throughout the chapters. 

Books given to the YAVs by family and people from their placements


‘Velvet Elvis’ notes

I love being able to compare notes, and feel as if I’m having a conversation with a YAV who may’ve been here last year, 5 years ago, or 22 years ago. The world may have changed a bit since the last group of YAVs were here, but these underlines and scribbles draw connections with the past, and show how relevant those same thoughts and feelings are in the present. We’re all human, all seeking God, all striving for peace, and all questioning where God fits into our world here and now in Belfast; it’s a reminder that God meets us now, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances are.

Making connections help us learn from those who’ve ‘been there, done that,’ and have wisdom to pass down.  These hand-written commentaries let us know we aren’t alone – whether they detail feelings about Harper Lee’s characters, or challenge and agree with Rob Bell’s theology – or they point out something we may not have noticed; it’s like being back in a college English course with multiple interpretations of one single text being discussed, dissected and analyzed.

writingI always thought it wasn’t appropriate that I highlighted verses in my Bible or wrote a day’s feelings and prayers next to a passage, but when we were told to Mod-Podge a Bible for the senior class at NWPC, I stopped hiding my Bible decorating during church. Then my youth pastor at the time, Lisa Hickman, published a book a few years later called “Writing In The Margins: Connecting With God on the Pages of Your Bible,” and I was finally able to feel completely okay about my so-called desecration. I saw that this ‘graffiti’ was more than just squiggly lines and letters, but an intimate conversation with the writer and other readers.

I’m a firm believer that books are published with margins for a reason: not be left blank but to be decorated with colorful words and colorful pictures.  I encourage you to order some used books off of Amazon that are listed in an “Okay” condition because they have markings and highlighting on the pages; you just might learn something unexpected, or find something in common with a stranger. 🙂





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