I don't know about you but sometimes when I read a blog or a book, I am struck by the similarities in our childhoods, belief system, or taste in music or food or so many other categories. I find myself thinking that if this person and I happened to meet in real life, we just might become friends because of our commonalities. Of course, that can't be true in every situation. Unlike people who aspire to be friends with celebrities, I'd rather befriend the authors and bloggers that touch my heart.
People like Rachel Held Evans who grapple with doubt and faith. So much of her story is my story, right down to the eczema we've both battled. I love her blog, her book, and her new project.
People like the Hollywood Housewife who I live vicariously through. She has a fascinating life but seems to stay down-to-earth. She has excellent taste in books. She's also part of the reason I'm writing today. A little over a month ago, she held a giveaway for her friend Shauna Niequist's new book Bittersweet and I actually won! The timing could not have been more perfect.
Bittersweet is about the changes life brings, both bad and good, and how we respond to them. It is not easy to be open to change but God can use it to grow us and bring forth something new in our lives. As I took each chapter in, I nodded in agreement and understanding, even though not all of the topics related to me personally. Shauna knows sorrow. Even though our losses are very different, I think there's a connection that exists among mourners. I don't relate as well to people that have never faced any difficulty in their life or who take a Pollyanna approach to their pain. Shauna doesn't shy away from exploring her losses and searching for meaning in them and she does it in a way that is both beautiful and inviting.
I felt I could trust her words, and not just because of our similarities.
First, she's a fellow Midwesterner, also hailing from the Chicago suburbs. Midwesterners tend to be loyal, hearty souls, maybe because of all the cold winters we endure. Shauna feels the same way about feeding people and the art of hospitality as I do: "preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility." (p. 36) We even like some of the same music.
All this was well and good. Then I came across "Ravenous" in which Shauna described her larger-than-life appetite and penchant for outeating people. That was the moment that I knew Shauna and I could be friends, if ever given the chance. My friends and family will attest that I am quite skilled when it comes to eating large portions.
I read Bittersweet at night, a couple of chapters after time spent with God before I turn out the light. I let her words wash over me, taking in imagery about grace, word pictures of meals and relationships, and ultimately reflecting on the parts of my life that have been bittersweet.
The death of my grandmother 3 years ago. All the highs and lows of moving to Nashville, undoubtedly the biggest change I've ever faced. The frustration of still being single when I want to be a wife and mother. And so on and so forth.
Some of the stories have made me laugh, a few have brought me to tears. The portion on creating and what it means to write inspired me. One day I really will finish the book I started writing and have not touched in almost 6 months. That was some much needed encouragement.
I have so many portions underlined and asterisked. I regret that this is not the right space to share the more personal response I had to this wonderful book. I would love nothing more than to sit down with a mug of tea and share my heart, whether or not you've experienced Shauna's writing. Of all the nonfiction books I've read this year, this may be the one that has most ministered to me.
Shauna understands what it like to wait on a dream deferred and how helpless that makes one feel. She understands that not everyone looks forward to Christmas, depending on who they've lost or the disappointment they've faced that year. She knows that when you're going through a hard time, you don't need advice but you do need your friends to be there for you, even if they can only say, "I don't know what to say." (I can testify from working in hospice and from my own losses, it is paramount to do this for the people you love.) She celebrates the relationship between food and people, how healing it can be and how time around the table promotes deeper relationships. She is by no means perfect but by sharing her struggles, she encourages us all to be more authentic and more open to what God may have for us.
I should let you know that I haven't finished reading Bittersweet quite yet. There's a few chapters to go. As the end has drawn nearer, I've started drawing out each chapter and this is why I've told everyone that I am savoring it. I'm not ready for it to end. I rarely recommend a book I haven't finished reading but this one, it's just that good.
Thank you, Shauna for sharing your story with me and the rest of your readers. Maybe one day I'll have a chance to return to the favor. Or at least challenge you to a food eating contest.
Check out Shauna's blog to hear her latest updates and find out where her book tour is headed.
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