Bittersweet. (book review & giveaway!)

“This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.”

~ Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

You've heard me sing praises for the book Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist - it's a book that's left long-lasting waves of inspiration in my life, encouraging me to tell my own stories better, and reminding me that even the most ordinary daily events can be causes for celebration.

And now, Shauna has released her new book, Bittersweet: thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way, and what a brave book it is.  It's obvious that Shauna has lived a lot of life since Cold Tangerines - she's experienced bitter losses and unforgettable celebrations and emerged on the other side with much wisdom to share.  I'm so glad I get to hear that wisdom.  The result is a compilation of stories/essays that illustrate the concept of bittersweet - that both the bitter and the sweet are necessary in life.  "When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate," she says.  "And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow."  For where I am right now, this concept couldn't be more true.

I read this book from cover to cover during the first few weeks of my baby girl's life - "bittersweet" indeed.  Perched upon my bed with wild unwashed hair, recovering from an unexpected c-section, nursing Luci Belle for hours and hours say I was experiencing change would have been a gross understatement.   I felt more exposed and vulnerable than I ever have in my entire life, my mind and body pushed to their absolute limits of exhaustion. And yet I was practically knocked over by how much I loved this vulnerable little being with the chubby pink cheeks.  All the fears I'd had of motherhood went out the window when I touched her tiny soft toes. 

As I read the book during those beautifully exhausting hours, I found myself feeling thankful once again that I was not alone, that there is indeed someone else out there for whom change does not come easily.  I needed to be reminded that there is beauty and grace on the other side, that I would survive the delirium and get sleep again one day.  I needed to be reminded that the bittersweet moments are what life is really about.  Yes, there's some pain, some stretching, some strain, just like childbirth.  But through that pain and difficulty, you earn a different sort of beauty...

 “I’ve learned the hard way that change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us.  It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, but also in the best ways.  I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and I’ve learned that in many cases, change is not a function of life’s cruelty but instead a function of God’s graciousness.”

For me, bittersweet is moving on from five sweet years of marriage and realizing it'll never be "just the two of us" again.  But instead we get to welcome our little girl into our world and our love. 

Bittersweet is also sacrificing a comfortable bank account - or any kind of security for that matter - to own a small business that brings life to our community and supports local farmers.  It's living in Dallas where community hasn't come easily like it did in Nashville, a city I still miss.  It's saying goodbye to friendships that had turned unhealthy in order to pour into those that are life-giving. 

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I loved so many parts of the book, but one of the chapters that meant the most to me is “The Home Team."

“Everybody has a home team: it’s the people you call when you get a flat tire or when something terrible happens….These are the ones who tell you their secrets, who get themselves a glass of water without asking when they’re at your house.  These are the people who cry when you cry.  These are your people, your middle-of-the-night, no-matter-what people.”

Our "home team" is what enabled us to survive the first few months of our newborn daughter's life.  During the entire months of July and August, it seems we didn't even have a spare minute to look at the day's mail, much less handle daunting tasks like fixing breakfast or doing laundry.  As we waded through a fog of sleeplessness, diaper changes, and swaddle blankets, our home team scurried around the house, cleaning out cabinets, preparing meals, walking the dogs, putting dishes away. Our home team is full of people who sacrifice a Saturday evening to take turns holding our baby so we can get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  They are the people who kiss and cuddle her and care for her just the way we do.  They don't blink an eye at being asked to mop the kitchen floor.   All the while, I received them at my worst - tired, haggard, without a lick of makeup, my belly jiggling like a bowl full of pudding.

Here are a few photos of them: visiting us in the hospital...

...and gathering for a recent meal around our farm table...

These days, I’m reminded that I can’t do it all.  Things will never be the same as they were before I had a baby.  I can no longer keep a hundred plates spinning at once, it takes a lot more intention and effort to love my husband well, and I certainly don't remember the last time I dusted or mopped the floor.   But I see my little girl giggle and am reminded of what really matters.  Those hands and toes won't be tiny forever.  

So I guess I'm learning to fall in love with change.  Sometimes it's about putting ourselves in situations that are risky, and sometimes it's just about embracing what is thrown our way.  I'll take all of it - the struggles and the joys.  In Shauna’s words, “I’m so thankful to live in this physical, messy, blood-and-guts world.”  I thank God for not allowing me to stay in the stagnant places and for extending grace when it's the last thing I deserve. Here on the fringes, I get to experience all the fullness of life - the difficult and the lovely, the bitter and the sweet.

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Shauna Niequist is kindly giving away 1 autographed copy of Bittersweet for one of my blog readers!  To enter the giveaway, post a comment below and tell me what the word "bittersweet" means in your life.  On Wednesday, October 6th, I'll choose the winner from a random drawing.