Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way ~ A book review

Have you ever found a book that enraptured you? Grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let you go? How about an author? Have you ever been so into what the author had to say, and related so distinctly to a text that you’d swear you could have written parts of the book yourself?

That’s how I feel whenever I pick up a Shauna Niequist book. I don’t even have to review this book – I just so desperately want others to find it, that I’m going to anyway.

It could be that Niequist is a fellow Enneagram 7, and therefore the way I see the world is similar to the way she sees hers. Some of the struggles and the way she describes things feel like a breath of fresh air to me — it means I’m not alone. I don’t personally know any other 7s, or at least not any who know they’re 7s, and so to read from someone who’s aware of why she thinks how she thinks is so refreshing.

Bittersweet is a collection of essays, written in Shauna’s beautiful, lilty, almost lyrical style. She talks about change, leaning into pain, grace, living through hard (and she’s lived through lots of it), and embracing all of it. She never once uses a Scripture reference, and yet you can tell she’s doing her very best to walk life hand in hand with Jesus through it all.

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. “It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. “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 long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. “I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.”, taken from the prologue of the book

I listened to this book using my Scribd subscription while I commuted this week. I started it on Tuesday morning, and finished it Friday on the way home. The timing of this book’s arrival in my life is kind of funny, though. I’m a firm believer that God can speak to us in all kinds of ways, but I’m pretty sure He uses books a lot of the time for me. I mean, why not, when my nose spends a good chunk of time buried in one or my ears are listening to one while I drive? It won’t surprise me at all if, when I get to Heaven, I ask if He’s been using books all this time and He smiles and says “I’m glad you caught it.”

Thursday, on my way into work, something profound caught me, and I paused the book to reflect on it for a few minutes. It directly related to something I was wrestling down and needed to dig into in my own life. And if that wasn’t enough, on my drive home, a line hit me so hard that I pulled over, put the car in park, rewound the book by 30 seconds, listened to the line again twice, and then scribbled it down quickly in a note in my phone. I nearly cried, it was such a relief to know that I was not the only one who thought this way.

It was such a profound moment that I bought the book in hard copy on Amazon when I got home. I needed to have it in my hands. I need to read it again. And again. And again. In fact, I think I’ll read it out loud myself, because while it was beautiful to have Shauna read it to me (she narrated the book herself and it was wonderful), I think I will need to find the places that it makes my voice hitch and my soul hurt, and lean into them myself. I need to soak it in. I need to write all over it, and underline and highlight and flag it with stickies, as I have with Cold Tangerines and Present Over Perfect. But most importantly I need to learn to live it. I need to learn to live in Bittersweet better, because I’m not awesome at it. I find it hard, but we have to do it. Because if we can’t experience sadness, grief, and pain — then we can’t really, truly, experience joy and delight.

“When life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.” ~ Shauna Niequist

*fair warning: This book contained a good chunk toward the back half about marriage, pregnancy, miscarriages, and babies. Knowing what the author has walked through, this didn’t surprise me. I just want to be sure that I let someone know for whom that might be really hard if you’re not expecting it to be there.


Wreck My Life

What a ride this book was.

I selected it from a list of possible titles for the month because the synopsis looked like I’d be able to relate on a few levels to the author, Mo Isom.  I’m thinking specifically of the terrible car accident she experienced, but I figured if I could relate to even one part of someone’s story on a deep level, it would be a good autobiography to read.

What I did not expect was how this book would wreck me.  Mo Isom described that car accident in such detail that I put the book down and didn’t pick it back up for almost two weeks.

Her struggle with her quest for control of her life and using food to get there, though to a much deeper extent than mine, resonated hard with me, and I put the book down again.

To be perfectly honest, I nearly didn’t finish the book.  It was such a roller coaster of emotions for me, in a way that no book has ever wrung me before, that I just didn’t want to deal with it.  It felt too overwhelming.

But I persevered, and I’m glad that I did.  The tagline to the title of the book is ‘Journeying from Broken to Bold,’ and so I should have known that the latter half of the book would be full of encouragement for how turning toward God and letting Him have control, letting him work in and through her circumstances would bring about an outcome positive enough to write about.  The back cover explains “Mo reminds us that the brokenness is actually the very place God meets us the most, and the place where we can find Jesus like never before.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled behind closed doors with anything, whether you can relate to her circumstances specifically or not.  It’s worth the read right to the very last page, as I found the last chapters so deeply encouraging.

I find that I’m filled with empathy for Mo’s story, and yet I’m so glad that she’s been able to find the good so that she could share that with so many people in ways she’d never have seen coming while she was planning her own life.


Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

The Crimson Cord | A Book Review

Recently, I’ve been looking to take thisblogisepic in a bit of a different direction.  I’m really excited to get into reviewing books, which gives the added bonus of forcing me to read since now I have deadlines!  I’ve been meaning to read more, too….

I’ve joined this program called Nuts About Books run by Graf-Martin Communications (a Christian publishing company).  They send me a list of books they’re offering, I choose what I’d like to receive, and they mail me copies of the book(s) that I then have a month to review!

I’m ready with my very first book review, and I’m glad to say that it was a good book.  I was nervous starting out…. what if you don’t like a book?  Then you have to publicly display your thoughts even though they aren’t great because you signed up to be honest… but thankfully I quite liked my first book (and have another to read in the next 6 days… whoops.  I’ll need to be more on top of this next month).

I read The Crimson Cord by Jill Eileen Smith.

It’s an Historical Fiction novel centered around the story of Rahab, the prostitute who gave safe passage to Hebrew spies in Jericho in exchange for safety for her and her family.

I admit that going into this book, I knew nothing about Rahab’s story other than just that — that she was a prostitute in Jericho at the time of Joshua, and then something about tribes of Israel marching around the city for 7 days until the walls fell.  That’s it.  Rahab isn’t mentioned that often in the Bible, so while I knew going into this book that a lot of details would be filled in by the author, I dare say she did a beautiful job at crafting a great story out of the life of Rahab.  I especially appreciate the ability to glean a deeper understanding of what life would have been like for a woman in Old Testament Jericho.  The Historian in me loves it, and I found that Smith struck an excellent balance between historical detail and creating beautiful, relational characters.

It started out a hard read, but only because lately I’ve been asking God to give me a heart for the things that breaks His, and one of those things has been a heart for women stuck in abusive situations and relationships who can’t get free.  At least the way it was written here, it spins Rahab’s life story very much in that light, but I feel that it was done very tastefully.

My favourite part of the book, without giving anything away because I really do encourage you to read it if you like historical fiction at all, was how much the Grace of God was highlighted.  Normally, I see the Old Testament and the New Testament as very different things.  I know that my God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so in theory I have a deep understanding that the God of the Old Testament was still full of Grace, but I often forget that.  Much to my chagrin, I suppose.  The way that Jill Eileen Smith wrote this story really clearly showed that God was very much still a God of Grace during the time of Joshua, just like He is now.  Rahab was not an Israelite.  She didn’t need to be granted safe passage during the attack on Jericho, but she was, along with her family, because of her faith, and God continued to cleanse her and reward her faith through the rest of her life.

Toward the end of the book I became curious about Rahab’s family tree as the rest of the story started to unfold, and learned interesting facts in my search there as well.  If you pop on over to here, you’ll find what I found — that Rahab is directly involved in the line of King David (and therefore the line of Christ), and I just sometimes can’t wrap my mind around how amazing God’s grace really is.

Nuts About Books — The Crimson Cord Jill Eileen Smith