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.”

https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0310335280/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1, 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.

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How I Feel About Endings (a Tribute to my buddy, Jack)


Today is November 30th.  It is the end of NaBloPoMo.

This means that when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will not have to think “I need to think about something to write about.”  It’s the end of the month.

I feel very similar to how I felt at the end of the summer, when I left Camp, went home, and didn’t HAVE to blog anymore.  The thing was, though, the habit had become so engrained after a little more than two months of blogging daily, that when I got home I felt like I was still looking for things to write about.

Today feels very much the same.  I know that when I get up tomorrow morning, I won’t have to think about what I’m going to write about later in the day….. but my reality is that I will likely write something anyway.  I just won’t be able to tag it “NaBloPoMo,” and I suspect greatly that my readership will take a bit of a nose-dive.  I do want to throw out a HUGE thank you, though, to everyone who read with me over this past month while I rambled my heart out onto these ‘pages.’

Endings are something that I’m not totally comfortable with right now.  Spoiler alert:  If you cry easily about dog stories, you may not want to read further.  My Mom has two dogs.  She has for ten years.  That means that I lived with both of them for a long time before I moved out of the house.

Jack and Keisha are brother and sister.  They were born to Jena in our kitchen in Wainfleet.  Jena was the first dog I ever really loved.  Prior to Jena, I’d been more of a cat person.  She broke down that wall in my heart that wouldn’t let slobbery dogs in, and she threw out all the pieces.

When I was in my first year of University, Jena got hit on the highway and was killed.  I sobbed for days.  Like… silent, gigantic tears running down my face the entire way through my first ever university exam, and I came home from it and collapsed in a heap on the floor and bawled… sure that I botched the exam because I couldn’t concentrate and even more sure that I would never get over missing Jena.

That wasn’t true, of course.  I did get over it, as great of a pooch as she was.  But we were left with her 2 month old baby girl — Keisha.  We’d found homes for every other puppy in the litter Jena had, and that left poor baby Keisha with no Mommy.  She’d go out in the yard and just cry, looking around… she did it for days.  When Jena’s life ended, there was sadness that I’d never experienced before.  I’ve never lost a close friend, a parent, or even a grandparent.  So far, my deepest-felt losses in life have been pets.  They really do become family.

A few months later, we got a phone call from one of the families we’d given a puppy to.  Their work situation had changed, and they couldn’t keep Shadow.  They wanted to know if in light of losing Jena, would we like to take Shadow back.  We did.  And we gave him his original name back — we welcomed Jack back into our lives.

It took Keisha a week or so to get over being a jerk to Jack, and they’ve been inseparable for the past 9.5 years.

But now… I have a heavy heart tonight, because Jack’s life is ending.  And this ending SUCKS.  I know he’s ten.  I know he’s ‘just a dog.’  I know he’s been sick for a very long time, and it’s the end that he needs because he’s in so much pain…. he’s being put down on Monday.

And it sucks.

And every time I think about it, I get a little weepy again.  It took a long time to make the decision.  Mom wanted to be sure she’d done everything she could before making the decision, but he’s in so much pain and he hurts all over.

So on Monday morning, I will have to say goodbye to my buddy, Jack.  And it will suck.  It will be so hard.  I don’t like this ending.  This is not a happy ending.  And it’s like Keisha knows.  You see, they’re at my house right now because my parents are down… and Keisha follows him around all over, and snuggles right up beside him for what little sleep he does get.

I am going to miss my buddy….

And that’s how I feel about that ending.

And with that, here’s a picture tribute to my buddy, Jack.

Jack as a baby - November 2003
Jack as a baby – November 2003

baby Jack - November 2003
baby Jack – November 2003

Jack at 6 months -- when we got him back.  2004
Jack at 6 months — when we got him back. 2004

Jack and Keisha... not yet best buds, but even then Jack was smiling.
Jack and Keisha… not yet best buds, but even then Jack was smiling.  I like how the flash made a perfect heart right over his head when I took the picture of a picture frame.

Jack with my baby Kloe sniffing at him.  August 2010.
Jack with my baby Kloe sniffing at him. August 2010.

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Jack always likes to be cool… just laying in the snow. This was today.

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Relaxing with Keisha by the Christmas tree (taken yesterday)

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Ohana means family…. and family means nobody gets left behind… or forgotten. In this case, Keisha will be left behind, but I doubt Jack will ever be forgotten, even by her. (taken today)

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The three musketeers. (taken last night)