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.

Advertisements

Grace Like Scarlett


Hi, friends:

For this particular book review I’ve invited a dear friend into the process.  When the title and description for Grace Like Scarlett popped into my email inbox, I knew exactly who this book was meant to end up with.  My friend Rachel has experienced miscarriage, and as a result has a great deal of empathy as well as a passion for supporting grieving families by partnering with an organization called Hope Boxes.

I trust that Rachel’s words will mean far more than mine ever could, so I invite you to read a guest post by Rachel.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

The statistics are staggering… 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.

This is my story:

April 1, 2013 – A day of complete and utter joy with the phone call that we were indeed pregnant after 5.5 years. I can remember pinching myself just to be sure it was real. He is Elohim, the Lord our creator!

May 1, 2013 – Another day that I will never forget. ..that moment when, at 8 weeks, you hear your baby’s first heartbeat. Without a doubt, THE most precious sound…a sound I was beginning to think I would never hear. He is El Hanne’eman, the Lord is faithful!

May 29, 2013 – 12 week ultrasound day. The day anyone in our shoes would look forward to but yet a day that is etched in our minds forever, one where we saw our tiny precious baby….lifeless in my womb. He is El Elyon, the Lord who is sovereign over all things!

June 6, 2013 – The day our baby’s tiny, tiny body was surgically removed from my womb and discarded, yet a day that serves as such a reminder that Jaiden is with Jesus – heart beating strong, completely healed and whole. He is Jehovah-rapha, the Lord who heals!

Cautious and excited summed up how I felt about diving into this book. My cautiousness came from understanding that grief is deep and not linear. Even though five years have passed, there are elements of my grief journey that come up in unexpected ways. I knew this book would be one I couldn’t put down but needed to in order to digest the content and to let the author’s words soak deep down into my soul. I didn’t expect just how healing it would be. This book is a gift! I cannot recommend it enough.

Adriel shares a moving, personal narrative of how her family suffered pregnancy loss and how they walked their grief journey with hope.

The excited part (for me) came in how this book resource could be used as an encouragement to other women who have experienced loss. God has graciously allowed a friend of mine and I to start a ministry that reaches out to families who are walking through pregnancy and infant loss. We make Hope Boxes** that are full of book resources and personal care items to help women know they are seen during a most difficult time in their life. Though Grace Like Scarlett is primarily geared toward the grieving mother herself, Adriel has included a wonderfully written letter from her husband to grieving dads, along with ways to remember your baby, how to talk about loss to other children in the family, pregnancy after loss, and caring for a friend after a miscarriage. Each part has been written beautifully and with much grace navigating such a “taboo” grief that many women suffer with in silence.

Each chapter is so raw and real, and yet so full of the Hope of Jesus Christ and His presence during our darkest moments. She shares her faith in way that is so healing, constantly reminding the reader that God is so very grieved by their loss, and that not for a moment does He forsake us.

You don’t need to be facing loss to read this book. There’s a good chance you have walked, will walk, or are currently walking with a friend or family member through the loss of a child. That’s reason enough to take time to read through this book. One of the things Adriel shares about relationship after loss:

“Relationships after loss can feel a bit like Thistle Cove: ugly and beautiful. They hurt and they help. Sometimes you feel deserted, while other times you are spontaneously healed in their embrace.”

She shares things that were said that were hurtful to her and even includes a variety of other short paragraphs of hurt other women experienced after the loss of a child. Her challenge to the grieving mom toward those who cause hurt is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Most often people don’t know how to respond or act around anyone who is grieving, and while that can sometimes cause us to keep grief to ourselves, Adriel reminds the reader that, “Community can hurt, but it can heal even deeper.”

Speaking from my own experience, the ministry of presence is a powerful thing for a family whose world has just turned upside down. Continuing to keep that contact and realizing that you won’t be able to take away the pain they are feeling, but to just keep close with your “I’m thinking of you”, or “You’re on my heart today” texts or call means everything. I promise.

At the end of each chapter there is a journal prompt that is designed to take the reader into working through some aspects of their own journey and truly putting words where there may be none. I didn’t take the time to do this as I read to review, but plan to go back and look at them more in-depth with my next read through.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book, because it exposed the Light of Christ again to some spaces that are still dark for me, but I shall stop writing and just wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy for yourself (or give one to a friend who is grieving)! I finished the book almost a month ago but have found it hard to sit down and write because I feel as though I’ve felt much of what Adril shared but literally didn’t have the eloquent and raw writing ability to put it all together as beautifully as Adriel has.

This book is one that I know I will read over and over, because there’s just that much soul food to digest!

Thank you to my friend Laura (and Baker Books) for connecting me with a copy of Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker in exchange for a guest review on her blog.  Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_web

https://www.gracelikescarlett.com/

**To learn more about Oxford Brant Hope Box or to request a Hope Box, please connect with me here: http://www.facebook.com/oxfordbranthopebox

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

Sweet Dreams: Daily Prompt


I am legit falling asleep right now.  So how fitting that today’s WordPress prompt and that one of this week’s writing prompts from Mama Kat are both about dreaming.

We’ve been asked to describe the best and most vivid dream we’ve ever had (which I’ll have to link up tomorrow — until then, check out Mama Kat’s blog).

I have two dreams to share — I don’t know if I’d call either of them the best, but they’re certainly the most vivid… the kind of dream where you sit up in bed after you wake up and wonder if that actually happened or not.

I don’t put much stock in dream theory or whatever it’s called — the analysis of dreams to inform you what they really mean for your life…. but one comes up meaning big change or stress, and the other comes up suggesting that I’m suppressing creativity that wants out….. Maybe I need to get on writing that book?

1.  I’ve woken up more than once after a dream where I found out I was pregnant and was faced with the daunting task of telling everyone I know that I’m a hypocrite.  You see, some of you may already know this about me, but it’s not currently possible for me to become pregnant.  Every time this happens, I don’t know who the Father is, and I have to explain to not only my parents, but to everyone around me, how I got pregnant out of marriage, how this happened, and what exactly I’m going to do.  One pregnancy dream lasted long enough that I had the baby, and was raising it on my own.  I had friends over to meet my baby girl, and a friend sat on my baby on the bed.  I woke up in a sheer panic — “where’s my baby!?  Is she ok!?  Wait…. I’m not pregnant.  I don’t have a baby.  I don’t even have a boyfriend.  Time to go back to sleep.”

They are the strangest dreams.  The pregnancy dream is the one that apparently means you’re suppressing creativity.

The other dream I’ve had that is super vivid… is where all my teeth fall out.  haha it even sounds ridiculous to say it.  Apparently it points to anxiety and stress.  I’ve had this dream more than once.  The most vivid time I’ve had this dream went like this…

It was the first day of school (I had the dream at the end of summer), and I had spent a bunch of time prepping and lesson planning — ready to wow those kids with how awesome a teacher I was going to be (I switched schools and positions in September of this year).  I’ll admit that I was quite nervous about the switch, even when awake.  I was switching from teaching Grade 4-8, and teaching them French… to Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2… Science, Social Studies, and Gym.  Nothing would be the same as the year before.  As I stood (in the dream) in front of my first Grade 1 Science class, I sneezed.  When I sneezed, every single tooth in my mouth fell out into my hand.  I remember very clearly looking down in my hands at every tooth from my mouth.  I tried to introduce myself to my new kiddos, and all I could do was gum at things.  I woke up and for hours….. not kidding… HOURS…. I ran my tongue across my teeth to make sure they were all still there.  I don’t consider myself to be an overly vain person, but I can’t lie, the idea of having no teeth is not an enticing one.

So there you have it — apart from a hallucination when I was a kid that I only vaguely remember (My fever was high.  My Dad and best friend chased me around a circuit board armed with pillow cases full of rocks, swords, and banana cream pies.  I woke up screaming…..), those are my two most vivid dreams — being pregnant with no explanation, and losing all my teeth right when I have to do something important.

I just really hope they don’t both happen at the same time.  That’d be wretched.