I was first told about Shauna's work from a few different friend's referencing her first book,Cold Tangerines. I trusted their advice enough to get a copy and read it last year. After finishing the last page, I decided that I had enjoyed reading the book but that it wasn't a book that I had fallen in love with. The author's style of writing and ability to tell her story, on the other hand, became something that I loved. That is why I found it easy to buy, read and even enjoy it's sequel, Bittersweet.
But there is something that should be noted about the two books. Cold Tangerines, like I said, was a good book that I liked but for more than one reason, I didn't care for it enough to fall in love with it. But Bittersweet evoked an entirely different response out of me. I l-o-v-e-d it! Why such varying results from the same author? Why was one book so much more gripping than the other?
Sincerely, I'd like to credit the trials that Shauna went through. It was in those hard times that I can sense greater maturity and deeper perspective was forged. We all despise the hard times, but we can't help but love what it creates in us.
So I'm thankful for the journey that the author's personal life took since she wrote her first book. She's come a long way and it's evident in her work. She has weathered some heavy storms and through them some solid truths found a home on the pages of Bittersweet.
I'm not the first to say this by any means, but Shauna's ability to tell a story by causing simple words to dance upon a page is nothing short of magical. As a reader, I really enjoyed the simple yet difficult craftsmanship of her stories. Surely my own stories don't come out the way her's do, but then again, all along I felt like I was sitting with a friend and catching up on her life.
If you take a look at my bookshelves, you will find a variety of types of literature ranging from commentary to fiction. But I found that Bittersweet was neither of those types. Many spiritual books that you read about today are saturated with knowledge, which is a good thing, but sometimes they can be so weighty with facts that it's hard to take anything away from them because your mind is overwhelmed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you find that the fiction novels can be so unrealistic that you can't apply them to your life.
I, myself, found this book to be a relief from some of the other books that I read. All the facts and knowledge can help but at some point, you just need real life. That's what I felt that Shauna offered me as a reader.
Heartache Sealed With Hope.
In real life, trials come, issues arise and for some of us, our hearts are broken. This is what I find to be true in my life and as I read books to help my walk with Christ, I find myself most thankful when an author actually involves truth with reality. This is where I think Shauna is strongest as an author.
She faced trials, issues did arise and her heart did ache with brokenness but she didn't fail to bring truth into those very real reailties. The fact that her story didn't end with a 'happy ending' per se, but still ended with hope, filled my heart with joy and expectancy.
Because of her authenticity, there were moments when I could connect my pain with hers. But her authenticity left a lasting impression when she introduced real truth for my real heart that was aching with real pain.
I'm thankful for the moments when she reminded me like on page 16 that "the heart of the story [is] the part where life always comes from death." That, the concept of resurrection and beauty from ashes, she proclaims is the central message of Christianity. And to that, I heartedly agree.
More Than Just Tears.
On a way less serious note, I really appreciated her way of adding food into most, if not every story. She seemed to always be cooking, eating or trying something new. I enjoyed this about her because it made the author into a normal human being. It made her the neighbor next door and a friend that I'd probably share life with.
Also, another thing that I was thankful for was the insight into her life that she gave. Yes, again, the whole authenticity thing. She shared the simple parts of her life as a believer, a friend, a wife, a mother, an author, etc. Those are all things that I aspire to be and some that I currently am, so I always appreciate little tid-bits of advice from those who are living it now. It's always refreshing to hear the 'how-to's' and the 'what-not-to-do's'. Don't you agree?
What Will Remain.
From all of her countless stories, I think these three things will leave an impact within me, at least for a while, from this book.
1. The bitter can be sweet.
2. The little things count.
3. Telling your story matters.
I could expound upon each of these with so many words, but I think excerpts from Shauna herself will hopefully explain them best.
1. Listen closely. Hear the truth behind these words convincing you that even the bitter moments in your life can produce something sweet and worthwhile if you choose to grow from them.
"The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? but rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow? Sometimes in the moments of the most searing pain, we think we don't have a choice. But we do. It's in those moments that we make the most important choice: grow or give up." (page 233)
"This is what I know: God can make something beautiful out of anything, out of darkness and trash and broken bones. He can shine light into even the blackest night, and He leaves glimpses of hope all around us." (page 234)
2. I very easily overlook the little things in life that matter. I do this all the time but I am learning that He doesn't overlook them, not even once. I have to trust that He's at work, even actively at work, in the little things in my life whether that be relationships or the unnoticeable in creation. For me, I'm continuing to find God in many small things these days. They really do matter. They tell me that the big God Almighty of the Universe is actually intricately involved in my tiny life and He proves it by showing me meaningful signs by using little, otherwise unimportant, objects or moments.
Shauna does a great job of pointing us back to the importance of close friendships in our lives. That's an area that I seem to easily forget sometimes, but it's a little (perhaps big) place that He reveals Himself to us. Secretly, I'm always thankful towards anything and anyone that encourages me to fight for the meaningful relationships in my life.
"Because there really is nothing like good friends, like the sounds of their laughter and the tones of their voices and the things they teach us in the quietest, smallest moments." (page 66)
"(in referencing how things began to become easier in her life) It wasn't all one thing, but a thousand big and little things, and for every single one of them, I'm thankful." (page 211)
3. I'm a story-telling type of girl. I think that every good story has great characters and that the details matter. You don't have to convince me that stories are great but sometimes, I do need help believing that my story is worth telling.
"You tell what you know, what you've earned, what you've learned the hard way." (page 237)
"They (really, we) stopped believing that their story was enough, and they started saying all the phrases and quoting all the verses we've all heard a thousand times, turning them from sacred songs into platitudes and cliché's." (page 239, addition by me)
"We dilute the beauty of the Gospel story when we divorce it from our lives, our worlds, the words and images that God is writing right now on our souls." (page 239)
"And when we tell the truth about our lives--the broken parts, the secret parts, the beautiful parts-- then the Gospel comes to life, an actual story about redemption, instead of abstraction and theory and things you learn in Sunday school." (page 240)
"Only I can tell my story." (page 241)
"When Christ walked among us, He entrusted the Gospel to plain old regular people who were absolutely not religious professionals." (page 241)
"Your story must be told." (Page 241)
Only Good if You Share.
If I could recommend this book to anyone I would say that it's for the faint of heart, the weary soul and the perplexed mind. That pretty much sums up most of us, yet maybe not all of us.
To condense my review of this book, I'd say that it is just enough simplicity to remind the spiritually mature of where our maturity comes from and just enough experience to convince the naive to cling to Jesus when, not if, those troubled times come and to trust that something sweet can come out of the bitter times.
So I suggest for you to find yourself a copy and to join Shauna as she shares her story, even if you only take it one small chapter at a time. Her story is worth hearing and the truth that she imparts is something that we could all use.
Bittersweet: thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way
Purchase Bittersweet here.
Purchase her first book, Cold Tangerines, here.
Find out more about Shauna Niequist here.