About once a year, I pull out my copy of Shauna Niequist's Bittersweet and start devouring it again. Sometimes I'm in a life slump, sometimes a faith slump, sometimes just a book slump. Sometimes I want to learn what she learned writing it and sometimes I want to learn what I learned reading it. It's marked and scratched and stained, probably from a dozen different breakfasts or lunches on my back porch or bathtub. And it never fails. Every time I start to read it again, I'm drawn back into her story and mine and really the story of life with a good God who gives us both the bitter and the sweet and loves us to the very end and even further. Clearly, if you haven't read it, I recommend it. I'd let you borrow mine, but it's become a sort of journal to me. Sacred and personal in all the best ways.
Today, I decided to read a chapter or two again on that same back porch and again with a fork in hand. In true Shauna fashion, I'll tell you.. My lunch was weird and wonderful. Sautéed squash right from my weed-overtaken garden and chicken salad with italian chicken, apples, sun-dried tomatoes, pecans and homemade mayo straight from my fridge. It's a sick day at my house, and we're in the midst of this crazy/fun/miserable diet challenge with some friends, so I took advantage of my kitchen, my new culinary skills, and my creativity. I even texted one of my friends and told her that if my lunches got any weirder, I would be that kid with no friends in the school cafeteria. (Sorry I told you that you couldn't eat with me in the 9th grade if you brought tuna, Mary Beth! I've grown since then, I promise!)
Anyway, I sat down with a chapter about 3/4ths of the way through the book and the weirdest thing happened. I read this chapter where I had underlined literally almost every single word. And I could literally feel my old self reading this chapter. I could sense the younger April underlining and searching, desperate for some of the words on the page to put her anxious heart at ease.
It's a chapter about all that can change in a year, about how maybe you are broken now but there is redemption, about seasons, about finding your old self again and how amazing it feels. And that's where I felt her. Younger April. Literally thinking she might die if she couldn't find her old self again. And I'll be honest with you. I felt that way for a really long time. All I wanted was to be carefree again. I couldn't imagine moving on in life, unable to be that blissful, joyful, no worries in the world girl. For a while, I think I was resigned to telling God that if I couldn't be her, I didn't want to live.
And here I sit, a full three or maybe four years later, still not the same girl. And what I realized as I experienced the old me's longing today was the most magical thing. For the first time in those long and painful four years, I don't want to go back. I don't want to be her anymore. Was that April joyful and beautiful and exactly who God made me to be for a while? Yes. But this new version of me is better, more. I know pain now. And heartache. And longing like I didn't know was possible. I know that it's okay to doubt and be terrified and want to quit. I know community like I didn't even know was possible, more than just late night sleepovers and hilarious pranks. The kind of community that comes to your house just because they know you can't be alone and the kind that makes you pull your car over when they think you might quit.
Suddenly, all those days and times I longed to go back to have less appeal. Would I trade them for anything in the world? No. I learned a significant part of who I was then. I laughed and rejoiced and worshipped and lived so full and free. I'll carry those memories and those people with me every place I go and cherish every minute of who I was then, who God was to me then, and the path we were on together. The times were sweet. And I am forever grateful.
But now, there's a whole heaping tablespoon (or maybe large vat) of bitter to mix in there with that sweet. And where it used to just tick me off that I had to deal with that, I think it's become a part of me. A very real, living, breathing part of me and without it, I wouldn't be who I am now. And by jove, I like who I am now! What I have to offer the world is different, battered, changed, redeemed, beautiful. Beautiful in the kind of way that my nephew's most tattered stuffed animal is beautiful or my grandmother's handwritten recipes are beautiful or my tear-stained journals are beautiful. They are worn. Loved. Tested. Better.
I had dinner at my friend Maryanne's house on Sunday. We sat at her kitchen table and chatted for a while, as we have consistently done over the last eight years. We laughed about some things and got real deep on others. And she told me something I'll never forget. She said she liked who I was back then okay, but she likes who I am now much better. "You're more real and better to talk to," she said. I just like you like this. Thanks, Maryanne. I think I like me like this too.
So I don't know where you are today. Maybe you're in your sweet spot. Eat it up, sister. It's a good place to be. Or maybe you're where I was for far too long, out of the sweet spot but unwilling to move anywhere but backwards. Believe me, I know it's hard to give it up. But wherever you are, I pray that you know that our God is in the process of making things new, us included. And being the God that he is, I highly doubt new is going to ever be worse. So maybe you'll join me today in celebrating that life and even you yourself are ever growing, ever changing. And if we can just let go of who we used to be, we might all find that we like the new people even more.
Blessings and peace for the new you.
And for the record, yes, I did weep as I typed paragraphs #6 and #7. Just keeping it real :)