As a child in the 80's and a teenager in the 90's, I somehow missed all the boy band fads. I was never an NKOTB or Backstreet Boys groupie or really, even a fan. To be honest, I don't feel as though my life is lacking because I wasn't.
It's only recently that I've begun to consider myself anyone's groupie. I am, unashamedly, a Shauna Niequist groupie. I follow her blog, stalk her on Twitter, jump at the opportunity to hear her speak, and read all of her books. Her writing ministers to me deeply. Just last week I reread her book, Bittersweet, and found her words to be like a healing balm, deeply ministering to my wounded soul.
As a Shauna groupie, I jumped at the opportunity to review an advanced copy of her new book, Bread and Wine . It did not disappoint. This book combines the kind of essays Shauna's fans have come to expect – deeply honest – with her love for food and her belief that “the most sacred moments, the ones in which she feels God's presence most profoundly, when she feels the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table.” The book even includes some of Shauna's favorite recipes.
As with her previous books, where Shauna shines is in her transparency, her willingness to speak openly and unashamedly about faith, family, and community. She courageously addresses taboo topics including miscarriage, giving words to an event that leaves so many women and the family and friends who walk this difficult road with them feeling as though they've lost their voice. Her openness left me in tears one moment and laughing aloud the next, a characteristic of my very favorite kinds of books.
Though it's hard to choose a favorite essay from a book that contains no bad ones, the essays from Bread and Wine that most spoke to me in this season of life were those that challenged me to relentlessly pursue community. In “Open the Door”, Shauna encourages us to throw open the door to our homes and hearts no matter how imperfect they may be because “what people are craving isn't perfection... If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they'll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd.” Likewise, in “Breakfast Cookies,” she proclaims that the “heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” In “Happy New Year”, she concludes that “what makes a good party" is "when the evening and the people and the conversation and the feeling in the room are allowed to be whatever they need to be for that night.”
Shauna continues to explore the theme of community by inviting her readers into some of her deepest, most important relationships – those she's cultivated through years of valuing community and practicing the kind of hospitality described in this book. In “Enough” she shares an intimate moment between she and her dear friend Emily, who was pregnant during a season in which Shauna desperately wanted to be the same. In it, she challenges both herself and her readers to cultivate a “deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while longing for something more.” In “Swimming in Silence” she confesses, “being everywhere was keeping me from being anywhere” and in “Present over Perfect” she dares us to live differently, to “choose love and rest and grace” saying, “Let's use our minutes and hours to create memories with the people we love instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we try to accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing”.
For me, the thing about Shauna's books that differentiate them from those of other well-meaning Christian authors is that rather than leave me feeling trapped by guilt for all I'm not doing to practice hospitality and foster community, Shauna's books leave me filled with hope. Her words paint a picture of the type of life I want to lead and of the friendships I want to cultivate. What's more, her words leave me feeling as though living that life - a life filled with deeply nourishing friendships - is entirely possible and well worth the effort.