Books are not like buses. They always seem to find their way into my life at exactly the right time and place, almost as if by appointment.
Last summer, it was an Agatha Christie for summer afternoons in the hammock. There was also the script for the latest exploits of Harry Potter, keeping me gripped on a long journey, and there was the lyrical Meadowland for recuperation days sat in the bay window. In a previous year, Under the Tuscan Sun found me as I was moving to my own home in the country, finding my own kitchen table and cooking my own recipes, my story and Frances Mayes’ becoming strangely mirrored. And there are a hundred or more other examples of stories catching my heart and sewing themselves into my daily journey, from childhood onward.
This year, there were two books I knew I wanted to begin the year with. Written by my two favourite writers, both were released at the end of last year and found themselves right at the top of my Christmas list.
Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way was deeply challenging and deeply freeing. It allowed me to accept my ‘brokenness’ – the stuff in my life that’s not all tied up in a bow yet, the unanswered questions, my heart’s aches and pains. The book encouraged me to not simply accept these parts of myself, but to love and value them. It made me see that often the truest and fullest life is not the one that is sorted, controlled and managed, but the one that is broken and given, full of love and vulnerability, honesty and openness. Sometimes our broken parts can be the parts of us that offer the most love, hope and grace to other people and to ourselves. It is easy to think that life is about productivity or happiness, but this book challenged me to see another purpose: to ‘live given’. I am still working out how that looks for me, but just that change of perspective has already made all the difference to how I see my disappointment and loss, stress, approaching 30, life ambitions and relationships.
I am coming to the end of the second of those Christmas List books, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. She has the most beautiful way of capturing the preciousness of the simple things, writing with love about the mundane, the human, the natural. She’s got me thinking hard about my priorities, about work and play, rest and worship, self and relationships. Most of all she’s got me thirsting for the joie de vivre that she rediscovered for herself as she wrote the book and journeyed through life.
‘I bought a sweatshirt that said SAY YES in navy and gold, and I wore it constantly, like a lucky charm, like a best friend. A reminder of this sweet, wide-open way of living, wholehearted, connected, wholly there. Words that hadn’t described me for a long time, but words that I aspire to.
Saying yes means not hiding. It means being seen in all your imperfections and insecurities. Saying yes is doing scary things without a guarantee that they’ll go perfectly. Saying yes is telling the truth even when it’s weird or sad or impossibly messy. Saying yes is inviting chaos, and also possibility. Saying yes is building a new future, regardless of the past. Saying yes is jumping in anyway.’
I’ve read this chapter at least three times now, because it resonates so much with me on so many levels. I don’t even know all of what it means to me yet, just that it means a lot, and it’s important, and I need to listen to it.
What are you starting 2017 with?