One Saturday, in 2013, I stared at the ceiling of a hotel room in Dallas, exhausted. I said to myself, “If anyone else wants to live this life I’ve created for myself, they’re more than welcome to try. But I’m done. I need a new way to live.”
I was thirty-six years old. Aaron and I had been married for eleven years, and we had two boys—a one- year-old and a six-year-old. I was finishing a book, with recipes this time, which meant I was testing recipes over and over, flinging pans of burned brownies into the sink and starting again, butterflying pork tenderloin, taking notes on paper spattered with vinegar, dusted with spices. On the weekends, often I was traveling, speaking at conferences, retreats, and churches.
My health was suffering. I was frequently sick. I slept poorly and not enough. I got migraines and then vertigo. The muscles in my neck and shoulders felt more like rock than tissue, and the circles under my eyes looked like bruises. My heart—the heart I used to offer so freely, the heart I used to wear proudly on my sleeve—had retreated deep inside my chest, wounded and seeking protection. My ability to taste and connect and feel deeply had been badly compromised. My faith was stilted—it had become over time yet another way to try and fail, rather than a respite or healing relationship.
I loved my life, but I had become someone I didn’t want to be around.
Not long after that Saturday afternoon realization, a mentor of mine invited me to attend an event with her. I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go. I sent back a rambling, incoherent message about how my life felt so different than I thought it would, how I couldn’t tell which end was up and couldn’t put the brakes on, no matter how many times I tried.
She emailed back immediately. “Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out.”
In that moment, I had no idea what it meant to remake my life from the inside out. Now, I’m so deeply thankful to look back and realize that’s just what I’ve done, although in the twistiest, most circuitous possible way.
I tried all the outside ways first— I imagined the changes I needed to make were about time management, or perhaps having the cleaners come more often. I quickly found it was not about managing time or housekeeping. It was not about to-do lists or scheduling or minutes and hours.
This journey has been about love, about worth, about God, about what it means to know him and be loved by him in a way that grounds and reorders everything.
The two sins at play here, I believe, are gluttony and pride—the desire to escape and the desire to prove, respectively. I want to taste and experience absolutely everything, and I want to be perceived as wildly competent. The opposite of gluttony is sobriety, in the widest sense, which is not my strong suit. And the opposite of pride, one might say, is vulnerability—essentially, saying this is who I am . . . not the sparkly image, not the smoke and mirrors, not the accomplishments or achievements. This is me, with all my limitations, with all my weaknesses.
What I’m learning, essentially, is to stand where I am, plain and sometimes tired. Unflashy, profoundly unspectacular. But present and connected and grounded deeply in the love of God, which is changing everything.
Here’s a great idea for your women’s ministry or small group gathering this summer.
Watermelon Feta Salad
From Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist
On my thirty-fifth birthday, we sat around a table with dear friends overlooking the harbor in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. We shared bowls of hot, salty truffle fries, and I had a watermelon feta salad with arugula and mint, the shards of feta rich and tangy against the sweetness of the watermelon.
I’d been warned that thirty-five can be a rough birthday, and I had myself steeled for it. But as we took the ferry back to Cape Cod, the stars reflecting on the water, I felt so thankful I could have wept. I sat near the ferry’s railing, the beauty of the stars and the taste of tangy feta against sweet watermelon still on my tongue.
8 cups watermelon, cubed
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
¼ of a red onion, finely chopped
10 ounces arugula
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cube 8 cups of watermelon, and let the cubes marinate in the juice of one fresh squeezed lime for several hours.
Combine fresh squeezed lime juice and zest from the remaining lime, white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
At serving time, toss arugula with half the vinaigrette, and combine watermelon, feta, red onion, and fresh mint. Layer the watermelon mixture over the arugula, and drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
Serves: 6 to 8
About the Author
Shauna Niequist is an author and a guest teacher at her church. Shauna’s three great loves are her family, hosting dinner parties in her slightly-messy, normal home, and being a bookworm. She believes that vulnerable storytelling, hard laughter, and cold pizza for breakfast can cure almost anything. Shauna is married to Aaron, and they have two wild and silly and darling boys, Henry and Mac. They live outside Chicago.