bread & wine, part II: the skype date

So, remember that time I bought eight copies of Shauna Niequist’s new book Bread & Wine? And gushed about it to everyone I knew? And found a way to reference it in every conversation? And had my husband convinced I’d gone insane?

Well, two weeks ago it all paid off.

Since I picked up Cold Tangerines in college, I’ve always thought Shauna would be really fun to hang out with. If you’ve read any of her books, you know what I mean. She just sounds so down-to-earth; like she’s your best friend and mentor and small group leader and mom all at the same time. Whenever I would daydream, a version of this thought would play out in my mind:

If I ever make it to Chicago, I’m just going to email her and see if she wants to hang out. I’m just going to do it. And then hopefully she’ll invite me to her house for dinner.. or maybe to her favorite coffee shop.. and then we’ll be BEST FRIENDS. [cut to mental images of us collaborating on writing projects, cooking together, me babysitting her children.. you get the idea].

Seriously.

Back to reality on April 22, 2013. As I’m doing my daily reading of a few favorite blogs, I check Shauna’s to see if anything new has been posted. Lo and behold, there is something new, something very exciting. Shauna is offering the chance to Skype with her for 30 minutes with proof of purchasing five or more copies of Bread & Wine. I quickly do math in my head, realize that she’s talking about me (8 > 5) and immediately start jumping up and down, squealing and pumping my fists in the air like I’m Rocky Balboa (not really.. I was sitting at my desk at work.. but you better believe that’s what was happening internally).

And then I did something crazy.

I hesitated. If I email her, then I might actually get to talk to her, I thought. What would I even say? Would she think I was dumb? What if she’s not as nice as she seems in her writing? What if my dreams are crushed?

Hello, fear. It’s nice to see you again.

I do this all the time, and I’m going to believe I’m not the only one. Too often, I am my own worst enemy. Shooting ideas down in my head before they even have a chance to grow and take shape. I don’t wait around long enough to give it a chance, to let circumstances play out. I simply write myself off and attempt to move on.  I believe that I’m not good/cool/talented/smart enough, and it paralyzes me. Instead of chasing after things I’m passionate about, I sit still, crushing under the weight of fear.

But this was something I had dreamed about for years, and in a moment of grace I fought back. I got home from work, stacked five copies of Bread & Wine neatly on my coffee table, snapped a picture, and hit send. There. Done. It was a small thing, yes. But I was proud of myself. Proud that I didn’t let fear rule me. That I took a risk, however small. Even if I didn’t get chosen, at least I took the chance. Victory.

Two weeks ago, five of my closest friends and I skyped with Shauna (yes, we got chosen!). Our slotted time was later in the evening, so we met beforehand to cook dinner. The menu consisted of fish tacos, chips and guacamole, and an incredible salad made with vegetables my friend Katie earned while volunteering at an organic farm here in Austin. As the time grew nearer for our Skype date, I could feel myself getting antsy. I was checking the clock nervously, positioning the computer with sweaty palms.. I mean seriously. Who am I?

When Shauna called in, you would’ve thought we all just saw Ryan Gosling (OK, maybe it was just me). There was a collective gasp… then silence… then we were connected and it was giddy, high-pitched hellos and excitement. We told her we were from Austin, and she said she loves Austin and asked if we ever get drinks at the San Jose. We asked her how she met her husband, and how she started writing. She entertained us with stories, while we’re all sitting there trying to soak up her wisdom and life. Let’s be clear: she is just as delightful and hilarious and real in person as she is in her writing.

With a few minutes left in the call, we asked her what advice she would give a bunch of twenty-somethings who had no idea what to do with their lives. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her response. She told us to pursue our dreams. To not wait. And to help each other get there. We are our own worst critic, but the people close to us can see our gifts so clearly. Speak strengths to each other. Hold each other accountable in taking real action towards what we say we want. So simple, and so game changing.

And then she said,

If your thing is writing, and I don’t know if any of you are writers, but if you are… you have to start a blog.

My stomach twisted around itself approximately 400 times, and my heart clenched like a fist. A blog. That’s what I had known all along, and had been so afraid to do. It’s what I’d been saying I would do… someday… for years. It’s what I knew I had to do, and had talked myself out of so many times. But that night, hearing Shauna say it, made it real. Real enough to take another small step, to fight back against fear, to risk a little more.

So, here I am.

Oh, and Shauna, if I’m ever in the Chicago area I’ll most likely email you. And if you’re ever in Austin, let’s get drinks at the San Jose.

Are you your own worst critic? 

What helps you fight fear? 

What do you say is important to you? What’s holding you back from taking action towards it?

bread & wine, part I: the book and the table

I was introduced to Shauna Niequist, or rather her writing, when a friend recommended Cold Tangerines to me in college. I began reading, and being the sucker I am for a good memoir, I was instantly hooked. I discovered Bittersweet  two years later and devoured it. Getting lost in the stories about her life, the truth she learned about herself and God, all the while reveling in how wonderfully she intertwined the two together on such a relatable level.

As you know, I love writing and I love reading great writers. After reading her first two books, Shauna skyrocketed to the top spot on my list of favorite authors. Someone I looked up to, someone who’s writing I would love to emulate one day, someone I felt like I had a true connection with even though we had never met.

Then, I heard about Bread & WineAnd I could barely contain myself. I began a mental countdown this spring, frantically checking her blog to see when the book would be released. And the second it was, I instantly gave all our money to Amazon and bought eight copies- one for my mother, one for my mother-in-law, one for my four best friends, one for my sister-in-law, and one for myself… obviously. Taylor thought I had completely lost it. Who buys eight copies of the same book? he asked. This girl. 

Sometimes, there are those things in life that tug at your heart in ways you can’t explain. For me, Shauna’s writing is one of those things. It’s creative, honest, loving and challenging, gut-wrenching and hopeful. More than anything, it’s real. It’s about real life, real people, real food, real stories, real struggles, real victories and a very real God. That’s what made me fall in love with her writing in Cold Tangerines, and the writing in Bread & Wine is no different.

This book is everything you hope and long for it to be. Shauna writes so candidly about her experiences- on multiple occasions I cried and laughed out loud on the same page. She tells stories about the table, and the relationships that have been built and strengthened around it. She talks about food as more than something that physically nourishes, but something that can nourish our soul as well if we give it the opportunity. She encourages all of us to come to the table, to let people into the mess, to slow down and engage fully in the real life, the real faces, the tangible smells and tastes that are happening right in front of you. And it’s so beautiful. Even as I’m writing this, my heart is bursting with joy about this book. I can’t get over how gorgeous and truth-filled it is.

As if that weren’t enough, the recipes she includes are absolutely fantastic. Breakfast cookies and goat cheese scrambled eggs have become morning staples. A spicy tomatillo version of the White Chicken Chili was perfect for a crisp spring day in Austin, and a giant bowl of the Green Well Salad hit the spot at my mother-in-law’s house for a Mother’s Day dinner.

About a month ago, Taylor and I invited our friends Kelly and John over for dinner. They had gotten married two weeks before, and Taylor and I three months before. We were so excited to have friends over to our apartment, and I- currently in the middle of Bread & Wine– had dreamed about the menu all week. It was getting warmer, and I was aching for summer. So naturally, I decided the menu would be Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers, Watermelon Feta Salad, Sweet Potato Fries and a Blueberry-Peach Crisp with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream for dessert. John and Kelly brought ingredients for strawberry daiquiris, so we blended and grilled and tossed while both couples tried to contain their excitement. You see, Taylor’s parents and Kelly’s parents became friends while their children were young. They’ve raised their kids together, gone on vacations together and spent countless hours around a table. As a result, the Coulter’s and the Bixby’s really are like a family. Taylor and Kelly’s brother, Josh, are like brothers. Kelly and Taylor’s sister, Lindsay, like sisters. The two families could fill hours with stories about life they’ve experienced together. And that night as we sat down at the table, the realization sunk in that what we were experiencing was a tribute to the generation above us. Their willingness to welcome people in and know their stories was pivotal to us sitting down at the table together that night. They taught us what it looks like to live life in community, and we now have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with each other in the same way our parents did- what an incredible gift that is.

And so we ate and talked and laughed. We told funny stories and asked serious questions and lingered around the table. At one point John, who is an artist and wonderfully unique soul, after taking a bite of his turkey burger exclaimed,

This literally tastes like it’s from the banquet table in heaven!

And in a way, it was. The food was good. The Settlers of Catan game we embarked on after dinner was entertaining. But that night was a little taste of what we’ll get to do with John and Kelly for all eternity. We get to celebrate God’s goodness and his saving grace in our lives together in heaven, at a feast, forever.

And that is why I love Bread & Wine so much. It reveals how sacred even the most simple things in life are. It implores us to slow down, lest we miss how delicious life can taste.

You can find Bread & Wine at AmazonBarnes & Noble or ChristianBook.com. I highly recommend picking up a copy (or eight).