Book Review: Bittersweet

I may be late to the game, but I recently read Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. Shauna is a Christian author who would undoubtedly be my friend if our real life paths ever crossed. Her book is a series of stories, life experiences and encouragements written within the common themes of change, pain and grace. Shauna’s writing style incorporates humility, humor and faith through the perspective of personal hardship. Shauna touches on everything from marriage, deep lasting friendships, miscarriage, death, travel, writing, and personal failures and accomplishments. This book is a compilation of reflections during a life “season” which proves entirely relatable to this female, Christian, blogger, and thus the basis of our hypothetical friendship. My future book (which may never actually exist) would read similar to Shauna’s, largely due to our shared interests, with the exception of her great love for feeding others and entertaining. You can come over, but I’ll probably just have chips and salsa. As I read Bittersweet, I found myself in her crowd of company and in her deepest sentiments and in the pursuit of her goals. I believe Shauna’s own words will give the best glance into the authentic storyline of a Christian writer living an ordinary life with an extraordinary God:

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“This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all along, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.”

“When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

“Writing wakes me up, lights me on fire, opens my eyes to the things I can never see and feel when I’m hiding under the covers, cowering and consumed with my own failures and fears.”

“I didn’t think either of us were going to cheat or leave, but I was, in my most private, fearful moments, afraid that the damage would be irreparable, and that we would slide into being one of those couples who closed their hearts to one another in the deepest way.”

“Full life is lived when the whole system works together, when rest and home and peace live hand in hand with taste and sparkle and go.”

And I would quote the entire last chapter because it is power, but you’ll just have to read it yourself.

Shauna, thank you for being real and inspiring me to tell my stories, no matter the cost. Thank you for telling your readers, “If you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have within you all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world. Your story must be told.”

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A Loud Mind

My mind whispers thoughts endlessly, thoughts of criticism, insecurity, routine and obligation. An incoming train of words and admonishments- memories of joy and the pitfalls of mistakes. Only the deepest sleep allowing the switch to be turned and blackness to drain out the constant holler of my mind.

A peaceful state is a distant dream. This is an affliction of the mind, an unending form of anxiety attacking the core of functioning. Failures, missteps and embarrassments play their picture show without the viewer’s consent. A compulsion of counting through clenched teeth pushes me through the scene.

How do I turn it off? How do I halt the thoughts?

I’m frozen at a railroad crossing with no end of this eternal train in sight.  I pray these words out loud to drown the internal drum:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6)

I repeat the praises until I find rest; until my mind finds solace in the hands of God. I am hemmed into the fabric of grace, and I am completely covered: A blanket of peace that shrouds even the most boisterous of fears.

Compassion Trumps Judgment: A Lesson from Dialysis Patients

As a clinical social worker, I work with very ill people with chronic conditions, amputations, and a physical attachment to a machine that performs the tasks their organs have failed to do. These people are often stigmatized because of the history which led them to this place. Many have diabetes and high blood pressure- conditions which can be controlled with diet and medication compliance. Along the way in life there were distractions, children, financial strains and, honestly, pure denial. These individuals trying to make it through life ended up as patients on a dialysis machine. The reality of their situation is harsh. Not only are they on more restrictions, medications, and diets than their original condition called for, but now they are judged for being sick. I get it; I see where these people failed to make good choices and care for their health. I also so happen to get to know these individuals as just that- real, human, people who love, laugh, care, and survive despite their inherited genetic condition or self-induced disease. In either situation there is suffering, and it is undeniable. Is it ever an appropriate response to someone else’s suffering to say, “Well that’s what you get for [fill in the blank of something you may be guilty of as well]?” It’s surely not the most loving response.

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I could guarantee the decrease in distanced judgment via direct observation and interaction with the patients (the people) I work with every day. These people are funny and kind and some are doctors and nurses.  There are people on hemodialysis working full time jobs and making it to every four hour treatment three times a week (something I’m not sure I could do myself). They are worthy of education and quality care. You could be attached to a dialysis machine too and self-willing your kidneys to work properly could not keep you from it. Kidney disease happens, sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly, sometimes not at all- and that does not make one superior- it makes one a human with functioning kidneys. Everyone has weakness; I’ve never met someone who is perfectly strong in everything. I don’t think humans come in that model. 

I have battled my own judgments and frustration transitioning into the world of nephrology. My goal as their social worker is for the patients to have a good quality of life and that often equates to behavior change. Sometimes this does not happen the way I would like, and sometimes patients die because of their choices. The individual with the malady is capable of changing everything or unable to escape the heavy-load of their life, but they surely deserve a helping hand along the way. The patients are the ones who suffer most, and I am now able to recognize the internal pain of dependence on others, of which they are so often blamed.  

My hope personally is to be changed by the love of these people who have lived a unique life story, made mistakes, received forgiveness, survived another day and yet care enough to talk to me. My hope for the world is to embrace education on prevention, love the person-not the disease, and find a cure! A doctor told me recently that artificial kidneys will be in use within our lifetime. How wonderful it is to know that all the patients attached to a dialysis machine could someday walk away with their own new kidney and live free from the constraints of constant healthcare, chemicals and fellow man’s downward eye.  It is always a sobering dose of reality when a former patient walks through the door of the dialysis center post-transplant. They become just another person with functioning kidneys making their way through life with all the potential in the world, just like you and just like me.

If you have a passion for individuals with kidney disease or have been blessed with healthy kidneys and love to help others feel free to donate towards my town’s Kidney Walk!

A Song, A Book, A Podcast

Looking for entertainment via several forms of media? Here’s a list!

1. If you ever want to dance while doing the dishes, put THIS SONG on. I literally first experienced this song in the kitchen, doing the dishes, and things got so much more exciting.

2. My bestie and fellow blogger Kelly introduced me to the Serial Podcast, and I’ve become a Serial groupie just like all the other hipsters out there in Podcast land. This Season’s episodes are online and ready for you to take a listen. Season One of Serial is a journalist’s personally invested reporting of a murder case in which the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The problem with this case is the evidence is weak, based largely on the testimony of one person, and we can’t be certain if this teen (at the time) was falsely imprisoned. The final episode was released this week and I love, love, love the ending. It doesn’t end how you think but rather how it should. Listen to it so we can annoyingly and unendingly talk about a case that may never be solved.

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3. My most recent read was written by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Malala Yousafzai. Malala is a Muslim Pakistani girl who lived in the Swat Valley where she experienced Taliban rule. Malala was raised by an impassioned and politically involved father who always encouraged his daughter to speak out against terrorists in their own religion and fight for the rights of others. Malala’s main campaign was the provision of education to girls in Pakistan. Malala fought for her cause in the midst brutal terrorism and was consequently shot in the head for it by none other than the Taliban. Malala’s story is gallant, current, and inspirational. As a Christian, I think this novel is especially important as a window into the views of the Islam faith by everyday followers. I simply admire Malala’s bravery.

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I will continue to devour Spotify, NPR, and bargain books and let you know what I find. 🙂

FSU Shooting and the Shooter.

This horrific shooting came right after my last blog post about visiting my alma mater for homecoming, filled with memories and landmarks of FSU I hold dear- including Strozier Library. I awoke to the news by way of text from my Dad (also an FSU alum.) which simply stated there was shooting on FSU’s campus. I immediately looked up the news story and then immediately was brought to tears when I read that violence had touched my home of five years. I watched the videos and  pictures of the chaos. Now I know, more than ever, how heartbreaking a tragedy is when it touches a place you know so intimately. I was just sitting in front of Strozier on Landis Green. How could a shooting occur in a place I know so well? It happens, all too frequently. I am thankful to God that no students or employees were killed, but I pray for the injured students as well as those who are traumatized from witnessing the event; I know I would be.

Since Florida State is the reason I hold my Masters of Social Work degree, I hope to view this tragedy through the education FSU gave me. I read this article regarding Myron May, who will now forever be known as the FSU shooter. Assuming this article is correct, I see a glaring answer to our unexplained and unexpected intended mass shooting.

Mental Illness.

I work as a medical social worker and have frequent exposure to the intensity and, sometimes, total savagery of mental illness. I see people in acute psychosis, and they are controlled by emotions of anger, paranoia and often confusion. Myron May himself stated he was in spiritual warfare, and I can understand the demons he spoke of when I see those struggling with an unelicited internal evil.  If Myron May was indeed having delusions of persecution, auditory and visual hallucinations, and a break down in his normal way of living I would imagine he had a schizophrenia diagnosis or maybe Major Depression with psychotic features. Mental Illness, especially MI with hallucinations and delusions, is devastating on the mind. Fortunately, I meet with individuals who have Schizophrenia (one of the most severe forms of mental illness) who are living their lives safely with the support of medical and therapeutic professionals. But it’s not always easy to get there especially during the first signs something is wrong.

I don’t have all the political and moral answers to this crime, but I do have a charge and insight on the prevention of this type of murder. Myron needed more help than he received, he needed follow up and medication to control his symptoms. I wish he would have received more services, more attention, more anything really relating to his needs prior to opening gunfire on innocent people. It’s easy, yet unfair, to play the blame game on his friends and family (why didn’t you see it), but we can only move forward and take responsibility as a society to help those suffering from severe mental illness. It’s a very difficult job to do, but I am thankful for those I work with every day who make it their life’s work to help individual’s with maladies of the mind, who are often stigmatized and left untreated.

I hope this situation never occurs again, but I know this world is full of suffering, illness, sin, and even evil. So, each of us should do our part to love a little more and comfort those touched by tragedy to prevent an expression of anger in place of the reciprocation of kindness.

I pray for healing for everyone involved.

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“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” – Luke 6:35-36

Homecoming

It’s been a while. I graduated from Florida State in April 2012 and I have only returned to Tallahassee once since my permanent departure. So, when my college bestie Kelly planned a trip back to our stomping grounds for her birthday, I was all in. Over the past three years, I have heard rumors of some sprucing up in Tally. Without a doubt, my return held some fantastic surprises (honestly ones that made me a little angry that they didn’t exist when I lived in Tally):

1. Pretty much every day of my freshman and sophomore years in college you could hear me state, “We really need a Chick Fil A on Tennessee St.” Well imagine my surprise when we drove down Tallahassee’s main road to discover a humungous CFA right across from my old apartment!! The jealousy was all-consuming.

2. Tacos. Tallahassee can do margaritas, but they did not do tacos when I lived there. I’m Spanish and from Central Florida, I know tacos. This is not the case any more! Kelly and I discovered a little taqueria called Taco Republik in the “midtown” area of Tallahassee. Wow wow wow. Great straight forward tacos that made your mind explode. I ordered the carnitas tacos with chipotle aioli and that’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to eat since I took my first bite. Still wanting those tacos right. meow.

3. Gaines Street. Gaines Street was an area stuck between downtown and the FSU campus. Gaines is known as the art district area and has always held a unique culture of business. They were working on modernizing the area when I left Tallahassee, but now it’s nearly unrecognizable. In a good way. Several large brick buildings with apartments and restaurants on street level have been built, and Gaines Street now holds the Biggest Urban Outfitters I have ever stepped in to. An Urban Outfitters essentially on campus- that’s some dangerous stuff. Gaines Street is now official popping off.

In addition to the new discoveries, Kelly and I also visited our old homes together and attended the FSU vs. Virginia homecoming game. I’m a diehard FSU fan and being back in DOAK made my heart tingle. There is nothing like the Florida State campus, and I am an unashamedly proud alumnus (despite ESPN trying to single handedly ruin our university’s reputation).

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1. Jennie Murphree is the freshman girls only dorm Kelly and I both lived in our first year at college. The dorms were small but livable, and I wouldn’t trade the random roommate, embarrassing memories, or unlimited food plan for anything (hello freshman twenty). Jennie is on the “old” side of campus and it exudes an undeniable historic beauty.

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2. Anyone who has ever gone to FSU, probably since the 1800s, has sat in the glory of Landis Green. This “grassy knoll” sits in the middle of several historic buildings and gives the student the most cliche area to read, cuddle with a college boyfriend, or play ultimate frisbee. An entire college movie could be filmed on Landis and you still wouldn’t understand the intangible feeling of sitting on Landis on a perfect Spring day.

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3. Doak Campbell stadium is one of the most exciting places in the world. It’s even more exciting when your team is undefeated, the whole world hates you, and we still keep winning 😉 As alum, Kelly and I purchased 7th row tickets in the FSU section next to the student section. I loved the crazy commitment of being in the student section back in my prime, but I think I may love this more:10734061_10205033408773017_6911663907383658730_o

two words- cushioned seats. I am slowly coming to accept my age and an insatiable need for comfort.

Also, Gluten Free hot dogs in a stadium!!?? Oh how things have changed for the better, Tallahassee!!

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All in Alll, Kelly and I had a fantastic homecoming and birthday celebration in Tallahassee experiencing the old (dancing like rejects at Bullwinkle’s) and the new. I think we both feel a little older after living among the college students for a weekend, but we will forever treasure the love we have for FSU and the little town of Tallahassee.

GO NOLES!!!

Camille Annalise

My sister was strolling through Sports Authority in search of tennis shoes when she first felt the tell-tale warm sensation and soon realized she was not peeing her pants. At 35 weeks, my sister’s water broke in the mall with all three children, including the two year old. She calmly, yet quickly, rounded up the troops with, thankfully, a friend’s assistance and drove herself to the hospital in a rental Chrysler Town ‘N Country.

If you remember anything about the last time my sister gave birth to my nephew Crew, she didn’t have time to relax because we all assumed the baby would be delivered within an unnatural 30 minutes or so.

We soon found out that this baby girl had a different plan in mind and preferred to make her momma wait through contractions (like a normal person’s delivery).

My family and I patiently waited into the evening until the three younger boys were ready to fall out from need of sleep. My sweet husband (bless him) took kid duty and my mother, Keanna’s dad, and myself were committed for the long haul.

After a dose and then another of Pitocin, I received a text message around 1:20am that she was 5 cm then about 2 minutes later another that said 7 cm and the final text from my sister which simply stated: “moving very quickly.”

At 1:51am Camille Annalise made a grand entrance into her yet undiscovered world.  And we all immediately fell in love with my family’s first little princess.

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Crew is entirely unsure of what to make of this little squirmy thing. I see jealousy issues in the near future…

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The oldest and the youngest.

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A newborn’s cry is the sweetest sound.

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Bows!!!

Camille Annalise Waldeck

5lbs. 11 oz.

July 30, 2014

Happy Birthday sweet girl!