The Exuberant Writer

An exuberant extrovert, Shauna Hybels Niequist ’98 finds it challenging to channel her thoughts into ordered paragraphs. She gets too easily distracted by the e-mails that pop up in her inbox, the concern that surfaces for a hurting friend or the food she plans to prepare for dinner. But she perseveres and eventually produces a joyful jumble of words infused with her engaging personality and love for God. Anyone who reads her book, “Cold Tangerines,” becomes her friend, a keeper of her confidences, a sharer in her sorrows.

Shauna always wanted to be a writer. She majored in English at Westmont and went on England Semester with Professor Heather Speirs. She kept a journal. She read good books. And she decided to get a doctorate and become a professor. But after she graduated, Shauna sensed a need to return home to Chicago for a year before going to graduate school. She got a job doing youth work at Willow Creek Community Church, where her father, Bill Hybels, is the senior pastor.

“Student ministry really captured me,” she said. “I put away the grad school applications and stayed for five years.” That’s where she met her husband, Aaron. The couple left Willow Creek for Grand Rapids, Mich., where they worked in the same church, she doing youth ministry, he leading worship. It was a good life — but she never had any time for writing.

Then three things happened all at the same time: A publisher looking for young authors asked her to submit a book proposal; she became pregnant; and she left her job. Because she had never had a child before — or written a book — she thought she could do both at the same time.

But she had to learn how to write first, and she had to convince her extrovert self to spend the necessary solitary time in front of a computer. She worked on these challenges throughout her pregnancy. Neither undertaking proved to be smooth. But her life had contained plenty of ups and downs, and, in her customary way, she worked through it. Finally, as the mother of the newly born Henry, she started writing.

The result, “Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life,” (Zondervan, 2007) is about as honest and good-humored as personal reflections can be. Choosing to write a multitude of short chapters, Shauna has packed so much life and thought into each one that the length seems just about right. She talks candidly about her struggles with her weight, her self-image and her writing in a style both serious and hilarious.

“Being a mom and a writer bring out the better parts of me,” she says. “The combination forces me to slow down and see things more clearly. I tend to move too quickly and be too easily distracted. But babies need your entire attention — and writing is about making something from nothing. Writing and child-rearing have healed me and given me direction and a way of living I had been looking for. For example, I have learned to see my son, Henry, as a distinct person with his own needs. He’s not just someone I can simply bring along into my own life. The only way parenting works is when you put our child’s needs ahead of yours. I’m the only person who can be Henry’s mother — other people can write, speak and entertain.”

Shauna is working on a new book that will follow the format of “Cold Tangerines.” She’s running into the usual problem: finding time to write while reading good books, speaking at colleges, conferences and churches, hosting fabulous dinner parties — and being a wife and mother.

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