I start a lot of books. I quit the bad, finish the good, and come back again and again to the truly great. Michele Cushatt’s newest, Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life, is one of those.
Michele is one of the most gifted communicators I know. I love the way she tells stories, shares insights, and reveals her fears and hopes in her speaking, blogging, and every week on my podcast. She’s what Brené Brown calls “wholehearted.”
But I can’t think of any place her talent and hard-won skill shines as brightly as in her new book.
Undone is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read, hands down. I know better, but Michele’s writing seems effortless. The story she’s telling, however, was (and still is) not. Early in the book she compares the main event of the book to “a tornado ripping through a town in just minutes but changing the landscape forever.”
That tornado was cancer.
I know enough about Michele’s story to expect some of what I read, but I was not prepared for how it would affect me. Like all great memoirs, despite all the different personal circumstances, I could find my own story in Michele’s and understand it so much better.
We’ve all been through hard times, haven’t we? And it’s helpful to have a witness to our trials and difficulties, a companion, someone who’s been there too.
Whatever challenges you’re facing right now, I believe Michele’s book can provide that connection for you—and more. As I read I spotted five dependable lifelines we can all grab to find peace in the midst of difficult times.
- Expressing gratitude. Michele’s story starts at Thanksgiving a few years back when she received the cancer diagnosis. In the midst of debilitating fear, it was easy to focus on everything she might lose.
But she came to see that gratitude kept her eyes on what she had already gained. Expressing gratitude was able to calm her fears and make room for joy.
- Staying in the present. In the face of trials, uncertainty and anxiety can drive need for assurances and answers. We can become almost paralyzed without them. But, as Michele says, that’s like trying live in the future. It can’t be done.
Whatever we’re facing, God meets our needs today. We’ll miss that if we scrounge for shortcut answers about our tomorrow.
Making room for inconvenience. While still recuperating from cancer surgery and what seem like never-ending complications, Michele and her husband—parents of three kids old enough that Mom and Dad were excited about the prospect of an empty nest—agree to parent three more children who need a home!
“We all felt like we were drowning,” she confessed about the result of that decision.
But in the midst of all the difficulties, what she came to see was that she had been trading significance and peace for mere comfort. When she made room for the inconveniences, she found unexpected miracles were sometimes tagging along.
Admitting we need help. Michele is not just a can-do person. She’s usually an already-done person. But extreme competence is not the same as super-hero powers. Soon the cancer recovery and the new mom concerns brought her to the end of herself and she suffered panic attacks, one life-threatening.
She got relief when she reached for help. “The beautiful thing? I discovered life is far more beautiful—and endurable—when you don’t have to do it alone.” True strength is admitting when we don’t have enough.
Changing our vantage point. Looking at a canvas up close, we can see all the gritty details, even the flaws. When we’re in the midst of hard times, it’s easy to focus on those and miss the bigger picture.
Michele had the same challenge. Getting some distance and perspective allowed her to see the bigger picture in which all harsh strokes and flaws are lost in the larger, grander story on view. As Michele found, that change of perspective can then alter our experience of pain and difficulty.
There is so much more in this book. It’s impossible to condense and summarize all the takeaways and insights in one blog post.
Undone may look like a book, but it’s really not. I’ve come to think of it as a life preserver.
As my friend Andy Andrews says, “We’re either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or headed for a crisis.” I cannot think of any book that can help us better prepare, survive, or understand the crises of our own lives than Michele Cushatt’s Undone.