Story weekend ("meeting" Anne Lamott)

I had forgotten how big and shiny downtown Toronto is. It's been years since my last visit. Montreal feels downright homey, provincial and quaint compared to Toronto's towers, condo highrises and transit infrastructure.

I wasn't overwhelmed but I was a bit awe-struck. Travel and visiting new, or forgotten, places always shifts my perspective, which is traveling's primary selling feature: you see the world through a different lens and discover new stories.

Friday night with Anne and Steve (since I sat in the front row I'm now on a first name basis) was beyond compare. According to the introduction, this was Anne's first talk that she's given in Canada. And I was there! It felt like an historic moment.

I don't very often think of middle aged women as groupies but it feels an accurate description for the crowd gathered that evening.

The average age of the audience was probably 50. There was a large contingent of vivacious-looking women in their sixties. Women that looked like Anne herself, or my mom. There were the forty somethings like myself, and bookending our numbers were white and silver haired elders and a few fresh faces in their twenties and thirties.

my view from the front row!

We were a group of women, and a few men, who shared in common a hungering for spiritual honesty, stories to make us laugh and cry, someone to tell us "me too".

The evening was hosted by the Henri Nouwen society. Henri Nouwen was an internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor. He was one of the most significant spiritual leaders of the late 20th century and his knowledge, ideas, and way of living (in service to society's marginalized) were instrumental in transforming many people's lives. Anne was speaking to those themes in her lecture.

I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples. – Henri J. M. Nouwen

I felt a little silly for how giddy, warm, energized, and understood I felt in that room.

I am fairly certain we all feel like we don't fit the mold; a mothering mold, a marriage/partnership mold, a homeschooling mold. I experience all of that, but I also feel I don't fit into the evangelical Christian mold very well either.

Where I'm at these days, in the expression of my faith, is that my corporate worship looks very contemporary evangelical, that's where I feel most at home in a gathering of believers. I am very expressive in group worship settings, a happy, clappy Jesus follower to the core. While my intimate spiritual practices veer hard towards contemplation, meditation, and solitude. To seek God in quiet and rest and to minister from a place of shared brokenness, not to fix people but to love them.

For these personal spiritual practices I draw a lot from non-evangelical traditions (Quakers and Catholics mostly) and non-Christian philosophies and ideas.

This is why Friday night was so profound for me. Steve Bell is a Christian pilgrim, he defies the mold; his music is rich with truth, beauty, and love that transcend religious affiliation. I feel closer to God every time I listen to his music, which means I listen often. Anne's northern California, left leaning, honest-speaking, social justice expression of loving and being loved by Jesus refreshes me to the core. And the backdrop for all of this is the transformational work of Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and spiritual thinker.

I felt full of love, full of God's presence. I think I was drunk on the Holy Spirit. My mom, who I was texting during the early part of the evening, "I'm sitting in the same row as ANNE!!", said that she and Dad had prayed that this night would "pour life into my spirit". What a gift to have praying parents who love and understand me.

You can see why I didn't want the evening to end. Just writing about this now, the following Wednesday morning, gives me a sense of peace and wellbeing.

It never even occurred to me to bring my copy of Bird by Bird for Anne to sign, so I missed out on meeting her personally, a moment in which I would have no doubt mumbled something embarrassing in my excitement and adoration.

I suppose I could have stood in the book line, empty-handed and full-hearted, to say, like so many devoted readers, "I love your writing", when what I really wanted to say is "I love you". But that felt foolish, which maybe I am.

After Anne, in my drug-free intoxicated state, I managed to find the subway station to get to Anna's house where I was sleeping for the night.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of getting to know Anna and to meet her family. There was not enough time to talk about all there was to learn about each other. To share our ideas and experiences on homeschooling, perfectionism, achievement, business and entrepreneurship, raising teens, adventuring and being rooted. The rush of words that we tried to fit in to roughly five hours was almost comical.

Everyone's life is rich with story. We have no idea how interesting our story is to other people because our normal is their uncharted territory and vice versa.

Dropping into someone's life like I did at Anna's house is a gift because like experiencing a new city, your perspective shifts. You see life from a different point of view.

I experienced this on the Appalachian Trail also. When we were hosted by people along the way we dropped into their lives for 24 hours or so. They would meet our very physical needs - feeding us, driving us to the grocery store, offering us a place to sleep and shower. And at every stop I felt there was not enough time to get to know these people, to get to know you.

I always have something in common with blog friends who I meet in person, it might be a shared education philosophy, a spiritual experience or understanding, a love of nature, views on family life, simple living values, etc. There's always a common thread but so much is different.

Years ago I read the following advice given to bloggers who want to grow their audience: create reader profiles or personas for the type of reader you want to attract to your blog. Basically, identity your target "market" and write for them.

As a memoirist it feels like I mostly write for myself, I need to get this stuff out of my head. And I invite, by way of publicly posting, people to share in my story.

In my experience of meeting people who read my blog, having the privilege to stay in their homes and meet their families, the people who read this blog defy reader profiles or personas. I don't think of you that way. I've met you, and you are so beautiful and interesting in your own right, the thought of mixing Lisa's homeschool story, with Melanie's faith, with Krista's homemaking, with Amanda's outdoor experiences feels like a strange game of Mr. Potato Head with people who's individual lives are unique and precious.

You, reading this post, are real, and that you visit occasionally or regularly is such an honor. And that I can sometimes meet you and sleep on your couch is such a gift.

After my too-brief meeting with Anna I was back on the Go Transit system out to Guelph to drop into my brother's life.

My brother and I have both experienced a late thirties/early forties breaking and rebuilding in our personal lives and marriages. We have both experienced pain in the last couple years that we did not see coming. Our stories are different and his is definitely not mine to share but Anne's enduring message of "me too" reverberated through our brief hours together.

I don't get to see Brad very often so we picked up right where we left off with the books we're reading, what we're learning about ourselves, places we're hurting and healing. Brad inspires me with his commitment to personal growth, self-awareness and steadfast love.

Again, so much to say and share and so little time. But a little time is better than no time.

Sunday was a day of transit, back to Toronto, back to Montreal. I slept a bit on the bus and had time to think about the stories of this weekend (and write the bones of this post).

And now I am back to being present in our family story, which is singularly focused on the preparation (rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsals) for next weekend's sold out drama production at co-op.

Celine will turn seventeen in a few days and we are trying to plan a party or casual gathering that we can squeeze into the one free day, which happens to be her actual birthday, between rehearsals.

We embark on adventures and we learn courage as we encounter challenges. We break and we rebuild with a deeper understanding of our true identity and purpose. We mess up and are forgiven. We forgive. We root ourselves in the love of family and friends. We work to put food on the table. We experience God in small (a deep breath) and profound (a night with Anne Lamott) ways. We raise our children. We live more stories.

« Within the realm of possibility
Five minute fix to my biggest problems »
  • Krista

    Krista on May 19, 2016, 4:15 p.m.

    This is really beautiful for so many reasons - you touched on so much in this single post!

    The women who are meeting with me on my blog or FB page are so interesting and I never could have hand-picked them, necessarily, as my 'audience' and yet they are the ones coming and listening and commenting and I want to get to know them more and hear their stories.

    I love that you had this weekend with your brother to connect and learn together.

    I think I get how you feel like you love Anne... words others have spoken or written have made me feel understood, or helped me see life in such a different way, or helped me to heal, and I feel such affection toward these people who gave me life through their words.

    And when you write about your mixture of evangelical expression and more quiet and contemplative spiritual practices I get this, too. Though I am less sure perhaps than you of exactly who I am in this area of life. But definitely not pentecostal though I attend a pentecostal church. A seeker/imperfect follower of Jeshua but one who wrestles, doubts, questions, needs and grows in solitude rather than in crowds or corporate worship, One who wants to speak and teach within the church about getting real about our brokenness and putting an end to performance.



  • Nancy

    Nancy on May 20, 2016, 12:49 a.m.

    So glad that you had that experience! I love Anne Lamott but I've only ever read Bird by Bird (a must when I taught English Language Arts) and I follow her on Facebook, so I get her daily musings and thoughts. 



  • Anna

    Anna on May 20, 2016, 3:11 a.m.

    So so great to have you, even for the briefest of time, and rain showers, and serendipity meetings, and cram it all in, but never enough subway drop off, car conversations.  There will be next time.


  • Joy

    Joy on May 20, 2016, 3:54 a.m.

    Oh, my heart; it keeps singing, "me, too! me, too!" as I'm reading this post. What a joy and a blessing and a comfort to soul-connect, if only through these beautiful words and pictures. Bless you, Renee!


  • Ruth L

    Ruth L on May 20, 2016, 2:32 p.m.

    What a marvelous getaway for you, Renee!   I must say I'm more than a little jealous - besides never seeing more than Toronto than the airport, Steve is probably my favorite Christian artist - we've been to several of his concerts, from small churches to the Winspear with the ESO.  And although I've never heard Anne, I have read a couple of her books in the past!  Plus a visit with your brother - now that's always an added blessing, I know from experience!!   So thrilled with you that you were able to experience it all!!   Hugs, my little niece~


    • renee

      renee on May 20, 2016, 2:50 p.m.

      Hugs to you also! It was such a treat to get away and have the spirit feed so richly. Unfortunately Steve was just the introduction to Anne and not a full concert. I could have listened for a couple hours to his music and then hours of Anne speaking! xo


  • Wanda

    Wanda on May 20, 2016, 5:54 p.m.

    Well Renee!  I will admit that I am jealous of this trip and yet so grateful that you shared your experience of it.  Your experience/story was a 'me too' moment.  Anne Lammott and Henri Nouwen are my two favorite authors because of their authentic voice.  Bird by Bird has been seriously dog eared and The Wounded Healer is amazing.  Wow.  So cool that you got to do this trip.  

    It is a pleasure to read your memoirist blog and feel honored that you share.  It always surprises me how we can all live different lives yet share similar themes.  Kindred.  May your experience this past weekend continue to resonate.  W



You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.