Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

My wonderful husband, seeing Anne Lamott’s latest book on my Amazon wish list, preordered it for me. It came in on Wednesday, and I refused to open the Amazon box until I finished The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, knowing I would want to dive in right away, knowing that the other book would lie sadly discarded in a corner. And that’s not really fair to it, now is it. Plus, I don’t do more than one book at a time. Also, my book club is next week, so I really seriously needed to finish The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. But when that was done and I finally, gleefully, got to open the box, I felt a little weepy, like, “If I start this, I will finish it, and then what will I look forward to?” There’s a huge stack of books waiting to be read that is right next to the door of my room because I haven’t even bothered to move them next to my bed. And yet I ask that question.

Maybe it’s just that it was a weepy sort of week. I would find myself talking to people about the Boy Scout who was missing and realize that I was doing a terrible job of fighting off tears, driving down the road. It was even worse when he was found. And at other times, to be honest. A random song on my iPod, Elizabeth Edwards having cancer again (she has small children, you guys. This is very sad). It’s a good thing I stayed out of the Hallmark store, is what I am saying.

I feel like I kind of grew up with Anne Lamott. Or because of Anne Lamott. But I’d prefer to say “with,” because it makes me feel like we’re friends journeying together. I didn’t know it at the time, but the day I bought Traveling Mercies because I was in a very very bad time (I spent years, it seems now, in a very very bad time) and went home and made myself a bubble bath and got in the tub and started reading, that was a turning point of sorts. I wouldn’t let myself finish it. I rationed it, so it wouldn’t be over. I walked around in a state of wide-eyed wonder. I read passages to people. I was the most annoying kind of reader there is – the one who wants to convert you to a book that was changing everything. A book proselytizer. I apologize to all of you who went through that with me.

I’m not sure whether I can articulate exactly what I have learned from her, but it has something to do with keeping a sense of humor about yourself, about knowing the times and places to be irreverent, about forgiveness and not expecting to get everything right the first time . . . or at all, really, because we are broken and flawed people here. And it helps to remember the same things about other people, too. Traveling Mercies was the right book at exactly the right time – it began to nudge me out of the self-pity I was mired in, it gave me the courage to start standing up for myself in certain ways. It helped me see faith as a gift rather than a claustrophobic closet.

If Traveling Mercies was a defining sort of book for me, Plan B and Grace (Eventually) are like continuing a conversation with a friend over many years. Those friends who can see you change, who can see the edges sort of softening, who can see you working things out and becoming more sure of yourself and what you believe.

I am the fangirliest of fangirls when it comes to Anne Lamott’s nonfiction, and so I come to her books knowing that I am going to find something to like about them. And, of course, I did like Grace (Eventually). There wasn’t really any question, but it’s nice to have that settled.

When I was on vacation, I needed to buy a bathing suit, which is something that can send any woman into the depths of despair. And there was a point in a snooty department store where I did indeed approach despair and Mike dragged me out by the arm before I assaulted the smug saleslady. But then I was in Target, trying on bathing suits, and I looked in the mirror and I was able to see, really see, in a dressing room. See more than just my flaws. And I took off the awful bathing suit I was trying on and I put my clothes back on and I said, “I will never in my life look better than I do right now, and I am not going to settle for a bathing suit that doesn’t make me look and feel incredible.” I think maybe I learned a little bit of that from Anne Lamott, though it’s taken a few years for it to sink in. She treads some of that ground again in this book: beauty and losing self-consciousness. Looking at pictures of herself from different decades of her life and appreciating her past self in ways that she wasn’t able to at the time. I don’t want to waste all these prime years wishing I looked like something else instead of appreciating who I am. I think maybe I learned some of that from everything that happened in the past year, too. We don’t have that long here, and I do want to exercise and be healthy and feed myself well. But I also want to eat the dark chocolate, and I’d rather eat it than starve myself for a couple of pounds that no one on the beach is going to notice anyway.

(I do not remember this all the time. But I’m writing it down as evidence that I have at least thought it at some point.)

She also talks about forgiveness, and here is what I think about forgiveness. When you’re small and someone apologizes and you say, “I forgive you,” you maybe come to think that it’s a one-time deal. And, in those situations, that’s probably exactly what it is. I don’t feel the need to have a heart-to-heart with Little Billy about that time he pushed me off the swing. But, for most of life, it’s really really not a one-time deal. It’s a process, a state of mind. I will probably be forgiving some people for the rest of my life, because the experiences I have for the rest of my life will continue to illuminate the ways in which I have been hurt and am experiencing loss because of these people. So, to hear Anne Lamott talking about forgiveness again could be considered a retread, but I see it as another step in the journey, to return to the issue with new insight, with new experience, ready to try again in a different way. We have to keep talking about it because we have to keep learning how to do it. (Maybe that’s just me.)

Grace (Eventually) was also about the other things that Anne Lamott books are about: peace and caring for our planet and life and death and parenting and addiction. There was even a very special chapter that I’m sure she wrote just for me that was all about raising money for libraries in which she said things like, “We were there to celebrate some of the rare intelligence capabilities that our country can actually be proud of–those of librarians. I see them as healers and magicians.” Yep. Shout-out to me, definitely.

As with her other nonfiction, the story of Grace (Eventually) is that she’s getting there. By God’s grace, with a community of church and friends, and with a little bit of black humor, she’s getting there. And this book, taken in conjunction with the others, reminds me that I am, too.

(So, I read two books I haven’t posted about: The Other Boleyn Girl and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. I might get back to them or not. I just . . . really wanted to write about this one.)

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