For years, people have recommended I read the work of Anne Lamott. "You'd love her! She talks a lot about writing and faith!" For a long time, I completely ignored these people.
When I finally looked her up online, I was immediately turned off. I mean, for Heaven's sake, she has dreadlocks. It's not that I hate dreadlocks--but in my mind they are similar to moustaches, tube tops, and long hair on men; only a select group of people can pull the look off. Anne is a Caucasian, 61-year old woman who wears glasses. In my estimation, she falls outside the range of "acceptable dreadlock wearers." Thus, I was not impressed. Nevertheless, I decided to forge ahead in my usual thoughtful, deep way. I followed her on Twitter.
Oh my, oh my, I did not like her tweets. One would think that a woman who wrote a book with the title "Bird by Bird" would tweet out little 140-character songs of sweetness and light. No such luck. I found her tweets to be incendiary, maddening, and waaaayyy outside the lines of mainline Christian opinions. I finally had to unfollow her. She made me too uncomfortable.
But Anne would not be silenced.
Recently I was doing some research about the craft of writing. I am constantly on the lookout for resources that affirm writing is hard but worth it and that I'm not the only person who loves to write but finds it gut-wrenchingly difficult.
So when I stumbled across a TED talk called "12 truths I Learned from Life and Writing" I was intrigued. Then I realized it was Anne Lamott giving the talk. Uh-oh. Will her presentation be as distressing as her tweets? Will she be as clearly "not me" as I've gathered in all 11 minutes of my shallow, cursory research of her? Despite my reservations, I decided to keep watching. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, staring at her dreadlocks while she talked about her grandson. She's someone's grandmother?? My grandmother got her hair done once a week, listened to polkas on her 8-track player, and wore pantyhose with shorts. I'm pretty sure Anne doesn't even own pantyhose.
After a brief opening, she began to share her 12 truths about life and writing. She started with this:
"Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it's impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It's been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive."
Anne put into a few succinct, beautifully crafted sentences what I've tried to say in one book, dozens of blogs, and countless speaking engagements. Oh boy. I was drawn in by this woman with a heart like mine but very much "not me".
Anne went on to talk about food, faith, and family. Her observations about writing made me burst out crying in comfort, relief, shared laughter and anguish that it's as hard as I think it is. Her talent, expediency and poignancy made me want to quit writing forever and simultaneously never stop. She was cogent, winsome, gentle, and funny.
In short, she was everything I imagined her not to be.
I will not go into all she said; I encourage you to watch the talk for yourself. But here's one other thing she observed:
"The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world....Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn't leave you where it found you."
What wonderful wisdom.
Anne Lamott's tweets and dreadlocks are part of her, but if I decide to believe it is all of her, I'd be less of a thinker, writer, Christian, human being. I almost missed her gifts because I was hoping they would be wrapped in packaging a bit more like me. Her message of grace would be so much more digestible if it came from someone with a hairstyle I liked. From someone whose theology is in lock step with mine. From someone who wasn't so darn talented it makes me feel like closing up my computer and never writing another thing because her words make me ache with longing and insecurity about my own.
But isn't that just what Jesus asks of us? To be intentional about seeing those we are too uncomfortable, too insecure, too dang sure of ourselves to be drawn to? Aren't we called to see, embrace, and even learn from those who are "not me"? Not only the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy, but people who lead lives far different from our own; the artists, the communicators, the people on this planet who see things from perspectives that will make us shift in our seats. If we sit in an echo-chamber of our own opinions and hairstyles, how is there room to learn? How can our hearts expand in the contained space of a comfort zone? How can we see past looks, location, or language and find hearts that hurt and love just like ours if we don't sit down to listen?
Anne crow-barred her way into my heart by speaking on things that I related to. Next time, I hope my heart is big enough, my mind humble enough, and my beliefs strong enough to open my heart to those I can't relate to at all. Jesus made a lot of friends (and some stiff-necked enemies) by reaching out to those who were far different than He. Who knows? Some might have even had dreadlocks. He taught us that when we follow Him, the things we can be most sure of will make little logical sense. Love your enemies. Weakness is strength. The first are last. The poor are rich. As Anne said, truth is a paradox.
I've got a long way to go on the journey of my own undoing. But this life of following Christ is one of grace; it is healing us, changing us, and perhaps, as we see Christ in one another, it can heal our world.
Melissa Maimone is a Christian speaker and author of the book "Gathering Dandelions: Meditations and Musings on Faith, Fracture, and Beauty Mistaken for a Weed"She resides in Southern California with her husband and children. Subscribe to the Sparrow Sisters Monthly Journal HERE