The Gift of Mercy from Anne Lamott

 

WHAT WILL you remember most?

It’s a question my friend, Teresa, asked as we drove along in the dark, I-77 South stretching long in front of us.

Hum I said. It was taking some time, the sifting of all the contenders, so many beautiful possibilities floating around bumping each other at the top. There were Anne’s comments on surrender.  And truth. And wonder and mercy. And then I remembered her saying this, and my soul shifting, and my heart opening.

Just say what Jesus says.  She smiles. Just say “Me, too.”

 

 

THERE ARE SO MANY reasons I love Anne Lamott. She is a generous giver, a compassionate teacher for seekers of every kind: the lost, the found, the addicted, the broken, the resurrected. We are all worthy, she preaches, each and every one chosen. And it is our responsibility (as well as our joy) to lift each other up, to pull each other along in a world that is overwhelmingly difficult and yet beautiful beyond belief.

She is also a writer’s writer, Anne Lamott, a powerful storyteller who gets down to the bone of the thing. Her truths are raw and real; her honesty unarms in a way that casts every speck of pretense aside. I’ve never had the privilege of studying with Anne and yet she is my writing spirit guide. For each and every what-on-earth-am-I-doing chapter of my manuscript’s first draft she was there on my shoulder cheering sweetlyYou can do this. One sentence at a time. Just get it down. It feels so overwhelming, the largeness of a novel, a thousand mile journey you  walk in the dark. And Anne would say:  Tell me what happened.    I’d write.   Then what happened?   I’d write.   Then what happened?

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, out of the blue, I clicked on my inbox to find this email from my sweet, soulful friend, Joanne.

Anne Lamott is coming to Charlotte. Here are tickets. 

It was a generous, thoughtful gesture from someone I adore and don’t see nearly enough. It was also a powerful God-wink. I knew He had things to say to me.

 

AND SO WE were there, Teresa and I, when Anne Lamott walked onto the stage at Ovens Auditorium. She’d had one hell of a day, delayed more than six hours at Dulles and arriving 30 minutes after the start-time of her talk in Charlotte. She came straight to the gathering with no time at all to relax or recharge or even change her shoes. Instead she took a big drink of water, exhaled, and began answering life’s toughest questions before a crowd of thousands.

This one came up in no time.

So what is mercy, anyway?

Mercy, she said, and smiled. Mercy is grace in action.

(That’s as perfect a definition as I’ve ever heard.) 

And then she offered this by way of explanation. When a friend is troubled or shamed or downtrodden or broken hearted, our nature is to try to “fix” things by offering advice, or worse yet, platitudes. 

This is not Mercy.

Mercy, she says, Mercy is sitting with someone in their pain with no judgement and absolutely no intention of changing anything. (One person changing another is not possible anyway, she points out.) Mercy, like Jesus, simply says 

I know.

Me, too.

 

Do you feel the relief I feel in realizing this?

Are you happy to lay down the burden of  “fixing” things?

Can you exhale knowing in the pain you’re allowed to just be with it?

 

It is a gentle, compassionate way to live, and it was my biggest lesson of the night.

Yet there was so much more. So much more.

 

We’re so hungry for what we’re not giving.

You are being pulled for.

When someone shares deeply, say “thank you.”

Help is the sunny side of control.

The ultimate act of mercy is to listen.

80% of anything is a miracle.

 

THANK YOU, ANNE. Thank you, Christ Church. And thank you, Joanne, for this gift of grace–and mercy–in my life.

XXOO

 

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The Right Words To Say

Still one of my faves 18. Open #fms_open #fmsphotoaday #latergram

 

IT’S THE KIND OF POST that gets me to click right away–the promise of just the right words to say, or how to comfort a friend who is hurting or three things we all need to hear. There’s something I’m drawn to in the possibility of a neat little word package I can tuck away, then call on anytime my mortal old self just can’t seem find the right combination.

What a gift that would be in a world with so much woe.

It’s certainly not what I expected when I clicked on the link to an essay by Hannah Brencher via her Monday email #94 titled, quite simply: Abide.

She gets me, Hannah does, young as she is, and so wide open and unfiltered. (In all honesty, I know it probably takes the girl hours to achieve the level of spontaneity her posts suggest.) Still there’s a real beauty to her unsettled spirit, a twenty-something young woman out there preaching her own gospel of a life filled with longing, searching out the things that matter most. It’s a quest she’ll continue for years to come–that’s what I want to tell her–the answers changing color and intensity and texture as she moves from one life season to the next. It’s a quest she’ll find as terrifying and rewarding in her 56th year as in her 26th.

But oh what she gains by being brave enough to ask the questions.

 

SHE ANSWERED TWO OF MINE in her ABIDE essay is the point I want to make. Touching a soul spot in her lament over the need for greeting cards with genuine, honest sentiments, she writes:

The world needs more cards that touch the hard stuff, the crappy situations, and the days when you wish you could escape out of your own skin and be someone else. I know I have those days. I know a lot of other people who have those days too and they’d probably appreciate some sort of card showing up in their mailbox that says, “You’re not really feeling it right now. I get it. I’m with you. It won’t be like this forever.” 

It won’t be like this forever. How powerful is that simple sentence? How many times in my life have I needed to hear it? How many times could I have brought comfort just by saying it?

 

HANNAH OFFERS ANOTHER wished-for card saying in the post, one that touched me so immediately it tucked itself up and has hung close ever since. It’s a phrase that came to her as part of an answered prayer, a God-wink that appeared when she asked for a sign. I’ve thought of it a thousand times as I’ve moved through my own week planning, wondering, worrying.

Be where your feet are.

That’s the message God brought her, she wrote in her Monday Morning email, a message that packed its own powerful punch when it landed with me. I, too, battle to stay present and to live in the moment and to accept what is rather than pressing the forward or rewind button of my life. But this little sentence so direct and true makes it easier, somehow, less overwhelming and theoretical, and more real life, here, now. Be where your feet are.

Hannah goes on to write:

He didn’t say, “pack your suitcase and go.” I would have liked that. Instead, it was this gentle reminder: stay with me. Don’t run wild in your head looking for answers and solutions and trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to solve. Just calm down and stick close.

It’s God’s reminder not to run from that which is refining you, she says.

How I love that thought. How I needed to hear it.

Thank you, Hannah Brencher. Thank you for your light in this world.

 

Note: You can follow Hannah Brencher’s blog here.

 

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