Reading as water and a warm thing to say to a widow

The first time I went to the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, it was to hear the writer Anne Lamott speak. She was her warm, funny self, full of writing and life advice for an auditorium that lapped up her words like we were kittens. I’ve long been a Lamott Super Fan. Can you read why?

“My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me as I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear.”

Those are Anne’s opening lines of the “Overture” of Travelling Mercies, the book in which she explains how she surprised herself and many others by coming to religious faith. I say “Anne” because of course we feel we are on a first name basis with such a writer as this. When I first read Travelling Mercies so many years ago, I could barely put it down. It was a religious page-turner, something I had never encountered before. As a person who always has more questions than answers when it comes to the matters of the spirit, I felt at home. As a writer I was glimpsing a whole new country. You get to be this honest? This funny? This vulnerable?

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Yes, you do! My joy was made complete when I stood in a line for well over an hour to have Anne sign Travelling Mercies, and of course Bird by Bird, her masterful (honest, warm and funny) writing book. I teared up. They spilled over.

She noticed and said, “Would you like to sit on my lap?”

I choose to think my hero was being her sweet and funny self, and not just weary after speaking all day, and then signing book after book after book, with no end in sight. I heard her again in a workshop the next day, and a simple theme continued to emerge. “Bring them a glass of water,” she said. She was speaking about how we care for each other. How we notice and tend to people around us, and to readers. Offer them a glass of water.

May I bring you a glass of water? she asked.

Spiritual reading keeps me going and that has been true through all my years, fears and tears. (I don’t normally rhyme. It feels good). Great books are big, tall drinks of water.

This week I am going to the Festival of Faith and Writing again, for the third time. I’m excited. I will see my publisher NavPress there, and that will be sweet I think, and exciting because Holiness Here releases the day before I hop into Henry, my car, and drive there. (A note about Henry: Lawrence the salesman left me with the very strong impression a name was required. Sitting beside me on the front seat, he suggested Cheryl. I felt crowded and panicky and chose Henry).

I know I will have some of my thirst quenched this week. I will, undoubtedly and gleefully buy books, a few of which I will never read and others will become good friends. My friend Patrica (co-author of Craft, Cost & Call: How to build a life as a Christian writer) and I will compare piles at the end of each day. We will spur each other on, and we will take care of each other for a few days. I know she will bring me water, and I will also to her, I hope.

And now a little something about being a widow. I think I might do this every now and then. Share something I am learning or experiencing about this life that I think can help you be there for the widows you know.

Last night a friend shared with me that Brent used to say to her husband (his friend): “I just want to be with my wife,” when he would speak about the next phase of our lives. I didn’t know he said that to other people. She shared this at the end of our evening together, sitting in a restaurant. I waited for a moment or two, a little nervous to see if a grief avalanche was rolling toward me. I was okay. I felt happy, actually. I said it in my mind all the way home. I just want to be with my wife. Of course, it made me sad and filled me with longing and ‘what ifs.’ But it also reminded me of the greatness of our love, and specifically this time, his love for me. I was so grateful.

This has only happened to me a couple of times since Brent has died, that someone told me how much he had loved me. I think people don’t think about saying that. They think it’s so obvious. It is precious though. It is water in this desert. So, if you know a widow, and you knew her husband and how much he adored his wife, go call her. Remind her. Bring her a glass of rare water.

1 thought on “Reading as water and a warm thing to say to a widow”

  1. This reminded me of something I learned in my public speaking course. When we speak publicly we are inviting people in. Public speaking is an act of hospitality and generosity. Like offering refreshment at the table of goodness.

    Love your writing!

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