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  Inspiration: Letter to Anne Lamott

Judy Alexander wrote the following letter to Anne Lamott after meeting with her at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference in August 1995. Annie phoned Judy back and said that her letter had touched her. Here’s the original letter that tells how inspiring Annie’s honesty about her Christianity was to Judy:

September 16, 1995

Dear Annie,

I so enjoyed talking to you at Squaw Valley. I grew spiritually from our conversation, and I’m not sure I let you know how much that meant to me.

So, here is my diary entry from the day after I talked to you. Maybe, from that, you’ll be able to understand the deep emotional impact that your words had. I wanted you to know the influence that you had on me, and through me, on others at the conference.

Because I was born into a Christian family, I never had one of those dramatic “before and after” experiences. I’ve never seen myself as much of a witness to other people, either, so I was so surprised and excited and shocked to find myself “on fire” after talking to you. When I talked to my husband on the phone a day later about the experience, about feeling like God was using me to share what you’d shared with me, I couldn’t talk without crying. Fortunately, he stayed on the line and heard me out, relieved when I got to the end of my story that it was a happy one. He’d been afraid that with all that emotion pouring out of me, something horrendous must have happened.

Diary Entry
8-9-95, Wednesday
8:55 p.m.

Feeling drained, but in a good way. Emotionally, this was an exhausting day because I met with Anne Lamott, who was as real as her books. I feel like I met a spiritual, occupational hero. Her answers to my questions about being both a Christian and an artist were much more important that her critique of my story, which she liked OK but, since she doesn’t like stories about old people, needed a better beginning to get her hooked.

I just have to ramble. My thoughts are coming out all jumbled. I think it’s fascinating that the women who went on a hike today were all Christians. I can’t believe that’s just coincidence.

So, it’s been a spritual day. Annie calls it “coming out of the closet” for a Christian artist to admit her beliefs. I thought that really sounded accurate. She came out 10 years after she became a Christian. She “came out” in her book about her son. But even then, the first time that she spoke and the man on stage asked in front of the crowd about her Christianity, she felt as awkward as if he’d asked about something gynecological. I could identify so closely with that feeling. I told her how much I admired the fact that she admitted her Christianity in a newspaper article I read, a TV program with Peggy Noonan, and even the first night here at Squaw Valley. She said she does that to remind herself, too. She feels a tug toward the other side, a pull of fame and I don’t know what (she’s much more articulate than my writing, but I’m tired.) She feels that part of her calling as a writer and a public personality is to lead others to Christ. I was so impressed by her bravery when she said that. I’m such a reluctant witness to other people. And yet, I, too, feel that I’m an example, both my life and the words I write, and worry sometimes about the affect either might have. As a shy, reluctant Christian, I’ve felt such a need to talk to someone else in my position. That need was satisfied by talking to Annie.

What I admire so much about her is that she’s not a plastic Christian, limited in vocabulary and thought processes. She’s a REAL person with real disappointments and hurts and sins. She talked about Graham Greene, who never denied he was a Catholic Christian, even when he wasn’t able to live up to a chaste life (apparently women were his weakness). Because of being an honest Christian, some Christians think she’s blasphemous.

I felt especially thankful when she gave me two pages of a letter that Peggy Noonan had given her and told me to photocopy them. In them is a quote by Walker Percy, “The way I see it, we are all perfectly mediocre day-laborers for God....”

So, I’m not alone as a Christian in the artistic community. I hope I am as brave as Annie is, when my time comes, to say, Yes, I’m a Christian. I’d be lost without Jesus.

I just feel my life is full of too many “coincidences” for me to be able to claim complete control of my life. I seem to be getting a lot of help from outside myself. How could I not give the credit to God?

When I got out of that meeting, I started crying. All my emotions and frayed nerves and sleep-deprived brain revolted. Or maybe rejoiced. It was a crying from relief that there is a place in this world for people like me.

Then, I got back and called a woman, V., on the phone, who’d mentioned going on a hike. She couldn’t go because she was attending a reading. But I started blurting out about the things Anne Lamott said. I’d had a “sense” that she was a Christian, but nothing concrete. So when she was very quiet on the other end of the line, I began to suspect I was making her feel uncomfortable. But I was like a new Christian (something I’ve never been) who can’t shut up about Jesus. I was just so impressed that someone like Anne Lamott could admit both a love of God and a love of art, without there being a conflict between the two, in fact, just the opposite, without God there is no art (actually, I’m not quite capturing this right. The church and art have been tied for centuries -- think of Michaelangelo -- but somehow, within only a relatively short time, the church has come to be seen as a censor of art, a destroyer of art, and because God is tied to the church, “true” artists have abandoned Him as well. Or the most vocal artists have. I suspect, in Annie’s terms, there’s a lot more of us out there, but still “in the closet.) So, I was jabbering, V. was silent. Then she said, “I can really identify with this. I not only feel like I have to be silent about this in my work, but even at home. My husband is Jewish, and so was I when we met. But since I’ve found Jesus, I’ve had to be quiet.” I just got a tremendous feeling that God was orchestrating all these meetings between people and conversations. All I had to do was open my mouth (show up for work), and He’d take care of the rest.

I can’t quite explain the feeling, since it’s not logical, living in a religiously free country, but I felt like I’d snuck out of the catacombs below Rome, taking a chance in a hostile world above, and finding, among the faces, one with a glow who said, “Come into my house, quickly. Talk to me. I can see you’re bringing news. Yes, I’m a Christian. Come inside. You’ll be safe with your story here with me.” And once inside, how hungry the person was to hear the news that there were others like her. To hear how they were managing.

I repeated what you told me to three other women, and briefly to two dinner mates at Squaw Valley, and they all seemed to hunger to hear about an openly Christian artist. I got home and repeated the story to my Sunday School class and later, to my writing critique group. I surprised myself by doing this, because I’m normally quiet about my faith, even, strangely, in my own church. (Five years ago, in a different writing critique group, the leader suggested that I didn’t “belong” when I made reference to having listened to a radio program by Dr. Dobson, which contributed to my shyness about my Christianity, especially around other writers.)

So, thank you, Annie, for being so honest yourself. By doing so, you are an inspiration to others.

Judy Alexander


posted July 7, 2002
Judy Alexander, webmaster