I think I was 23 when I first discovered her.
I’d flown down to San Diego for Thanksgiving, and as Sister was working days in the naval hospital, I’d traipsed around downtown, alone and lonely, the two words’ definitions still indistinguishable to me at the time. It was the first time I’d ever gone to the theater by myself, and holding my bag of popcorn (extra butter) and Diet Coke, I remember thinking, am I even allowed to laugh when there’s no one to laugh with? I wanted the comfort a friend next to me, an arm to clutch, the reassurance of flesh.
Friends defined me. I was never without.
I was so scared.
But as the day went on, I got braver. I ate lunch, by myself, and then I went to the book store, all alone, and perused the various sections of Borders – discount, non-fiction, fiction, children’s, spirituality, in that order – until I finally stumbled upon this find:
I looked at the cover, and I was like, What the cheesiness, Batman? But curious nonetheless, I sat down in the middle of the book store floor (which really, is one of the most magical places on earth, if you ask me), and began to read her words. I read about her spiritual journey, how God had always been part and parcel of who she was, of her story. And then, somewhere and somehow along the way, her journey morphed from Judaism to Christianity, though she held onto and maintained many cultural elements of her Jewish upbringing.
And her words were funny and witty and poignant to me, and I remember thinking, this is me. I too am on a spiritual journey. I too am a girl who meets God. I too am funny and witty and poignant! (What I lacked in esteem of Alone, I certainly didn’t lack in confidence of my own personality).
Three chapters later, mind made up, I brought the book to the counter, awkwardly shy and ashamed of the cover. For whatever reason, my choice of faith shamed me. Although I taught at a Christian school and spoke at Christian camps and faithfully attended a – you guessed it – Christian church, I didn’t want to appear like I was one of those people. No, no, I’m a liberal. No, no, red, white and blue donkey all the way!
I held my faith at bay until I knew my beliefs were safe for disclosure.
Walking out of the bookstore, I ripped the cover off my hardback edition, throwing it in the trash. I was now free to be me, my beliefs released for their own choosing.
And this I realized today, after finishing a third book of this author’s: Lauren Winner has been a part of my faith journey for a good little while now. She’s been alongside me as the girl who seeks after her God, and she’s been with me as the one who grabs hold of her cultural roots. And now, in her book Still, she’s beside me when and as my faith journey morphs and wanes and questions and pools – and then burgeons and builds and begins anew again. She’s with me in the Dark Night, and in that middle place, and when the whys seem to overwhelm the other question words, the ones with definitive, absolute answers.
“What you promise when you are confirmed …is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
And friends, this story, this grand and magnificent and tragic and beauty-filled story, is the story I wrestled with then, and am wrestling with now, and will wrestle with until I’m laid gray in the grave – and it feels good to admit that. There is freedom in its disclosure.
So, Ms. Winner, thank you for being on this journey with me. I look forward to meeting you someday.
What about you? What author has been with you on your journey of life? Don’t be a lurker, do share!