Rendezvous with grace


Last night I met a rock star. Well, not in the traditional sense of the term but in my world, a supernova.

I met the author Anne Lamott. She was speaking at Lenoir-Rhyne University as part of their Visiting Writers Series and before the program began, she simply walked out into the audience – no introduction, just started strolling down one of the aisles, shaking hands, signing books and posing for photos.


Anne Lamott. I love this face. Illustration by Jillian Yamaki, The New York Times.

She was in the section reserved for VIP’s but my friend, Lyz, and I broke ranks and slipped in for our close encounter with grace. There I was standing right in front of one of my very favorite authors and I, the clever one with all of the witty retorts, just froze.

Actually, I melted – into a puddle of salt.

Before you write me off as a post-menopausal ninny or worse, a literary stalker, let me give you some context for my emotional tsunami.

I’ve known about Anne Lamott since 1994 when I read her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s an amazingly personal book about, well, writing, of course, but so much more. She shares her approach to writing but she also writes about her life – warts and all – in a remarkably honest and often wickedly funny way.

bird by bird

My well-worn copy.

She says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

I do hope a few of you are squirming nervously now.

No, really, I don’t hold grudges. (Insert Muttley laugh.)


Be kind to your writer friends.

I dreamed about being a writer back then and I was mesmerized with her words. Mesmerized but not motivated to really write. I was in my late 30’s in a long-term relationship and had a loving and supportive family, premium cable and a good job that I liked a lot. I was leading a happy but seriously unexamined life.

In short, I didn’t have much to write about.

Be careful what you wish for.

A decade or so later, after losing my parents and my partner and perhaps a bit of my mind, I returned to Anne Lamott. And there she was – just like a trusted bestie you would share your heart with over coffee at the kitchen table.


Oprah loves Anne, too.

I picked up her book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, and it was a balm to my scabby soul. I kept that book by my bedside and read it and reread it as I navigated my way back to myself – and to God.

I clung to her nuggets of wisdom like a seagull to a Cheeto. Pearls like this, “Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.”

And this, “I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.”

Yes. I remember reading that passage and thinking that that’s exactly how I was feeling. “Me, too.”

And last night, this was Lamott’s advice to writers – to write what you would like to come upon. Write what is the best medicine for you and maybe through a little grace, someone reads your words and says, “Me, too.”

This was certainly the case for me and her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. This book taught me how to pray. Maybe taught is not the right word. This book gave me permission to pray in my own way – my own messy unorthodox way.

Disclaimer: I’m an Episcopalian and we don’t really talk much about praying. That’s why we have the Book of Common Prayer chocked full of liturgy to follow. We don’t go rogue.


This became my book of uncommon prayer.

Lamott writes, “You might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, ‘I hate you, God,’ That is a prayer too, because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you have had in months.”

I read these words and thought, “Me, too.” And my aching loneliness seemed bearable in that moment.

Her words made me feel heard and there is no possible way to teach that in a writing class.

So when I found myself standing before this dear friend who I had never met but who had been with me through some of my darkest ugly cry hours, I crumbled. It was like having a reiki session in front of 1500 people, only Anne Lamott and I were the only ones in the room.

I really did panic for a moment when I couldn’t get my mouth to form words. She took my hand and I think I managed to gurgle out, “Thank you.” She looked into my eyes and smiled sweetly and held my hand for what felt like a long time. And then I felt my other hand raise and gently touch her cheek.

To her credit, she did not scream for security, she just softly nodded like she knew exactly what I was thinking in that moment.

It was as if she were saying, “Me, too.”

meeting anne

When Addy met Anne.








Inside Job


pink-slip (1)

I lost my job about six weeks ago. Well, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t lose it. I know exactly where it went.

You see, I gave someone a second chance and it came back to bite me. It could all make for ripe fodder for a Lifetime movie. We would need a catchy title, something like Behind the Ledger: Her Secret Liability and Meredith Baxter would have to play me because, well, just because.

I can laugh a little now because the absurdity of it all lends itself to farce but there is nothing funny about it. A lot of people that I still deeply care for are suffering greatly. These are people I’ve shared my days with for a long time doing some very hard work for folks in great need.

I miss these good people more than I can put into words but there have been so many exquisite words from them in the past several weeks that have saved me. Phone calls, emails and texts – some of which would make the Baby Jesus cry.

After a late night round of emotional texts with a long time colleague who said, “You know me better than anyone – I would rather lose an arm,” it struck me that I was in the surreal position not unlike attending my own funeral. I felt like I was listening to a series of eulogies every day.

It was rather wonderful and it was truly awful.

It has been tremendously gratifying to hear that I have made a difference in the lives of many of the people I’ve worked with for over a decade. I know I tried to but those intentions don’t always convey.

I’m not a conventional boss. I smiled typing that last sentence knowing that anyone who has ever worked with me will bob their head up and down when they read it.

I don’t like to be micromanaged so I have never done that to others. My mentor and beloved friend, Phyllis, was a big proponent of the weekly To Do List when I worked for her years ago. She wanted to know what her staff was working on each week and even though she was more intimidating than me on her weakest day, she always appreciated my style and instead of squashing my independent spirit, she nourished it.

Years later she would joke, “Addison would always turn in her To Do List but it might be on the back of a cocktail napkin.” Phyllis let me be me and it worked out quite well for both of us and the organization we represented.


I’ve always tried to emulate Phyllis as a manager but I’m sure I’m really more of a Phyllis-Lite. I tried to nurture and appreciate each staff member’s unique skills and gifts but I imagine that she would have been more discerning about that second chance than I was.

I’ve always tried to be the kind of boss that people can talk to about personal problems, too. And Lord knows, over the past 11 years, I’ve been through divorces, illness, births and deaths with these folks. These are the ties that truly bind and this is why so many of us are grieving.

As one of my closest colleagues wrote just the other night, “I know more about you now just in seeing what your people miss and are reaching out for.”

Yes, my people.

Some of the messages have been angry, many of them have been sad and others so sweetly genuine. I heard that one of my younger staff made an impassioned defense of me by saying among many things, “Addison wrote me a note when my grandfather died and when my dog died. And I don’t mean a Facebook note.” I love this and the memory of it will always make me smile. (I never met her grandfather but I really loved that dog.)

944008_10153321711037190_5094882858512280359_nYou’re probably wondering if I regret giving that second chance since it was ultimately my own undoing. I’ve thought about that a lot the past several weeks. I certainly regret the pain and havoc that a misguided malcontent has wreaked on so much of what I have loved for so long.

Every fire has a point of origin and even Fire Marshall Bill could trace this one.FireMarshallBill

Someone told me a heartfelt story about how they had been the victim of someone else’s maliciousness and I believed them. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there. I chose to not hold someone’s past – fact or fiction – against them.

I remember my dear and devoted former CFO, who retired a couple of years ago, shaking her head at me one day when I gave a staff member a pass on something and saying, “Addy, you always give everyone the benefit of the doubt.” I wanted to take her observation as a compliment even though her tone was more scolding in nature.

I try to live my life by the Christian principles that I believe in. The God that I love is a God of second chances. I know this because I have been the recipient of many of them. And the agency that I gave my heart and soul to for so many years is dedicated to creating second chances for people who have never been afforded that luxury.

Second Chance Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

I truly believe that this is what we are all called to do.

President Zachary Taylor once said, “I have always done my duty. I am ready to die. My only regret is for the friends I leave behind me.”

While I admire his sentiments, I think I’ll claim executive privilege on the question of regret for now.

And I hope I have many more years to serve my community but I most certainly know that I will never work with a more compassionate, committed and crazy crew of characters if I live to be a 100.

Lucky me.

addy photo

The Boss