Meeting Lauren Winner

Lauren Winner came to RTS Orlando yesterday to speak about her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. (This is the same seminary Kirk and I happened to visit last week, which we decided was excellent timing on our part, as we hadn't visited the campus in quite some time and only happened to learn of her visit when we stopped to purchase some books at the bookstore!)

I first came to know Lauren Winner as most people did: about five years ago, with the release of her first book, the spiritual memoir Girl Meets God. I love this book for so many reasons, some of which include her honesty, her love for books and learning, her facile use of language, her transparency about her foibles as a young twentysomething, her deep exploration of spiritual territory, and, of course, how she translates a greater fullness to our faith through the medium of our Jewish heritage. I particularly love that this integration is delivered through the story of her own personal journey into Judaism, out of Judaism into Jesus, and her consequent struggle to understand Christianity in light of the Jewish faith.

It had been some time since I'd read Real Sex, having skimmed the entire book while taking a leisurely afternoon at the local Barnes & Noble Cafe back home a couple years ago, so I looked forward to a refresher talk on her perspective about sex, chastity, and our relationship to our bodies within Christianity.

More than that, though, I just looked forward to hearing her speak -- seeing how her personality on the page translates into real life, given the ideas you tend to gather about a person as you hear them share about themselves inside a book.

To the extent that you can gain real glimpses of a person through a one-hour lecture and a book signing, I will say that Lauren Winner appears to be one of the most articulate, thoughtful, intelligent, studied, feisty, yet down-to-earth 31-year-olds I have ever met. My respect for her increased by the minute as she shared with great candor about how she came to write the book and with even greater candor about what she would do differently if she could write the book all over again. I was particularly moved by her genuine grief that the book does not include any discussion about sexual violence, which she shared was a complete and grievous oversight. I also loved hearing her riff extensively on the many subjects that were raised as she fielded questions from the audience.

I could have listened to her talk all day long.

All of this would have been thrilling enough, but then I got to meet her. I confess I was nervous. Wouldn't you be nervous, too, if you got a few minutes of face-time with an author who has influenced you tremendously and with whom you feel a one-sided kinship when you read their books? I hemmed and hawed in my head about what to say. Should I say her book changed my life? Should I confess that I wrote and mailed her a letter back when I finished Girl Meets God for the first time? Should I dare ask to take a picture? Should I just let her sign the book and move on?

Thankfully, I was fifth in line, so I got to watch what other people did and then how she responded. Yes, she was gracious about taking pictures. Yes, she would listen to what individuals wanted to share. Yes, she would respond to new questions, and even extensively, settling back into her seat and gesticulating with her hands as she gained momentum in thinking about a new idea. She was adorable.

So, I braved it all. I told her that Girl Meets God changed my world, that along with Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott it was the first book to help me settle more into my own skin as a writer sharing about my spiritual journey. I told her about that letter I had written many years ago, how I had sent it care of her publisher without knowing if they would even forward it on to her, and how I had been compelled to write it because her book had raised so many thoughts and feelings in me about questions I'd already been asking myself about pursuing an academic path. This last part caught her interest, so we talked for a few moments about it.

And then to top it off, when she agreed to take a picture, she noticed my purse. It's a small vinyl magazine bag with classic leather books printed all over it. I get so many comments about this purse, and people are amazed when I tell them Kirk found it for me at Borders for something like ten bucks. But a comment on this purse from Lauren Winner? Nothing quite like it.

Here's Lauren, listening to me regale her with stories about my life. As you can see, she is a most gracious and present listener.

This is me, just plain happy to be sharing a moment with the amazing Lauren Winner.