Monday, April 15, 2013

Life as a Ragamuffin

I can't get stuff right. 

Yesterday my dad's birthday came and went and I remembered at 5:40 this morning, a day late. That would be barely excusable except that it's the second year in a row I've remembered his birthday exactly one day too late. 

There was a glitch with my e-mails and since March 27th the techie powers-that-be have not sent my bellsouth e-mails to my gmail account so there's all this stuff I've missed, time-sensitive which I never replied. Obviously. Now I just look like an idiot. Or apathetic. Or a slacker. Or all of the above. 

I didn't send in enough money for my daughter's field trip and my first words to her yesterday were snappy ones. Various members of my family do not have clean underwear at the beginning of the week. I tell them that they should let me know before they're completely out. They assume that a 4-foot high mountain of laundry is signal enough. 

I've been spending too much time wanting stuff that I can't have and not appreciating all that I do have, doing battle with idols of the heart and not loving very well and feeling a tad bit entitled to certain realities.

God, I'm such a mess, I thought to myself this morning. 

First thing Saturday I found out that I lost a friend and a mentor, one I've never met in real life. The world lost one of its best evangelists on Grace. Brennan Manning spent decades of his life speaking and writing about the lavish and limitless love of Jesus. 

His books are among my favorites. I've read and re-read a couple of them and just ordered another one this morning. As a matter of fact, I'm feebly facilitating a small group study of The Ragamuffin Gospel this semester and it has me wondering if I'll ever not need this good news for the "bedraggled, beat-up and burnt out." It's doubtful. 

And that's okay. 

Manning's final book was published in 2011. His memoir, All is Grace, is apparently part chronicle and part confession. He discusses his ongoing struggle with alcoholism, loneliness, self-hatred and marriage. Yes, even in the latter years of his life. He remained a ragamuffin in desperate need of grace until his dying day. 

Don't misunderstand. He didn't sin so that grace may increase; he was simply a man whose brokenness sometimes got the better of him. Just like me. Just like you.

My first reaction to that is a bristly one. I'm uncomfortable with the notion that someone so intimately connected with God, so knowledgable of his Word, so in pursuit of Christ could still stumble and struggle.

And if I'm painfully honest, I'm forced to admit that I long for the promise of near-perfection here on this earth. I want the assurance that I won't still dance with certain sins and that my loved ones won't relapse and that we'll all just eventually get our junk together. 

Accepting our mess, our loved ones' messes, our "professional Christians'" messes, it's counter-intuitive. I'm not talking about a blas√©, "whatever" kind of acceptance. Our mess cost a perfect man his life; there's nothing flippant about that. But because of what Jesus did, I'm free to really live and really love and really forgive and and really trust and really receive love. I don't have to crucify myself or others over every infraction because the world crucified Christ and He accepted it

Refusing to bask in the glorious riches of His death and resurrection is like buying one's dream home and living in the cellar. What a waste. 

And what a denial of who we are and what He did to save us. He knew we'd have trouble. He knew we'd be trouble. He knew forgiveness would need to abound and that's why He said seventy times seven, that's how much you can forgive. And we can. We can because He did and his resurrection power pulses within all of us who believe in Him. 

Running as ragamuffins into the loving arms of Jesus is our only hope. We can fall down and start over as many times as it takes. His arms remain open, ready to receive us, mess and all. 

His arms received our dear friend last Friday and I wept, I really did, as I imagined him finally, safely in the arms of Abba. His feeble body, aged mind, and weakened spirit made perfect. Finally perfect. 

God promises that He loves us too much to leave us as we are but that's not a promise of perfection. It's a promise of presence. His presence, alive and at work in us. He accompanies my messed up self through all the foibles and follies and forgettings of today and tomorrow and every day after that. 

I'm not the person I once was yet I'm so far from the person I long to be. He loves me anyway with an everlasting, unchanging, unconditional love. 

His grace stretches like a canopy across my life, covering the good, the shameful, the redeemed, and the not yet. 

I lie beneath it, thankful that its length and breadth never ends and knowing that it is enough.


A tribute to a life of Grace.

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