Fake It ‘Til You Feel It

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I have long neglected my blog and planned to treat you with a post entitled, “Grab Life by the Hobby Lobby Coupons and Hang On,” sharing the newfound wisdom of a 40-year-old, hoping to make you laugh.

Today is not a day for that.

I hate writing about controversial topics because it attracts people other than my 5 best friends to my blog and they are not always in lock-step agreement with me. Even when I write about current events (see Love Wins and Canada or Bust), I tend to be prudent in my word choice, avoiding hard lines in the sand. In part, that is because I don’t enjoy criticism, but also it’s because I don’t think it progresses difficult conversations.

It’s not that I don’t have strong opinions. I frequently say, “It’s not worth having an opinion if it’s not a strong one,” but I believe in the Emily Post-ism that polite company does not discuss religion, politics, or money with casual acquaintances. Those conversations should be nestled in the warmth of real friendship, where the barbed edges of sharp differences are blunted by affection. I typically think people who rage about controversy on Facebook are stirring the pot, stoking the fires of divisiveness with little regard for the 50% of their “friends” they are publicly insulting,  while propping themselves up on the side of righteousness (how’s that for an opinion?).

But in the wake of Alton Sterling and the Dallas Police shootings, I must bend my own rules for a moment: We are doing this terribly wrong. We are stirring up dissention, we are picking at scabs, we are looking at the world as if our point of view is the only one that exists. In our calls for justice, we are being unjust, lumping blame on one another.

There are a lot of people hurting today. This world is a terribly broken place, and the “People of Light” need to start acting like people of light. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and I think that’s because it’s almost as if He knew that might be a “difference-maker” in this world.

I realize that many people feel like social media is a platform to speak boldly, but if you’re a “hot button poster,” I beg you to reread your posts. If you sound like you hate someone, even “the bad guy”, you’re doing harm. Say it like you’d tell someone about whom you actually believe the best, or don’t say it.

C.S. Lewis, because he’s almost always right, knew how to move past the pain we humans inflict upon one another:

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

 

 

 

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Canada or Bust: why I’m not quaking in my boots over the Donald

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Election years always seem dismal, but this year I’ve been particularly disgusted. It was bad enough when we had one candidate behaving like a vile, egotistical bully, but in the last few weeks, even the candidates I like have hardly been above reproach.

It’s enough to make you pack up and move to Canada. Here’s why I’m staying put:

  1. It ain’t over til it’s over. My friend and former pastor Andy McQuitty preached a sermon a few years ago on faith following his diagnosis with cancer. He reminded us that the vast majority of our worries never come to pass.

But sometimes we find ourselves smack in the middle of a lost cause.

When and if calamity befalls us, we have no choice but to walk through it. We can do that in faith or in fear, but either way, we’re walking and we can choose to believe that God can still intervene. After all, the God of Israel seems to love lost causes: He slays giants. He shuts the mouths of lions. He raises the dead. Surely he can sway the hearts of men to vote sensibly.

But even if he doesn’t…

  1. This is not my home. When I was in my mid-twenties, I spent a month in Italy. I have no idea what its political climate was then or now, but I sure enjoyed my visit. My research proved it too complex to understand in 2 minutes on Google so I abandoned the project entirely. I can be that apathetic because Italy is not my home.

And while I’m certainly a little more concerned about the happenings in the US, I remind myself when I’m teetering on the brink of despair, this is not my home either. C.S. Lewis was right (he nearly always is):

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And yet…

  1. I still live in God’s dominion. As I was singing Hank to sleep Saturday night, my home state, the great state of Louisiana, fell to the hands of Mr. Drumpf and so did my heart. But then I got to the last verse of my favorite hymn:

This is my father’s world. O let me ne’er forget; that though the wrong be oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my father’s world. Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is king; let the heaven’s ring. God reigns; let the earth be glad.

There is nothing that happens outside of the ordained or permissive will of God. So when the wheels seem to be coming off this rickety old wagon of a world, I spend a little time in Job reminding myself that the Driver still has control. God reminds us in chapter 38 that he still commands the morning and shuts the ocean behind doors: “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt” (vs. 11).

So let us take a few deep breaths, relax, and continue in the good work that is our lot, resting in the sweet comfort that whoever reigns over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not the ruler of all.

 

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The Year of the Underdog

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I’ve always been a sucker for an underdog. I like the scrappiness of an underdog; his willingness to just show up and fight when no one else believes he can win. As I wrote in a previous post, “I think God delights in our audacity—our audacity to believe that He can use us to make something truly lovely, long after we’ve discovered that the world doesn’t owe us any favors. But so many of us are like perpetual middle school students; we’re embarrassed to try. We shove our inner Teddy Roosevelt in the cellar and pretend we don’t care and settle for our place ‘with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ ”

David and Goliath is the classic underdog story. David, still a boy, watched as his older brothers and the rest of the Israelite army (including King Saul) quaked in their boots, trembling with fear over the Philistine’s giant champion. Day after day, Goliath would taunt the Israelites, daring them to send forward a soldier who would fight them.

David, plucky thing that he was, could not stand it. And just like every underdog that came after him, David had to endure the naysayers. Even the king, who had seen his whole army run in fear from the Philistine, told the only one willing to fight, “You’re just a boy.”

Of course, underdogs are used to being discounted.

“But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine. ‘

And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the LORD be with you.’ ” 1 Samuel 17:34-37

This Monday, the Goliath of Goliaths, Alabama, will once again try to put its filthy boot on the neck of college football. Even though no one (including the God of the Israelites*) wants Bama to win except Bama, many football fans are mocking the pluck of Clemson, as if it were cocky for wider receiver Artavis Scott to say:

“They do the same thing we do every Saturday. They go out and play the games, they put their shorts on just like we do.”

(Or maybe it was because he said the SEC was overhyped…)

But Scott is right; Alabama is just a football team, albeit a terrifying football team. Many people thought they would choke when they played Notre Dame or Florida State. And in the first round of the playoffs, you had to beat the bushes pretty hard to find a commentator that was willing to predict a Clemson victory over the Sooners.

They’re used to being underdogs and their coach Dabo Swinney has been an underdog his entire life. But I like my chances with underdogs because they tend to perfectly blend gall with humility.

So Monday, let us rise up and believe with the Clemson Tigers that the Tide’s reign of terror is over (at least this year). I declare this the Year of the Underdog and maybe there’s hope for us all.

As the great Vince Lombardi once said:

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man.

Sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”

*I like to make strong, unsupportable statements when discussing college football.

Go Tigers!

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Better Year, Better You

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I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions because I’m far too practical. Realistically I have no intention of giving up gummy bears or Coke Zero, so why even pretend (everybody needs a vice). But last year, I changed my mind. I’ve joked with some of my friends that I “used to be a better person,” but that’s not totally inaccurate. I used to consistently examine my behavior and thoughts and then cooperated with God as He smoothed out my edges. This seemed like a practice worth reinstating.

Upon reflection last January, I realized that though I have long considered myself a champion of the weak, I often use my natural assertiveness to get riled up about things I honestly don’t care about. I resolved to harness this energy toward things of consequence instead of the petty tangible examples I refuse to publicly reveal (although I’m certain many of you could fill in the blank).

I have had marginal success. At least I now recognize that the “principle of the matter” isn’t always the principle matter. Sometimes the matter doesn’t matter at all and anger is a pricey emotion that doesn’t need to be spent liberally.

Did I still use my blog to blast a stranger who wronged me even though I knew it would not effect change? Sure I did—I’m no saint, but I deleted the post within 24 hours, which I consider personal growth (Listen, there’s enough failure in this life…you’ve got to take your wins where you can).

Having grown into such a mature human being over the course of this year, it was a struggle to come up with a personal improvement goal for 2016. (Please detect note of sarcasm. I have about 12 severe character flaws that are evident to all who know me because one of them is a lack of discretion). Nevertheless, I pressed on in my search for a manageable goal and found it through a conversation with one of my patients.

My patient mentioned that she was dreading the holidays because she always felt like her family members tried to manipulate her. I commiserated knowing how frustrating it was to feel like someone was forcing your hand—nothing makes me madder.

I was 24 when I first noticed the puppeteers in the background of my life and I started cutting strings. I told her, “Ornery soul that I am, try to back me in a corner now and see if I don’t do the opposite of what you want just to show you I have a choice.” We had a good laugh and then I had an epiphany:

I haven’t been manipulated in 15 years. Why on earth should someone’s failed attempt to control me make me angry?

In my advanced years, I now see when someone is trying to make her problem my problem. I recognize the feel of a guilt trip and I’m ready to jump off that moving train, tuck my shoulders, and roll away. Every act of manipulation lobbed in my direction is swatted back, so I no longer need to feel angry when someone tries; I need to feel victorious. It’s time to reframe my thinking.

So this year’s resolution is going to piggyback off of 2015’s: I’m not going to waste energy with petty matters of little consequence AND I’m going take the win and celebrate every time I prove that I am my own boss.

How do you need to reframe your thinking this year?

 

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Open Invitation

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There’s something magical about an invitation. Every few weeks, Hank will pull out an envelope from his school folder and announce, “I’ve been invited to a party! Can I go?” Usually at this point he doesn’t even know who the invitation is from, but that is irrelevant. He has been included and he wants to go.

Human beings were made for friendship. Our joys are magnified and our sorrows are divided when we share them with other people. Nothing jabs at our souls quite like the sting of loneliness or isolation. That is especially true in this season.

I remember one Christmas Eve when Lydia was a baby, we decided not to travel to visit family. We assumed friends from church would end up inviting us over to horn in on their family celebration. They did not. So we ended up at the saddest place on Earth: Red Lobster. It was pitiful.

In an effort to rally our spirits, Kyle and I decided to drive around looking at Christmas lights. What we ended up looking at was picturesque windowscapes of one beautiful family dinner after another to which we had not been invited. We were a sorry bunch (and we still had each other), but we wanted to be included.

This morning my friend Amy preached about the Trinity and the relational nature of God. She reminded us that through the incarnation of Jesus, God didn’t just provide us with a way for salvation; He invited us smack into the middle of the relationship of the Triune God, an opportunity to know and be known by him.

Amy referenced The Table Benediction by Darrell Johnson, a prayer we read weekly as part of our service:

Go now in the joy of knowing that you have been included.

Included at this table.

Included in His table.

Included in our common life.

Included in the Life of God;

In the Life of the Triune God;

In the Life shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Go, find joy in telling others that they too are included!

Go, find joy in bringing all God’s people to His table!

What magnificent news! With the coming of Immanuel, God with us, we have an open invitation to the Table of God and we are permanently included, permanently welcome. We’re no longer creepers peering in past the Christmas tree window, we’re invited guests with a chair waiting for us.

Hank doesn’t quite get the concept of invitations yet. My kids often play with my friend and neighbor Jenny’s kids and Hank will announce when he wants to play at Jenny’s house. I have told him many times, “Hank, you can’t just invite yourself over to other people’s homes. You have to wait for them to ask you.” His emphatic reply is always, “I AM invited!” And there is no convincing him otherwise.

Jenny loves my kids so well they find it incomprehensible that she might like to have a moment in her day when she isn’t hosting her neighbor’s children. They really believe they’re not just welcome at Jenny’s house, they’re invited—always.

And while I’d still like to impress some manners on my kids, I am grateful that they are the frequent recipients of genuine hospitality.  They know what it feels like to be a wanted guest and I hope that makes it easier for them to believe the sincere, open invitation they have to the Lord’s Table.

This Christmas, and all year round, I am challenged to open my home and my table to let others know they’ve been included too.

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Be Your Own Boss

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Growing up with a sister just 18 months my senior, the mantra of my childhood was “You’re not the boss of me!” Few children make it through the first 12 years of their lives without uttering that phrase, but somewhere along the way, people let go of that internal locus of control. They start feeling like they’re living out Office Space, with 8 bosses who are constantly hassling them about missing cover sheets for their TPS reports…or worse.

I see patients everyday who have the misguided notion that they are simply victims of circumstance and that idea is crippling, so one of my chief parenting goals is to teach my children that they have a strong influence on their environment. When Hank was 2 and feeling pushed around by bigger kids (including his sister), I told him, “You are your own boss.” Game changer. With shoulders back and chin up, we would frequently hear Hank proclaim, “I’m my own boss” (regardless of whether or not someone was currently in the act of “bossing” him). Hank was nobody’s chump and he was a 2 year old force to be reckoned with.

Of course being your own boss doesn’t mean just doing what you want to do. It means that you control your own behavior and you are personally accountable for the decisions you make.

Today marks an anniversary for one of my favorite “bosses.” Sixty years ago Rosa Parks was asked to yield her seat on a Montgomery public bus to a white passenger, but on that day she was resolute. On that day she refused to be treated like a 2nd class citizen. On that day she would be arrested, but they could not make her sit at the back of the bus.

Rosa Parks was not powerful in the traditional sense. She couldn’t single-handedly change the segregation laws or overrule authorities, but there is ultimately nothing more powerful than realizing your authority over yourself. And her actions helped catalyze the Civil Rights Movement.

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Rosa Parks helps us understand that while we don’t always control the consequences of our decisions, we are not without choices. We are not trapped in our circumstances. We may not like our options, but we have some.

So chin up, shoulders back: You are your own boss. Start acting like it. You ain’t nobody’s chump.

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The Right Side of Recovery: 3 Ways to Know You’re Getting There

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My life is full of drug addicts and I can tell you from personal and professional experience: addiction patients are the best. They are also the dead worst.

Recovering addicts bring joy wherever they go. Their presence whispers what our cynical hearts long to still believe: God can make all things new. Their humility, their grace, and their hope daily restore my faith in humanity (or at least in God’s ability to save us from ourselves).

But recovery isn’t a quick fix and you can’t force it by taking a pill (or not taking a pill). Before they begin to heal, most addicts have left a trail of heartache quivering in their wake. While the recovering addict brings joy, struggling addicts bring chaos and pain to everyone who loves them.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from family members of addiction patients is this: “How do I know he’s getting better?”

While there’s no definitive answer to that question, there are 3 good signs that a person is on the right side of recovery:

  1. Brutal truth telling.

Addicts lie. I hate to make gross generalizations, but as I said in a previous post about addiction, “Their stories are all different. Their stories are all the same.” Addicts lie to get drugs; they lie to avoid getting caught; they lie to themselves. They lie so frequently it’s often more out of habit than necessity.

If an addict starts telling the bold, brutal truth (especially when she’s not actively caught in a lie), that’s a pretty good sign she’s moving in the right direction.

“I didn’t accidentally throw my medication away. I took way more than I was supposed to and was worried you wouldn’t prescribe more if I told you the truth.”

“I wasn’t having chest pain when I went to the ER. I was running out of my meds because I’m abusing them and I didn’t know how else to get them.”

“I’ve been stealing meds out of my neighbor’s bathroom.”

Honesty foreshadows recovery but half-truths don’t count. Struggling addicts only admit to what they can’t deny and dress the truth in fur coats and fairy dust and hope you don’t notice the façade. Recovering addicts stand in the full light.

  1. Remorse without deflecting blame.

Once addicts spend some time being honest, they notice their drug problem wasn’t just an act of self-destruction—they realize their families and friends have been wounded by their behavior.

If an addict comes to you in a genuine effort to make amends, he is taking steps toward recovery. This means equating his actions with your feelings.

“You must have been so scared when you found me like that. I’m so sorry that I let my drug problem hurt you.”

“You probably feel like you can’t trust me. I hate that I’ve lied to you.”

One of my patients recently failed a toxicology screening and she promised me she hasn’t taken anything. Through tears she said, “Jes, I don’t know how this could happen but I know what this looks like. I didn’t take anything but what you prescribed. I’m just sick because I wouldn’t believe me. Given my track record, I wouldn’t believe me.” I actually believe her.

  1. Acceptance of consequences

I recently had a patient confess to me that he had a brief relapse but had not told his wife because he thought she would leave him if he did it again. I asked the patient, “Who should get to make that decision? Do you think you have the right to make that decision for her?” A recovering addict accepts responsibility and is ready to deal with the consequences of his behavior.

“I’ve made hurtful and dangerous decisions. I understand why you’re scared to have your kids around me.”

“I know I’ve lied to you so much. I get why you may not want to risk trusting me again.”

Struggling addicts continue to fight boundaries; recovering addicts acknowledge the other party’s right to have them, even if that means the relationship will never be fully restored.

If someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, encourage them to join a 12 step program. These programs have the best data for recovery because they provide accountability and support for the addict.

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BYOG: Bring Your Own Guts

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I do not always find myself inspiring. More often than I’d care to admit, I give up when things get hard. Or even mildly inconvenient.

Kyle and I went to see The Martian last night. Matt Damon plays an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars and has to keep himself alive on a planet that has no vegetation or water. I am certain I would die of despair the first day.

The Dallas Icepocalypse of 2013 is a perfect example of my tendency to shrink in the face of adversity. Usually I’m unphased by the ice storms Dallas is prone to suffer. But then usually we have electricity.

Because I’m not an alarmist, I’m also not a “prepper.” I don’t run to the store to stock up on canned goods and bread (although I did fill up a couple of 2 liter bottles with water before Y2K just in case s#!t got real), so I was slightly unprepared for the electrical outage. We woke up to a frigid house and I sunk into a deep depression trying to figure out how I was going to feed my kids the frozen corndogs we had to eat.

Having lost the will to live, I huddled under a down comforter, waiting for the end to draw nigh. Meanwhile, Kyle began channeling MacGyver: boiling water on our gas grill and pounding coffee beans in a Ziploc bag with a meat tenderizer to make coffee in a French press. Clearly the smart money is on Kyle to outlast me in a “I shouldn’t be alive” situation.

After 8 hours of Little House on the Prairie living, 4 of which I slept through, the lights came back and so did my will to live.

While I definitely lack survival skills, I’m always impressed with people who never give up. I’m a lifelong Clemson fan secondary to my dad’s influence, but when Dabo Swinney became their head coach in 2008, I had even more reason to root for those Tigers.

Dabo has a compelling life story. Homeless his senior year in high school, he and his mom were left sleeping on the floor at the home of friends. He worked hard and got into the University of Alabama and was able to play football as a walk-on. He eventually earned a scholarship and he literally brought his mom to college with him (he shared an apartment with a roommate and he shared his room with his mom).

His no excuses positivity has turned the Clemson football program around, so I went nuts last week when Clemson upset Notre Dame (then ranked #6) in a nail biter that came down to a last second stuff on a 2-point conversion.

In his post-game interview Dabo said:

“It ain’t always perfect. But what I told them tonight was, listen, we give you scholarships. We give you stipends, and meals, and a place to live. We give you nice uniforms. I can’t give you guts. And I can’t give you heart. And tonight, it was B.Y.O.G. Bring your own guts. And they brought some guts and some heart and they never quit ’til the last play.”

It would have been easy for Clemson to give up. They’d let a 21-3 lead slip in the 4th quarter to 21-19. The momentum was all with Notre Dame, but this Clemson team is starting to look a lot like their head coach:

“Just frickin’ play this play. Don’t worry about our screwups. Play this play. Win this down.”

And they did win it.

Next week I’ll get to relive one of my favorite childhood memories: my first college football game. I’m going to Clemson’s homecoming with my dad and my family.

I’m hoping they continue their undefeated drive to the National Championship and that a little bit of Dabo Swinney’s “never say die” spirit rubs off on me.

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Nobody Special: The Glory of Mediocrity

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I’ve always thought I was the perfect kind of smart—not that creepy kind of smart that goes hand in hand with poor social skills, but maybe smart enough to squeak in to Mensa on a good day. PA school humbled me and I soon learned, in that population, I had to work pretty hard to be mediocre.

We live in a world that puts a high premium on performance. And it’s not adequate to just do something well—we want to be “the best “ or at least “better than.” We want to be remarkable. The problem is, most of us aren’t.

Sure there are those who live outside the bell curve, but for the majority of us, we reside in the spacious confines of mediocrity. I’m a naturally competitive person and I’m not proposing that we all give up and “half-ass it” through life. Great achievement and innovation only come through toil and perseverance. But I’m also a pragmatist. Friends, I have some disheartening news for you:

We probably aren’t the best at anything.

There is always someone smarter, prettier, funnier, and more athletic than you. And even if you’re an outlier like Mark Spitz, who was the greatest swimmer of all time, winning 7 gold metals in one Olympics, eventually Michael Phelps is going to steal your title. And if your identity is completely hemmed in to your accomplishments, you’ll be choking back bile when you’re no longer the best. Exhibit A:

“I won seven events. If they had the 50m freestyle back then, which they do now, I probably would have won that too.”

-Mark Spitz (who should have said congratulations and then Just.Stopped.Talking.)

Can we all just agree that winning one, single, solitary gold medal is tremendous? Or how about making it on the Olympic team and then coming in dead last—to this non-Olympian, still TREMENDOUS. I think we have lost the ability to see goodness and beauty in isolation. Like the Californian who fails to see the beauty of the wide-open Texas sky because he’s looking for the ocean, we measure ourselves (and other people) by what we are not instead of what we are.

Bob Pyne was one of my favorite theology professors in seminary. He wrote in his book Humanity & Sin:

“People are unique not because they think differently than chimpanzees (though they probably do), and human lives are valuable not because they contribute to a better world (though they probably do that too). People have inherent worth and unique value because they have all been made in the image of God. Since every person has been created according to the divine image, every human life becomes sacred.”

We aren’t ultimately measured by the rubric of our accomplishments or talent. You, just as you are, are immeasurably valuable because you bear the image of the Great I Am. Living right in the pocket of who God made you to be, you, my friends, are amazing. And that doesn’t hinge on you being the bravest or the strongest. The unique blend of your qualities, character, and talent is a recipe created by God, who does not make mistakes and who quantified these traits by design. Just like rice crispy treats don’t get better when you add peanut butter (they were perfect to begin with), you don’t need to be one hair faster or funnier than you are—you weren’t just created by God, you were created in His image.

Dr. Pyne expanded on the idea of humans carrying the image of God when he wrote about his son Steve who was born with Down syndrome:

“My temptation as a proud dad has always been to talk about the things that Steve enjoys doing, how quickly he learned to read, or how sincerely he loves the Lord, to try to convince others that his very happy life was worth saving. On the other hand, my job as a theologian is to say simply this: His life was worth saving because he has inherent dignity as a human being in the image of God. The same is true of little boys who never will learn to read and those whose lives don’t look happy at all.”

Beauty in isolation. Like this created world contains inherent beauty, not just beauty by comparison, human beings have inherent value and worth independent of their achievements.

I recently had to take an exam to maintain my certification as a PA and I received my results this week: still mediocre (it’s pass/fail, so whatever, man). But it turns out I really am the perfect kind of smart—not the tiniest bit smarter than I’m supposed to be.

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Ragamuffins Welcome

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A few weeks ago at church, as we sang Matt Redman’s “Your Grace Finds Me,” these lyrics overwhelmed me:

“Same for the rich and poor

Same for the saint and for the sinner

Enough for this whole wide world

Your great grace

O such grace.”

Reminding me of Jesus, the Great Equalizer, those words pressed on me and prompted me to rummage through my mental hidey-hole labeled “Books I Read in Seminary.” This particular hidey-hole has remained largely undisturbed because while these books helped me form a systematic theology, rereading Four Views of Revelation would not likely provide much practical life application. Still I poked around, knowing there were a few books stashed in there that had changed me.

Eureka! I had found it! The book that had moved in me like the lyrics of that song: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, one of the most beautiful books ever written about grace.

I loved Manning’s depiction of grace because it so accurately describes where I was 20 years ago as I struggled to come to faith:

“Maybe this is the heart of our hang-up, the root of our dilemma. We fluctuate between castigating ourselves and congratulating ourselves because we are deluded into thinking we save ourselves. We develop a false sense of security from our good works and scrupulous observance of the law. Our halo gets too tight and a carefully disguised attitude of moral superiority results. Or we are appalled by our inconsistency, devastated that we haven’t lived up to our lofty expectations of ourselves. The roller coaster ride of elation and depression continues. Why? Because we never lay hold of our nothingness before God, and consequently, we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with Him. But when we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God’s mercy, then God can make something beautiful out of us.”

My freshman year in college proved to me that I was a ragamuffin; bedraggled, helpless, pitiable. My puffed up view of myself had been deflated, and I couldn’t even stand up to the scrutiny of my own marred measure of goodness. But the gospel really is good news for the lowly, the cast-off, the wretched.

Enter “the Christian twins.”

Going to college in the Bible Belt, there was no shortage of Christians in my dorm, but most of them had little to do with me. The Christian twins were different; they spoke to me whether I was stumbling into the dorm, wasted at Huddle House, or reading in the library. They chatted with me in the hallway, they borrowed nail polish, but mostly, they treated me with dignity during a time where I had none.

Somehow at 19 years old, the Christian twins had figured out the tenor of the gospel and greeted the world from this posture: We’re all pitiful. Left to our own designs, we’re self-destructive. Regardless of how we look to the world, we need Jesus and are at the mercy of His grace. The gospel leaves us no room for haughtiness; we’re all beggars.

I never developed a deep friendship with either of the Christian twins, but I remain grateful for the kindness they showed me. I followed them to church and heard week after week a message aligned with Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel:

“God has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do.”

That grace is the same for the rich and the poor, same for the sinner and the saint. After all these years, His grace still finds me.If that isn’t how Christianity has been for you, follow me to church—I only go where ragamuffins are welcome.

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