Monday, October 17, 2011

Kissing Brennan Manning

The year was 2007, the seventh month and seventh year. Even the date was part of a conspiracy of grace. You know what they say about the number seven. It's God's favorite number, and he must have been feeling good that day, and especially enamored of this ragamuffin gal.

I was on my way to Christian Book retail show called ICRS, to sign advanced reader copies of Zora and Nicky, a novel I wrote that received critical acclaim (but not great sales). My good friends and publishing family folks, Don Pape and Terry Behimer, had orchestrated to pick me up at the airport in a big honkin' black stretch limo. My plane was supposed to arrive before theirs and according to my schedule I had to wait a bit before I would meet them, but Don and Terry would be worth the wait. I love those folks.

Let me give you a little history about Don and Terry. Don and I go waaaaaaaay back to Ancient Days in 2004, shortly after I stole an issue of Today's Christian Woman from the hospital surgical waiting room. Nowadays I'm inclined to think stealing is a strong word for simply taking the offering a kind, evangelistic soul left there to rock my world. And it truly did. In general, TCW did not rock my world. But this issue, with a black woman on the cover, and decidedly imperfect Christian women inside, filled me, the chieftess of sinners, with such an intense longing to write my ragged soul journey that I couldn't just leave it. So yes, I boosted it. I read it in the hospital cafeteria. I pored over it on the bus. I gazed at it as if were a wonder of the world, devouring it from cover to cover at home. That night I held it to my heart and begged Jesus to please let me write for him, though I was unworthy. Soooo unworthy. But I started my blog, Ragamuffin Diva, days later. I mean, I knew no Christian publisher would publish the likes of me: a chronically depressed, bipolar, hot ghetto mess. But I was a beloved mess. Brennan Manning taught me that. I called my blog Ragamuffin Diva because of him, not the King of Ragamuffins, but the humble servant of us all. About a year earlier, I read his stellar work,The Ragamuffin Gospel, and found myself on every page. Brennan's life was evidence that God's love would storm every bed in hell I was capable of making. And I made a lot! They thought I was the chambermaid down there.

My new friend Lisa Samson read my fresh of the blog press blog, and told her publisher, none other than Don Pape, about it. He sent me an email asking me if I'd be interested in writing a novel for his publishing house. Heck yeah I would, and I did! Only the acquiring editor kept a stash of ten foot poles he used to do stuff like not to touch my work. Don left that house only days after I finished my draft. But he ended up becoming a literary agent three weeks later, and represented my novel instead of publishing it. That's where Terry comes in. She was the Editorial Director at a well known Christian publishing house, and snapped that novel up, giving me a nice chunk of moolah for it (those were the days!). Then both of them moved on to another house, David C. Cook. Once Don became a publisher again, and immediately after my career imploded, Don emailed me with the second best offer of my career, and that is how Zora and Nicky was born. And again, Terry acquired it. Don and Terry were, and continue to be, harbingers of amazing grace to me.

So there we were, waiting in the airport on 7/7/07, for the last of our limo riders to arrive. And that's when more grace began to rain. Terry asked me, probably to prevent me from having a heart attack, if I wouldn't mind waiting for one more person. Mr. Brennan Manning would be riding with us.

I really tried not to freak, at least I tried not to show it.  But I was out of my head with excitement! My husband had already warned me not to scare Brennan if I glimpsed him, and by golly I would try not to mow him down like a really big, yelping, licking puppy. I would try!

And then there he was, the life changer who knew God loved hot ghetto messes. He doesn't just save wretches like me. He adores us. Brennan was wearing a pink shirt, and what Terry called "wacky pants," a pair of windowpane jeans with squares of a plaidesque pink, green, yellow, light blue and white. Who knows where he got them. His suit case was black and I had a pink laptop bag. I was wearing black pants and a zebra top, so of course I asked if we could switch outfits. He said those pants were 15 years old, and somebody offered him five hundred bucks for them! I told them I couldn't afford that because Terry didn't give me big enough advances. And that made him laugh. Then my friend and editor extraordinaire, Andrea Christian, told me to feed him peanut butter ice cream--he loves it!--to distract him and get the pants off of him. Now, that was Andrea talking about getting the man's pants off, not me. That time. Then, we filed into the limo, and everyone chose seats that would leave me right across from Brennan. A holy ambush!

At the time, Brennan had just begun working on his memoir for David C. Cook, at the time called, An Honest Man. Now it's titled, All is Grace, and if you read it you will see that, while both titles work, the latter has the real message Brennan wants to leave us with.

I was aflame to read his memoir. He couldn't write fast enough. So I asked him how it was going. He said he thought it would be pretty boring.


Turns out his friend was Francis McNutt. I know Dr. McNutt's writings. This guy is a bonafide wonder worker. Brennan thought his own ministry lacked miracles. Boring.

I was astounded, not because Brennan Manning doesn't have miracles--and of course he does--but because he wasn't aware of what they were! His writing about God's crazy love has infused every published word that I've written. EVERY STINKING WORD! And I had to tell him, like a grateful, yelping, licking puppy, just how much he meant to me.

The Ragamuffin Gospel came to me when I was hella messed up. Life was hard for me, a once upon a time teenaged missionary. Other people's expectations for my 16-year-old missionary self had me so beat down by the time I was 30, I felt like I my new title was "God's Biggest Disappointment." I wanted to cry as I told him this, but I stayed strong to tell my story better.

I told Brennan that it is the ordinary messes he touches, people who don't need to read about a miracle, except the outrageous grace that God loves them just as they are. Back in the day, I couldn't even hold my head up in my Heavenly Father's House. And that is tragic. It is a shame to feel too weary to be loved on by God in what should be your spiritual home. I told that lovely little poor man, so like St. Francis of Assisi, that it was he who taught me that I was okay with God. More than okay, really. Loved.

Isn't that a real live miracle if you truly didn't believe it before? And isn't that the Gospel? The real good news. God loved me, even though I'd messed up like a dog returning to it's own vomit, again and again, but God still loves me. I don't have to clean up nice to earn his love. Being, is pretty much a guarantee of possessing it. My life is marked by every kind of failure, yet God loves me. My failures outnumber any good works by far, but God isn't counting. Wow!

When I finished, Brennan said, "Holy mackerel!" which was the best response ever.

At the hotel I asked if I could take a picture of us on my computer. I knew it would be a wacky composition because it's hard to hold a MacBook in front of you for a group shot. Andrea ended up holding my Mac while I kissed that dear man on the cheek. It isn't often you get to kiss your hero, but because of love I didn't deserve I did. For despite my multitude of flaws, my Father, according to Brennan, is very, very fond of me. And so are my dear friends, who so kindly gave me time to be with the Ragamuffin. I cherish the moment I found myself kissing Brennan Manning, the time I gave a teensy weeny crumb of grace and gratitude to the guy who saturated me with God's love.

That moment is gone now. The memoir is finished. and it isn't the crumb of grace Brennan thought it was--read it and see what I mean. To a ragamuffin like me it's Babette's Feast, a once in a lifetime gourmet meal from a man who spent it all, his whole life, finding grace in the most graceless places, and didn't mind serving it to us.

Buy a bunch of copies. Watch how it changes you and your loved ones. Then buy some more and change somebody's life.

All is Grace is on sale now from David C. Cook. I'm reading as part of Pantheos Book Club. Read an excerpt of All is Grace there today.