Thursday, November 8, 2012

Being a Ragamuffin, by M

As I think back on my (few) years of adult life thus far, I'm able to recall a couple of seasons in which I was absolutely sure that God was trying to get my attention about something. Although I'm guessing that this actually happens far more than I realize... there have been a few instances in which I was tuned in enough (or perhaps God was sufficiently loud enough) to turn my attention definitively towards Him and what He wanted me to learn. In the last couple of weeks, it has become clear to me that I once again find myself in such a season. God seems to be coming at me from all sides and in all manner of ways with this one request... learn that you are a ragamuffin. Know that I love you anyway.

I think that probably sounds dramatic, but stay with me! It seems as though every book I read, every sermon I listen to, every song that plays through my Pandora is speaking to me on this theme. And what great timing too - as my ongoing adjustment to being the "new girl" in full-time ministry, wedding planning, wife-preparedness, etc leaves me often feeling that I am far from perfect and prone to come up short. As a recovering perfectionist, this sense of personal/professional "failure" is familiar territory; however, God is showing me that my response to it must be learned anew.

My small group has been reading Brennan Manning's best-selling The Ragamuffin Gospel for the past two months. I had been familiar with the book for several years but had never actually ventured to read it until just now. Having loved one of Manning's other classics Abba's Child, I felt confident that this book would probably rock my world and/or give me a good old punch to the gut. The truth is, I was right. Manning speaks about God's love and grace in a way that we just don't hear much now-a-days. He begs his readers to ponder the question, "do you truly believe the Gospel is good news?" 

Here's one story from the book that really spoke to me. Manning, a recovering alcoholic, relays an astounding demonstration of grace that he was witness to one evening:

"On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering drug addicts and alcoholics gather for their weekly AA meeting... They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and they know each other well. Some talk to each other daily on the telephone, others socialize outside the meetings. The personal investment in one another's sobriety is sizable... That night, Jack was the appointed leader. 'The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude' he began, 'but if anyone wants to talk about something else, let's hear it.' 

Immediately Phil's hand shot up.

'As you all know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.'

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

'You all know the buzzword H.A.L.T in this program,' he continued. 'Don't let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and...' 

Phil's voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table - moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room. 

'The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.'

'Thank God you're back.'

'Boy, that took a lot of guts.'

'Relapse spells relief, Phil,' said a substance abuse counselor. 'Let's get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.'

'I'm so proud of you.'

'Hell, I never made it even close to seven years.'

As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck, and cheek. 'You old ragamuffin,' said Denise. 'Let's go. I'm treating you to a banana split at the Tastee Freeze." 

-Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel pages 66-68

As I read this story the first time around, I caught myself holding my breath as this man revealed his sin to his peers. I anticipated them to react in anger and betrayal... "how could you?" "How could you do this to us?" I expected Phil to likely be kicked out of the group and invited back only when he got his life a little more together. Instead, the reactions of his fellow members floored me. I couldn't believe how quickly they were to not only forgive Phil, not only to show him mercy, but to show him such beautiful grace and love. It makes me really question why the Church does not very often act similarly to the mistakes and sins of her members? 

On top of that, however, is the question of "do I really believe that that is how God reacts to me in my sin?" Manning argues (with hefty scriptural support throughout the book) that the tenderness and love exemplified by those recovering alcoholics is just a small slice of the grace, mercy, and love that God has for us. Do I really believe that? 

Most of the time, I feel like I don't. I know in my brain that God loves me and that I need his grace to be saved through my faith in His son Jesus. But do I live and breathe as though God desperately desires to lavish his love on me and be just like that dad that kisses his daughter's "boo-boos"? Especially those wounds, those mistakes, those sins, those let-downs, etc that I bring upon myself? I am learning that I will never be more or less in His eyes than that small child with the skinned knee who makes messes, who runs away, and who does all sorts of things because she just doesn't know better. And yet, He is not waiting for me to "grow up." He's not waiting for me to get it together, or reach perfection, or just cut it out. Instead, He says "Come here. Let me comfort you. I love you... it's okay."

...and even if that conversation happens 100 times a day, every day for my whole life, He just desires that I keep coming back. He is the Comforter, the Redeemer, the Forgiver, and more... That is good news! And now I am in the process of learning how to rest in it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

God's Best, by M

Happy November, everyone! Hard to believe, isn't it!?

This post will be another chapter in the chronicles of "things that are strange about being engaged." I'm just learning so much these days! The big thing recently is about comparison. I know I'm like the billionth blogger to talk about this... so, perhaps skip this one if you want or at least give me some grace for the topic. haha That would be great!

Anyway, something about this whole season is making me extra sensitive to the temptation to compare. Perhaps it's because it seems like people are getting engaged every other day, perhaps it's because a solid handful of my coworkers are engaged or have gotten married just since I've been here, or perhaps it's just the nature of the beast. In any case, I feel like comparing is all I want to do these days. Is her dress prettier than mine? Is her color scheme going to be better than mine? Is her almost-husband helping her more or less than mine is? Seriously, it is a constant temptation to indulge these thoughts.

I wonder if part of this temptation is the fact that engagement makes life all-about-you for a period of time. When else in life do people act so happy for you, are they so eager to shower you with gifts, or so forthcoming with their affirmations of your beauty, your figure, your taste? It's kind of bizarre how much attention engagement brings you... from loving family members and friends to random women out and about. It feels good, to be honest, but it's also a dangerous thing, I think. And that's where the comparisons come in. If you are the center of the universe, suddenly other people being engaged and/or getting their own attention becomes very threatening. Their sparklier rings or prettier decorations or more helping fiances take attention away from you. And for some reason, getting attention breeds the desire for more attention, and this all becomes very bothersome.

On top of that is this weird realization that while, on the one hand, you're getting all of these things you've been dreaming about forever (the ring! the dress! the husband!) you're also saying adios to large portions of that very dream (goodbye beach wedding! goodbye ballgown! goodbye future husband that sings like Dave Barnes!). Does that make sense? As you settle into the reality of what your dream is actually turning out to be, there are many things that you realize it actually will never be. And there's the tempation again for more comparisons... but this time, it's with your fictional version of this story versus the reality of your story. The thing is... my reality is NOT bad. It is NOT AT ALL bad, but actually very, very, abundantly good. But it's also not always going to live up to the fairytale, nor will my circumstances always live up to or trump every single other almost-brides' that exists in the whole world. So I want to compare... and I want to be the "winner" of these comparisons. But playing that game never pays. I can't judge the value of my life and my circumstances solely on how they stack up to other people, real or fictional. It's just not healthy or productive.

So I've been trying to take a different approach when I feel the temptation to compare. Instead of indulging it and feeling better by rationalizing why or how someone's whatever-it-may-be is actually not better than mine, I'm trying to take a step back. I take a good look and I remind myself:

"M, this is exactly what God wanted for you." 

"God gave you this man."

"God gave you this body."

"God gave you this wedding."

"God gave you these talents."

And He saw fit to give me these things for a reason. So I can get stressed about how other brides seem so much more talented than I am at coordinating colors (for example haha), or I can find rest in the knowledge that God's plan for me just didn't include that gift. I can feel bad that parts of my wedding are not going to look like I've always envisioned, or I can take comfort in the fact that this is what God has for me. And while it may be different, or the world may say that some elements are not-as-good, it is God's best. All of these things are God's will for me and my life. Can't God's best be good enough for me?

That is what I'm working on.