Vulgar Grace

While in college, my aunt and uncle moved to Chicago because of his job promotion. Until then, I lived in their upstairs bedroom in Tulsa when I came home on breaks.  On one of them, my uncle flew me in his plane to Naperville, a suburb of the big city they called home.

And the main thing I remember about my first visit to that amazing city isn’t the traffic or the homeless people lying in the street, or trying to navigate a city bus system on my own.  It was the shock of my own image in the reflection of store windows as I walked Michigan Avenue.

Just days before the trip, I decided to get a haircut with a new stylist, popular on campus. My hair, thick and curly, fit well in the era of big hair and shoulder pads. And he cut it all off. Took the scissors and carelessly stripped my identity in a matter of moments.

And every time I caught my reflection, I felt exposed, like a little girl lost among giants with a lump in my throat the size of an apple. Found the need to explain myself to strangers behind counters like a patient lying on the couch of a psychiatrist.

Vulgar grace, as Brennan Manning calls it. Grace that amazes as it offends. A stripping of my identity.  Some memorable first steps to freedom from the illusion of who I am.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God,” Manning says. “This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

I’ve asked Jesus to show me what this looks like.  This awareness of His love for me that overshadows the voices that shout the list of shoulds.

He answers in the little boy wearing the gingham shirt and three layers of eyelashes seated among his family members on Easter. The way they lean their foreheads together, pick him up and bounce songs of worship over him like the melodies sing just for him.

And he smiles calm in the adoration, takes it all in like wrapping up in a warm blanket because he is used to being beloved in their shadow.

My daughter and I, we’re singing in the row behind him and he turns around next to the legs of his grandma, cranks his head back so we can see those big browns, his hands Crayola fisted. We smile and then notice the tiny index finger pointed straight to the floor while his eyes remain fixed on hers like a target. Magenta, it rolled off the chair, landed beside her five-inch heel.

Murielle giggles, bends down to pick it up and hands it back to him. His eyes twinkle thank you. We can’t stop watching him, and saying how adorable he is.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

This is grace.

In this season of Eastertide, fifty days to celebrate the hope in resurrection, may we come to look at our reflection as beautiful. Respond in the understanding that His heart beats endless grace over us. And that is enough.

“This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown –up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”

Quotes by Brennan Manning from his latest memoirAll is Grace.

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58 Responses to Vulgar Grace

  1. I still have so much to learn, about opening wide and receiving His grace. I am learning and have come so far, but I know there is so much more rest I am to find in Him. I love this, “Respond in the understanding that His heart beats endless grace over us.” My response should be to receive His grace, but I know I don’t deserve it, and too often I bring myself to exhaustion trying to earn it. I forget, it is a gift and I don’t have to perform to receive it and there is nothing I can do to earn it.

    Thank you for the reminder :) Blessings to you…

    • I hope we never stop learning. But that means we have to fail and pick ourselves up again. And I have issues with doing/earning in order to be accepted. It’s why I am focused on grace during Eastertide. I want to walk in this freedom.

  2. LuAnn says:

    so good…
    I try to check the mirror minimally and His face frequently.

  3. Laura says:

    Eastertide…didn’t grow up in the formal church and was unfamiliar with the term. New things to ponder.

  4. dukeslee says:

    And yes, your reflection is beautiful. Stunning, really. I see Jesus in your mirror.

  5. Ostriches says:

    wow. thank you. this has literally been the hardest day of my parenting career…and I just needed to read this. thank you thank you.

  6. this touched me in such a tender way tonight, friend. thank you. (i love brennan manning)

  7. joepote01 says:

    “Vulgar Grace!”

    I love it! God is so incredibly gracious toward us!

  8. My husband asked me yesterday what an oxymoron was, and I should have read him your blog post title! — What a beautiful spiritual practice — to focus on grace after Easter. This has challenged me. Thanks

    • My kids were learning that in their English classes and when you have to come up with one on demand, it is hard isn’t it? We sat around the dinner table trying to think of some one evening. I am finding some richness in the focus of grace, like the lens of my heart is growing wider.

  9. Denise says:

    Such a good post.

  10. HopeUnbroken says:

    great stuff. i really need to read some of manning’s material, because i seem to be seeing it referenced everywhere.
    as always, thanks for sharing so freely with us. so encouraging.
    steph

  11. Ms. Kathleen says:

    The Lord has promised good to me…
    His word my hope secures.
    He will my shield and portion be…
    as long as life endures.

    There is nothing more amazing than God’s grace.

    Have a wonderful day!

  12. Christina says:

    I love Brennan Manning and have been deeply moved by his words. I’ll have to get this book!Thanks for sharing this post today.

    • Christina, I am so happy to finally know your name! I know I could have asked but I never saw your name on your blog or comments so I wasn’t sure. Silly I know after all the interaction we have had. Well, now we are on a first name basis friend. I know you will love this book if you are a Manning fan. And the best part . . its short and easy to read for we busy moms!

  13. brian miller says:

    nice..love this much…brennan manning is one of my fav authors on grace….and thank you for bringing the words a live with a look in at your sotyr as well…grace can def be offensive and that is not a bad thing…smiles.

    • Oh Brian, what a joy to see you back in my comments. I have missed you. And what a wonderful place you have on the team of Imperfect Prose. Manning seems to be a common link for many of us when it comes to grace, that vulgar, beautiful grace.

  14. Oh this was rich! Brennang Manning’s All Is Grace completely undid me during Lent. I am still collecting the pieces of myself, and finding new mercies in God’s forgiveness and redemption. Thank you for this. It us an increadible gift, this underserved mercy…. thank you so much for these words.

    • Krissie, so glad you made a stop here today. I have loved this book too, glad to know you were undone by it like I was. It takes some laying down of who we are to grasp this kind of freedom in grace doesn’t it? Painful but joyful all at the same time. And I am glad He continues the work of change aren’t you?

  15. Celeste says:

    Ah! Shelly, I really like your photos.
    I am reading this in the morning even though I received it last evening. After reading the quote I wonder if I should of read it at that time better equipping me for what was to come, as I became the “punching bag”…so to speak for someone in our study last evening. This morning I began to contemplate that well known verse, now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    In a better frame of mind, I cannot fault her for growing up with some bad theology but last night it hurt. Exasperated, I finally said that I could not give her the answer she wanted…as she came at me about faith and grace. I have (often) used the adoption as an explanation for growing in my faith, praising God for how he has worked. In her search to find a ” formula” that fits her thoughts, she pushed back hard questioning my own growth.

    • First, I wanted to tell you that I snapped those photos at an Urban Outfitters in Charleston while my daughter was trying on clothes. I was bored but then I realized the store used to be an old theater and had so many rich architectural elements. Glad you liked them.
      Secondly, I am sorry you were backed into a corner by someone last night. That had to be hard. Whenever that happens to me, I usually find a way to put up a healthy boundary and walk away. Usually an unproductive hurtful conversation that ends badly. I hope you will give yourself some grace and remember that the Christ we follow is one of redemption. It isn’t up to us to have the right answers or most eloquent language, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that convicts and transforms. Love you Celeste.

  16. Jean Wise says:

    Thank you for reminding me about Eastertide. I have been in limbo like I was waiting for something else and you reminded me of the hope in this time. Thank you.

    My son lives outside of Chicago close to Naperville. He works in Aurora, so I appreciated your reflections about that city.

    • Jean, its kind of like the let down after preparing for the party or wedding or anniversary trip isn’t it? Love the city of Chicago. H and I were supposed to visit last Christmas and our plans got changed unexpectedly. It’s been a while but hope to go back some day.

  17. Where have I been…I’m finding Manning today. . .thank you! this is something I must ponder.
    Thanks for giving me something to dwell on, Shelly! So blessed by you…
    and today? I’ll strive to not hide behind my hair ;)

    All for Him, for all IS grace.
    Nikki

  18. r.elliott says:

    oh nothing like a bad hair cut to help free us from ourselves:)…I am learning this too…the deepest awareness is that I am deeply loved by Christ…until I rest fully in this…I will not receive all His unmerited grace. beautiful post…blessings~

  19. My heart has been overwhelmed today as I click on blog after blog, rich with words of conviction, encouragement, and wisdom. Thanks for the reminder to remain “Hidden in Christ” my true identity!

  20. I never heard of Eastertide either. So I just Googled it. Fifty days of celebration–one great Sunday. This is something I need to think about. Thanks so much for introducing me to this season of the church year. I missed out on all these kinds of things growing up in a non-liturgical church.

    The Manning quote is powerful–just posted it on my Facebook wall. Something I need to remind myself of often. Thanks for doing what you do, Shelly. Your work is a blessing to me.

    • Nancy, I added a link about Eastertide because several have asked. It’s actually from a church I am unfamiliar with but good explanations and depth. Hopefully it will be helpful. And I didn’t grow up this way either, but I am enriched by the depth in the liturgy since finding the Anglican trail. Thanks for the nod on FB. You are so gracious, a true blessing to me.

  21. kd sullivan says:

    This reminds me of something Madeleine L’Engle has written: “When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ouselves out first. The throwin ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholy concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-consious selves.”

    • Yes, I love L’Engle, don’t you? Is this from Walking on Water? I want to read that again actually. I read it on vacation at the cottage last summer and I have noticed lots of people quoting her lately.

      • kd sullivan says:

        Madeleine is my favorite. I’ll never forget when I found out she wrote for grown-ups too. I sounded a little like PIppen (or was it Merri?) “It comes in pints?” :)

  22. Indescriminate compassion. Will we ever really understand it? Thanks for this.

  23. “Grace that amazes as it offends.”

    This – so true and beautiful.

    Love this post Shelley. Thank you!

  24. jaxchaplain says:

    Thanks for sharing – I’m a huge fan of Brennan Manning! He and Dallas Willard are tied for my favorite contemplative writers. My favorite Manning quote: “In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

    • Love that quote, it’s so inclusive isn’t it? I want to thank you for your kindness since following Redemptions Beauty. The tweets and like’s on my posts do not go unnoticed, I appreciate your generosity a great deal. I am in a busy season and have visited your blog but haven’t had time to properly linger. So glad to have you as part of the conversations here. Thank you.

  25. Deidra Riggs says:

    I haven’t read Brennan Manning in awhile. I must revisit him.

    Today I asked H, what comes after Easter? I feel so lost without Lent. What is this Eastertide of which you speak?

    • Deidra, love this book and I read it on the drive home from Charleston, easy reading. Eastertide is 50 days of celebrating resurrection. I like to think of it as a shift from repentance to grace as focus. I added a link on this post that explains it in more detail since others have asked too. Love you lots. You’ve been on my mind lately.

  26. “Grace that amazes as it offends.” Love it.

    • His words are powerful and true. They crack me open and lay me out in a new way. So glad to meet you Charis and thanks for following Redemptions Beauty. So glad you joined in the conversation here!

  27. tara pohlkotte says:

    bet it doesn’t shock you that I too love me some Manning :) it leaves me breathless, this witness we writers and readers get to be to each other’s being present, noticing life, grace, and love in the every day. I just witnessed your heart big and open. And it has made me smile.

    • I’m glad you see it Tara, the open heart. He is taking me somewhere new and I’m trying to figure it all out instead of just resting that He’s got this one too. When will I stop trying to figure it all out? UGH! I cried a few times when I read this book.

      • tara pohlkotte says:

        oh, but he’ll use that too. you’ll see. it will make the grace, the gift all the sweeter for how hard we’ve tried to control and earn it..and fail. When we finally remember to let that fall away…oh, he’ll be waiting to hold us, and fold us into the great mystery.

  28. KlarionKall says:

    Wow, beautifully rendered, and nicely topped off with some pics! I escpecially like this, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God,” Manning says. “This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” When I read that, I immediately thought about the lies that satan throws at us, to get us to believe that we’re not “as one beloved by God”, but we are!

    • Klarion, so nice to meet you and thank you for following the community here at Redemptions Beauty. I appreciate your comment and agree with your thoughts on Mannings quote. The book is fabulous and an easy read full of underlines in my Kindle!

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