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 memoir, All is Grace.