“My story is a rosary, the beads of which are the people and experiences that have made me what I am.  I have tried to move from one bead to the next, but my fingers are feeble and my eyes are tired.  So please forgive me; you will experience gaps and breaks in time and will frequently want to know more.  But this is not a tell-all . . . . I have written about experiences with the straight-no-chaser grace of God, battered by wave upon wave of His tender fury.”


So begins the just-released  memoir by Brennan Manning – All is Grace.  Brennan acknowledges right from the beginning of this story, beautifully co-written by John Blasé, that “things haven’t turned out the way I’d planned.”   What do you do with stories that don’t turn out like you wanted them to – that don’t have a Hollywood ending or mesh with the ideas we have about Christian salvation stories?  Reading Brennan’s story became a salvation story for me, affirming that my own salvation story isn’t as outrageous as I thought – or maybe it is, because true salvation comes at the worst possible moments when it’s clear that I can’t possibly save myself and it doesn’t seem possible that anyone else would want to save me . . . but God.

I hope you read this book.  It troubled me.  I felt sick when I first read it and saw the YouTube video promoting it.  I felt exposed by the hard realities of addiction that often take us two steps forward and three steps back.  I actually got to spend some time with John Blasé talking about the book and Brennan and addiction and shame and grace and felt relief as we concluded that this is the kind of story that would be in the Bible.  Below is my response (that is included in the beginning of All is Grace) to reading the book.  I hope to write about a few of the specific stories in the book and how they intersect with my own salvation stories in future posts.  For now, I would love to hear how you respond to stories – in your life or the lives of others – that don’t turn out like you thought they would.

Have you wondered why God doesn’t make your life work or why you can’t make your life work?  I think we read memoirs hoping that someone has found an answer in their own life that can make sense of ours. The pages you are about to read really do lead to an Answer, but your first reaction to these pages might be similar to mine.  Initially, I was confused, wondering why Brennan could preach a powerful message of grace but live a powerless life of chronic alcoholism.  The stories, at first, made me mad  – mad at Brennan for being the winsome ragamuffin who relentlessly preached that, “God loves us unconditionally, as we are and not as we should be,” while he lived as the “reeking-of-vomit-drunken ragamuffin’ who was definitely not as he should be.  The promise of this book — All is Grace – at first struck me as mockery as I read about a life marked by abuse, betrayal, heartache, addiction, and humiliating illness. The content found in these pages undid me, and then something completely unexpected and unpredictable happened.

            I started to worship. 

            Confusion turned to gratitude as I began to see that Brennan’s hellish journey of two-steps forward, three steps back kept him so entrenched in a prodigal story that he knew over and over and over and over again the outlandish grace of the Father welcoming him home.  I, too, have struggled with addiction and so Brennan’s story helps make sense of mine, but even if you don’t have an addiction I know you struggle with something again and again and again.  In most testimonies the good news is only a small part of the story, obscured by our achieving and overcoming.  In Brennan’s story, and in mine, the Good News is the entire story, which blessedly leaves us with nothing to prove or protect.

            Allowing Brennan’s story to settle deeply into my own turned anger into trust.  Even Brennan’s final days with the humiliating illness of “wet brain” compels me to tell all of my story because it reveals the certainty of the grace of God – how good He is, not how bad I am.  If we trust grace we don’t need to hide who we are from one another. Brennan’s story invited me to ponder what it might take for me to tell the unvarnished truth about my life.  Brennan did not need to tell us the dirty details of his alcoholism, and he certainly did not need to leave us with a final picture of himself as blind, feeble of body and mind, unable to speak clearly or even take care of himself.  He might have rested on his bestseller laurels and finished with one last story of someone impacted by his ministry.  Then we could have worshipped him a little and aspired to do something great for Jesus. 

Brennan tells his story in a way that strips away everything and leaves us with Jesus.  I have faced Him before and felt ashamed or angry, but finding Him at the end of this tale of brokenness really did break me open and there in the ruins of my own story of dreams and heartache and alcohol and success and marriage and children and divorce and church and ministry and betrayal and forgiveness and love and loss I saw that it is true, and I worshipped.  It is true.  All is grace.


“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.  Saving is all his idea, and all his work.” Ephesians 2:8