It was about 24 years ago. I woke up in a doorway on Commercial Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I woke up in an alcoholic fog, sniffing vomit all over my sweater. I was staring down at my bare feet: I didn’t know a wino had stolen my shoes during the night to buy a bottle of Thunderbird. I’d been out on the street about three weeks, sleeping out on the beach until the cops caught me, under the bridge, in doorways. I was panhandling enough money to get a quart of vodka every day. Same filty clothes, rancid body odor. And I lived to drink.
And that morning, I see a woman coming down the sidewalk, maybe 25 years old, blonde hair: attractive lady. She’s got a 4-year-old son in her hand. The boy broke loose from his mother’s grip, ran over to the doorway and stared down at me. His mother came up quickly behind him, cupped her hand over his eyes and said, “Don’t look at that … FILTH! All that is is pure filth!”
And about 24 years ago, that “filth” was Brennan Manning. And the God I’ve come to know, the Jesus I have met in my own life, loved me as much THAT morning in a state of DISGRACE as He does tonight in a state of grace, for his compassion is never, never, NEVER based on our performance. Jesus told us, “I don’t call you ‘servants’: I call you ‘my friend’.” If someone accepts you DESPITE all your faults, that is not total acceptance: a friend accepts you WITH all your faults.
I was in the gutter for 18 months, with alcohol a total compulsion in my body, and a complete obsession in my mind. My family: I lost them. My friends wanted nothing to do with me. I was such an embarrassment, such a source of shame. And my closest male friend, Paul Sheldon, every two weeks he flew, at his own expense from Mobile, Alabama down to Ft. Lauderdale, and he sat on the curb in the gutter with me, with his arm around me. He didn’t give me any lectures, he didn’t give me any ultimatums. He just said, “Brennan, I love you. And you’re gonna be O.K..” And twice a month for a year and a half, he was down there, just sitting with me, buying me some breakfast, just holding my hand. And for me, Paul Sheldon was the human face of Jesus Christ.