Brennan Manning, Bonnie, and How I'll Never Look at Jesus the Same Way
I met Bonnie the summer after my junior year in college.
Her leathery tanned skin woven with deep creases told the story of challenge and adversity.
The world had not been easy for Bonnie.
The ivory breaks in her sun-scorched face around her eyes and directly to the ear-side of her dimples spoke of her joy, despite the harshness of life.
We met for lunch or coffee about once a week, sometimes more, for most of the summer.
I was living in California at the time, and we would sit there. Dark roast coffee in hand, chasing away the chill in the Northern California breeze, looking out across the ocean talking about how small we were and how big God is.
Bonnie was estranged from her family. Relationships of many kinds had let her down over and over again. She was homeless. Sometimes, she thought God was inaccessible.
And why shouldn’t she? The Christian organization I was serving with that summer had specifically instructed me not to engage the homeless population in our neighborhood.
We were living there, sixty some odd college students from around the country, with the express purpose of sharing the Good News about Jesus with the beachfront community in Santa Cruz, California. Except if they were homeless. In those cases, we were told not to give any money, not to buy food, not to engage in conversation, just leave them alone.
I’m not very good with rules sometimes.
And Bonnie was far more interested in talking to me than any of the tourists on the pier to whom I was trying to explain “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
There were a couple of days where I didn’t see Bonnie around.
She wasn’t on her normal corner.
She missed one of our coffee dates.
I assumed she’d moved on. Found a better place to panhandle. Maybe she’d been picked up by the police for some reason. I wouldn’t let myself think of anything worse.
A few days later though, she resurfaced in her normal spots.
“I missed you,” I said, “Where were you?”
“You’ll never believe it,” she started, “I met an angel.”
She went on to tell me that one night a man had pulled up near her on the street and asked if she wanted a place to stay for the night. She refused, insisting she wasn’t “that kind” of woman. But the man persisted, he told her he had no intentions of doing anything with her other than paying for a hotel room. She finally agreed, and the man took her to a nearby hotel.
True to his word, the mystery man paid for a hotel room for several days, bought her the nicest dinner she’d eaten in quite awhile and then prepared to leave.
“Can I pray with you before I go?” he asked Bonnie.
She was surprised, but agreed.
The man prayed, told her he loved her, God loved her and handed her a copy of Brennan Mannings book Abba’s Child.
She pulled the book out of her bag at this point and showed it to me.
Tears glistened in the around her eyes, creating misty pools between the amber crags and the lily white valleys of her laugh lines.
“I think,” she paused, “I think God really does love me Megan. Even though I’m messed up.”
Now my eyes misted over too.
“Yes Bonnie, God loves you. He wants to know you. He wants you to love him back.”
A week later we met up again. Bonnie told me excitedly about how she would go to the beach every morning and read Abba’s Child and look out over the ocean.
“I talked to him!” Her voice was just above a whisper, giddy and sing-songy like a schoolgirl divulging a secret.
“Talked to who?”
My soul pickled in the juices of far too many years of cheap grace and easy access to God’s feet nearly spewed off some random information about how she could “pray better” or “more effectively” or ensure she was “being heard.”
But then I stopped.
I looked at the bright smile lighting up the weathered face. The tears in her eyes threatening to cascade down her cheeks yet again.
This woman had talked to God in a way I never had in my near decade of following Jesus.
Which makes sense considering the Psalms tell us that God is close to those who are broken and Jesus’ life confirms this.
Instead of advice, I just basked in her glow as she gushed about the talk she had with God on the beach.
I don’t know what happened to Bonnie.
It will be four years this summer since I last saw her.
I never heard anything back.
But this I know, Bonnie is Abba’s child. No matter what became of her, whether she’s reunited with her daughter, still panhandling on the pier in Santa Cruz or whether she’s moved on in whatever sense of the word you can imagine she’s not homeless any more.
She found her place in Christ. He met and talked with her each morning on the beach.
When I heard that Brennan Manning had passed away this week, I remembered Bonnie immediately.
I’m thankful for Manning’s writings that influenced a man to buy dinner and a hotel for a homeless woman.
I’m thankful for Manning’s writings for helping me understand in a new way how incredible, offensive and wholly other God’s grace is.
I’m thankful for Manning’s writings that helped my friend Bonnie see how loved she is by her Creator, that she found her place as God’s child, and that I got to walk with her and watch…even if only for a little while.
Well done and rest well, fellow Ragamuffin.