This one took longer than 5 minutes, (so I totally cheated this week!), but I think when you read the story you might agree with me that fudging the rules in this case was totally worth it.
His name was Larry Malaney and he was even less glamorous than his name suggests. He was a hippie who never bathed, never seemed to change his clothes, and had a horrible case of acne. His appearance–and his odor–isolated him from his classmates.
When Brennan Manning met him in the 60’s, Larry was a college student and self-proclaimed agnostic. He would often come to Manning’s office to debate him about spiritual topics. It was probably one of the few places on campus where he was not rejected because of his sloppy hygiene. “In all my days,” Manning writes, “I have never seen anyone with such low self-esteem.”
He grew up under the strict thumb of his father, one of a breed of traditional men known as “lace-curtain Irishmen”. Even in the heat of August, Mr. Malaney Sr. never came to dinner at his own home without dressing in a freshly-pressed suit. Larry would come to the same table smelling like he had never bathed in his life.
Family tension? You bet.
One Christmas, however, everything changed. Larry had spent several days at home, filled with the usual squabbles and strained silences. He told his father that he was leaving on the train the next morning, and his father said he would ride with him part of the way. It was, after all, on his way to the office.
The next morning, they sat together in silence. At the stop they disembarked, the elder to walk to his office, the son to wait for the second train.
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As they stood on the platform, a group of men across the street began to taunt Larry. One man yelled out “Hey Pig Boy! Oink! Oink!” Another man jeered, “If that was my son, I’d lock him up in the basement where he belongs!”
Larry turned away wordlessly. The cruelty was not new and he had learned to ignore it.
Suddenly his father, the prim “lace-curtain Irishman”, gripped him by the shoulders and turned him until they were face to face. He then pulled his son into the first embrace of his life and kissed him on the lips.
“Larry”, he said, “if your mother and I live to be 200 years old that wouldn’t be long enough to thank God for the gift he has given us in you. I’m so proud that you are my son.”
After that cold December day at the train station, Larry was a different person. He was still a hippie, but he cleaned up. He started dating. He had a new confidence, and he smiled readily. Soon after, he showed up at Manning’s office with a simple request. “Tell me about this man, Jesus.” Manning then explained the good news of the Gospel. At the end, Larry simply smiled and said, “OK.”
In his book, “The Furious Love of God,” Manning explains Larry’s transformation:
“It wasn’t because of the six weeks of sitting in Brennan Manning’s office while I talked about Jesus. No, it was because of a day long ago, during a Christmas vacation, standing at a bus stop, when his lace-curtain Irish father healed him. Yes, his father healed him. He looked deeply into his son’s eyes, saw the good in Larry Malaney that Larry couldn’t see for himself, affirmed him with a furious love, and changed the whole direction of his son’s life.”
That prim man reached for his son when the world flung insults–and healed him. Despite any rejection that he had previously meted out through his strained silences and tacit disapproval, this was the shining moment when he loved well.
You may not be a perfect parent, but today, you can choose to heal with your unearned acceptance.
You may not have had a perfect parent, but there is a Father who reaches for us now. Arms stretched painfully wide on a rough cross, he reached for us in our stinkiness, our sloppiness, our never-enough.
And we are healed.
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