Level One

CFL course, NASWI, Fitness
I look just like this in class. Exactly this.

The class is called Strictly Strength. The title and description intimidated me right off. I am not strong, strictly or otherwise.I imagined kettle bells and giant weights and me, collapsed on the floor, begging for the water bottle I inevitably forgot to bring.  Being sick a couple years back took all the muscle I had away, and strength has been a bit elusive since that point.

So while the sound of it was terrifying, the promise was worth the risk. I jumped in as the class newbie.

Level Up?

Surprise—there are levels to being strong. For just about any move the instructor taught us, she explained that there was a level one and a level two—or even three. There are options! There are large weights, and there are small ones. There are heavier bars and lighter bars. (And now I know I have to get there earlier if I want a lighter bar.) There are moves that test your further than other, easier possibilities. I did not have to walk in the room and lift a kettle bell above my head on the first day. Thank you, sweet eight-pound baby Jesus. That would have been ugly.

The most important thing I learned right away though—

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

Oh, I want to be at Level Two. I want to do the harder twists, the longer planks, the tighter crunches. But the part of me that is tired of injury remembers that is why I am doing this—to avoid hurting those parts of me that have gotten bruised, pulled, and pained by doing too much.

So I keep it slow. And steady.

Other people can do the full planks. I stick to the hands and knees ones. Someone else may be able to do double leg lifts. I will happily do them one at a time. Maybe one day I will do those harder things, but right now, I’m at Level One. And that’s an OK place to be.

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Church Has Levels, Too

Some of us show up to church at Level One. We don’t know the songs. We aren’t comfortable singing in public, anyway. We get part of what the pastor’s talking about, but some of the things are fuzzy, and we’re not sure how they apply to our situation. We don’t want to volunteer, because we’ve been burned out, and we’ve been called out by the person who felt we just couldn’t get it right. We don’t understand the unspoken cadence of the service that informs everyone else to stand up, sit down, or dip the bread in that cup rather than drink the juice.

Everyone else seems to be at Level Three, at least.

We want to be. We want to pretend we know the lingo, act like we’ve got our life together. But then we remember why we’re there—because we want to stop the hurt that happens when we are fake. We hate the bruises, pains, and sprains in our hearts over trying to be what we’re not.

Maybe church is a place where it’s OK to be at Level One. At least, we hope so. We long for grace for those who aren’t quite ready for the heavier lifting. We pray there is kindness for the ones who need the lighter weights, and we wish for others who can bear more to offer us their shoulders and their lighter burdens. We hope that, if anyone notices we can’t do what the seasoned attenders can do, they will not point that out but treat us as if there were no differences at all.

There is no shame in staying at Level One.

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Searching for Sunday

Church should always welcome the Level One folks. Partly, because Jesus told us to. Partly, because we were all Level One at some point. Party, because they have something to teach us.

If you’re trying church for the first time, or if you’re back for the first time since something there hurt you immeasurably, don’t push it. Don’t expect to be lifting the 25-pounders your second day. Don’t think you have to know all the moves in order to fit in. Embrace awkward. Know that you don’t know and that it’s OK. Know that sometimes you can’t manage whatever task it seems everyone else is taking on, and that’s OK, too.

Level Two will come.

It doesn’t really matter how long it takes. I makes not one bit of difference how long you have to keep doing one leg lifts. You’ll get there. You’ll grow stronger. Maybe one day you’ll see that person who doesn’t seem to know the steps and you’ll say to yourself, “Oh—I remember that. I’m stronger than I thought. I think I can be a shoulder for her.” That day, you’ll be the grace someone else needs to poke her head in the door and say, “Maybe I’ll try this. It’s scary, but maybe it’s just what I need.”

Dance Like We Just Don’t Care

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I went to three exercise classes last week. You might think that is normal. You are just not me. Three exercise classes is more than I have gone to in approximately three hundred years. I don’t do group classes. I don’t like them. I am not peppy or muscle-y, and I am barely scraping the edge of social. I went anyway, because a body that works when I want it to is becoming more important to me than my preference for private exercise. (By which I mean, no exercise at all more often than not.)

And wouldn’t you know, it occurred to me during the course of the hour, that exercise class is a lot like church. How, you ask? Well, let me tell you. 

Observations on a morning of exercise class:

Observation One: I love exercise classes where I am the youngest member.

Because I work at home, I am able to go to classes in the morning, after the overflow of committed enthusiasts who go before they get behind the wheel for their commute. Those people are scary. I have been at the gym at 6:00 am and seen their classes with accompanying blaring rock music. How can anyone endure that eardrum assault so early? I have watched them race onto the track and actually run, putting feet together in a coordinated, fast motion at that hour.

This is not possible for normal people. They are clearly the spawn of aliens.

But the 10:00 am classes? Filled with retired folk. Do you know what is glorious about an exercise class filled with people over 65?

They Do. Not. Care.

They don’t care how they look. They don’t care if they get every move right. They don’t care if they can’t stretch as far as that girl next to them in the designer purple yoga pants. They do not care the tiniest bit. They dance like they don’t care.

I love it.

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Church people care.

They care if your kids are crazier than theirs. They care if you volunteer as often as they do. They care if your opinions line up with theirs. They care if your clothes are nicer/not nicer/less modest/less expensive/more expensive/more outlandish/more casual than theirs. They. Care.

Not everywhere. Definitely not at our church. But at many.

So the lesson from exercise class? Find a place that doesn’t care or, better still, make a place that doesn’t care. Go to church and pretend you’re a 70-year-old woman doing yoga.

  • That other mom’s kid can’t seem to stop running through the hallway? High five her and tell her she’s doing great at a tough job. I mean, motherhood is kind of like trying to stretch your foot behind your ear while breathing properly (or breathing at all). Those kids’ souls are what matters—not any mess or noise they make. Old ladies doing yoga just don’t care about what doesn’t matter.

 

  • Go talk to that teenager wearing pajama pants to church. Welcome her. Ask her about her day, year, life. High five her for surviving being sixteen. That’s like me managing an hour of swing dancing when I’ve barely got the endurance level of a three-toed sloth. I bet she’s got a lot to share.

 

  • Find the single guy who only shows up every month or so. Ask him what his dreams are. Find out what he’s good at. High five him for wanting something deeper in his life enough to get there when he does. Kind of like showing up for strength training class when currently you’ve got the muscle mass of a hummingbird.

There are dreams and wishes and hurts and yearnings we know nothing about swirling in the hearts of the people right next to us.

It’s freeing to be among a bunch of people doing aerobic foxtrotting with glee and no shame at all. It makes it OK to make mistakes. It allows for someone to not know what comes next. It forgives. It offers a chance to dance with glee yourself.

It makes me want to come back.

What if we were the people who offered those things to the ones who walk through the doors of our church?

It’s OK to make mistakes.

It’s fine not to know what comes next.

It’s beautiful that you have doubts.

It’s great to see you whatever you look like.

I want you to dance here, with joy.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free. Use your freedom to serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

Make your space a just don’t care zone. And I guarantee, from my experience, people will want to come back.

Consumer Christianity

IMG_6426As during December we focus on the “less is more” theme, a friend blogged about an incredibly important aspect of that idea. Do we believe less is more in church? Or are we fatally treating our churches like our shopping malls–the more we can get in one place, the happier we are?
 
Today I have a guest post from a friend, Stacey Philpot. It’s an important message as we talk about Christmas, consuming, and faith.
 
 
Yesterday, I was sitting comfortably on my favorite spot on the couch, during one of those rare moments when Avery is otherwise occupied and there is no competition for the T.V.  I settled on one of the popular home-buying shows I’ve come to love but never have the time to watch. You know, the kind where they state their max budget and wish list and then end up with the home of their dreams within the hour. 
And it struck me how this has become our approach to life in general. Here’s what I’m willing to invest and here’s what I’m expecting to get in return. I’ll spend x amount of hours with my children each week, doing homework, playing games and in general edification. In return, I’m expecting children who excel in everything, graduate at the top of their class, marry someone who takes them on nice vacations, and obtain well paying jobs which afford them a standard suburban American life. 
 
I’ll spend 4-5 hours a week at the gym and 1-2 hours a week entering my meals into my app. As a result, I expect to be enviably fit, be healthy all of the days of my life, and to appear 10-20 years younger than I am at all times.
 
I am willing to drive 10-20 minutes to a church where I will spend 1-2 hours a week. I will place twenty bucks in the offering basket every other week. In return, I would like programs that make my children all-star Christians, people that become my best friends, a brand spanking new marriage (meaning, I expect to actually like my husband within six weeks or my money back), and free child care for my infant, on demand. 
 
Have you noticed this consumer Christianity in your churches? What about in your own faith journey? 
 
I’ve been to the mega churches where a mass spiritual meal is provided to everyone. As first, this really bothered me and I wondered, “What if you needed something different, something not on the prepackaged plate?” But then I thought maybe that’s what your Monday-Saturday walk with Christ is for. I’ve also been to the smaller churches where you could walk right up to the altar and join hands with your brother or sister and fight together for what you need. Some churches offer small groups or mid week bible studies for the more customized spiritual meals. 
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But I’ve also seen pastors who have 70-80 hour work weeks killing themselves trying to meet the demands of their consumers—I mean members. I’ve often wondered if over time, the members were becoming more dependent on Jesus or their pastor. 
 
In my mind, the local church body is a place where I am served and I serve. It’s a place where I have community and where I share what I have with those who don’t. It’s a place where I do life with others, worship side by side with others, and experience the miraculous grace of God with others. It’s a place where I use my gifts, a place where I grow and where I train up others behind me. It’s a training center and a hospital. 
 
It’s a place of beauty and laughter, living and loving. Imperfection and grace, power and anointing. But maybe not shopping?
 

Getting Friendship Backward--What Really Goes First?

So, I’m curious. What does church look like to you? Do you believe our modern churches are a reflection of Jesus? Are they effectively loving and revolutionizing the world for Christ? Are we playing the part we were created to play or still trying to decide if it’s worth the investment? How many amazing churches have we passed up because they didn’t have everything on our “wish list”?  Is it possible that we’re missing the point? Are we consumer Christians? 
 
Stacey blogs here at A Life Repaired. She is, as she says, “a wife, mom, step-mom, and proclaimer of the good news that no life is beyond repair.”
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Community: You Keep Using that Word


Is community a game of risk?
As you might know, I’m working on a book. Rather, we’re working on a book. (We as in two of us, together.) Just Hear Me Out: Conversations in the Generation Gap. And you can find out all about it here. (We have a fun video!)

It is, as the name implies, a conversation. About church, faith, leadership, and all the messy bits in between that cause generations to argue and be general turkeys rather than work together. About what we value, envision, and fear as different generations. One of those recurrent themes is community.

Conveniently, community is also my blog theme for October. So today, I thought we’d run with an excerpt from the book.

Community—You keep using that word.


Emily (the Millennial):What do we value in church? Community, first-off. We want to be accepted as we are, which can be good and bad. Everyone wants a community they can belong to, though. We just need to make it clear that this is a community that goes both ways, and that while we accept everyone, we also push everyone to look at issues in their lives.

Or full of loaded questions?

Jill (The Baby Boomer): Community may be your new buzzword. Yet almost all the Boomers we talked to for this book also cited community as an important value in church. Everyone wants that family feeling. But if you’re not feeling it, either we’re doing it wrong, or we don’t mean the same thing by that word. One difference is that when we Boomers talk about loyalty to a church body, we are also talking community. The two are not separable to us. The church we are inisour community. It’s the same word you use—but it means something subtly different.


Emily:Like what?

Cheers for Friends


Jill:Companionship, social events, comfort, friendship, welcome. These are all mentioned as important church considerations to the Boomer generation. Basically, I think we all hope to find our best friend at church. We all hope to fit in there and find people we can be like, talk to easily, and rely on in times of need.

We still operate under smaller circles of interaction than you do. Yes, we are on Facebook, but we don’t really have the global “families” that you do. Ours are closer to home. We still look to our nearest outlets for friends and companionship. The family comes first. Work is often second. Somewhere in there, the church is a consideration, especially if the family doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. And when we go there, we seek an atmosphere like that iconic TV show of the 80’s, Cheers—a place where everybody knows your name.

Your generation found the same thing in Friends. The difference was, in Cheers, they still went home to family in the end. In Friends, those people were the family. A not so subtle shift.

Does just trying feel like a trivial pursuit?

Emily: The concept behind Friends is independence and community outside of immediate family–a building of a chosen family. It’s odd that the show is called Friends, then, instead of family. Perhaps it’s because all of the main characters have messed up relationships with their actual family, and so the Central Perk regulars decide to hold Friendship up to a higher standard than their memories with Family.


Jill: But knowing one another’s name isn’t the same as knowing them. Most Boomers, like Millennials, say that they yearn for a place to be real, to tell the truth and be accepted with their messy lives. But again, you aren’t getting that vibe from us. Truth is, I don’t either, so something is clearly more important to Boomers than the genuineness we claim to want as much as you do.

Safety versus Authenticity


And something is. We value safety. We value looking good and presenting a stoic front over being vulnerable. Where you find it safe to be among peers telling true tales, we find it safe to pull in privately and keep our stories to ourselves. That’s changing, between pressure from our kids (you guys) and simply being sick and tired of the whole false front game.

Or maybe we just don’t have a clue.
In a larger worldview, where your response to a frightening, unpredictable world is to say “What the heck, let’s go kayak a waterfall, it’s all the same,” ours was to wall ourselves off and play Risk with our lives, strategizing political and social moves to protect our territory (while preferably expanding it). So those values of authenticity and community? We like the sound of them, but we want to define the terms.

Emily: As a Risk enthusiast, may I just say this is game usually ends in multiple people upset and one winner lording it over everyone else. Until the next game. When everyone gangs up on the last winner and distrusts any alliances formed.

Jill: Community and authenticity. Two hallmark values of your generation. Two words we want to love but pull back from. Where are we going to come together, then, in faith and doing church if we can’t agree on the definition of these terms?

And bonus–our favorite community-inducing
board game. You’ll get to know each other.
Fast.

Spoilers? No, we are not going to give them to you. What do you think the answers to that question are? I would love your input, your definitions, your experiences with community and faith.  

And . . . If you’d like to be part of the ongoing research/launch/fun team for the project, find me on facebook and talk to me.

Screaming Comets, Hot Messes, and Grace


I have been blessed for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available here on Amazon).
But guys, the wild unpredictable can be gorgeous.


This is the final installment of my series taking chapters of the book that spoke to my work and discussing them. Thus far,we’ve covered crazy self-imposed expectations of parenting, responding to the millennial generation, and allowing the gospel of Jesus to be what He said it was.

This week: grace. That’s it. Just grace. The topic of my seminary thesis, so you know, it is just a tad important to me. However, that thesis was written twenty years ago, and you know what? I had no idea what the word meant.

Oh, theologically, sure. We were told to choose one word that defined what we believed and described God and the gospel, or something like that. I chose grace. Somehow, I knew it would be a very important word for me. Or God knew. But really? I hadn’t a clue.

More life had to be lived before I would have any idea what grace meant. Far more hurt had to be experienced, far more gratitude realized, and far more pride peeled away before I could even get a start on a kindergarten comprehension of that word.

See, I was a high school debater. I was also high school valedictorian. You know what all that means, in addition to being facts I can trot out to impress approximately no one at this point? I specialized in persuasion. I knew how to argue, I knew how to research, and I knew how to get it right. When I became a Christian, I took those skills with me into the brave new world of belief.

I soon discovered they could be used as weapons.

I believed in grace, but it was mostly grace for those who had already repented. My concept of grace looked more like forgiveness for those who already had figured out how to get it right.

Now, I understand the truth of what Jen says about that line of thinking.

“We tend to formulize the mysterious, opting for a more manageable gospel than the wild, unpredictable one we have. We’d like one with clearer edges and better boundaries, because who can fathom a Savior born in a barn who washed the feet of His followers before dying for people who hated Him?

It is no wonder humanity has long preferred legalism, which involves much cleaner territory. Give me a rule any day. Give me a clear “in” and “out” because boundaries make me feel safe. If I can clearly mark the borders, then I am assured of my insider status—the position I feel compelled to defend, the one thing I can be sure of. I want to stand before God having gotten it right. Doctrine is tidier terrain than flesh and blood.”


I wanted life, and grace, to be manageable. It wasn’t until life got so unmanageable for me, beyond the capabilities of my valedictorian credentials, that grace screamed in, stunning and electrifying, like a comet with a star-streamed tail across my dark sky. Disorienting like that, too.

The God who spoke from a flaming bush and pushed his way into a cattle stall swaddled in blood and fluid never offered us clean lines. He brazenly led the way to coloring outside the clean lines when he dined with prostitutes and called tax collectors out of treetops.

God led us into the wild terrain of unmitigated, incomprehensible grace. And sometimes, we don’t like it.  .It messes with our clean lines. It defies our borders. It threatens our safe standing.

Grace forces us to stare at the depths of our own capacity for sin. Honestly, I’d far rather stare at the depths of someone else’s.

Looking at our own forces us to look at those others differently, as folks just like us. The place this is the most difficult, sometimes, is right in the chair next to us on a Sunday morning. Because if anyone should have it right by now, it should be those other church people, right?

Wrong.

Church can sometimes be like this, right? And this is FUN.

“Church people are regular old sinners too. If I could fix this, I would. As it turns out, the church isn’t a gathering of shiny new pennies. It lets anyone in the door! All sorts of hooligans fill the sanctuaries: kind and good ones, angry and cynical ones, mean and judgmental ones, smart and funny ones, broken and sad ones, weird and awkward ones, precious and loving ones, scared and wounded ones, brave and passionate ones, insiders and outliers, newbies and lifers and trying-one-more-timers. Just a whole bunch of human people. Every church has all these folks. It is just the hottest mess, but clearly you belong here because everyone does.”


Grace. A church throwing open its doors and admitting to the world that it is what it is. Not a bunch of people who have it all right and are waiting for the world outside to realize it. A bunch of people who, like the Israelites of old, have gotten it wrong time and again but who still show up, still try, still ask God to take them just one step closer to what He wants them to be. People who do not cover up their awkwardness to welcome the awkward into their world.

We don’t see it often. But when we do, we recognize it immediately. It’s grace.

“The breadth of God’s family is mercifully wide. Grace has no discernment, apparently. Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense?”



That last line. That’s grace. 

A favorite quote from another great book.


Are We Muzzling the Next Generation?

(further commentary on Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love)


I have been blessed beyond expectations for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available now on Amazon).
For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking chapters of the book that meant a lot to me and discussing them. Please, chime in.

Given my current book writing project (and it is very exciting!), it should not be a surprise that Jen Hatmaker’s chapter “Jesus Kids” both broke my heart and validated everything I know about raising the next generation to be followers of Jesus.

Not followers of me. Or a political party. Or a church. Or a code of behavior.

Of Jesus.

It makes a huge difference.

Seventy-five percent of our younger generation is leaving the church, and the worst part? Some people seem almost glad about it. Their us-them outlook on following God allows many folks to say good-bye to the backside of anyone who criticizes the church with self-assured conviction that theirs is the high ground of defending the faith. (See her chapter “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy.” Just the title . . . yep.)

But isn’t it about time we stopped wringing our hands over how unhappy being criticized makes us feel and started being more unhappy about losing an entire generation for the kingdom of God? Isn’t it time we stopped building our own little kingdoms and looked around at the havoc defending those personal fiefdoms is truly causing? Do I want to stand up for His kingdom or mine? The former may not look like what I think it looks like. It may not even look like what I want it to look like. But it will be His.

Jen mentions a great first step.


First, pay attention to the grievances. This is no time to defend our perspectives and dig in our heels. We have to raise the kids we have, not the kids we were. Young adults are abandoning church, so we can either listen carefully or watch their backs as they go. We cannot be more committed to our methods than our message. Do we want to raise disciples? Then pay equal attention to what isn’t working as much as what is.”


She pounds out a message you’ll hear continually on this blog. A message central to the book I’m working on.

Listen.

Just. Shut. Up. And listen.

And realize that we have churned out a generation who knows what movies are OK, what books will send them straight to the devil, what clothes are not God-approved, and what groups of people are untouchable.

But they have no clue why any of this matters.

They know Jesus loves them and wants them to be good. But they do not know Jesus. They don’t know what the width of their shoulder straps has to do with the gospel. They see this kind of gospel as lacking anything of substance for meaningful life.

And they are right. I can’t say how much I love her take on this:

Are we arrogant and judgmental? Do we subtly (or overtly) teach our children to suspect anyone ‘other’? Do we put mainly defensive spiritual tools in our kids’ hands, fostering an ‘against them’ rather than ‘for them’ posture? Do we emphasize behavior over character? Because good behavior won’t guarantee anything. If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word. We must shepherd their hearts, not just their hemlines.



Shepherd their hearts. To do that, we need to know their hearts. We need to hear them. We need to just stop talking long enough to listen to the heartbeat that informs their life and gives them passion. Then shepherd them into using that passion for the Kingdom. But it can’t be done if we care more about setting them straight than showing them Jesus.

I so want to hear the heartbeat of the next generation. I want to see them unleashed to do what God has put into their hearts to do. I do not want to hold them back, even as I do want to make sure they are equipped with all the truth they need to pass on in their turn.

This book has great insight into how we do that. 


If you want more information on our own writing project on this theme, visit here

To order Jen’s fantastic book, available today–click here. You will not be sorry.

Are you interested in a book club discussion of her book? Comment below!


For the Love of Five Great Quotes


As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, I’ve been blessed to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, (officially releasing next week!). It has been a ride I won’t forget for a book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf and heart. This Friday, we are linking up to share our favorite five quotes from the book. Let me tell you, this was tough. Five? Five???? I have, like, five hundred. But here we are. I whittled it down. Here is a quick taste of why I love her words.






“If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. 
Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps untangle us from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket I carried for so long. It lends restraint when declaring what God does or does not think, because sometimes my portrayal of God’s ways sounds suspiciously like the American Dream and I had better check myself. Because of the Haitian single mom. Maybe I should speak less for God.” 


This one has gone into a sermon already. And will again. Amen, sister. Soooo amen.





“May I suggest a starting place as truth receivers? It is okay for someone else to struggle. Furthermore, it is okay to not fix it/solve it/answer it/discredit it. Another believer can experience tension, say something true that makes people uncomfortable, and God will not fall off His throne. It is not our responsibility to fix every mess. If someone steps onto the scary ledge of truth, it is enough to acknowledge her courage and make this promise: I am here with you as your friend, not your Savior
We are not good gods over one another; we are better humans beside each other.”




“Are we arrogant and judgmental? Do we subtly (or overtly) teach our children to suspect anyone “other”? Do we put mainly defensive spiritual tools in our kids’ hands, fostering an “against them” rather than “for them” posture? Do we emphasize behavior over character? Because good behavior won’t guarantee anything. If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word. 
We must shepherd their hearts, not just their hemlines. 
The best we can do is give them Jesus. Not rules, not behaviors, not entertainment, not shame. I have no confidence in myself but every confidence in Jesus.”

“You’ll never regret parting with grace, but you might deeply regret burning a bridge that might one day be safe to venture back over again.”


“The breadth of God’s family is mercifully wide. Grace has no discernment, apparently. Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. 
Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense?”



Is this enough to make you preorder the book? Take a look on Amazon? Well, you can right here. Be back Monday with more.