When E and I first moved to Chicago in August, we set out to find a church we could both feel at home. Little did we know it would be the very first place we tried out: Soul City Church. The funny thing is that Jarrett and Jeanne Stevens, the lead pastors, were on a summer hiatus and the first four Sunday’s we attended were all led by guest pastors. By the time we first heard a message from them, we had been attending for over a month.

All of the guest pastors were great, but Jeanne stole my heart with her transparency and Jarrett won E over with his humor. We looked at them, hoping to see a reflection of ourselves in ten or fifteen years. Not necessarily as pastors of a church, but as two people who have a strong marriage, a deep love for their children, and the courage to live out God’s dream for their lives.

Just a few months after attending, Sara, Director of Creative and Communications at Soul City, reached out to me about grabbing lunch. I was honored. Lunch, with me? I had never been asked to do lunch with someone who works for a church. (Some of you may find that surprising, but it’s true.) In fact, I ended up sharing with her that until Soul City, I had experienced more rejection from the church and its people than anywhere else. I’ve often wondered why or how I never ended up hardened and jaded toward the church, but I can’t figure it out. I keep coming back to the grace of God.

Sara, myself, and another girl from Soul City, Fabi, ended up sharing a meal and it was wonderful. We exchanged stories and talked about using our gifts, but the most beautiful part was when they told me I was welcome to share my gifts and talents with the church, but if I chose not to, they would love me just the same. They made it clear to me that this lunch date wasn’t about seeing what I could offer them. (I can’t say enough how freeing that was to hear.) Just like the unconditional love of Jesus which comes with no strings attached, they loved me for who I am, not for what I could bring to the table.

As I soaked up the goodness of that lunch, realizing I am a beloved daughter of God, I felt lighter. Maybe I hadn’t even realized I was still carrying around a burden I was never meant to carry. I didn’t have to do, or hustle, or impress. I felt cherished that day.

Before parting ways at the restaurant, Sarah handed me a copy of Jarrett’s first book. He and I had commented back and forth on Instagram about how I would love to read it, so he had Sarah pass one my way.

Before I cracked open his book, Four Small Words, I told myself, “If this isn’t great, just tell him thank you, but don’t share about it.” Because you see, I get really upset when people write harsh, critical, and overly negative book reviews. Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but I don’t think people should be so critical, especially if they them-self haven’t tried doing the very thing they’re critiquing. (Rant over.)

So for Jarrett, it would be bad news if this blog post ended at that; it would mean I didn’t have great things to say about his book or didn’t feel comfortable recommending it. However, that’s definitely not the case. 🙂

Four Small Words is the first book I’ve ever read that made the Bible make sense! Because it took the Bible and broke it down to just four words, I was able to see the entire book in a new way. I now have organization that brings clarity in so many areas of my faith. (You could say the personality A in me was dancing with glee.) I don’t like to share too much about a book because I believe you ought to check it out for yourself; that’s the only way to do it justice. But I will say this- if you long for a better understanding of the Bible or are bored with it, this book is a great place to start. I marked my copy up with tons of underlining, highlighting and side notes, which I know will come in handy when I’m spending time in The Word and need to go back and reference something.

As someone who receives a lot of questions like, “I’m new to this. Where should I start?” or “How do you not get bored reading the Old Testament?” or “Why are there so many contradicting points in the Bible?” I can tell you up front, this will be the book I recommend first and foremost. It’s a tool that taught me more than an entire semester’s worth of New & Old Testament classes at Bethel. (No offense to my Alma Mater.) 

I hate how cliche this sounds, but tonight I’m just really thankful. For a church I feel cherished in, for the community that Jarrett and Jeanne Stevens have created, for the lightness of being without always doing, for books that change lives, and for authors who have the diligence to write them.

The prayer on my heart is to love so well that people experience a taste of God’s love through me. After-all, how can we expect anyone to believe they don’t have to earn God’s love if they always have to earn the love of his people?

XO, Manda

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