Almost ten years ago, in a small upstate New York town, on a cold snowy night, I met a girl in a green woolen hat.

As with any kindred soul you meet, you might not know upon meeting that they will change your life, and so I didn't then. Though the details are many, change my life she did. And she continues to. I am forever grateful for her, for the simple community we have in just each other, how she has taught me about redemption and faith and grace. How she sharpens me and soothes me and strengthens me. I'm so grateful to share Andrea Levendusky with you over the next week or so and I hope you'll meander on over to her blog as well to read the other half of this series!

Lo: When did you feel a real birthing in your heart for community?

Andrea: I can't say I've always really loved people. Community wasn't something we really experienced growing up, in a real, cross-centered way. In fact, I didn't really come to appreciate the value of community until I moved to Texas about 7 years ago. At first, I blamed the lure of it on southern hospitality. The believers I began to meet were so incredibly gentle, broken, honest and took me in like a long-lost friend. I started spending time with people who were so contagiously authentic and real. It was then I realized how amazing and dangerous (in a good way) community can be.

Lo: What have been the greatest challenges for you as you pursue community?

Andrea: Oh man. I have a long list for this one. First would probably be my pride. Community requires a certain level of discomfort. We, as people, so commonly want to put "the best foot forward." But a healthy community really requires that you don't do that. The goal is that God be glorified, not us. That the story of the cross be the pinnacle, not our own stories. That Christ is the hero, not myself. I still to this day find myself in situations where I want to defend my reputation. That might fly in casual relationships, but not with the people who I'm walking in life with. So secondly, would be embracing humility :) Tim Keller said "Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves." So see? I'm even failing now. *sigh*

Lo: What are a few good ideas to give our readers as they seek community?

Andrea: I would just start by saying that the best thing anyone can do is recognize that in Christ, we are all on the same page. You're good. You're covered. You don't need to prove anything to anyone. So that goes both ways. You don't need to be embarrassed about your past, and no one can boast in anything but the finished work of Christ.

Lo: What advice can you give someone who tends to be shy about finding or being community?

Andrea: This is hard, because the truth is, communities vary in character and language. So, I'll tell you this — there's a good chance it's going to take a few misses before you really find a community that you feel at home in. AND even then, that community might change in a matter of months. I would say, find a friend you trust or just one name of someone you can link an arm with, and start there. You don't need to be everyone's best friend. Even among Jesus' disciples, we hear about some a lot more than others. But they were all there, together. That's the key. God will give you grace, even to be bold.

Lo: How do you feel that the gospel is more clearly displayed when you live life in community?

Andrea: I think about some of the people I would consider a part of my "community." We have given each other a mutual responsibility to build one another up. To call each other out on sin when we're hiding it. Have those awkward conversations. To love unconditionally, by grace. To help keep our hearts soft before the Lord. To pray. Bear burdens. Celebrate. To lift each other's eyes back to the cross. Without them, I am prone to drop my vision back to myself and lose direction entirely. My community plays an active role in my "working out my salvation".

Lo: As you parent Maddie, what are some areas concerning community where you feel like you might be living contrary to normal standards for society?

Andrea: I always tell people that community is one of the most beautiful, inconvenient things you'll ever do. Sometimes, community supersedes my own wishes. Doorbells ringing at midnight. Empty fridge. Long phone calls. I always want my daughter to see that we are not living life just for ourselves. I think there is a large percentage of parents who want to control what their kids see, hear, etc. And for the most part, I agree with them. But when it comes to community, I have an opportunity to show my daughter, safely, that people are hurting. I don't want her growing up "shocked" at the state of the world and human brokenness. I don't want her hoarding her things. I pray for her salvation, and hope that she will see, with my arms around her, that everyone is in desperate need of Christ, including us.

Check back over the next 12 days as Andrea and I share about what living a gospel-centered community looks like in our lives, some practical tips, some stories, or just general encouragement to be living lives that communicate grace and life to others! And pop on over to her blog to see my answers to her intro questions.