I've always appreciated honesty. In almost any and every context, I feel better about dealing with people who don’t beat around the bush or sugar-coat the truth. As a pastor, I also want to make sure I am being honest with the people I shepherd and serve. I don't want to give them any false sense of hope that if they are following Jesus, their lives will be easy and all their bills will be paid and they'll never get sick and their kids will turn out perfect. I know that these things aren't true for me and they're not true for others, either. 

So I try to strike a balance between being truthful and being hopeful. I don't just want to warn people of the tough times that they will inevitably face in life. I want them to pitch their tent in the land of hope, especially during seasons of weakness and struggle. Because I value this approach to both life and ministry, I respect others who face life's struggles and hardships with the same perspective, especially leaders who influence and instruct those under their care. That's why I resonate so much with Clayton's message in Stronger. It is truthful and it is hopeful.

I'd heard about Clayton for several years before we met, that he was a great communicator and a straight shooter. Then I had a chance to meet him and hear his heart: for his marriage to Sharie, for his calling to communicate the good news of the gospel, and for his desire to help people find hope in hard times. There's a total lack of pretense with Clayton, and that comes through clearly as he tackles one of humanity's greatest mysteries here: whether or not anything good can come out of weakness, suffering, and hardship.

Clayton doesn't flinch. He doesn't even blink. He bears his soul with a combination of pastoral care and reckless abandon. He plays the part of a trusted old friend you can always turn to, then he lets you see his wounds—like the dark season in his life when he watched almost all of his family members die, one after another, culminating in losing his own father. 

Yet Stronger is not some kind of sad, sentimental memoir. It's a joyful journey away from despair and toward joy! This is a book that everyone can relate to because everyone struggles. Somehow, Clayton shows us how to see beyond, almost through, our hard times and into the promise of better days and a stronger future. In no way is this a trite little self-help guide filled with one liners about taking "the lemons of your life and turning them into lemonade." These lessons were born in the crucible of real life, real pain. 

Clayton has the guts to share with you, the reader, the very hard questions he asked when it seemed like the sun would never shine again in his life. He faced depression and despair, looking them square in the face, and survived the ordeal with a greater understanding of God's goodness and our ability to grow stronger not just inspite of but because of our weakness.

This book is more than a page turner. It's a game changer. It's courageous. It's bold. It's vulnerable and funny and redemptive. It's a revolutionary way to see suffering, which Jesus modeled 2,000 years ago. You will learn that no one is exempt from difficulty. We don't get a pass when it comes to pain. But we can worship God in our weakness because pain has a way of clearing out the clutter in our lives. It burns off the excess and allows us to see what really matters after all: the people we love, the message we carry, and the God we worship.