A Different Kind of Love Story – Book Review

different kind of love storyGrowing up as a pastor’s kid can be tough. It can be even tougher if your dad is famous. Couple those things with the usual every day trials of being a teenager and all that entails, you can have quite a recipe for an emotional, stressful, and anxiety-ridden experience.

Just ask Landra Young Hughes. Her father, Ed Young, Jr., is pastor of a mega church in Houston, Texas and the author of a number of books. She is a twin who has felt she doesn’t always measure up to her twin sister.

In “A Different Kind of Love Story,” Hughes chronicles her struggles with an eating disorder and all the anxiety she faced when her parents came under public scrutiny. She shares the lies that she told herself. She shares her inability to be honest with the people she loves about the struggles that she was facing. She shares about coming face to face with an enemy who only seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.

“A Different Kind of Love Story” is an honest confession of the struggles that Hughes faced. She doesn’t candycoat it or pretend that the struggles don’t continue after the outward signs of the disease she conquered were no longer evident. Her struggles continue to this day.

While this book was written for a specific audience that wasn’t me, I appreciate the candor with which Hughes recounts her story. She bravely shares and confesses the lies she told herself, the lies she told others, and the steps she took to get to a place where she is healthier than she was before.

If you know someone, particularly an adolescent female, who is struggling with identity, image, and fitting in, Hughes’ book could be a helpful resource. If for no other reason than to let them know that they are not alone, nor are they unlovable or unredeemable. Hughes writes in such a way that she can help her reader, especially those in the midst of the struggle she describes, know that they are not alone.

With courage, grace, and love, Hughes has recounted her story so that others may hopefully avoid some of the same mistakes she made and avoid believing the lies that she herself believed. And if they’ve already started down the wrong road, Hughes offers a welcome companion for the way back home.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)


Curating An Experience

I remember a few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was a worship leader at a local church. We were talking through resources and books recently read. He had mentioned to me a book about curating worship. I was intrigued by the title as I had really only heard that term used of museums and art shows prior to that conversation.

The dictionary defines “curate” as, “to take charge of (a museum) or organize (an art exhibit)” or “to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content.” My interpretation was always that it had more to do with strategic organizing, organizing for a purpose.

I don’t think I had thought about the word until the other day when my wife and I were having a conversation and I said something to her about parents curating experiences for their children. That passing statement implanted itself in my brain and I’ve been mulling it over since.

I’ve rarely met a parent who hasn’t, in some way, wanted their own children to have either identical or completely different experiences than they had as children. Parents can often get incredibly nostalgic about their own childhood experiences, almost to the point of obsession, thinking that the only way their children can experience something is in the exact same way that they did.

At the same time, there are plenty of parents whose childhood experiences were such that they want to do anything and everything possible to ensure that their children don’t have to have that same experience themselves. While they may not necessarily have been traumatized by their experience, they know that they want better for their own children than they had themselves.

I have to admit that my approach has been similar, at least in the area of wanting my kids to experience better than I did at their age. But in the midst of doing my best to ensure that, I’ve come to realize that, just like food, organic is better than processed, and experiences that happen are so much better for my kids than experiences that are forced.

I’m learning that presence and availability matters so much more. I’ve been on enough trips with my kids, given them enough gifts, to know that setting my expectations high about their reactions can lead to disappointment and frustration. How many of us have given our three year old child a present at Christmas thinking they’ll be so excited, only to have them playing with the box the present came in fifteen minutes later?

Instead of trying to force my kids to experience things the same way that I did, maybe it’s just about offering suggestions and letting them decide for themselves. While my kids share certain personality traits of my wife and I, they are their own people. They are becoming who they are becoming. Sure, I want them to carry on a legacy of sorts, but I don’t want them to feel forced to do it the way that I do it. Forcing that on them won’t result in joy in the journey at all.

When you have friends whose kids are older than yours, you hear the endless comments about how time flies and how they blinked and their kids went from pre-school to high school. I get it, I’m listening.

So, I’m trying my best to be present. They want to throw the baseball or softball? I’m here. They want to show me the latest trick on the skateboard? I’m here. They want to talk about what happened at school that day? I’m here. Instead of forcing the experience, I want to be there for it, whatever it is, and then be available to respond to that experience.

I spoke with a friend yesterday and we laughed over how much of a growing experience it is to see your own flaws in your children. It’s humbling at best and unnerving at worst. But it’s also freeing to realize that they are who they are and we have the opportunities to shape them, not by force, but through the investments that we make in them.

I’d love to be a curator of life for my children, not to force them to see things the way that I do or even experience exactly what I have experienced. Instead, I want to be available, like a tour guide, to respond to the inevitable questions, do my best to steer them when I can, and support and encourage them along the journey.

Setting Up Stones

“And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.””

‭‭Joshua‬ ‭4:20-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

pile of stonesI have a hard time remembering. I’m not talking about memory loss, I’m talking about just remembering things that I’ve experienced and gone through that I need to remember.

Some people are really good about journaling. I’ve started and stopped and started and stopped so many time with journals, that it’s hard to not get discouraged. My blog has acted as a digital journal of sorts for me. Every now and then, I need to go back and read old posts because they help me remember.

God’s people didn’t have the luxury of the digital medium to record their thoughts and save them on a hard drive. They didn’t have the “On This Day” tool in Facebook to remind them years down the road what they experienced once upon a time.

Nope, they had to do things the old fashioned way. And when I say old fashioned, I mean REALLY old fashioned, old school way.

God had carried his people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Although they moaned and groaned, complained and whined, he still led them and kept his promise. But he knew that they would have a hard time remembering, and even more that they might forget to tell the future generations about what God had done for them.

So they set up stones. God knew that every time someone saw that big old pile of stones, they would inevitably ask the question, “What do these stones mean?” To which anyone could respond, “Well, I’m glad you asked.” Then they could tell the story of how God had rescued them and done miraculous things for them. He opened up the Red Sea. He opened up the Jordan River. He opened up the Promised Land. And the people walked right in.

Too often, it’s much too easy for me to see the giants in the land, the barriers in front of me, and the hindrances that are in my way rather than the path behind me that shows God’s provision. I’m much better at looking at my scarcity rather than looking at my abundance. I’m much better at seeing what I don’t have instead of seeing what I do have.

I think that’s why God told his people to set up the stones. It wasn’t just for the future generations who would ask the question, it was also for those who would tell the stories, those who had experienced God’s provision. Because when we tell the stories, when we remember, we are reminding ourselves of what God has done for us. We’re not just telling the stories for our kids and grandkids, we’re telling the stories for ourselves.

I think that I need to set up more stones in my life. I need more things to remind me because I get amnesia too easily. So I’ll set up stones, and I’ll tell the stories, knowing that they won’t only inspire others, but they just might provide the inspiration that I’ve been needing myself.

I’m tired

sisyphusI don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next nine months. I’m not sure I can take this for that long.

I’m tired of adults acting like middle schoolers or, even worse, pre-schoolers. I’m tired of feeling like people are verbally speaking the equivalent of sticking their tongues out at each other.

I’m tired of how easily offended people have become. No one knows how to take a joke. No one even knows how to smile. We’ve lost the ability to actually laugh at ourselves. While we can still laugh at others, it seems we’re offended when those laughs might be at our expense.

I’m tired of our inability to converse. We’ve lost the ability to have civil conversations with one another, especially when we don’t agree. So, if we struggle with civil conversing, we certainly struggle with civil discourse. We can’t disagree well with each other.

I’m tired of us all turning into our opinions and issues. “If you don’t like what I believe, then you obviously don’t like me.” That’s the message that we are sending every single time that we are offended when someone tells us that they have differing beliefs than we do.

I’m tired of backbiting. I’m tired of our inability to be brave enough to tell someone to their face that they ticked us off. Instead, we’re content to tell everybody else but the one who has ticked us off.

But God…

When we’re tired, at whatever, no matter what it is, there’s an answer. We can most likely grow tired when we’re trying to tackle things in our own strength and power. But Jesus told us we should consider otherwise, especially when we’re tired.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I may be tired, but I can bring that weariness and those burdens to Jesus, and he will give me rest. That doesn’t mean that it all goes away. The struggle is real and it will continue, but I don’t have to carry it on my own.

Yes, it’s going to feel like a REALLY LONG nine months for a lot of us, but we can engage differently. If we’re tired of how everyone else acts, we can’t change them, but we can change us and the way that we behave and react.

That’s my vow, regardless of how others act, as tiring as they can be, I’m going to do my best not to be that tiring for people. If I believe that Jesus can really take my burdens, I’d better act like it.

Deleted Scenes

Have you ever been in a conversation or a meeting and started a dialogue in your head? Maybe I’m just giving leeway for someone to have me committed. It seems to me there was an article running around on the internet recently about those people who don’t have those running dialogues in their heads. But I digress…

I attend a lot of meetings and I can be a fairly outspoken person. Occasionally, maybe even frequently, my wife may be present at some of these meetings with me. It’s always amusing to me when I make eye contact with her and I either get a look of approval or disgust. When that happens, I generally smile to myself.

It’s not that I’m going for disgust, it’s just that I know something that she might not know immediately, in that moment. You see, the things that come out of my mouth are generally filtered, they’ve already been through that thought process that we all go through as we make that decision as to whether or not we should really say the thing that’s aching, longing, striving to escape our mouths.

It happened a few weeks ago, where I got “the look” from my wife after a few choice words were uttered by yours truly. We’ve been married for nearly 19 years and I’ve grown accustomed to “that look” from her, especially when that look is expressing her disapproval.

In the car, on the way home from said meeting, I smiled as I looked at her and said, “You weren’t happy with what I said. Funny thing is, that was the filtered version. You should have heard the deleted scenes in my head.” Not sure she found it nearly as amusing as I did.

Over the years, I’ve realized that saying what I’m thinking isn’t always the wisest and most prudent move on my part. While it may be true, that’s not the only question that I have to ask myself. There are other question I need to ask myself. Is it beneficial? How will it be received? Will it hurt? There are probably a few others as well, but I think you get the gist.

In the last few years, I’ve had to ask myself whether what it is that I am so longing to say is beneficial, edifying, necessary, and truthful. I guess there’s an acronym there: BENT. If it doesn’t meet all those requirements, I’m probably not going to say it. It will make the deleted scenes reel and it’s probably a good idea if that doesn’t come with the Blu Ray release…

Sometimes, saying what’s truthful is not always beneficial. Sometimes it may be beneficial but not necessary. I’ve found that sometimes, asking questions can achieve the same result as saying something but with a much more positive outcome. After all, when someone answers a question and comes up with the same answer that you might have told them, won’t that be more beneficial for them?

My deleted scene reel is getting longer each day. In all honesty, I really hope there isn’t a day that I stand before God and he plays the whole thing. That wouldn’t necessarily be good for anyone. Until then, I guess I’ll just leave it to be something only he and I know. After all, what people don’t hear won’t hurt them, right?

Crossing the Threshold?

I was asked an interesting question the other day by a friend. We were sitting in her office, talking about our kids, and she asked me when my son became a Christian. I stopped in my tracks and started thinking deeply. A lifetime of thoughts flooded my mind and I fumbled for an answer that would suffice, finally settling for what I thought would require the least explanation and seem the most genuine.

You see, I grew up with an approach to faith as an arrival rather than a journey. It was about being “in” or “out” and not about what or who you were pursuing. If you crossed the threshold of belief, than your eternal soul was secure. If you prayed a prayer and walked an aisle, then you had your “fire insurance.”

But as time has gone by, I’ve realized the error of that approach. It’s not that I don’t believe that there is some kind of threshold, I just don’t know that it’s as clear cut as some people try to make it out to be.

My mom always assured me that there was a day when I asked her to kneel at the side of my bed so that the two of us could pray. The prayer was “the prayer” asking Jesus into my heart. While I have no memory of the experience, I really can’t remember a time in my life when Jesus wasn’t a part of it.

As I’ve gotten older and grown deeper in my spirituality, I’ve come to a place where I realized that there’s no specific prayer in the Bible about asking Jesus into your heart. The Bible says we need to believe in the name of the Lord to be saved, so there’s a threshold there, but when it becomes about a prayer, I think it makes faith an arrival rather than a journey.

Growing up in the church, it wasn’t often that I saw people who would be considered “seekers” in my church. The people who were there had already been convinced, they had already prayed their prayers, walked their aisles, crossed their thresholds. But what of those to whom faith was more of a journey, a meandering road? Did they not qualify?

I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ after hearing a message and I’ve seen people come to faith in Christ after years of searching, seeking, and asking questions. I have a hard time saying that one of those is better or more valid than the other.

But faith is a journey, it’s not an arrival. I consider myself fortunate to have had faith a part of my upbringing. Others have come to faith through the side door or even the back door. They explored the property before they even stepped up to that door. They looked all around, checked under the porch, made sure everything seemed safe and secure.

When faith is an arrival, a crossing of the threshold, we can be in danger of letting it stagnate. What’s the purpose of growing something that serves no purpose any longer? If we’ve “arrived” then there’s no reason to continue moving forward, is there? Faith as an arrival can make us complacent, thinking that we’ve done everything that needs to be done, but that’s not really the faith that Jesus speaks about, or that Paul writes about.

In some ways, I consider myself a spiritual guide, guiding people along the journey of faith. People who think they’ve arrived at their destination don’t really like guides, they’re content to bask in the destination, thinking it’s the best place they can possibly be. A good guide may be fairly well informed, but I think they’re also always willing to learn something new, in fact, I think they’re always looking for that something new, that something that they missed along the way.

At some point, people move from searching to believing, but belief isn’t always surety. Faith isn’t surety. It may be confidence, but I don’t think faith exists without some lingering questions. After all, faith is the act of believing even when things remain unseen. How can you not have questions when you can’t see everything?

Loving Your Community – A Book Review

loving your communityAlthough Jesus’ command to his disciples was to GO and make disciples, it seems that the Church has a tendency to forget the GO part and instead remain tied to a building. The expectation has become that if the Church would just hold events in a building, people will flock there to be a part of them. Christians can become insular and shortsighted, more concerned with comfort, security, and convenience than in actually taking Jesus’ command seriously.

In his book “Loving Your Community,” Stephen Viars shares stories from his own experience and the experience of his church. He talks about how they have practiced loving their community through various means, encouraging his readers to do the same.

While it seems that the gap between the Church and the culture has grown ever wider, Christians won’t win anyone over with the message of hatred, anger, pride, self-righteousness, or apathy. So, Viars suggests loving those who don’t consider themselves Christians. That usually involves going outside the doors of the church.

Viars is clear that there is work to be done in order to better understand the needs of your community. Too often, Christians simply make assumptions about what the community needs or project those needs without fully researching or spending time determining what they are. The experience of Viars and Faith Church, the church he pastors, is that it is necessary to get your hands dirty and find this out by talking to real people in real situations.

The experiences that Viars describes in the book can easily be intimidating, especially for those who are starting at the ground level or below. But Viars is pretty candid about that as well, talking about how long it has taken his church to come to the place where they are loving their community well and making a difference.

Every chapter ends with two sets of questions, one for personal reflection and one for group discussion. These questions help to think about next steps, not only for yourself but for your church and any group with whom you might be reading and discussing this book. There are also accounts from people from Faith Church who have been impacted along the way by the various things that Faith Church did to love their community. It is helpful to hear these stories from voices other than Viars, the voices of those who have been personally affected.

As I read through this book, it was hard not to dream about what could be in the future for my own church and the community in which we serve and minister. I’ve always thought that we should only dream dreams that are big enough that only God can accomplish them. Stephen Viars gives us a picture of how to dream big and just how awesome God is as he has grown this church in loving their community.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)