Love Defined | Book Review

Love Defined | Book Review

As a Christian teenager in the mid-2000’s, I read many books about dating, and soon realized that there was contradictory information out there. One book said kissing before marriage was okay, another said you should absolutely not do it. One book said couples should pray together, another said that if a guy and a girl pray together, they are “spiritualizing their hormones” (yes, it actually said that!). In spite of these small disagreements, most books contained the same two basic core values: Don’t have sex until you are married, and don’t date non-believers.

A couple years ago, I signed up for the book launch team for Love Defined, the second book written by sisters Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird (now Bethany Beal). I was reading their blog at the time, and I was trying to do more of my own writing, so I thought joining the book launch team was a smart decision. Perhaps they could offer an interesting take on the topic of dating.

Unfortunately, the book soon ended up in the pile of many other books I started and never finished. (Once upon a time, I was an ardent reader. Social media changed that for me.) I recently realized that not finishing this book was keeping me from reading other books, and I still owed the authors my review, so I finally set out to finish it.

Review

I will break up this review into two parts—what I liked, and what I did not like. Admittedly, I will need to flip through the book because there has been a huge gap between the last time I read it and just finishing over the past few days.

What I liked:

  • The discussion questions after each chapter and the “make it personal” prompts. These sections help readers remember and apply what they read. This also makes the book recommendable for group discussions.

  • The sections, chapters, and headlines within the book make sense and give it easy readability. The book is broken up into five parts, focusing on how our culture has shaped our views of romantic love, how to have Godly relationships, how to thrive in a season of singleness, nitty-gritty issues, and marriage. Each part has at least two chapters and each chapter has headlines for each section. This format is great for people who are used to reading articles and blogs rather than books.

  • The advice is sound. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with everything the authors say, but none of the advice here will steer you in the wrong direction. There is great advice on how to pursue purity when dating and how to make sure you do not allow yourself to get in over your head with shallow romance.

  • The chapters on singleness were excellent. I wish there was a little more content on this topic!

What I didn’t like:

  • The authors’ understanding of scriptural gender roles seems slightly off. Based on what I’ve gleaned from their blog back in 2018, the authors appear to be in the camp that believes women should not work outside the home, among other things. There are traces of that mindset throughout this book, which kind of distanced me as a reader. (For those who are curious, my understanding of scriptural gender roles within marriage is close to Phylicia Masonheimer’s. The differences may seem subtle, but the impact on life application can be profound.)

  • The writing felt a little dry at times. The subject matter was not boring, but the authors’ “voice” did not capture my attention the way other books in this category have.

  • There is no groundbreaking new information in this book. And I suppose this is to be expected, since there are many Christian dating books on the market. However, I liked the presentation of the information in this book, and I think it will appeal to a new generation of readers who are not familiar with the books I read growing up.

Bottom Line:

I enjoyed Love Defined when I saw it for what it was. It did not blow me away like other books I have read on this subject, but it covered a lot of ground and was written with love. Clark and Beal have a heart for ministry and want to see young women live fearlessly God-centered lives, and this book will help those who read it to navigate dating and romance with more wisdom. My apologies to Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal for my tardiness with finishing and reviewing this book.

Rating: 3.5/5 (I will rate it 4 stars on Goodreads)

Recommended for: Girls ages 14+

Other books on this topic that I recommend: The Mystery: Finding True Love in a World of Broken Lovers by Lacey Sturm and Dating Declassified by Jeanne Mayo

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book when I signed up for the book launch team. This is my honest review and all opinions are my own.

Rethinking My Gravatar

For many years, people have known me as this girl:

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The photo, filtered on VSCO, was taken by a friendly acquaintance from an entertainment system installation company.

It was taken during the summer at my second-to-last job, when I was a receptionist/admin for the holding group of several luxury audio equipment companies. We had just moved to a townhouse in SoHo to create a showroom, and I spent many days on ground level surrounded by construction workers, electricians, and moving men.

I never quite felt like I truly belonged at this job, but any displacement I felt became more obvious after the move downtown. However, when the guys from the tech setup place were around, I felt a sense of camaraderie.

It was a warm day and I felt pretty, dressed in my silky black top with my olive green scarf. I had ironed my hair the night before, which was not the norm. Not sure why I made so much extra effort on this particular day, but I guess that’s what I did back then.

The doors to the house were famous for featuring replaceable panes designed by local artists. Every month or so, the panes would get swapped, and passersby would have a new work of art to use as a selfie backdrop.

As I hung out of the double door, engaged in conversation with two guys from the tech company, I realized this might make a good photo. Thus my profile pic for many platforms was born. And yet, I feel so far away from who that girl was.

Even as I type this, my memories are fuzzy. Was this in 2015 or 2016? What month was it? Was the guy’s name Alex or Ramon?

But beyond that, this variation of myself no longer exists.

This “me” was a little more worldly, a little more intellectual. Still warm and friendly, still a believer, but very concerned about fitting in with her surroundings. She listened to a lot more music, from various genres, and prided herself on having eclectic tastes. She did not mind inhaling secondhand smoke. She ate junk food without a second thought, and always had a stash of chocolate or off-brand thin mint cookies in her cabinet. She was young, she was foolishly optimistic, and while she may not have been as naive as people thought, she still did not know much about how the world worked yet.

But most of all, she could not see a future for herself beyond the present.

Am I still that girl? So much has changed since then. And I have changed, too, though there are still certain aspects of me that remain.

Maybe I’ll post about these changes sometime. But first, I should probably update my Gravatar.

~Nikita

 

The Guy At the Park

The Guy At the Park

It was a warm and sunny sabbath afternoon, one of the first warm days of the season, and my mom and I went to the park to soak up the sun. We were barely past the parking lot when I noticed a shirtless guy with boxing gloves practicing with his personal trainer.

It was hot.

I pointed him out to my mom with a giggle (I don’t get out much) as we walked to the bleachers overlooking the track. Shirtless Guy was within viewing distance on our right, and my eyes kept flickering back to him as we took in the scenery.

“I’m compelled by my lust to walk the track,” I told my mom.

“Ok, so walk the track,” she replied nonchalantly.

“Ma! You’re supposed to stop me!”

I explained to my seasoned Christian mother that she should not be encouraging my lustful pursuits, but she was too tired to engage with my ardent blabbering.

Then suddenly, I saw him. In my mind’s eye.

That Godly Man I Admire. 

Would he be proud of me if I gave in and walked closer to Shirtless Guy so I could get a better look, maybe catch his eye?

No. He wouldn’t be.

My flesh was ready to breeze on over to the track, and I could visualize myself getting up and following through, but I quieted down.

Just don’t.

Shirtless Guy and his trainer soon left the park, and I felt a shift within me, a faint magnetic pull toward the parking lot.

No.

My mom and I lingered a bit longer to get some more sunlight and comment on the numerous dogs and babies who passed by. Enough time had passed for me to safely assume Shirtless Guy and the trainer had left the vicinity.

“You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

Indeed, when we reached the parking lot, he was gone.

 

I had no regrets.

Why we should PRAY for our favorite celebrities

Why we should PRAY for our favorite celebrities

I remember the day I read on Facebook that Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist of Linkin Park, had committed suicide. It was July 20, 2017, to be exact, so just over a year ago. This was the first celebrity death that made me feel sad, as if somebody I knew personally had died. So many of my peers deeply related with the music Chester created with Linkin Park, and so many of us shared the same struggles that led him to take his own life. Many Linkin Park songs ended on a positive note, so it was easy to believe that whatever problem Chester sang about was in his past, not the present.

We were wrong.

As a believer, there’s a sense of guilt that comes when a favorite celebrity dies of a preventable cause. Even if there was no way we could have known about this person’s problems, we still think if only….

I once saw a video a man had made in appreciation for his grandmother, who had recently passed away. I don’t remember the names of the grandson or the grandmother, nor do I remember where I had watched the video, but I remember one thing the grandson said: “Until the day she died, my grandmother prayed for Frank Sinatra’s salvation.”

I thought that was so endearing, the image of this sweet old lady sitting at her table early in the morning, reading the Word and praying for her loved ones, and as she reaches the end of her prayers, she says, “And Father, I ask that you please save Frank Sinatra. He is my favorite singer, and I want to hear Him sing your praises for eternity.” This woman didn’t just enjoy Sinatra’s music–she was concerned for him as a human being with a soul.

This kind of thinking is lost on our society. We worship the artist, not the Creator who made the artist and gave them their gifts. As we worship the artist, we become voracious consumers, asking them to give us more. More new music. More new movies. More social media posts to pore over with our friends. We want to know everything about them–but we wouldn’t care to actually know them, not as the real living, breathing, normal human beings that they are. We turn them into caricatures and icons, and in turn, many artists embrace the reality that they are an image, not an actual person. They become a brand to be sold and manipulated and exploited at the will of the powerful people around them, who fund their “art” and pull their strings behind-the-scenes. Threats are made. Money becomes a god. The thought of becoming an irrelevant “nobody” seems like a fate worse than death. The pressure to always put forth this carefully cultivated image takes its toll. Soon the artist, who has few, if any, friends they can confide in, turns to other things to cope with the overwhelming emotions that accompany this life they’ve chosen. This is not what they wanted when they started out. Many only wanted to simply make art. That good intention quickly became corrupted by fame–and a desire for more of it. The artist became a celebrity.

Then one day, when we least expect it, we open Facebook and find that the top article is about the death of our favorite celebrity. We didn’t see it coming. We write a post about how that person’s art affected our lives. We post on Twitter with a sheepish #RIP next to their name. We join a Facebook group to collectively mourn with other fans and share our favorite works and moments from that celebrity’s life. The news cycle takes full advantage of this death, knowing that channel surfers will tune in once they hear “and later, we discuss the tragic death of celebrity so-and-so and the legacy they left behind.” If the circumstances surrounding the death are somewhat ambiguous, we can trust that the media will milk this death for all its worth–at least for about a month or so. Then eventually we all move on, only to repeat the same process when the next celebrity dies.  

This is unacceptable.

As believers in Messiah, I believe we have the unique responsibility, or at least the unique opportunity and privilege, to intercede for the celebrities we care about. It is not enough to consume their art–we should care about their souls as well. Beneath the beautiful facade is a soul that’s longing to be set free. Perhaps there is a private struggle that has been hidden for years. Even if it’s out in the open, have we ever cared either way? Why do we only care about what these artists can give us?

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until you read that article about the accident, the overdose, or the suicide that has taken this person’s life. This is not just about salvation–I want to see these people experience the abundant life that Messiah offers to those who live for Him. I want to see them live in freedom from anything that keeps them in bondage, whether it’s an addiction, an eating disorder, or a bad relationship. If you don’t want to see your favorite celebrity struggle with loneliness, addiction, and self-loathing, and if you want to see them spending a joyful eternity with the Lord, then pray for them. I challenge you to do it the next time you see that person’s name pop up on your newsfeed.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

~Nikita 💛

The Myth of Liquid Courage

The Myth of Liquid Courage

It was a Sunday afternoon. My mom, my sister, and I were the only ones on the dancefloor.

“I told you no one dances at christenings!” I yelled to my mom.

She shrugged. “I guess you were right!”

We continued shimmying, clapping, and side-stepping through whatever song the DJ played for us. Nothing he played would bring the plethora of seated spectators to the floor. He tried “Let’s Get Loud.” He tried “Uptown Funk.” He tried some Italian club songs I’d never heard. When the DJ handed us flashing maracas that glowed different colors, even the gimmick wasn’t enticing enough.

A good portion of the guests were under the age of 40. We had seen them dance at the hosts’ wedding two years ago, so we knew they weren’t wallflowers with two left feet. We approached a few tables and beckoned people to join us. They laughed nervously and shook their heads. Then we approached one of our cousins, but she indicated that she needed a drink.

Ah. Liquid courage.

I remembered a college reunion event I attended a few years ago. I was the first person to sing karaoke that night, after waiting an hour and a half for anyone else to go first. Afterwards I ran onto the sparse dancefloor to join the other brave folks who weren’t professional dancers. An acquaintance of mine chatted with me later, and his breath stunk from whatever he drank. He hadn’t danced at all the whole night.  

Before the event began, I asked several people if they were going to sing at the karaoke mic or boogie down to the music. People laughed and replied “maybe after I’ve had a few drinks.” I thought it was kind of sad that people were going to withhold the joy of singing and dancing from themselves because they needed to wait for some substance to kick in. I didn’t have that luxury–I’m one of those few medicated souls who actually follows the warning label from the pharmacy. Aside from that, I had other reasons for not drinking, but that’s a post for another time. Here’s why I think so-called “liquid courage” is malarkey.

Think back to when you were a kid and you had to play a little league championship game, or sing the national anthem in front of the entire school, or give an end of the year class presentation. Think back to the first time you jumped off a diving board or rode on a roller coaster. You couldn’t rely on liquid courage back then. You had to do it afraid. Do you remember what happened afterward? The reward. The biggest adrenaline rush you’ve ever experienced in your life. That feeling of accomplishment as you emerged from the pool or took your bow or held up the trophy. When was the last time you felt that? I think that with liquid courage, you’re cheating yourself. You’re robbing yourself of a certain kind of happiness–the kind you have when you push through the awkwardness and fear and realize that everything is going to be okay. When you find your wacky dance moves are liberating. When your karaoke singing inspires others to walk up to the mic and give it a try.

You don’t need alcohol to be brave. Be fully present in the crazy moments. Experience every feeling associated with whatever nerve-wracking thing you’re doing. You will want to remember it when it’s over. For the love of all things bright and beautiful, I dare you to do it afraid. Next time you feel the need to reach for liquid courage, challenge yourself to push through your feelings and see what you accomplish. As somebody who doesn’t get to use liquid courage, I can assure you that it is rewarding to do the scary stuff without it, and you do build reference points that you can use later on in life (i.e. “If I did that, then I can do this”).

How do I do it, then, when I can’t drink? I can’t rely on myself. When I feel afraid, I pray. I pray knowing that God is bigger than whatever thing I’m facing. Bigger than my anxiety. More vast than a million stage performances, job interviews, or college exams. The God who gave Joshua the courage to lead the Israelites across the Jordan, Gideon the courage to defeat the Midianites, and Paul the courage to preach the Gospel even when he faced persecution–that same God will give me the courage to ride the Thunderbolt and introduce myself to strangers at an event.

Greater is He who is living in me than he who is living in the world.*

~Nikita

PS This post is not meant to demonize alcohol at all. I’ll explore that topic in another entry, hopefully very soon. Much love. 💛

 

How to Enjoy Your Summer Without a Vacation

How to Enjoy Your Summer Without a Vacation

Not going away this summer? You’re not alone. Many of us won’t be taking a trip this year, for many different reasons. But just because you’re not splurging on a modest vacation doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the warm weather, even in small ways. Here’s my personal list of ideas to enjoy this summer without going away.

  1. Organize an after-work water balloon fight–Send out that group message or Facebook invite and get your friends together for a friendly water balloon/water gun fight. Check the forecast to make sure it is a hot, sunny evening. You can get some cheap water guns from your local dollar store, and they probably carry water balloons as well. Organize teams or just have a free-for-all. If you need some ideas for water fight games, there’s some here.

  2. Visit your local park–If hiking is your thing, check online to see which nearby parks have hiking trails (and if you live in a city, check out urban hiking). If you just want some trees and a change of scenery, any size park will do. (Also, if it’s a hot day, don’t be shy about running through the sprinklers. If you’re surrounded by strangers, there’s a good chance you won’t be seeing these people again anytime soon.)

  3. Throw a beach-themed party–Coordinate with your friends and/or family and pick an evening to relax, eat, and have some fun. Decor can be as simple or complicated as you like–at the very least, buy seashells at a hobby shop for the table and hang some paper lanterns (and there are more ideas here). Get two people to hold a broom, and you have a limbo stick. This is also a good time to break out the Uno cards or any board games you haven’t played in awhile. For background music, check out my Summer Beach Party Playlist over at Nikita Listens! (Note: If you don’t have a yard to use, or if it rains, you can always bring this party indoors!)

  4. Spend a day at the beach/lake/pool–If you’ve ever been on vacation to an island or a seaside town, you know that the views can be pretty unbeatable (not to mention those nice breezes in the evening). However, if the view doesn’t really matter and you just want to be near any body of water, organize a get-together with family or friends and head over to the closest beach, lake, or swimming pool. It’s even better if you know someone who has a pool in their backyard because then you can spend your time more leisurely without dealing with crowds.

  5. Visit a museum–Museums are great if you enjoy more intellectually stimulating activities when you go on vacation. Try visiting one you’ve never been to before–you might learn something new, and you can get a few laughs by trying the FaceApp on sculptures, paintings, and photographs (I am curious to see how this app would work on a taxidermied animal…).

  6. Eat a burger–while you can enjoy a charbroiled burger any time of the year, I always associate summertime with barbecues. If neither you nor your friends own a grill, you can still hop on Yelp and find the highest-rated burger joint near you. (If you’re in NYC, Bareburger serves only grass-fed beef, so you know those cows lived a good and happy life. They also have vegan burgers and gluten-free buns!)

  7. Read books–As Arthur once said, “having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” Elementary school teachers lure kids into learning how to read with the promise of being transported to other places through books. Therefore, if you can’t physically go somewhere, you can still read about it and utilize the power of your imagination. If you’re looking for some solid suggestions, this list on Goodreads has a whole bunch of books that take place in faraway lands.

  8. Go to the movies–Summer blockbuster season is upon us, which means plenty of popcorn flicks and a few sleeper hits. It’s not Oscar season yet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any highly entertaining films in theaters. Check Rotten Tomatoes before you go if you have trouble deciding which movie you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy–but to be honest, sometimes the best movie critics you can trust are your friends.

  9. Take a crafting class–Or really, any kind of class. Websites like Meetup and Coursehorse can help you find a class near you, and if there aren’t any, there are so many online options! Utilize the warm weather to do the things you normally can’t do during the rest of the year, like photographing fireworks or painting outside.

  10. Plan a staycation–Do all your errands and chores during the week so your weekend is entirely free. Tell your friends and family to pretend you’re out of town, fix yourself a nice summery drink, and go relax on your sofa/fire escape/porch. Activities are optional.

I am nearing 27 years of age and I’ve been on 9 family vacations. I’m very blessed to have had those trips, since many people have never even had one vacation. Still, some of my fondest summer memories are from the things I did on a normal summer day, like running through the sprinklers at the park with strangers’ kids, and eating ice cream with my grandma during breezy evenings in the backyard. Enjoying the summer is not so much about where you go, but rather about enjoying the moment, and especially enjoying your time with your family and friends. I hope you have a great summer, no matter where you are. 🙂

~Nikita 💛

 

Wanting to Draw Near

Wanting to Draw Near

She stood next to me during worship, and her beautiful voice sang softly as the song ended and we shifted to spontaneous praise.

 

“I love you, Lord…”

 

I felt a pang in my heart as I listened. Her words were so sweet and pure, like she was whispering into the Savior’s ear.  

I wish I loved God like that, I thought. When worship was over, we went downstairs to eat snacks and desserts. She sat across from me and my mom and candidly shared her testimony. She had been a believer for about 5 years. She was a single mom. Her ex was a horrible man. Even as she spoke of what she endured, there was a calm happiness in her voice. She came a long way from where she was.

I’ve been following the Lord for longer than her. How come I don’t love Him more like she does?

I remembered another sister in the Lord from a different church. I had visited her church a few times, and whenever she testified, prayed, or conversed with people, there was this radiant love pouring out from her. Even when she wasn’t talking about God, the evidence of her love for Him sprinkled her voice and her demeanor. She regarded each person she came across with love and respect. She had a dark past, but she was redeemed from it and had purposed in her heart to never go back to where she was before. She was secure in her walk and her identity was firmly rooted in who God said she was.

I looked at her and thought, I wish I had a relationship with God like that.

Then I finally realized…I can! I can be closer to God, all I need to do is draw near. God is no respecter of persons, so He doesn’t “play favorites” with us. All of us have the potential to have a deep, intimate relationship with the Lord. As I read once in a devotional, “you can have as much of God as you want.”

Ah, but that’s the catch. You can have as much of God as you want. Many of us who are saved are still content to just keep God at arm’s length. Because the closer I get, the more my life may change. I may start to perceive the world differently. I may have to give something up, or I may have to do something outside my comfort zone, or I may have to show God’s love to someone I don’t like. I might even get attacked.

But those fears, while valid, are not worth entertaining. One thing I’ve learned in my own walk with God is that we don’t go from point A to point Z in a day–at least, that’s not the usual case. For example, over a year ago I started to spend more time with God, reading His Word and praying. As I grew closer to Him, some of the toxic media that I used to like didn’t interest me anymore. I stopped listening to certain singers and got rid of certain books. It didn’t feel like a big loss to me–God had changed my perspective, and I started to see the world through a different lens. 

The choice is always mine–God isn’t going to force me to do anything for Him. The same way I can draw near, I can also pull back–but when I’m not seeking God, I can feel the difference. I’ve realized how much He completes me, how He supplies the joy and strength that I lack, how He gets me through the day. When I don’t nourish my spirit, I become spiritually “hangry.” In fact, I’ve been spiritually hangry for the past week. I’ve been battling lots of questions but haven’t been actively seeking any answers. So I’m going to spend some time with God after I post this.

We can all be close to God. Don’t be afraid to draw near.

 

~Nikita