Monday, December 31, 2012

music monday: steve moakler

Perfect song for a new year. Go ahead. Try not to become obsessed with it.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

east of eden for a new year

I'm a little book-crazy, as my husband will attest (he thinks my 500+ collection might be a bit excessive). With all the books I've read and loved, one would think it might be a little difficult to pick a favorite, but for me it isn't. John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Without a doubt. Steinbeck regarded it as his greatest work, and I would tend to agree.

Steinbeck always pulls a range of emotions out of me while I'm reading. (The Winter of Our Discontent almost destroyed me. I think I'm still recovering from that book.) I'm not going to give a book review here, but hopefully these excerpts will prompt you to give it a read, if you haven't. It's the perfect book for a new year, because it emphasizes the ideas of redemption, freedom, and choice. Here's my favorite part, with some of the dialogue removed for length.

     “Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”

     “I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”

     “Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”

Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.

Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made”......

[Lee then tells Samuel he consulted Chinese scholars in his family association regarding this passage.]

“After two years [of learning and research] we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”

Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’

Isn't that just absolutely beautiful? I'm so enamored with this passage, and the story as a whole. Have a happy and wonderful new year. 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

serious saturday: thoughts on grace.

I read an article this week by a man named Michael Cheshire, and it knocked the wind out of me a little bit. In it, he talks about how he became friends with Ted Haggard, a pastor who has been greatly shunned by the Christian community after a scandal six years ago. (You have google if you’re desperate for details and were hiding under a rock in 2006.) Michael decided he wanted to meet him after having the following conversation with an atheist friend, taken from the article (which you can find here.):

“During lunch, he [the friend] pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted's fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, ‘That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that's what keeps me away.’
It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted's hypocrisy. ‘Hey man, not all of us do things like that,’ I responded. He laughed and said, ‘Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can't forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.’ Then he uttered words that left me reeling: ‘You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.’

After I read that, I kept flashing back to a day a few years ago when I was at the YMCA downtown. I was on an eliptical, watching Oprah interview Ted Haggard, and I was so disgusted. THAT guy, up there making all Christians look like idiots. How dare he be such a hypocrite? Doesn't he know that people are going to judge all Christians by his actions?

When he talked about his path of redemption for himself and healing for his family, I--in all my self-righteous glory--scoffed at how "in denial" he was. Did it ever cross my mind that maybe Ted Haggard had a more radical and personal view of God's grace and power than my own? It had been three years since the scandal. Did I ever think that maybe he really had experienced genuine repentence, forgiveness, and change? Nope. Pounding in my head over and over was this: "He's the problem with Christianity."

 I'm the problem.

He's a flawed man in a flawed world, and he screwed up big time. I know. He was held accountable. He apologized, and sought help. It should end there. That's where grace should take over. Who do I think I am to withhold grace from anyone? Yet, we do this with other people's sins, don't we? It's so much easier to throw stones at someone who doesn't fight the same demons we do.

"Well, maybe I have anger issues, but at least I'm not cheating on my wife."

"Yeah, so I gossip, but that's not such a big deal. It's not like I killed someone."

"I haven't tithed in years, but so what? I'm not robbing a bank or anything."

Psychologists call this downward social comparison, and it's a part of Social Comparison Theory that was established in 1954 by Leon Festinger. Initially, this theory stated that we tend to compare ourselves to our peers and similar others the most, but research since has indicated that we do it to people who are very different as well. The theory posits that we judge people to be better or worse than us in different areas to establish a place for ourselves in a heirarchy. Downward social comparison is a particularly defensive tendency used to elevate our self-esteem by looking for someone "worse off" than us in some way.

So, then, our judgements really aren't about the people we judge. They're about us.

Our identities.
Our insecurities.
Our flaws.


My tendency--and probably that of most people--is to do upward social comparisons to the people I respect or admire, and to gloss over (or at least easily forgive) their problems and faults; with people I don't like, my tendency is to downward social comparisons and, as much as I hate to admit it, judgement--even with people I don't know who screw up. It's not pretty. I know. Confessions usually aren't.

Elbert Hubbard said it best in one of my favorite quotes:
 "If men could only know one another, they would neither idolize nor hate."

It's true, isn't it?

It's easy to look down on agnostics until your close friend walks away from faith.

It's easy to despise drug addicts until you realize your father has been one most of your life.

It's easy to talk about all those "people just living off the system" until your childhood friend's husband leaves her and she has to support her son alone.

It's easy to shame a pastor who cheated on his wife, until your pastor and friend is in front of the church crying and asking for forgiveness.

Then, none of those judgements make sense any more, because these are people close to you.  I despise drug use, but I still love my father.  I hate adultery, but I had forgiven my pastor before I even walked out of the church the day of his confession. The distinction between someone's actions and who they are is much easier to make when he or she is right in front of you. It's so much easier to realize that when you're dealing with someone you care about. It shouldn't be, but it is.

 What I needed to understand is that somebody cares about Ted Haggard. God cares about Ted Haggard. I should care about Ted Haggard.

I'm not saying that we should pretend like these failures don't happen, or that they're okay, or not sin, or whatever. And I'm not saying we shouldn't be affected by them.  Being angry, hurt, disappointed--that's normal. It's part of processing. We need  to feel those things. And then we need to let it go. If we are to truly represent Jesus, this eating of our own has to be replaced with dining in the company of the broken, the sinners, the drug addicts, the adulterers, the Ted Haggards--because all of us will need to be dined with at some point in our lives.

Let's start.
I'm getting out the good china.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

blog feature: storyline

When I was in high school, I was a fundamentalist, conservative, and a Republican--because I thought I had to be to be a Christian. The problem isn't that I was any of those things, because I know, love, and respect many people who are; the problem is, I was inauthentic. I could argue for things I had never been able to reconcile with Christianity or agree with in my heart (like the death penalty) because I thought I had to believe in them or my faith was in jeopardy. God would be disappointed in me if I didn't buy into this Americanized Christianity 100%. Looking back, I can realize how crazy that seems, but I was young, and legalism was more comfortable than grace.

In college, a friend gave me the book Blue Like Jazz for my birthday, and it turned everything upside down for me. It brought me back to the basics. It revitalized my faith. It allowed me to be authentic. It changed my life.

The author, Don Miller, has since become a friend, and continues to challenge my faith and change my life. A few years ago, he wrote a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, about the process of turning Blue Like Jazz, a sort of essay-memoir hybrid, into a movie. He looks at the elements of a good story, and what it would look like to live a story good enough for people to want to read. Here are some quotes from A Million Miles.

“If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn’t cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you’d seen. The truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you’d feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to be meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” 

“I don't wonder anymore what I'll tell God when I go to heaven when we sit in the chairs under the tree, outside the city........I'll tell these things to God, and he'll laugh, I think and he'll remind me of the parts I forgot, the parts that were his favorite. We'll sit and remember my story together, and then he'll stand and put his arms around me and say, "well done," and that he liked my story. And my soul won't be thirsty anymore. Finally he'll turn and we'll walk toward the city, a city he will have spoken into existence a city built in a place where once there'd been nothing. ” 

Don was one of my favorite authors long before I even met him, and for good reason. He's incredibly talented. He has helped me to live a better story (and better vacations!). He continues to challenge my thinking through conversations, books, and his blog, that you can find here. Don and several friends make thought-provoking contributions every week, and it's the perfect blog for a new year. Add it to your list, and see if it can help you find ways to live a better story in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the most wonderful time of the year: christmas & reflections

You guys know I love the holidays, but they aren't always perfect. I feel older every year, and I seem to celebrate with fewer and fewer friends and family.

The last couple of years have taken my father, two grandfathers, and an uncle. The holidays are sometimes hard without them; I still feel the empty spaces where they use to sit. My grandmother has Alzheimer's, and we lose a little more of  her every day. I think that's why I let myself get wrapped up in the Christmas festivities and the nostalgia so much--it can take me back to when things were simpler, and all the people I love were always around (or at least just a phone call away). I can watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, and suddenly I'm five years old again, ready to head to Grandma & Grandpa's on Christmas Eve. I'm not saying all of this to bum you out the day after Christmas; the point here (though it isn't well-articulated by any means, since this whole thing has pretty much just been a stream-of-consciousness post) is that Christmas lets me temporarily erase the sadness and amplify the good memories.  It reminds me to appreciate the family around me while I have them. That's the real magic of the Christmas season for me.

This week was full of family, love, happiness, nostalgia, and that special sort of magic. My mom and stepdad came up to Springfield, and Sunday we had Christmas dinner (and presents!) here at our apartment with them, my brother, and Kathy (his wife).  

I cooked up a big meal of chicken/stuffing bake, green bean casserole, roasted broccoli, corn on the cob, marinated mushrooms, brown-sugared carrots, mashed potatoes & gravy, cheesecake and pumpkin pie! I'm no expert chef, but I'd say I did a decent job, because everyone (except Kathy, who had to work) came back the next day to take care of the leftovers, too! :) Once we had priority #1 (food) out of the way, we opened presents!

Well, after we had awakened my stepdad from his food-induced coma, anyway.

Maybe I'm just becoming increasingly sentimental, but it seems like we had some extra-thoughful gifts this year. My mom had personalized stockings made for each of us using the material from the aisle runners at our weddings (above)! My brother and I both got married this year, so it was a particularly meaningful first-married-Christmas gift. Then he and Kathy got me this amazing print (below) of Oregon, with the heart at Portland, my favorite U.S. city! My wanderlusting heart is split between there and England, and I couldn't stop staring at this print the whole day. I'm actually kinda looking forward to taking the Christmas decorations down, just so I can put this up!

 My brother broke out Tyler's guitar and played us some tunes while we all sat around, talked, and laughed. He's pretty darn musically talented, and completely self-taught. So proud of him and his ability--I can strum a little, but I can't come close to him. I loved having family time. It was such a great couple of days.


When I was a kid, I loved sleeping on the couch in the nights leading up to Christmas. The lights on the tree gave me such a warm, homey, loved feeling. Tyler came up with the idea to drag our mattress off our bed and into the living room floor, so on Christmas Eve, that's exactly what we did. I don't think either of us slept particularly well, but every time I woke up that night, I woke up under the glow of Christmas lights. And I fell back asleep each time with that same cozy feeling I had as a kid.

I have such an amazing husband. Seriously. I  have to brag on him a bit. First the mattress thing. Adorable, right? Then, he wanted to give me some money for Christmas to put toward a DSLR camera that I've had my eye on, but he thought it would be weird to just hand me some money. So he hunted down a couple film canisters, put the money in them, and hid them in the living room. He even made an ornament out of one and put it on the tree!

Look at all this! I'm seriously spoiled. Tyler said he just couldn't stop buying stuff, and I definitely believe him. Goodness.   


Yesterday, we spent the day at my aunt and uncle's house with them, my cousins, and grandma. Isn't my grandma the cutest?

There was so much food! It was all the classic tastes of childhood Christmases at my grandparents' house, and it felt so homey and nostalgic....until the dirty jokes started. I guess that's what I was missing all those years at the kids table! Haha. It was hilarious, though. Loved spending time with them.

And Patches, of course.


Sunday we're off to Tyler's family Christmas in Arkansas. I seriously can't wait. I have the greatest in-laws I could  have ever wished for, and I love spending time with them as much as my own family. I feel like I've known them forever, and it's been way too long since we've seen each other!

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

merry christmas!

I hope your day is filled with excitement, wonder, mistletoe, presents, glittering lights, hot chocolate, shimmering tinsel, warm food, laughter, the hugs of your loved ones, and the presence of the One who loves you most. Have a full and happy Christmas. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

music monday: christmas goodness

Here's some awesome Christmas music for your last-minute gift-wrapping!

Hehehehe......but seriously:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

ghosts of christmas past

My love of Christmas started waaaay young. Christmas has always held sort of a magic. Even when I was in high school, long past the days of believing in Santa Claus, I would tell my mom that she couldn't put any presents under the tree until I was asleep on Christmas Eve. HIGH SCHOOL. I'd even go to bed around 8:00 so she would do it and not have to stay up late. Even right now, I'm trying to think of a way to convince Tyler to do that for me next year. Yes, I am a woman-child. I look forward immensely to doing it for my kids someday. 

I'm also nostalgic to the point that it might be pathological. I watch our wedding videos about once a week. I have Tyler reminisce about our early dating days on an almost daily basis. I LOVE looking through childhood photos, and always pull them out when I'm at my mom's or (both) grandma's. My childhood was objectively moderately dysfunctional, and subjectively really freaking awesome. Not that I don't love my life now, because I absolutely do; I just love looking back and seeing all the experiences that have brought me to this point. It's one thing to go over a memory, and another to see a tangible piece of that memory. (Anyone realizing why deciding between history and psychology as undergraduate majors was almost impossible?)

Anyway, here are a few of the pictures of tiny (and not-as-tiny) Jessica during Christmases over the years.

 I'm pretty sure, even as a 10-year-old, that I recognized this as being the creepiest Santa ever. 
Check out that body language.

What are some of your favorite Christmas memories?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Five Guys!

There aren't words for how excited I am that there's a Five Guys in Springfield now! I have an actual list of favorite restaurants from my travels, and anytime one opens up nearby, I'm there. While I'm not realistically expecting a Saigon Flavors (Orlando) or Mother's Bistro (Portland) to pop up in Missouri, I'm still holding out for Wow Bao and Pei Wei. Needless to say, Five Guys has been on my list for years. Love that place. Tyler and I went to check it out, and he had his first-ever Five Guys experience. He's a fan. :) Hooray!

**Yes, I realize how ridiculous it is that I posted this directly after my post about my gluten-free future. I'll still be going to Five Guys...just bunless. Those burgers are too good.**

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

life last week: gluten and ugly sweaters.

I had a check-up at the doctor on Friday, and since Tyler had the day off, he accompanied me. (He also discovered that Highlights is still alive and well, and was pretty excited about that.) 

I had been just feeling really crappy and exhausted for the past few months--not to mention getting sick a lot, but I attribute that to working with a bunch of germ-factories children every day. My immune system sucks anyway, but it's kinda a bummer to never have the energy to do much. I really like my doctor, because he's super thorough and looks at other ways of dealing with things rather than just writing a prescription. (I actually found out a couple days before my appointment that he's nominated for best physician in the Best of the Ozarks!) He started asking about my diet, and I admitted to being a carb junkie. Turns out gluten might be the culprit (I'm not celiac, thankfully, because I don't have the gastrointestinal issues; gluten can cause other types of problems even for people who aren't). Looks like I'm going gluten-free--or as my doc said, "at least drastically reduced." I'm going to pretend like he said I can wait until after Christmas, since it's only a little over a week away. It'll be an adjustment, for sure, but everyone I know who has done it says they feel a ton better, and I'd much rather try this than medication. I'm trying to be excited about it, so I bought a book/cookbook at Barnes and Noble. I'm just going to tack it on to my list of New Year's resolutions.

We definitely went to Cheddar's after my appointment, though. I'm enjoying my last couple weeks of freedom.

So lucky to have this man. He still makes me giddy.

Saturday night we went to an ugly Christmas sweater party with some friends. It was a blast. Yummy food, white elephant, the game Things (which is hilarious, if you've never played it), awesome company, and a baby with a mustache. Doesn't get much better. Tyler's dad bought a new camera (that I'm coveting big-time); he dropped it off Friday so I could mess with it, and I took it to the party with me. Sorry for the picture overload! 

Told you. Baby with a mustache.

  My brother and I showed up in the same shirt, completely unplanned. Typical.
(Can I mention that it's crazy that my brother and I go to the same parties now? He's not my baby brother anymore. It's a weird feeling, but I don't even really see him as younger than me. Surreal.)
 Totally jealous of Kayla's shirt....and her twelve ugly vests.

 This might be my favorite picture of the night. 

 College buddies! Minus the baby, I feel like a freshman again.

White elephant gifts!

 We got a pinata. I named him Herbert.

 Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel.


 I have no idea what's going on here, but I love it.

 (I'm telling Santa my wishlist.) 

Scott took a bite out of Sarah's cupcake--after he licked the icing off.
Actually, on second thought, this is just a picture of Sarah holding Scott's cupcake.

I love my friends. They're crazy, hilarious, and super fun. We're making it an annual tradition.

Tyler and I were supposed to head to Silver Dollar City the next day with Sarah and Scott, but the pesky virus I'd been holding at bay finally got the better of me. So I spent the day on the couch. I think I got up twice. Blech. I'm still not at 100%, but as long as I'm feeling normal by Christmas, I'll manage. I refuse to be sick on my favorite holiday. Make it happen, body. Make it happen. 

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