Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality - Donald Miller, 2003
This book came out quite a while ago, and I remember friends reading it and enjoying it way back then, but for some reason I never read it.  Then over our Christmas travels, Justin got it on CD and we listened to it in the car.  We both really enjoyed it, and it impacted us a lot.  (You can read his review here.)  I wanted to read it again in print before reviewing it, though, because I'm more of a visual learner.

It's a collection of essays that aren't necessarily related to the others, so there isn't really a cohesive theme to the book.  It's basically just Don Miller's spiritual journey told in bits and pieces.  But I really enjoyed his perspective, especially living most of his Christian life outside the Bible Belt.  I really identified, though, with a lot of what he knows and believes about God and relating to Him.  In that way, I'm actually really glad I never read this book before now - I feel that after all I learned last year, I am uniquely ready to understand these things now more than I ever have been before.

Since there isn't a plot or theme, though, I can't really give any kind of summary.  So instead I'm just going to give a collection of my favorite quotes.  I highly recommend this book, though, and I'm thankful God led Justin to get it for us to listen to in the car!

"Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.  It is as if they are showing you the way." - Introduction

"I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time.  This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious.  If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God." - Chapter 2

"I can't explain how freeing that was, to realize that if I met Jesus, He would like me.  I never felt like that about some of the Christians on the radio.  I always thought if I met those people they would yell at me.  But it wasn't like that with Jesus.  There were people He loved and people He got really mad at, and I kept identifying with the people He loved, which was really good, because they were all the broken people, you know, the kind of people who are tired of life and want to be done with it, or they are desperate people, people who are outcasts or pagans.  There were others, regular people, but He didn't play favorites at all, which is miraculous in itself." - Chapter 4

"I will love God because He first loved me.  I will obey God because I love God.  But if I cannot accept God's love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him.  Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God's love will.  The ability to accept God's unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return.  Accepting God's kindness and free love is something the devil does not want us to do.  If we hear, in our inner ear, a voice saying we are failures, we are losers, we will never amount to anything, this is the voice of Satan trying to convince the bride that the groom does not love her.  This is not the voice of God.  God woos us with kindness, He changes our character with the passion of His love." - Chapter 7

"If I live what I believe, then I don't believe very many noble things.  My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world.  My life testifies to this because I care more about my food and shelter and happiness than about anybody else." - Chapter 10 

Quoting his friend Paul on marriage: "One of the ways God shows me He loves me is through Danielle [his wife], and one of the ways God shows Danielle He loves her is through me.  And because she loves me, and teaches me that I am lovable, I can better interact with God...  I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously.  And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can't accept who God is; a Being that is love.  We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people.  That is why God tells us so many times to love each other." - Chapter 13

"Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself.  All I thought about was myself.  The only thing I really cared about was myself.  I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice.  I discovered that my mind is like a radio that picks up only one station, the one that plays me: K-DON, all Don, all the time.  I did not understand the exchange that takes place in meaningful dialogue, when two people sit down and tune their radios, if only for a moment, to the other person's station." - Chapter 15

So this is just a few of the really great thoughts and ideas I found in this book.  A lot of it was really challenging, yet affirming.  I definitely agree with his thoughts that being a Christian is about embracing Jesus, not embracing Christianity.  And so that is a challenge to me, to sift through my life and analyze what I do and think - am I representing Jesus or representing religion?  Great food for thought.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Christmas Traditions

Ever since we got married, and especially since Elias was born, we've been trying to figure out exactly what our own family traditions are going to be for holidays.  We're really trying to put a lot of thought into what holidays mean to us and how we want to celebrate.  So this year for Christmas we started a couple new things, and I thought I'd post them on here.  I found both of these ideas on Ann Voskamp's blog: A Holy Experience.

Advent Tree
Ann calls it a Jesse Tree, but I prefer Advent since that's what we're celebrating.  What we did was put up our Christmas tree the day before Advent (the 28 days before Christmas) started, leaving the front empty; I put up all our ornaments on the sides and back.  Then, using Ann's book and ornaments, we did a little story/devotional each day and put an ornament on the tree representing each story.  The stories walked us through the Bible from creation to Christ.  
This was our tree with all of the ornaments on it after Christmas.  This whole idea was really, really special, and I think we'll plan to do this every year.  It was just so neat to keep our focus daily on God's great story of love and redemption, meditating on what that little baby in the hay means to us all.

This particular book's devotionals were pretty deep, and Elias didn't have the patience or understanding to listen to them.  He did pick up some of it, though, and he had fun putting the new ornaments on the tree every day!  So I don't know if we'll try a different series next year or try this one again to see if he's old enough to get it then.  If anybody has any recommendations, let me know!

Inspired by this post on Ann's blog, we decided not to give gifts to each other for Christmas, but only to give gifts to Jesus, Whose birthday we're celebrating.  This year we did that in the form of Angel Trees, Adopt-a-Grandparent gifts, and donating food and toys to Share Your Christmas at church.  In future years when Elias is older and more able to participate, I think it would be really neat to follow Ann's suggestion and actually pick gifts out of a catalog for such ministries as Compassion International or Gospel for Asia.  But this is just another thing that helps keep our focus on Christ and not on the commercial aspects of the American traditions.

In thinking about these things and really focusing on what the holiday means to us, Justin and I both agreed that this was the most we've enjoyed Christmas together since we've been married.  It is such a joy to really bring purpose and meaning in what we do!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: The DNA of Relationships

This is the first book I finished this year in my pursuit of nonfiction, and if you don't read any further than this, please hear me say that EVERYONE ON EARTH SHOULD READ THIS BOOK!  If you're married, you should buy it and read it more than once.  Old and young, men and women.  There isn't anybody that would not benefit from the principles in this book.

I have to confess that when I first started reading, the first chapter sounded like such an infomercial: "Implementing the principles in this book will completely revolutionize every relationship in your life!"  Yeah, right.  But for real, you guys.  I think it actually has the potential to deliver what it promises!

I'm not going to try to tell you everything, but the basic premise is just understanding how communication works in your relationships and learning to recognize what is happening when communication breaks down so that you can change your patterns.  The most important concept for this is learning to understand yourself, which was really big for me.  Each of us has some core fears that cause us to act and react in unpredictable ways, so when I came to understand what my deepest fears are (rejection and invalidation), I can now understand why I react so negatively to innocent things that shouldn't be a big deal.  And then the next big part of understanding myself is recognizing that I am the only one that controls my actions and reactions.  No one else can MAKE me angry or upset.  I choose how I react to things that push my buttons.

Moving on from there, you can look at the people you have close relationships with and identify what their core fears are based on the way they behave.  Then you can work to make your relationship as safe as possible by respecting their fears and treating them with kindness and understanding.

There is so much more to it than that, but you're just going to have to read the book for yourself!  But seriously, this has really affected the way I handle myself, and I hope to get better at it with practice!  Please let me know if you read this - I wonder if it will help others as much as it helped me!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reading My Vegetables

I love to read.  I always have.  I think this is a very good thing, and I see that Justin's and my love of reading is rubbing off on Elias, which is also a very good thing.  However, I have a weakness in my appetite for reading, and that is that I love to read fiction and I'm just not so good at getting through nonfiction.  I recognize that there is value in nonfiction, but I just don't have the discipline to make myself read it.  I'll start a book and get through a couple chapters, but then just stall and not read another page even if the first few chapters were really good!  I'll just pick up a fiction book and read my merry way along, leaving the bookmark in the middle of the nonfiction book.  You may even remember that last year one of my resolutions involved reading more nonfiction.  Yeah, that didn't happen.  But all year long I recognized it as something I wanted to do.  I just didn't have a plan.

So a few weeks ago I was talking with my friend Ashley about this subject, and she has encountered the same flaw in her reading life.  So she suggested a plan that I really like!  So per her suggestion, I'm requiring myself to read a chapter of nonfiction a day before I'm allowed to read any fiction.  You may recall that I'm not making any resolutions this year, but it just happened that I started doing this on January 1.  Pure coincidence, I assure you.  But it's working very well so far!  Some days I don't get my chapter read, and so I don't read any fiction at all.  Other days I bang out my chapter before lunch and I'm good to go the rest of the day.

When I told Justin about my plan, he said it sounded like somebody making their kid eat their vegetables before they're allowed to have any dessert.  And I think that's an excellent metaphor!  My sweet tooth would love to eat nothing but ice cream all the time, but I recognize that my nutrition would be incomplete without vegetables and other healthy foods, so I make myself eat those.  Then if I'm still hungry, I can have some dessert.  What I often find, though, is that the healthy foods satisfy me and I no longer need dessert...  And ya know, it may be that the same thing is happening with reading!  Already I'm not "craving" as much fiction, and I'm content to just sit down and read whatever nonfiction book I'm working on.  I actually borrowed a Karen Kingsbury (my favorite Christian author - seriously, you should read ALL her books!) book from the library over a week ago, and I haven't even started it yet!  What the heck?!  I'm going to have to make myself read it before it's due!  Ha!  Who would've ever thought that would be the case?!  Not me, that's for sure.

So anyways, I'm going to be reading a lot more nonfiction this year, and if they're good ones, I'll be writing reviews on my blog.  In fact, I already finished one that was completely awesome, so keep your eyes open for that in the next few days.  Good stuff here, folks.

Christmas, Part 7: Fun with Cousins

When we visited my parents in Ohio, my sister and her family also came up from Atlanta, and we all stayed there together.  So Elias got to have fun playing with his cousins, Patriot (6) and Azlan (4)!  He's not quite on their level of play, but he enjoyed watching them for sure!  One of the things he most enjoyed watching us all do together was play Wii Bowling.  He just thought that was HILARIOUS!  So here's a video of that:

Whenever the ball would hit the pins, he'd jump up and down and yell "Ta daaa!"  Such excitement!

Another day we went to a local mall to play, and they had a little train ride set up right next to the play area!  (Talk about strategic placement!)  So we certainly couldn't pass up the chance for the boys to ride a train together.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Christmas, Part 6: Fiesta de Navidad

On Christmas Day, we traveled from Western KY to Cincinnati to visit my family.  Since all of us had multiple Christmas celebrations, and the one at the Strimple house was the last one for us all, we decided to do a Fiesta instead of having a traditional Christmas dinner.  So we made fajitas and nachos and homemade guacamole!  Ole!  Mom and Dad even surprised us by showing up with decorations that were borrowed from their church!  In addition to wall hangings and a string of lights shaped like pinatas(!), they had two sombreros, and Elias thought those were great!!  He wore one for about a full hour!
Feliz Navidad!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Christmas, Part 5: Mrs. B

We have a wonderful and generous family that gave such wonderful gifts to Elias this year!  However, for the first time, there was definitely one gift that stood out far above the rest to him...
A small beanie cat given to him by his Aunt Nicole and Uncle David.  Seriously, home run here, folks.  Elias has recently seemed to be very fond of cats, and he didn't have any cat toys.  So when Aunt Nicole asked what to get him, I suggested a stuffed cat.  So they got him this one, and he fell in LOVE.  Immediately.  As soon as he opened up the present, he just lay on the couch and cuddled her.
Seriously, he didn't move for at least 15 minutes.  Just kicking his legs and cuddling his kitty.

So we asked him what her name was, and he immediately said, "Mrs. B."  This is hilarious because it's the name of the cat in one of his favorite songs by Steve Songs: "And the Dog Says."  The name is only mentioned in passing, and we've never talked about it.  I didn't even know he remembered what the cat's name in that song was!  But now she has a namesake.

So she has been pretty much a constant companion ever since.  We don't let him sleep with her, but she does come with us to the store or wherever.  He carries her around and sometimes incorporates her into playing with his other toys.  She rides on Thomas or watches movies with him.  At Nana's house, there is a toy shopping cart, and he put her in the front and pushed her around like she was his baby!  How hilarious is this?!
Full disclosure: He laid her in the seat, and I sat her up so her hind legs were sticking through the holes - I thought it was hilarious!

But I've never seen Elias attach to a toy like this.  Some days he seems more attached to her than others.  Yesterday was definitely a Mrs. B day - she barely ever left his side.  And he in fact cried when he had to tell her goodnight and go to bed.  Parting is such sweet sorrow!

Note: I'm going on about how much Elias loves this cat, but I hope the rest of you who got him gifts don't think that diminishes how much he enjoys the rest of your gifts!  We love and play with them ALL!  Thanks to all of our generous family!

Christmas, Part 4: Lights at Patti's

There is a famous restaurant in Grand Rivers, KY called Patti's.  We love to eat there, but over the holidays it is impossible to get in without waiting for hours.  So we just went in the evening and checked out their really huge Festival of Lights display.  There were some really cool things there - some I'd never seen before!  You know it's going to be a treat for Elias when a train is one of the first things we see...
Our sweet family photo at the "North Pole."
Lights as far as the eye can see!
They had a couple of these impressive red-wrapped trees.  Nana and I were amazed at how far out they were able to get out on the branches!  Elias thought it looked like an octopus...  I can see it!
This tree was so cool - I had never seen lights like this before!  They were long strings of lights where the light ran down the string - it looked like icicles dripping off the tree! 
I took a video of it, but you may not be able to see what's going on.  I can see it because I know what it looked like!  Pretty cool stuff.

This was definitely a fun outing for us, though, and worth the cold!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Christmas, Part 3: Nana & Granddad's House

Our first stop was Nana & Granddad's house in Western Kentucky.  We always have fun visiting their house, and this time was no exception!  Here are some of the things we got into.

Since we discovered a love for coloring on plain notebook paper in the car, Granddad gave him a pencil and a pad of paper, and Elias sat as his desk and colored!  How cute is this??  Notice this Dr. John S Tapp nameplate...  Looks good in front of our Dr. Elias John Tapp, doesn't it?!  ;)

Nana & Granddad have a whirlpool bathtub at their house, so Justin had the idea that Elias might like taking his bath in it.  In fact, He. Loved. It.  Major fun times here!!

Also, Granddad has gotten a new four-wheeler since we visited last, so Granddad took Elias out on it, and that was big fun!
In the video, you can see that Granddad starts out slow on the driveway, and then takes him off-road a little.  I left in the end of the clip, because you can hear Mommy's nervous laugh when Granddad takes him through a big dip.  I'm such a weenie when it comes to mothering a boy!!  Then it was Daddy's turn to take Elias!  They had big fun!
Then one day we went into the city of Paducah just to explore a bit.  We ate lunch at a neat seafood place called Whaler's Catch, then explored downtown a bit.  They have a railroad museum, which we didn't go in, but we did enjoy the real train they have outside!
Honestly, I had no idea trains were this big in real life!  Elias still talks about the train in Paducah.  A dream come true for that little guy!

Christmas, Part 2: Fun in the Car

This year for Christmas, we took our usual family tour to Kentucky and Ohio, which was about 1,600 miles round trip.  Sheesh.  However, we have a fantastic family (on both sides!) that I would drive much farther to be able to see, PLUS we have an amazing child who does GREAT in the car.  He never sleeps in the car, but he's generally content to just play and listen to music.  Yes, we recognize how blessed we are to have such a great traveler.

When we crossed the bridges into Kentucky, I told Elias "Look!  We just entered Kentucky!" and for the next 15 minutes he shouted "KENTUCKY!!!!!"  Well, glad you're happy, kid.  So then I pulled out the camera to record it, and I had to coax him to say it again.  Creep.  Anyway, here that is, plus some in-car silliness for your entertainment:

I must say that the coloring was a stroke of genius on my part.  He has the little Tadoodles crayons - a cat, a bunny, and a bird - and he actually plays with them like dolls.  He's rarely ever colored with them before.  But he was getting a little squirmy, so I just pulled out a notebook and gave him his Tadoodles, and seriously, he colored for an hour.  He covered pretty much every page in my notebook, but that's a small price to pay for an easy hour in the car!!

Note - Huh, how 'bout that?  I went to the Crayola page to find the Tadoodles crayons so I could link to the product above.  And they say the red crayon is a fox, not a cat.  Umm, not in our house.  The cat is Elias' favorite one!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Christmas, Part 1: Neighbor

I have to begin the tale of our Christmas adventures this year with our backyard neighbor.  They are legendary in our neighborhood for going absolutely crazy with their Christmas decorations.  Think Clark Griswold in his 80s, and that's Mr. Dalton.  But their decorations really helped us get in the Christmas spirit, and Elias LOVED them!  They began putting up their back yard decorations on NOVEMBER 8TH, so we were able to enjoy them for a long time too.  This was the view from our rear windows (Click to enlarge.):

And they had their full front yard decorations finished by the Monday after Thanksgiving (Click to enlarge.):

Absolutely absurd.  The above picture is without the lights on, so you may not get the full effect, but I think you can see better the sheer volume of decorations.  I believe I count 14 inflatables in this picture...  Add the 6 from the back yard, and that makes an even 20.  Sheesh.  Elias' hands-down favorite was the Santa in the helicopter on the far right of the picture.  He would ask EVERY DAY to go see Santa in the helicopter.  We went 2 or 3 times a week to go look at the display.  There was actually a little more - a plastic nativity set, another spiral tree, and I think a Santa - on the other side of the driveway on the right, but I couldn't fit it into the picture.

So although I wouldn't want to decorate my own house like this, it was really fun having it in our backyard to just open up the blinds and enjoy!  Elias still runs to the window and looks for the snowmen and lights.  Sorry, bud.  Not till next year!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 in Review: RECEIVE

I have had a completely life-changing year in 2010, and so I wanted to write out my thoughts about how much God has done in me this year.  In thinking about all of it, I believe that the best word to summarize my year is RECEIVE.  This year, God has taught me how to RECEIVE His truth in a way I never have before.  I grew up in church and I know the Bible well, so I've never had a problem with doctrine or knowing WHAT truth is.  My issue is really RECEIVING it in a personal way, and God has completely smashed that barrier this year - all praise be to Him!  So below are the main areas in which I have been taught to RECEIVE this year.

The biggest and most life-changing thing for me this year is that I learned how to RECEIVE love.  I've "known" God loves me since I was little.  God so loved the world (John 3:16) and all that.  But I really came to know and believe and understand it in such a personal way this year.  If you had asked me about God's love, I could've told you all the right answers before, but I learned this year that I wasn't actually applying it to myself.  I didn't realize this before, but I was carrying around the false perception that my mistakes, failures, sins, and imperfections somehow kept me from being truly loved.  I saw God's love as more just tolerance - He put up with me and let me be saved, but He didn't really like me all that much, and He was constantly frustrated and irritated by my screw-ups.  I thought that when God looked at me, He would sigh and shake His head: "What potential she has, and she's constantly messing up!"  I felt like God let me be on His team, but He would never actually put me in the game - I wasn't good enough for that.

But I was wrong about that, oh so wrong!  And God in His precious tenderness decided that this was the year for me to RECEIVE the truth of how He really feels about me.  In January of this year, I began a Bible study called "Do You Think I'm Beautiful?" with a precious group of women.  God used that study and those women to completely rock my world and my understanding of who He is and who I am in Him.  Do you want to know the truth?  Here it is: God loves me.  Oh, but not in the way I thought before!!!  God loved me deeply even before He made me, and He crafted me with such tenderness and purpose to be exactly the woman I am.  He knew my weaknesses.  He knew my sins and my failures.  And He loved me deeply, not just in spite of them, but WITH them.  God's love for me isn't dependent on my performance or my faith or my service or my obedience or anything regarding me at all.  He loves me because He made me; He chose me; I am His.

Someone who has never labored under the burden of such failure, shame, and guilt before may not understand the pure freedom and joy that comes when it is lifted!  But oh, let me tell you!  I feel almost like I can fly!  There is such solid ground beneath my feet because I don't have to earn or prove anything anymore.  I can rest secure in the fact that God has declared me to be beautiful, precious, and valuable even while knowing intimately my flaws and failures.  He sees me, He knows me, He loves me, He forgives me, He protects me, He pursues me, He holds me, He calls me His own, He calls me His beautiful bride.  I have no idea how He does it, but He feels this deeply and intimately for every single one of His children, and if you'll just let Him, He wants so deeply to show you how much it's true for you too!  I am so thankful for a God who loves me so much He will NEVER let me go.  I am safe with Him.

The newfound safety I have in Him allows me to RECEIVE more freedom in my other relationships too.  I'm no longer dependent on the approval and acceptance of others to define my value.  Would you like to know what defines me?  See the previous paragraph.  There is absolutely nothing in that paragraph that is dependent on another human being, and so no human being can change my identity.  That depends on God alone, who is eternal and unchanging.  So this gives me the ability to love without needing to be loved in return, and that would make relationships a whole lot easier.  I have definitely not arrived in this area, because old habits, fears, and reactions die hard.  But I definitely know where I'm headed, and I want to honor God by allowing His love to flow through me to others, regardless of how I feel about them or how they feel about me.

Another HUGE deal this year has been the beginning of my journey to understand my relationship with food and how to make sure it has its proper place in my life.  Many of you know that I have struggled with weight and overeating my entire adult life, and it has been a real source of shame and struggle for me.  A friend introduced me to an online Bible study course called The Lord's Table, which is for people with unhealthy relationships to food, and it teaches us to understand exactly why we relate to food the way we do.  For me, food was my fallback.  I ate when I was hungry, I ate when I was sad, I ate when I was bored, I ate when I was frustrated, I ate when I was lonely, I ate when I was tired...  Anyone sensing a theme here?  The basic premise is, though, that I would eat for comfort because I didn't want to feel hunger, sadness, boredom, frustration, loneliness, fatigue, or any kind of pain or discomfort at all.  So I would self-medicate with food.  Unfortunately, food doesn't satisfy, and it doesn't actually bring any healing or help for all the problems I was trying to cover up with it.

But what the Lord has shown me this year is that if I will open myself up to Him and RECEIVE His truth, love, and comfort into my life, I won't have to turn to food to just try to bury my pain.  Instead, I need to take it to Him to actually have it dealt with. 

So I will never diet again.  I haven't been on a scale in about 6 months.  Weight, calories, sugar, size...  None of that is the issue here, and concentrating on it just distracts me from the real issue, which is my relationship with the Lord.  As I learn to love Him more than anything, my eating will begin to line up with that, and all the rest will fall into a place that honors Him.

This is another long road, and I am nowhere near finished with this journey.  In fact, I suspect this is going to be a lifelong struggle for me.  However, what freedom there is for me to be able to recognize that it's ok!  I struggle with overeating and with turning to food when I should be turning to the Lord.  But He doesn't condemn me for that.  He looks on me with patience and compassion, and He wants to help me find victory.  In Him, I have hope and confidence that I WILL find victory.  I'm ok with that.

This year I have finally come out of a very low season that has been several years long.  It was mostly centered around the previous misconception I stated before about how I viewed myself and how I viewed God.  I was living under such a mountain of failures, sins, and unmet expectations that I felt like I was suffocating.  After Elias was born, I had the culture shock of becoming a stay-at-home mom, and I really just spiraled into a depression.  Nothing was like I expected it to me, least of all ME - I wasn't the mother I wanted to be, the wife I wanted to be, the friend I wanted to be, the Christian I wanted to be...  I felt like I was failing at everything I tried.  Honestly, I couldn't picture living a whole life with the failures just piling up around me, and I wasn't sure I wanted to.  But as you can read above, God completely set me free from that, and I am so thankful.  But there were two essential keys to finding that freedom, and they both involved RECEIVING help.  I went to my doctor who prescribed me an antidepressant - there was a difference the very first day I took it, and I'm still on it now.  And I started seeing a godly counselor, who really helped me work through a lot of junk.  I only see her occasionally now, but that's because God has done such a healing work in me that I don't need regular meetings anymore.  But in both of those cases, I had to be willing to swallow my pride and RECEIVE the help that I needed from others.

So this year has been such a blessed one of healing, freedom, and RECEIVING truth and help from the Lord!  I have absolutely no resolutions for next year besides to just keep my hands open to the Lord and RECEIVE whatever He has for me!  I can't wait to see what He has in store!