Saturday, January 13, 2018

Full Of It

"Whatever is in the cup will spill out."

I read this analogy on a Facebook post a few days ago. It goes something like this: Imagine that you have a cup of coffee, then someone bumps into you and the coffee spills out. You didn't spill coffee just because someone bumped you-- you spilled it because it is what was in your cup. If you'd had tea, that's what would have spilled.

The point is, there will inevitably be unexpected events that come along in our lives and jar us. When that happens, whatever our hearts are full of is what will "spill" out of us. When things are going well, it can be easy to make ourselves look like we are full of love, peace, grace, or joy. But when the hard times come, the mask comes off, and what is genuinely inside of us is revealed. Or as Luke 6:45 says, "What you say flows from what is in your heart."

I have personally witnessed people who, in the depths of their own pain and grief, still manage to walk with and shepherd others through suffering. It isn't fake-- that is what is truly inside their hearts flowing out of them. It is beautiful.

Whatever your cup is full of, you pour it from somewhere. There is a source. Left unchecked, life all too often pours me a big cup of negativity, exhaustion, irritation, impatience... I could go on. But I have found that when the source of what fills my cup is God-- faith, prayer, scripture-- I find myself becoming full of the things that reflect him. Qualities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

At the end of the Facebook post, it says, "When life gets tough, what spills over? You choose!" In other words, every day you can choose the sources you rely upon to fill your cup. That is what will "spill" when life jars you. What is your source?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Everything Has Changed

It has been a year of change. 

This year we finally moved into the perfect home for our family. After years of five people living in a two-bedroom home, we now live in a home that is just the right size for our family. It is marvelous. Sometimes I am still stunned that this is really our home, and that we have this kind of space. Our three boys used to share a bedroom, and all five of us used to share a bathroom. Now we have two bathrooms on the main floor, my oldest has his own room, my little two share a room and have their own playroom, AND my amazing parents have their own living space in the basement. It is truly incredible.

I am also in my third year of my career as a school counselor, and this year I changed jobs; I had an unexpected opportunity to move from a high school to an elementary school position, and I couldn't be happier.

My husband is finishing up his second year of working as an ER nurse. A few months ago he finally moved from night shift to days, and it has been a much-needed change.

Our oldest turned 15, started high school, and has finished his first year of marching band. Our 9 year old changed schools over the summer with the move, and has started third grade in his new school. And our 6 year old started kindergarten this year.

This year I even flew on an airplane for the first time ever! It was something I had always feared, but I ended up loving it. I had the opportunity to travel to Denver-- not just to attend a national school counseling conference, but to co-present at the conference! While I was in Denver, I also had the chance to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park. Suffice it to say, a piece of my heart is there in the Rockies now, and I cannot wait to go back.

Yes, overall, life is good.

And yet... 

I have had a persistent feeling that in the midst of all the changes over the past several years, I have lost an important part of myself. Years ago I was a writer, a thinker, a feeler; those were at the core of my identity. When I look at my day-to-day self now, I barely recognize those descriptions.

For most of those years that we lived in our little old house, we were a one-income family. My husband worked; I stayed home with our children. I knew in my heart that was not permanent, because I felt called to pursue a master's degree and begin a career in school counseling. But for nearly a decade, I was a full-time mom. And as busy and stressful as that could be, I regularly had outlets for myself. I loved to read books, almost exclusively non-fiction, about important issues such as faith, social issues, family, and personal development. I wrote almost daily, sometimes in my journal, and sometimes on my blog. Writing kept me going-- I had so many thoughts and emotions that felt important, and I wanted to delve into them and occasionally share them with others.

But now it all feels different.

Maybe it's an introvert problem, or maybe this is simply an issue all working moms deal with at some point. But when I look at my day-to-day life, I realize that I all my mental and emotional energy is spent on a regular basis. On a normal weekday, I am awake sometime between 5:00-5:30 in the morning. I get ready for work, and then I leave the house for my commute (which is just shy of an hour). I arrive to work and work at least 8 hours-- some days I am there longer, depending on what is going on. Then I make the return trip home. When I arrive home, generally sometime between 4:30-5:00, there is still much to do. I exercise for about half an hour, I spend time with my 3 sons and my husband, we have dinner, we clean up, I put the little boys to bed... by the time that is all done, it is almost time for me to go to bed myself. Some days I am the only parent home in the evenings due to my husband's work schedule at the hospital, so all the evening duties fall to me by default.

 All those former outlets that I loved so dearly... they take up precious mental and emotional energy that I simply do not have by 8:30 PM. I can't muster up the energy to read anything that requires thought, or to write, or to really even think. Every last shred of my energy is taken up by everything else in my day, and by the time the day ends I am ready to shower and go to sleep so I can get up and do it all again the next day.

Most of the time even weekends don't truly recharge me. On many weekends I am the only parent home for at least one day because of my husband's schedule. And as a very introverted person, a weekend at home with three children just doesn't fully recharge my batteries. As I recently told my husband, it is kind of like plugging in your phone when the battery is at 5%, and taking it off the charger at only about 25%. Then it's Monday, and a new week begins.

Please don't misunderstand me-- I love my job, and I love my family. And yet... there is a part of me that's missing, and I worry that I will lose it for good. I miss reading, and writing, and having the mental and emotional energy to deeply explore my thoughts and feelings. Right now I am just over halfway through my winter break, and I am only just now able to access the energy needed to think through these things and write about them. I am shocked when I look at this blog-- it has been nearly two years since I last posted here. I am even more shocked when I look back at the things I have written; I can't imagine having the time and energy to develop such material now.

Somehow I have to find a way to reclaim this part of myself, even if it's only a little. 

I know it's important. Most of the time, my personality stays very surface-level, because I simply don't have the extra energy required to dig deeper. But I don't want to lose this deeper part of myself. It won't look like it did before, of course; I'm not in a place in my life where I am able to commit to reading, writing, and introspection on a daily basis. But I know I have to find a way to work it in somehow, whether on the weekends or during breaks or during conversations with people I love.

One of my Christmas gifts was an Amazon gift card, which I spent on some nice paint markers for rock painting. I am also going to buy a supply of rocks, of course. I thought this might be a nice creative outlet that doesn't require a huge commitment of time and energy.

And maybe I can start reading more frequently, even though it will take me much longer to get through a book than it once did.

Perhaps I will even begin writing again... occasionally. We will see. ;)

Goodbye until next time-- whether it is a week from now or a year from now...

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Space Between

From the moment of birth, time sweeps us along-- in spite of our protests-- on its unrelenting march to death.

And from our limited perspective, these days and years we're given are all-consuming... But in truth, they are a blink of an eye, when placed in the context of time.

If we could step outside time and observe what we do with the small space we are given between birth and death, would we then see the absurdity?

We divide ourselves-- in our hearts and homes, our communities, our nations, and our world-- as we fight for power and significance.

We kill and wage war.
We succumb to fear and hate.
We cultivate anger and pride.

We build our personal kingdoms while others-- whose hearts beat the same as ours-- suffer and die.

And we ignore that we are bound for the same.

It may come from within, our own body turning on itself. Blood, cells, and organs, failing to behave as they were designed.

It may come from nature itself, tearing down the kingdom we've built. Wind, water, fire, even a tiny insect.

It may come from another, as we're taken by the hands of our fellow man-- one whose time is as limited as our own-- through bullets, bombs, and brutality.

If we could step outside time, would we see how we claw and scratch our way to the top of this life, only to find there is no top-- only a hole dug deep in the dirt?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


I originally wrote this two years ago, but it has been on my mind again so I wanted to share it.


I am driving down a winding back road, nearly home. The road twists and turns, cutting its way through the woods, and as always I look at the trees. For months they have been mostly brown and bare, their empty branches lonesome against the backdrop of the sky, the space between them revealing rocks and hills.

But today, I round a curve, and as my eyes take in the view, I notice a change.

Little bursts of color-- yellow, fuchsia, green, lavender, and white-- are beginning to appear throughout the branches. The buds are barely there, and many trees are still bare, but still there is the promise.

A promise of spring.
A promise of new life.
A promise of hope.

I had grown so accustomed to the emptiness over time that the change almost comes as a surprise.

The changes of the seasons are quite spiritual to me; they are profound reminders of the natural progression of life. And today, the colorful buds throughout the woods speak to me, reminding me that even when things appear barren, empty, or dead-- there is still, somewhere, hope and new life. The still-empty branches suddenly take on new meaning; they too will soon be bursting with color. It is so easy to become accustomed to that which is empty, rather than seeing the great potential for life that exists within.

So my encouragement to myself, and to those who might be reading, is simply this: do not give up hope. Even in the emptiest of circumstances, there is a promise of hope and new life. Look for the promise, even when it is hard to see. It's there.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


In church on Sunday morning, our associate pastor posed three questions: What are you struggling with in your life? Do you believe you can let go of your "baggage"? Can you trust God to help? These questions, along with a skit that involved my friend Dan describing his "baggage" and giving it to God, have stuck with me all week.

I have been thinking about what happens when I try to give all my stuff to God. After the skit ended at church, I kept waiting for the moment when Dan would come running back to try to pick up his baggage again. Because that's what I do. I give something to God, but after a while I go pick it up again. How can I release it completely?

Since I began asking that question, I feel that I have gotten some answers.


First... while it's important that I put down my baggage, I realized it is also necessary to pick up something else to carry. I recall the story Jesus told in Matthew 12, in which an impure/unclean spirit comes out of a person, but later it returns and finds the house "unoccupied, swept clean and put in order." So it moves back in and brings along some of its buddies, and the person is worse off than they had been in the first place.

What this is saying to me is that I cannot expect to simply drop whatever my "baggage" or other issues are; there is more that must take place. If I release all these things and walk away with empty arms, it is far too easy to pick them back up. After all, I am accustomed to carrying them, so I find myself looking for something to fill my arms. Thankfully there is something else, something better, for me to carry. In Matthew 11, Jesus says, "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 can pick up his "yoke" instead. In other words, I can fill my empty arms with his freedom and love. 


But even after coming to that answer, I still found myself wrestling with it. Sometimes I find myself drawn back to the very things I've tried to release. And yes, this is partially because I am accustomed to them, but it is also partially because I feel like I can't resist them; they are stronger than me.

In 2 Chronicles 20, when Israel was about to be invaded and attacked by a vast, powerful army, Jehoshaphat admitted that they did not have the power to face the army, and he prayed, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

And God responded, "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s... You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you."

My baggage may feel bigger and stronger than me, but the battle against it is not mine, it is God's. The things that tempt me, weigh me down, or hold me back... these things are actually not stronger than me-- because God is in me. The one who fashioned my heart (Psalm 33:15) and empathizes with my weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15)... he is in me, and he has defeated them all. They may feel incredibly weighty and overwhelming to me, but they do not have power over me unless I give them that power.

Can I trust God to help me let go of my baggage? Yes, because he is the one who can be trusted to emerge victorious. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Earlier this week, I read through the books of James, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. I started reading and I just couldn't stop. The words I read confronted me with the truth of who I am in comparison to who God wants me to be. They paint a clear picture of the type of person a committed follower of Jesus will be... and I still have such a long way to go. They also paint a clear picture of the weight of Jesus' sacrifice. I can't get over the tragedy and beauty of innocent blood spilled-- God's blood spilled-- for me and the lousy things I have done and still do. Willingly, lovingly, purposefully, he did this for me.

And I take it for granted! I think when you've spent your lifetime in church, it can be far too easy for these ideas of sin, sacrifice, forgiveness, and grace to become... routine. I am guilty of becoming so accustomed to hearing about these things that I barely think about what they really mean. And at the same time, I become so comfortable with forgiveness and grace that sometimes I fail to take my own sin seriously.

Here is my truth: I am all too often enticed by desires that are not reflective of Christ. I say and do things I shouldn't, and I don't do things I know I should. I can be selfish, proud, and judgmental. A hypocrite. I can speak beautiful words of faith, but too often my actions don't reflect my words. And many times I don't take my own propensity for sin very seriously. I can too easily dismiss or rationalize my own sin. When I examine myself I find that sometimes I cling tightly to things I should not, and am more grieved by the thought of letting them go than I am by the depths of my own brokenness.

I am assured that I do not need to feel shame or fear, and that I can embrace God's forgiveness and grace. But at the same time, I am reminded not to take my propensity for sin lightly, and not to take God's grace for granted. I must take my brokenness seriously, just as Christ's death and resurrection are serious.

So far my journey through Lent has led me to a place of confession and repentance. I have come face to face with my brokenness and I no longer want to attempt to ignore it, justify it, or cover it up. Neither do I want to beat myself up emotionally over it. So I have spent a lot of time in prayer, telling God that I recognize my brokenness, and I want him to take it and turn it into something better. Something beautiful. Something I cannot create on my own.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Over the past few days, I have been thinking about what to give up for Lent. I knew I didn't want to give up something that had no spiritual significance for me, just to check off the "fasted for Lent" box on my Good Christian card. Nor did I want to sacrifice something that was merely outward. I could give up chocolate or stay off Facebook (well... maybe), but for me, that would be more about fasting for appearance. And I seem to recall that Jesus had something to say about that.

No, I knew that God was asking for something else from me... something beyond the surface, something heart-deep. And so I began to look beneath the outward actions and instead considered what's within. What attitudes do I hold that are holding me back from living like Christ? Every day there are desires within that pull me away from where my heart and focus should be. I have my pet sins that are so familiar they are almost like muscle memory-- I do them automatically, it seems, without even thinking. And if I'm being really honest, sometimes I don't want to let go of these things because they are comfortable or even enjoyable. But they are not reflective of Christ.

At our Ash Wednesday service, our pastor's words reminded me that God desires a full commitment from me every day. Or as another pastor I follow on Twitter (Eugene Cho) put it, God is saying, "I didn't ask you to give up coffee or candy. I asked you to surrender your life."

One of the readings at church was from Joel 2:13, which says, "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."

I think that is one of the most thrilling things about God. He sees all the ways I fall short, the attitudes and desires I harbor, and the pet sins. He knows it all, and it ain't pretty. But he is not angry. He is gracious and compassionate. His love, mercy, and forgiveness draw me in and compel me to follow. As the final hymn tonight said, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." I am not being called to sacrifice something on a surface level, I am being called to give my heart. All of it, even the messy and broken parts. Especially the messy and broken parts.

So I am beginning Lent with a desire to seek God, to sacrifice whatever keeps me from following him wholeheartedly, and to continue being transformed into someone who reflects the love and grace of Christ.