Don’t Let Others Steal Your Joy

This Friday, my big brother (yes, despite my maturity, he is older than me. Ha!), is graduating with his PhD is biblical counseling. It’s a proud moment for him and our entire family. Over 12 years ago, my brother went to rehab and got sober. It changed his whole life. As a result, he has had a passion to minister to addicts and help those who are trapped in addiction.

Until he told our family he needed help, I had no idea my brother was strung out on drugs and abusing alcohol. It was during that season of his life, I remember talking to him about things he had hoped for in life. One of the things he wanted to accomplish was getting his degree. It took a while, but I am so proud of him for going above and beyond not just one degree, but three. It’s an amazing accomplishment and he’s come such a long way from where he was to where he is today. Only God can do that.

And yet, in this midst of all of this, I have been struggling. Struggling to return to a place that has recently been a source of much hurt and pain to our family. My brother isn’t just graduating from seminary, he’s graduating from the same seminary that we are no longer a part of. A seminary that Shelby most likely will never get to graduate from or return to for future studies.

A few weeks ago my brother told me that I didn’t have to go to his graduation. He knew how hard it would be for me so he didn’t expect me to be there. It would be okay if I sat this one out.

I was so relieved. I hadn’t even told him I was struggling, but hearing him extend a “free pass” to me was a relief…until I realized I wouldn’t get to celebrate this great accomplishment with the rest of my family.

And then I was reminded of this verse:

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Romans 12:15

How can you rejoice when there is also a tinge of pain still lingering?

Look to the cross.

The cross is the perfect symbol of both sorrow and love mingled together. It’s a symbol of the pain and agony our Savior suffered as he bled and died for our sins, but it is also a sign of his great love and mercy for the whole world.

Don’t let others steal your joy. Don’t give them the power to rob you of celebrating victorious moments.

Remember the story doesn’t end on the cross, it ended with an empty grave. Just like sin and death were conquered on the cross, conquer your greatest fears and deepest pains by looking to the only One who is able to restore and heal.

And if you remember, please pray for me this Friday as I plan on attending my brother’s graduation. To walk in love and forgiveness. That the Lord’s peace would go before me, with me and behind me. That I would find great strength and courage to face one of my biggest fears. That I would truly and wholeheartedly be able to rejoice on this joyous occasion.

Semi-homemade Super Mario Bros. Costumes

For the past few years, we’ve at least attempted to have coordinating costumes for Halloween. One year Ellie was Elsa and Ben was Olaf. Another they were all superheroes. Then they were Moana, Maui and Hei Hei (aka chicken nugget). This year they wanted to be characters from Super Mario- Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach.

In my naivety, I figured it would be easy to find “affordable” costumes, but I just can’t convince myself that it’s worth it to spend $30+ on something they will most likely only wear once and then grow out of. I looked all over Amazon and Ebay and the cheapest I could find all the costumes for would have totaled over a $100. Not gonna do it.

I tried to convince my kids to go as something else this year, but they refused. It brought back memories to when I was a kid and my mom had to scramble around to “make” me a costume with whatever she found laying around the house the day of. It was bad. One year my mom had me put on a skirt, gave me a bowl and a spoon and told me I was Little Miss Muffet. Another year I was a “leprechaun” because I wore a green sweatshirt that said “Ireland” on it, a green top hat (not sure why we would even have one of those handy), a green pom pom for hair and a green four leaf clover drawn on my cheek. I was less than thrilled!

I vowed when I had kids they would never be ashamed of their costumes, but instead it would bring honor to our family name. Not really, but while I’ve tried to be a little more prepared for Halloween if there is one thing I inherited from my mom, it’s her frugality. I can completely understand the Little Miss Muffet and leprechaun costumes now that I have kids. Costumes are SO expensive and a lot of them are not not very well made.

Since the kids had their hearts set on Super Mario Bros costumes, I was determined to make it happen without breaking the bank. I was able to cut the cost of their costumes in half, and if I had known that the Fall Festival was this weekend instead of next, I probably could have gotten it even cheaper.

Here are the semi-homemade Super Mario Bros. costumes we ended up with:

Luigi: The cheapest and easiest costume. I got it off Amazon and it arrived the next day. I think because he is the “sidekick”, he’s already at a discounted price. It also came with the hat and felt mustache, so the only other thing we ended up getting were the gloves…which are just princess gloves that we rolled up and drew lines on with a sharpie. We also used the same gloves for Mario.

Mario: I looked everywhere for this one and just didn’t want to spend that much on a costume. Then we went to Goodwill and found one for less than $3. Total score. I planned on making the hat, but ran out of time so ended up buying an accessory kit that included the hat and mustache from Party City. They also honored the online price and gave me a 25% discount! Note to self: If you find it cheaper online, she if they will honor it in the store.

Princess Peach: This costume was the hardest to find and would have been the most expensive if I bought it. We ended up going to a consignment store and found a pink Cater’s dress for only $4 and converted it into a Princess Peach dress.

The original dress had a unicorn pocket with a vinyl gold unicorn horn attached to the dress. I unstitched the pocket and used Goo Gone to take off the horn. The horn wouldn’t come off completely, but you could hardly tell. Apparently, there is a vinyl adhesive remover you can use…but it cost more than what I spent on the dress so I didn’t think it was worth it. The dress also had a darker pink overlay skirt, so I just rolled it up and sewed it in the front and back so it would have a draping effect. My mom was so proud that the sewing lessons I took in middle school finally came in handy. Again, since I ran out of time, I just bought the crown, pendant and gloves from Party City, but I bet I could have found it cheaper or even made the crown from gold card stock paper I already had at home. Oh well!

The kids were super happy and I think they came out pretty cute. Plus, I didn’t feel guilty about spending a ton of money on a one and done costume. Not sure how much longer they will want to have coordinating costumes, but for now these semi-homemade ones worked just fine.

Complete Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, the church we have been visiting went through a series called, How to Fight Without Losing. It provided a biblical perspective on how to handle conflicts with your spouse, parent, co-worker, boss, etc. The whole series ended up being really good, but I can remember listening to the first sermon in the series rather skeptically. 

It all seemed a little too “kumbaya” to me. Sure, you want to resolve conflict with your friends and people you actually want in your life. But, as I sat there, I thought, “what about the people that you really don’t want to have a relationship with?” People who have caused so much hurt and pain in your life that you have no desire to be reconcile with. I even wrote in my notes, “Rather than a restored relationship, you wish you have never had a relationship with that person to begin with.”

The pastor even flippantly said, “if you don’t want to have a relationship with that person, then you don’t have do anything that I say”. So, I kind of felt like I was off the hook. I could just go along my merry way because I had no desire to be in a relationship with certain people.

And I think there is some wisdom in that. I think about women who have been in abusive relationships or suffered at the hands of a narcissist.  To me, there are some people that it is neither wise nor safe to have a relationship with them. If any of my children were being abused or bullied by a friend at school, I definitely would not encourage them to continue to be in a relationship with them.

But I kept having this gnawing feeling that there was something more that God was trying to reveal to me.  A heart issue that He’s been working on in my life ever since I resigned from my last position a couple of years ago. Even though I thought all was forgiven and I was moving on, something would happen and would trigger those dormant feelings of anger, fear and resentment…and I hated it.

I hated feeling anxious and allowing another person to have so much power over my emotions and thoughts. Even on a practical level, I was fearful of going to certain places for fear of bumping into that person and having to see or talk to them. 

But that is no way to live. I can’t live my life in fear or anxiety. I don’t want to be filled with anger and hate. I want to live my life differently than how I’ve witnessed hurt and broken people respond to those who have mistreated them.

One of the things that I’ve found helpful is reading books about how other people have survived and overcome difficulties and hardships. How they have endured and come through their trails with a stronger, more unshakeable faith.

So, I thought, “who can I read about that has been through some of the most heinous atrocities in life and despite all the hardships was made better instead of bitter. Whose forgiveness was at a greater cost than mine. How did they forgive? How did they move on?”

Immediately, I thought about Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor whose story I had seen in the movie The Hiding Place. I tried to find the book version, but it had already been checked out at the library, so I settled on one that isn’t quite as well-known entitled, Tramp for the Lord. It’s made up of short little chapters that recount her life after she was released from a concentration camp. She also shares some of the things that happened to her and her family while they were imprisoned in the concentration camp. It’s a powerful little book that I couldn’t put down.

One of the chapters is a well-known story of her encounter with a man who had been one of the guards in her concentration camp. She had just finished speaking in a church, and she sees the man walking down the aisle towards her. The man reaches out his hand towards her and says that he has since become a Christian and knows that the Lord has forgiven him, but would she also forgive him. She flashes back to the harsh treatment she and her sister, who passed away in the concentration camp, endured at the hands of this man. The cruelty, humiliation, brutality and inhumane treatment.

Her shocking response was, “I forgive you with all of my heart.”

Here is a woman who has gone through things that most of us have never had to endure, and yet she chooses to forgive. To forgive completely and authentically. In fact, what struck me most is that here is a woman who could have gone around the world bringing judgement to each and every Nazi who had mistreated so many people during WWII, and yet instead of going on a justice crusade, she goes around the world sharing the gospel about God’s love and forgiveness.

I want to be like Corrie Ten Boom. I want to have love and forgiveness in my heart. If one day I encounter those from my past who have hurt me, I want to be able to completely and authentically say, “I forgive you with all of my heart.” I don’t want my life to be defined by seeking justice, I’ll leave that up to God, but I want it to be about extending love and forgiveness.

Going Public: My Struggle with Mental Health

Today at church, we witnessed the baptisms of two ladies who professed their faith in Christ. I always get choked up when I watch someone proclaim to the world that they are not ashamed of their faith, but today was different. Even though I got baptized almost thirty years ago, today I too have decided to go public.

One of the ladies shared her testimony of how she felt like a bad wife and mom and wanted to end her own life. She secluded herself from others and didn’t want to ask for help. She eventually joined a small group at church and shared with one of the ladies her struggles. Instead of being shunned or embarrassed, that lady loved and prayed for her; and this morning that same lady was able to baptize her friend, and now sister in Christ.

I’m not going to go into the theology of if women should or should not baptize other people, but it was a powerful image of what happens when we go public with our faith. It includes sharing our hurts and our struggles and, as a result, can even help someone and possibly save their life. It’s my hope that by going public with my experience, it might help someone who may be going through something similar.

If you know me or have been following my blog, you know that the past couple of years have been hard. We’ve experienced loss after loss after loss. Loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, loss of home, loss of health, loss of relationships, loss of hopes and dreams. It’s been one setback after another and for the most part I’ve managed to push through and endure…except for one day a few months ago.

I’ve not shared this until now because what I went through terrified me. I’ve never experienced anything like that before (and thankfully, I haven’t since), but I’ve been afraid of what might happen if I find myself in a similar situation like that again. Afraid that I might lose it all and be left with nothing, not even my faith. To expose this part of my life and be vulnerable about something I don’t completely understand myself, is scary. But if what I went through can help someone else, then I’m willing to take the chance and risk it all.

It was the day after I had gone to the doctor and received the news that I had shingles for the second time in less than three months. Shelby was still unemployed and at that point had stopped looking for work. He’d spend most days in bed and was up late into the night watching TV. The kids were fighting with each other…again, and at that point I had just had enough. I locked myself in the bathroom, sat on the toilet with both hands on my head and screamed bloody murder. I just kept screaming and screaming. It was like an out of body experience and I had no control over my body or my mind.

I remember crying out to God asking him to take my life. I didn’t want to live; I wanted to die. I could never take my own life, but I wanted to give God permission to take mine. I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but I was desperate.

Thankfully my parents were still in town and so I asked them to come and pick up the kids because I didn’t know if it would be safe for them to be around me. I remember sitting across the kitchen table from Shelby repeatedly telling him, “my mind is not right”. I know it may sound strange, but it was like I couldn’t control my thoughts. My heart was racing and I felt overwhelmed and anxious. I began to pour out my heart to Shelby, letting him know that I needed help. We needed help. The amount of stress we were under was taking a toll on me physically and mentally, and as much as I thought I could handle everything, I couldn’t. I felt like I was literally losing my mind.

As tears streamed down my face, I told him how I felt like the one thing I took comfort in, my strong faith in God, wasn’t as strong as I had thought it was. Maybe I was a fraud. All the blogs about trusting in God and preserving in faith, were they all lies? If I truly believed in that, then what was going on? Why couldn’t I handle this? How come I couldn’t be more positive about my situation? Why was I not more grateful for the things the Lord had blessed me with? I felt like a spiritual failure.

This morning when the lady shared her testimony about feeling like a bad mom and struggling with thoughts of ending her life, I could relate. I also felt like I too needed to go public with my story. Perhaps you are reading this and have had a similar experience. Please know that you are not alone. Reach out to someone and let them know what’s going on. Whether it be a spouse, family member, friend or a professional counselor, letting others help you is perhaps the biggest and most important step you can take. I’ve also been reading a few books that have been beneficial in understanding mental health and making intentional lifestyle changes to take care not just of my physical health, but also my mental health.

As a side note, I’m sure many people had absolutely no idea that I went through this. Only my immediate family and a few friends knew. Please be kind to people. You don’t know what silent struggle they may be going through. Your well-meaning comments may not be what they need to hear at that moment. I apologize if I have been unkind or insensitive to those who struggle with things silently. I know others deal with these issues on a daily basis, and I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of that either, but I hope to have more compassion and empathy for those who do.

Raising Children to Have Hinds’ Feet on High Places

My three little loves,

Last night we finished reading the kids’ version of “Hinds’ Feet on High Places”. You are all so young, and I don’t know if you will remember this story as you grow older, but I do pray that a seed has been planted in your hearts for the things that we discovered each night before you dozed off to sleep.

You are too young now to fully understand some of the things that we read about trails and hardships; and as a mom, I want to protect you from things that may cause you harm and grief. I don’t want you to have to suffer, to face things in life that cause you to weep and bring you sorrow. Yet, as I’ve grown older, I know that pain and heartache are unavoidable; they are simply a part of life.

You saw me cry multiple times as we read through this story. And in your innocence, you hopped off your beds and embraced me with hugs and kisses. You didn’t know why mommy was crying, but you wanted to comfort me and make me feel better. You didn’t know that my tears were not ones of sadness, but ones of being overwhelmed by Christ’s love. Because although the past few years have been so very hard, God has been abundantly good.

My goal is not to shelter you from hard things. Instead, I want to raise you to see suffering and sorrow as your companions on this journey in life. I know all too well the sharp pain of what holding the hands of suffering and sorrow feel like. And yet, in time, you will begin to understand that they are not things to harm you, but you will begin to understand their purpose in your life and will instead see them as joy and peace.

I want you to learn that during times when you feel as though you are walking through an empty desert and are alone, that you are not abandoned or being punished. Even though it may seem to be leading you away from the things that have been promised, God will be with you and you can trust Him completely. It is during these times when you are being refined, molded and shaped into more of the image of Christ. Do not turn your back on God. Do not succumb to the lies of your enemies. Instead, settle in your heart to view these hardships with joyful acceptance. Whatever the Lord brings you through, lay down your desires and do it with acceptance with joy.

There are a lot of awful and hurtful things that you’ll experience in life. Don’t be defeated by them or allow them to make you bitter, resentful, prideful, fearful or have self-pity. No matter how you are hurt or mistreated, you must choose to forgive. With forgiveness comes the power to bring good out of the things that were meant for evil.

When you stumble and fall, because we all do, know that God doesn’t see you as you are now, but when He looks as you, He sees who you will become. He does not see you as broken or a messed-up failure. He sees you as royalty in His kingdom. He has called you by name, you belong to Him.

And once your heart has changed, always remember you have a responsibility to let other people know of the transformation that has occurred in your life. You must not hide the work that God has done in your life. You must tell other people about it, so that they too can experience this same power that is at work in your life. You must tell your story, so that others will know of His goodness.

I love you. I hope I can be a good example to you of staying the course with perseverance and endurance. That you’ll see how I have come to embrace sorrow and suffering as my companions and accept the trials in my life with joyful acceptance. Even though you may see me struggle, you will never see me give up or give in. Even though I may be mistreated, you’ll see the power of forgiveness working in my life. Even though I will fail and mess up, you’ll witness God’s unconditional love molding and shaping me. And that no matter the cost, you’ll see me telling my story so that others will know of His glory and grace.



He Is Always on Your Side

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine sent me an encouraging message. She said that one of the things that has helped her deal with the trials in her life has been to listen to uplifting worship songs. I have a playlist of my go-to songs that I always listen to, but lately we’ve been so busy with the move and settling into our new “normal”, that I just haven’t had a chance to listen. That, plus my kids are obsessed with this annoyingly catchy song appropriately called “The Catchy Song”.  One of the lines that gets repeated over a million times is, “this song’s gonna get stuck inside your head”, and that song delivers as promised because that song has this uncanny ability of getting stuck inside my head. Go figure!

And quite by accident, Shelby was going through some songs on iTunes and one of them was the old hymn, “Be Still My Soul”. I haven’t heard that song in ages and so while I knew the tune, I had forgotten most of the lyrics…such beautiful lyrics:

Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul when dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears
Then shalt thou better know His love His heart
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears
Be still my soul the waves and winds shall know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still my soul the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment grief and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot love’s purest joys restored
Be still my soul when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last

Be Still My Soul by Katharina Von Schlegel

Each word is dripping with such rich hope and truth. It may now be my new favorite song, but I just can’t get past that first line.

Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side

Recently, I have been wondering whether we are somehow being punished because of all the series of unfortunate events we have been through lately. I feel a little bit like a modern-day Job because of the things we have been through over the past few years. Rejection, spiritual abuse, job loss, illness, death, and so on. Perhaps we made a wrong choice or decision previously that in effect has caused God to turn His back on us.

I’ve prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139: 23-24). But nothing extraordinarily vile or contemptuous stands out. Only that even my righteous is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and so I must cling to the mercy and grace that only Christ can offer me. That it is only through His blood alone that I am redeemed and can stand faultless before the throne.

So, to hear that the Lord is on my side, makes me weep. Weep tears of reassurance that God has not abandoned me. That He is there like a strong tower that I can run into to protect me from the tempestuous storms of life. He is my refuge and strength; He will never leave nor forsake me; He is for me, not against me.

When Satan’s lies get stuck inside my head like that catchy song, I need to switch stations and hold fast to the promise that the Lord is ALWAYS on my side.

Light in the Darkness

I stumbled upon this profound saying while reading one of the kids’ books about being afraid of the dark. It’s a cute book about how we can view darkness as either something scary and frightening or as an opportunity to see the brilliance of the stars that shine at night; it really just all comes down to our perspective.

Even as an adult, there are things that I am afraid of when I can’t see what’s in front of me and darkness completely surrounds me. I am paralyzed with fear at the unknown future that lies before me and the thick cloud of darkness that envelopes me. And yet, it is that very same darkness that is absolutely necessary for the stars to shine. 

How is it that something that can bring such fear and dread also bring such beauty and light?

When your current reality is met with darkness and uncertainty, that may be what is necessary for you to shine the most brightly. Sometimes you don’t know how brightly you can shine until you’ve been through some of the darkest days of your life.

You can either perceive your dark days with fear and trembling or you can view it as an opportunity to shine more brightly! Light always overcomes darkness. Be a light that will pierce through the darkness!

He Will Not Forget You

It’s so easy to think that God has abandoned you when things in life have been turned upside down. I have often wondered if perhaps we are being punished or reprimanded for bad behavior. That perhaps I am too detestable to look at and so God has turned His back on me.

And then I have gentle reminders that those thoughts are lies and that instead of believing them, I need to saturate my mind and heart with God’s truth. 

His truth declares that I am loved, chosen, set apart and redeemed. He promises never to leave nor forsake me. His word says that He is with me to the end of the age and like a mother nursing her child, He will not forget me.

One of the devotions I read this week said, 

Don’t let the difficult circumstances you are facing convince you that God has forgotten you.

Experiencing God Day by Day, Dr Henry Blackaby

And there is nothing quite like having tangible evidence to remind to you that God has not forgotten you.

Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail from one of the dear sweet ladies from my former home church back in Hawaii. Somehow she heard of everything that we have been going through and felt compelled to send us a note letting us know she was thinking of and praying for our family. Also, tucked in the note was a check for an amount that goes beyond being generous.

It brought me to tears.

And her letter has not been the only one. There have been others who have sent cards or messages letting us know they are praying for us and have supported us financially during this season.

Often times I forget. I forget God’s Word. I forget His acts of kindness. I forget the miraculous things He has done and will continue to do. And despite my constant amnesia, God doesn’t forget. He anticipates every cry and responds to my every need. He hears; He sees; He knows, and He does not forget.

Moving on to New Beginnings

Earlier this week, we moved out of the place we have called “home” for the past three years while attending seminary. It also marks the end of our time at seminary…for now. Maybe indefinitely, but at least for the time being, we just need to trust that this is where the Lord wants us to be.

Oh how I wish things had ended differently. I wish our departure was on different terms rather than something that was forced upon us. But whether by choice or by force, I know that this is not the end. I am choosing to see this as an opportunity for us to move on to new beginnings.

There are so many things in life that leave us battered and bruised. Scars from our past that we wish we could leave behind and never be reminded of. Hurts and disappointments that leave us raw and broken. 

As we pulled out of the driveway, leaving behind the life we have known for the past three years, I initially felt like Naomi when she entered into her hometown and told everyone to call her Mara because the Lord had made her life very bitter (Ruth 1:20).

But then I was reminded of what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14

…but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

The things we have been through will inevitably be a part of the legacy we leave behind. We can either let our past define us or let it refine us. We can see our current situation as the end or as a new beginning to better days ahead.

So here’s to moving on to new beginnings!

One Foot in Front of the Other

I was not looking forward to today. In fact, I couldn’t sleep last night because I knew what today meant. It meant change, leaving the past behind and moving forward. I hesitated to get out of bed, but these lyrics kept on coming to mind:

Just take one step closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You’ll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You’re gonna be okay

You’re Gonna Be Okay by Jenn Johnson

Because of our upcoming move, we’ll have to say “goodbye” to a place that has been our home church for the past year. If you know anything about our lives, finding a church has been a long process. A lot of hurt, fear and mistrust from past experiences has made it hard for us to settle down and call a church home. But we found a place that loved our family, healed hurts, graciously provided for our everyday needs and became our church family. It was place full of hugs and high fives, where our oldest publicly declared her faith in Christ through water baptism, and where we learned to let other people into our lives and just love on us. 

It was a long drive to begin with, but we felt the long commute was worth being a part of a community of like-minded believers. But now with this move, it will put us further out in the opposite direction of the church.

My heart was crushed.

Here we are…again, in search of a new church. Suffice it to say, I didn’t care where we went this morning. I was just going to show up. 

One foot in front of the other.

We arrived. The people were gracious and kind. They didn’t know the flood of tears I was holding back; that I didn’t really want to be there; that my heart longed to be somewhere else.

But Jesus saw me. He overwhelmed me with His presence. All throughout the service He reminded me of His love, His goodness, His mercy and grace.

One of the songs we sang had these words that broke me:

Yes I will
Sing for joy when my heart is heavy.

Yes I Will by Vertical Worship

The worship leader shared how just as David chose to worship God in Psalm 34, we also have a choice.

So this morning I made the choice to sing for joy even though my heart was heavy; even though I’m in the lowest valley; even though it’s not supposed to be this way. I chose to put one foot in front of the other.