Out of the Mire

Sorry it’s so long, but it’s honest.

January of 2014, I was so excited to be back serving at a ministry. No more long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects I cared little or nothing about, and had seemingly no eternal value!

I poured myself into the students around me. My official work hours were Monday-Friday, 8-5pm, but actually, I was there from 8am-8pm, or 9pm… or 10pm.

“Are you sure you’re taking enough time off and getting enough rest? You could go to the dorm and get some time to yourself.” – I remember Mr. Matt asking me that so many times, and each time I replied “Why would I want to go home? I’m happy to be here, and being alone would be boring.”

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and by September my brain finally caught up with my body long enough to shout into it’s stubborn ear “STOP IT! I’m TIRED.” – I had hit a wall. I didn’t want to be “on” all the time.

I wanted quiet. I wanted an off switch. I found a needed haven in three good friends who were also physically and emotionally spent. We relaxed together, shared together, prayed & fellowshipped together… we bonded, and they became some of my dearest friends. (In fact, this past June I married one of them! ^_^) The time we spent was a blessing. I had found an oasis in the dessert, and God used it to bless the rest of my life!

BUT… as 2015 began, my job changed drastically. I was no longer teaching in the classroom, I was working in the office. I was excited to finally work on my many projects uninterrupted! – My hours also changed in a good way that helped me to stop on time.

Unfortunately, it also meant that I wouldn’t be joining a family group in the morning, but I thought it would be okay. [I didn't need the accountability of a family group to make sure I did my morning devotions, right?] Well, maybe if I had been spiritually healthy at the beginning, that would have been true — but I wasn’t, so it wasn’t.
My quiet times got shorter, and fewer, and more haphazard.

Moreover, I began to avoid human interaction. I didn’t want to be constantly surrounded by people, or be responsible for what was taking place, or be involved in the game over at that table, or go to the movies with that group, or go out of my way to build relationships …I was purposely backing myself into a job that entailed [long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects] again!
What was wrong with me? I had always cared about people!

I’d like to say that when I realized what was happening, I prayed and got right back on track! But… that would be a lie. I have prayed, but I’m still in the mire. Mostly by choice. Simple choices like hitting the snooze button “just one more time”, and working on my projects “just 5 minutes longer”.


The most amazing part of all of this, is that I have never once felt that God has left me - that He has behaved toward me as I have toward Him. While I have ignored Him; choose sleep, work, and just about everything else over a conversation with Him, He has never failed me yet.

I find it so unimaginable — because, if I were Jesus, I would have cut me off months ago — then again, I keenly sense that this is the very grace I have long known and am merely tasting again, afresh. He is continuing to give me what I do not deserve. Himself.

By His hand, I see a light at the end of this tunnel… not because He’s going to make me climb out of this mess I’ve made for myself by myself (which is what I would probably do if I had such an ungrateful servant!), but by simply reaching up to grasp the hand He has continually had extended toward me all along. – By spending time WITH HIM.

He is so faithful. So kind. We serve a Good Master.

“1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! 12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

- Psalm 40

No Longer an Orphan

“I’m adopted.” Have you ever said that? I can’t say that I ever have, but I now have a boy who can make that claim. A boy that wasn’t born to my wife; a boy that doesn’t have my DNA; a boy that was once lost and alone; but now he’s mine – officially my son.

Don’t you realize that you were born the same way? Maybe you have a physical dad that cares for you, but I promise you that deep down, in the spiritual sense, you were born an orphan. You were lost, alone, and destined for death. The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians (and us) to “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Things were pretty bleak for the human race. But then our Creator decided it was time to adopt. He went out and made a way to be rescued from being a permanent castaway. But He didn’t stop there; He even actually changed the spiritual DNA of those who wanted to be adopted. “You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Daddy.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”

My son.

My son.

The concept of adoption perfectly encapsulates the Gospel! If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ then you are adopted. You are officially His son or daughter. You once were an orphan devoid of a destiny but now, right now, you belong to Jesus. Can you think of anything more reassuring than having a Rescuer who made a way for us to join a family like His? So if we’re His children, let’s live like it.

Conquering The Fourth Grade Mafia Boss

When I first started teaching my current fourth graders two years ago, my mantra for their class was “love conquers all.” Recently, I have realized much of the reason for their moody behavior in class and stage whispers about which teachers they like. I’ve always known it was about who was in control of the class, but I always blamed the wrong students. With a flash of a stamped paper, trading little items back and forth during class, and a glimpse of paper money, I finally discovered the culprit.

Jenny gives her classmates stamps based on their behavior–toward her. The stamps are converted to paper money, used to buy things at her “store.” When I first saw glimpses of this store in action, I was incredulous at the types of things that were being sold. Plain, clear folders. Ordinary pens. If they don’t buy, they are punished by Jenny’s moods. Also, the worst thing is that Jenny has the power to take anything they buy back from them, giving them no security. Following Jenny’s rules enslaves them and makes it impossible for them to enjoy anything that’s not giving them a tangible reward. They prefer Jenny’s material rewards to the immaterial rewards teachers give them such as praise, accomplishment, and education.

Love = truth + grace. I grew up in a church that emphasized truth over grace and so naturally the pendulum has swung over to the grace side. However, both grace and truth are vital in my relationship with these students. Without grace, I’d scold them after every infraction. Without truth, I’d ignore their self-destructive behavior. Love does conquer all, but it needs to be a rich, nuanced love; grace and truth working side-by-side. Grace and truth have to be so blended in our words that no one can see where truth ends and grace begins.

How can I so blend truth and grace? My actions towards my students are a representation of how God responds to my sin and self-destructive behavior. Truth often requires that I suffer earthly consequences for my foolish actions, but Jesus took the eternal consequences onto himself in a stunning display of grace.

In that, Jesus Christ, who was full of grace and truth, conquers all.

Conquers my apathetic heart.

Conquers little fourth grade mafia bosses and those whom they oppress.

Conquers all.

the j class

A Good Father

There are 2,038 middle schools in Texas, and I teach at the 19th hardest.

My students are terrified.

Like Taiwan, competition rankles among friendships, and pressure damages families.  Students come crying to me about a 90 and stress in class over a 97. And one of their greatest fears is that their teachers will not be good to them.

As a teacher, it’s hard to see my students so crippled in fear that they cannot enjoy what we do in class.  It’s hard to watch worry flood their eyes every time I call them over to my table, or the frantic fumbling of their hands when I call on students for answers.  Sure, they think I know my stuff, but they also expect me to hide behind tables, waiting for an opportunity to throw a failing grade at them.  They’ve said their past teachers were distant, leaving them to “watch their own backs.” They’ve learned to like teachers, but rarely to trust them. Maybe it’s because we hold their grade in our hands, or the very fact that we give assignments.  Whatever the reason, they do not think we can be good to them.

I, too, have been living in fear.  In years past, I was subconsciously convinced that God lurked around corners with “bad situations,” waiting to dump a load of difficulties on my head.  I believed He looked for opportunities to punish me, to call me out on sin and failure and use that as a reason to give me undesirable things. I thought that if I told God what I really wanted, He would make sure to never give it to me.

Like a sovereignly sadistic Santa Clause.

I knew God loved me in some transcendent, ethereal manner and that Heaven would be much more than “nice”. But did God like me enough to give me good things here on earth? And if He liked me today, would He still like me tomorrow?

How I viewed God also affected how I approached people – could I trust them to both love and like me? Could I believe there was selfless like in addition to selfless love? Could I trust, could I give, could I be at peace?

The Bible, the Word of God, the Revelation of life, tells us that God not only loves us, but He wants to give us good things:

“. . . Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7: 9-11

“You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” – Psalm 119:68

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17

I cannot convince my students that I want to be good to them. Telling them to relax and trust will do nothing if they themselves do not choose to do so.

In the same way, I must choose to believe that God wants good – present good and ultimate good – for me.  My difficulties, while molding for me, have grieved Him. My pain, though instrumental in growing character, was not of His making.

He delights in me.

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like,

but I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night.

You tell me that You’re pleased and that I’m never alone.

You’re a Good, Good Father,

It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are,

and I’m loved by You

It’s who I am, It’s who I am, It’s who I am

- Good, Good Father – HOUSEFIRES II 

He’s a good, good Father.


of baby moons and the Gospel

one monthElliot recently turned one month old. That means my Chinese baby moon is over.

In American culture, baby moon usually refers to taking a vacation before the baby arrives. In Chinese culture, however, it means dedicating a month after the baby’s arrival to rest, recover, and focus on caring for the newborn.

Mom & kidsI’ve had the privilege of having Mom help me with three baby moons. The first time was a bit of an adjustment as I learned the do’s and don’ts of Chinese baby moons—do stay in bed, do stay at home, don’t expose yourself or your baby to cold drafts, don’t eat cold food, don’t let your hair air dry (or even wash your hair if you can stand it)… The list is endless, and I confess I do some of it but not others. The part I love is that Mom does all the grocery shopping, all the cooking, all the dishes, and all the laundry. She also cleans up after my kids, burps my baby so I can eat in peace, and gets up early to keep my toddlers out of trouble so that I can sleep in—a luxury I desperately need when I’m getting up several times a night. There’s nothing like being mothered again once you’ve become a mother yourself, and I’m very grateful to both of my parents for loving us in this way.

But I must confess there’s an aspect that’s hard for me too. I have a little voice inside that says I should be taking care of my own family. I should be paying for the groceries. I should be helping my mother and not leaving all the work to her. But the reality is, I can’t. I’ve been too exhausted to keep up with my kids much less maintain the house. And our graduate school budget covers only a fraction of what my parents have spent on us this month. Deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve this at all, because I know I can never repay my parents for all the ways they have showered us with love—this month and my entire life.

In the same way, as I’ve been growing in my understanding of the Gospel, I’m beginning to see that Christianity is not about how I live my life but about how Christ lived His for me. He did the work I could not do. He died the death that I deserve. He did all of this not just because I am His daughter, but to make me His daughter. That’s a love I can never repay but is worthy of gratitude for the rest of my life.


“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)

A Chicken Broth Lifestyle

Chicken SoupI sipped the steaming chicken broth, and nodded with satisfaction. It was both warming and relaxing, with the perfect balance of flavors. It was rich, but not too heavy. It was a salty savory, but with an undertaste of sweetness. Most importantly, the broth I made tasted just like the broth my mother makes.

For the past few weeks, my mother has been in the US helping Karen with her kids, having just given birth to her third child, Elliot. Drinking chicken broth while my mother is away helped me to appreciate what she does even more, because even though the chicken broth tasted wonderful, there was one critical way where my broth couldn’t compare to my mother’s chicken broth.

You see, chicken broth is a trademark of my mother’s cooking. Comprised of chicken bones, herbs, random bits of meat to add extra flavor, and hours of cooking time, my Mom always has a batch either on the stove or in the fridge. That way, whenever my Mom is cooking, chicken broth is ready to replace water in many a recipe for added flavor and nutrition.

My mother passing on her attitude towards serving others to a new generation.

My mother passing on her attitude towards serving others to a new generation.

For this to be possible, stewing chicken broth isn’t just something my mom does occasionally: it is a lifestyle of love, requiring a regular investment of time and energy. That’s not an easy thing to do. For me, I only want to show love when it’s convenient. Going out of my way to be ready to show love to others? Why bother? Stewing chicken broth regularly? How inconvenient.

Obviously, that is not a loving attitude, but what can you do when you’re exhausted, when you’re under appreciated, when you’re lazy, and just don’t want to take the time and energy to show love to others?

The funny thing is, my Mom has often said she doesn’t enjoy cooking. Why would she spend so much time doing something she doesn’t enjoy? Because she has learned to use her cooking as a way to serve and love whomever God brings into her path, and in turn, show her love for God. God has done so much for her, so she in turn is willing to do whatever necessary to show love to God. Even through something as little as cooking chicken broth.

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.”      –Matthew 25:40

A Lesson in Mourning

“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. 
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. 
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.”
—Ecclesiastes 7:1-6

I imagine many of us are thinking something like this: “Okay, yes, a good reputation is valuable. I need to make sure I keep a clear conscience.” Some of us might even get all spiritual and think: “Wow, yeah, and since we are God’s people, we need to make sure we care about God’s reputation.”

But what’s this? The day of death is better than the day of birth? Yikes!

I’ve heard people teach on Ecclesiastes almost dismissively, kind of skipping ahead to the end where it says, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

Okay, what a relief, we can go on “fearing God” and doing the right thing. Good character, God’s plan for success in life.

But wait! “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”

The Bible is dripping blood and tears, echoing with the pain of human existence—Jeremiah, Lamentations, Psalms, Job.

In Romans 12, as part of his unpacking what it means to love, the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

Weep. Not encourage, not minister to, not instruct. Weep…with.

For those of you already reaching for your journal or making a mental note to “remember to weep with others,” please don’t.

It’s the difference between contemplating a cloud and being struck by lightning. You weep with someone when your heart is broken too. Maybe not in the same way, maybe not to the same extent, but broken.

And in those moments, when you don’t know, when you really can’t move, when “trusting God” seems like a cruel joke, in those moments, there is a kind of insight.

There is an earthiness, an embodiedness, to suffering. In Romans 8, Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

It cries out for meaning beyond pallid spiritual platitudes, beyond success formulas based on “biblical principles.” It cries out for redemption.

God does not call us to be good or be happy or eat healthy or succeed. He calls us and our suffering to Himself.

The Bible tells the stories of prophets thrown down wells, of babies put to the sword, of Jesus bloodied, tortured, crucified—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, our grief.

The Bible tells us we are loved.

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” —Matthew 5:4

Four Perspectives on Adultery

For the last few years, there’s been a website that helped married people have secret affairs with other married people. Earlier this summer the website was hacked, and last week the hackers released the personal information of everyone who had signed up. This is pretty big news since it’s turning out that some of the people with accounts were public figures or people in important positions in the government. Many people are commenting on the situation, and it gives us the chance to see the contradictory ideas that result from trying to live without God in the picture:

1. Adultery: Do it!

Of course, there’s first the perspective revealed by the existence of the website and its 30 million+ users in the first place. The tagline of the website is: “Life is short. Have an affair.”

2. Adultery: Bad, but not a big deal.

In this article, a journalist tries to criticize people who are over-interested in news like this. He makes some good points. But then he says he doesn’t think this is big news because he doesn’t think adultery is really all that terrible. He calls it a “moral misdemeanor” and says it can sometimes be the best option available in a difficult marriage.

3. Adultery: Rejection and condemnation!

In this post, the author rightly points out that the wives of adulterers are in a terrible situation that requires a response from us. But then she suggests that the solution is for those wives to be self-sufficient and give big doses of rejection and condemnation to the adulterer.

If we’re merely looking for moral principles that make people feel good, then there are good arguments for each one of these perspectives. None of them will be able to persuade the others: there will just be a constant shouting match. Imagine the confusion of a culture where people ignore the reality of God and try to figure out their own rules about adultery.

Oh yeah, you don’t have to imagine it – just look at the discussion going on about this news item. Contrast this with the response to adultery that is actually presented by God in the Bible:

4. Adultery: Repent and be saved.

God says the problem is worse than we imagined: the punishment for adultery isn’t just death but damnation. And more bad news: if you’ve ever had a lustful thought, you’re guilty! But His response is also more loving than we could have ever hoped: He loves you so much that He died for you while you were still His enemy. Jesus came not for good people, but for sinners.

When you recognize God’s love for you, it gives you the security to admit how sinful you are and the motivation to repent. That process is the heart of living like God is real.

Cast Out Fear

I have often heard, and perhaps even written, about fear being combated with faith. However, faith, on its own, is not enough. When fear is filling my heart and mind with statements that are both true and false, I find simply mustering up statements of truth has little power.

1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” I like that phrase: “casts out”. Isn’t fear often like an unwelcomed visitor? We can ask it politely to leave and even try bringing in other things to fill our heart, but one thing, one Person actually, has the authority to cast it out.

Petersheim Baby

There are many scary things happening in our world today and I have the privilege and fearful responsibility of bringing a small child into the middle of the chaos. What if the end times are here? What if all we’ve heard described as the tribulations and sufferings of this world passing away is about to come to pass? Can I protect my child from the woes and monsters of this age? No, I cannot.

But, Love…Perfect Love can cast out my fear and give me peace.

I’m brought back to a familiar scene in the life of Christ. Jesus and His disciples are out in the boat on a stormy night. Jesus is sleeping. The disciples are bailing. Fear says, “You will die in this storm.” The disciples believe fear. They awake Jesus and ask, “Don’t you care?” It wasn’t a question of whether or not He had the ability to save them, but whether or not He would.

Love. Love, perfected by an ultimate act of sacrifice we cannot fully understand, extends His hand and says, “Come. Abide in Me. Know Me and know My peace.”

My child is safe in Him. Fear, you must leave.



Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Do you feel like life is way to hard? Do you look at what you need to do and thing, “That’s impossible”? I do. Very often. There is so much to do, nothing seems like it will work out, or the pressure is just too much.

I’m not just talking about big things. Sometimes small things overwhelm. Even tying my shoes can seem so hard and overwhelming that I just sit down and take a nap. Yes, I’ll admit it. I am weak. There is nothing inside of me that has any great strength. Even the littlest problem can paralyze me.

So how do I survive? How do I get up, go to work, and live my life? That’s a good question. I was waiting for you to ask. Let me tell you.

First of all, I have learned that it is ok to be weak. In fact, it can be better to be weak. God likes to work with weak people. It is often easier to recognize His work in a weak person than in a strong person. If a strong person does something amazing, then we assume that person did it themselves. But if a weak person does something amazing, we have an easier time seeing God’s hand in it. Also, we are less likely to be puffed up with pride. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians talks about this:

…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… …so that no man may boast before God. …you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ~ from 1 Corinthians 1.

That’s awesome. Take a minute to think about what that means. God works awesome things in the lives of the weak. To us who are weak God offers strength. It is not our strength, it is His. So in the face of overwhelming circumstances we can be courageous. Our courage comes because we trust that God is with us.

The next time you feel overwhelmed or afraid, remember that God knows your weaknesses, and still wants to work in your life. Here’s what He says in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41.10.