Let it Overflow!

I like to think of the soul as a cup that is capable of both holding and delivering God’s love.

One reason that I consider myself to be a Christian (because I admittedly do find many other religions to be quite beautiful and worthy of being celebrated) is because Jesus demonstrated the capacity of a human to deliver God to earth.

The story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, illustrates Mary’s ability to carry God within her womb and share God withe world. When Jesus is born, he demonstrates the human ability not only to carry God but also exist as a part of God.

We are all vessels that can hold God, when we allow God to enter. When we become filled with such light, it is our responsibility to share it.

I  think many of us forget this part. God’s love is a gift; it is nothing we earned or deserved. Thus, when we receive a surplus of this gift, we cannot store it away for later. The only way to allow the light to grow rather than fade is to share it with others.

As an extrovert, I feed off of interactions with other people. I love meeting new people, and I love being in the spotlight. I savor meeting each and every person, viewing it as an opportunity to meet another little piece of God.

However, sometimes I get too caught up in appraising the fullness of my own cup, and rather than allowing it to overflow, I put a lid on it. I take without giving much back. I feel the love of others, and I love them back, but I stop there.

What does it look like when we  let the love within us grow, allowing our cups to overflow?

We begin to give love to those that never asked for it. We show appreciation for those who forgot they were worthy of being appreciated (I think of the hospital janitors). We call old friends just to say hello. We talk to strangers at the grocery store instead of racing past them to get through our grocery list. We hold open doors for old people and send birthday cards to people in the mail instead of via email. We thank God for our blessings instead of begging for more.

So as a challenge to myself and to all of you, let our cups overflow! Don’t just receive love and goodness in your lives; allow these things to multiply and fill those around you. It is likely that you will realize that the miracle of love–of God– is infinite. It never runs out.


Writing as Therapy

One of my gifts is my ability to feel what other people feel. I know that empathy is not unique among compassionate people, especially in the medical field.

But I do believe the level at which I empathize is uncommon.

When I say this, I don’t mean it in an arrogant way, and I don’t mean to say that I am a better person for it, or that I have a superior moral compass.

It just so happens that I am not in control of my empathy.

I’ve always had a way of knowing how my loved ones feel without them saying anything or hinting at anything. I can just feel it.

In my undergraduate psychology class, I first learned about mirror neurons. These are the cells in our brains (and in other animals’ brains) that synapse when we observe other people’s actions, and they are the same neurons that are responsible for creating that action in us. For example, if I concentrate on observing a mother pick up her crying child, the neurons in my brain that would be responsible for the same action are activated. I do not commit the same action—pick up the woman’s child—but my brain does, at least in part.

The neuroscientist Iacaboni first theorized that mirror neurons were also involved in empathy. They allow us to understand the actions and intentions of other people. Modern research has shown that the mirror neurons involved in empathy are less active in individuals with autism. This makes sense, because people with autism often have difficulties making social connections and perceiving facial expressions and vocal inflection changes.

I have launched into such a tangent to explain mirror neurons and empathy because I believe that my mirror neurons are highly active, and perhaps more active than average. I don’t just sense other peoples’ emotions easily; I feel them. My brain experiences them. This can be a beautiful gift or, as I’ve been learning this past year, an exhausting gift.

It’s beautiful when I know that my husband is feeling disappointed about something that happened at work even before he’s had a chance to say anything or even stop smiling. It’s beautiful when I meet new people and know exactly what to say to make them feel comfortable and appreciated. It’s amazing when I know what to do for my suffering patients.

But it’s difficult when I come home from spending time with a patient who is incredibly nauseated, and I find it hard to eat. Or when I hang up the phone after talking with a friend who is struggling, and I feel tense and down.

If you know me, then you know that I am very good at expressing my own emotions. I know how to let things out and talk about them and cry about them and move on. I know how to accept my negative emotions and even appreciate them sometimes.

But feeling other people’s emotions long after my encounters with them are long has become noticeable for me more recently, after beginning my clinical experiences in medical school. Last winter, I began to have panic attacks. They started in the middle of my surgery rotation, when I was sleep deprived and stressed and terrified of suturing up an abdomen while all of the surgeons watched to see if I was holding my instruments correctly. Of course I attributed the panic to stress and to being tired. Then they kept happening in my next rotation, a rotation that I adored—neurology. So I blamed the panic on the Minnesota winter, on the long hard walks in the snow and on seasonal depression. Then I had a break from school for a few weeks for research, and I even got to live with my husband. Without any snow or operating rooms or an abnormal sleep schedule, and at last reunited with Drew, I thought I would definitely be “cured” of my anxiety. But it got even worse.

I saw an amazing psychologist who taught me how to cope with panic attacks. I restarted the anti-anxiety medication that I ‘d discontinued months before. I learned how not to let the fear of panic attacks keep me from living fully. I decided I had idiopathic panic disorder for no reason.

Despite being done with the stress of the first 3 years of medical school, completing my residency application, and even maintaining a healthy weight without constant obsessing and dieting, I have continued to have moments of distress. I not longer have panic attacks (thanks to my amazing psychologist Kristen), but I do have uncomfortable moments that are, quite frankly, very annoying.

When I have these moments, my mind begins to wander—which is never helpful. I am disappointed in myself for having moments of unhappiness in the midst of an objectively wonderful and amazing life with so many loved ones who support me. I begin to question my independence and my stability. I begin to fear the very worst. And then I find myself back on the fast track to panic.

I didn’t have any ideas about where the triggering feelings/moments were coming from until today. I just wrote them off as irrelevant and unavoidable, as things to ignore. And while I’m sure ignoring is better than obsessing and panicking, I don’t know that it’s the best answer. I want to confront the actual issue.

And then I realized that maybe my feelings aren’t mine. Maybe they come from somewhere else—or someone else.

I hesitated to share this with anyone at the risk of sounding delusional. I don’t mean to suggest that I have a super power or psychic abilities. I suppose it’s also possible that what I’m experiencing is more common than I realize, that many people who work with those who suffer also suffer with them.

I believe that suffering is an inherent part of having a soul. St. Paul and St. Francis, among many others in the history of the church, viewed suffering as essential to the nature of humanity. The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are filled with stories of suffering. Jesus suffered with and for humanity. My experience with cancer taught me that suffering can allow us to notice love and hope in places we had previously ignored; it can allow use to meet God.

Is there a way for me to find value in suffering with my patients but also find a way to let go of the feelings that are not helpful to me? I know that the extent to which I suffer with my patients will only increase as my career moves forward. I must be prepared to cope appropriately.

After writing all of this out, I admit I feel more relaxed than I have in a long time. Maybe my answer is writing. Maybe my answer is more prayer. I think that these are a good place to start. For any of you who are reading this, please let me know your ideas.

In the meantime, I will accept that the emotions I take on from others are a necessary side effect of my gift to connect with people. And I will continue to be grateful for a fulfilling vocation that gives me the opportunity to be with those who suffer.


Becoming Enough vs. Being Beloved

Today I woke up feeling disappointed in myself.

I was angry with myself eating a cupcake last night. If I hadn’t eaten anything “bad” I might have woken up angry with myself for having a glass of wine, or not being a good enough wife, or not studying enough during my free time, or watching lots of Netflix, or sleeping in on my day off.

So I began the day by punishing myself, berating myself, and instructing myself to go the gym and try harder to be perfect today.

By the grace of God, my husband broke the spell, as he often does (truly I believe God reaches me by working through Drew). “Did you enjoy yourself yesterday?” he asked me. Well, yes! I loved sleeping in and watching Netflix and going to a friend’s birthday and eating the cupcake!

It occurs to me, once again, that I am finding reasons to criticize myself. Since I’m on my spring break and not in school, I have more time to come up with such reasons.

Why am I so afraid to love myself? Why is it to hard for me to forgive myself when I am imperfect over and over again? Why am I always looking for something to “fix” about myself instead of celebrating my health and my love and my career?

I think I am falling susceptible to something that is inherently human. The need to prove oneself, the need to perform in order to feel loved and accepted and enough. I am never enough for myself, and it is exhausting attempting to become enough.

I recently read a beautiful book by a Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen: Life of the Beloved. The book is the author’s attempt to explain his beliefs and his faith to a friend who was not raised in a faith tradition. Nouwen explains my struggle exactly:

Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.

Nouwen believes that our biggest downfall as humans is our refusal to accept that we are inherently beloved by God— that we are The Beloved.

Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved”. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

I have heard this concept expressed in different ways. Father Thomas Keating, a former Trappist monk and leader in Christian contemplative prayer, said:

The notion that God is absent is the fundamental illusion of the human condition.

I think this is synonymous with our inability to accept that we are enough, that we are beloved. We already have God with us and in us and as a part of us. As humans, we just can’t seem to accept that.  If we truly believed that we were sacred beings created in the image of God and chosen and beloved by God then surely we might like ourselves more!

Of course, sometimes guilt serves a purpose. When we over indulge or neglect our responsibilities or put continuously put ourselves before others, guilt can help put us back on track. But the type of guilt that happens as a result of our inability to accept our imperfections is not constructive. Because we, as humans, are not perfect and cannot become perfect.

The miracle of it all: we are already more than enough for God.

I pray that all of you reading this (and me) can accept God’s love today— and maybe even spread it to others.

object unseen

“In hope we are saved, yet hope is not hope if its object is seen.” Romans 8:24

I was reading part of a Richard Rohr book tonight (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality), and I came upon this verse, written by Paul.

I do not know if God points out His Words to us when we need them or if we just cling to them more when we need them, but lately I have needed them.

I believe that it is through honesty and sharing that we heal, so I will admit, once again, another of my struggles.

I have been dealing with anxiety attacks for the last couple of months. The most frustrating part of this issue is that I am often unaware of the cause or trigger. I can be sitting in silence studying or rounding on patients with a team of doctors, and I begin to feel it welling up inside of me. Then I feel nausea, and my heart beats fast, and I am terrified of what is happening, but I am not sure of why it’s happening or where it came from. The more I think about it, the worse it gets. The more I struggle to fight it off or analyze its origins, the more it overtakes me. The more I am determined to push it away, the more it eats into my day.

I got a medical work up done, and I was somewhat disappointed and rather embarrassed (but still somewhat relieved) to find no health problems are causing these episodes. They are all created by my mind, a physical manifestation of stress. I am working on this, learning to let go rather than cling to these episodes. I am attempting to accept the anxiety and allow it to pass, which actually worked for me today.

All of this is related to the passage I was reading because I have no idea why I am anxious or why I am having anxiety attacks. I find myself going back to my most constant question in life: “Why, God?” I do not think God is giving me panic attacks, but I do think there is a clear opportunity presenting itself here-an opportunity to grow in hope and faith. I want to take advantage of this opportunity rather than sulking back in fear and pride and pretending that this part of my life never happened. I want to conquer my anxiety attacks not just for me but for my future patients. And in the process of learning to do this, I want to trust in God and lean on God for support.

Richard Rohr writes about the story of Noah’s ark:

God puts all the natural animosities, all the opposites together, and holds them together in one place..holding things unreconciled, leaving them partly unresolved and without perfect closure or explanation.

As uncomfortable as anxiety attacks are, I suppose I can find meaning in them. How often in my life have I actually had to sit still with something that is difficult to bear? Now is my chance to do so, holding onto hope all the while.

Procrastinating the Right Now

I used to think that I was one of the world’s best at not procrastinating.

When I was in grade school, I did my homework in class before leaving school. When I make a mess, I clean as I go, so there is rarely ever a mess. Even today, I prefer to get all of my research papers and emails and practice questions taken care of before I allow myself to enjoy a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Sometimes I don’t let myself eat dinner until my work is completed.

But front-loading all of the hard work and none of the fun isn’t paying off so much anymore. In medical school, there is always more work that could be done. Striking a balance can be hard.And when the work is finally done, and I’m not with friends or family or my amazing husband, I keep thinking, What’s next? What is this all about? And I realize, the only thing I’ve been procrastinating is the most important thing of all: savoring the right now.

The moments that feel the best for me? They are the moments when I’m in the moment, fully present. When I’m with a patient, being a sort-of-almost-doctor: I get to think through the miraculous masterpiece of science that is that person’s body, and then solve a puzzle, and then create a relationship for the ultimate purpose of helping the person live healthier and [hopefully] with more quality and passion. I leave almost every patient interaction feeling lucky that I get to fill that role. When I’m with Drew, and I can’t stop laughing, and the harder I try to stop laughing the harder I laugh. When he grabs my hand when I’m not expecting it or takes me to Costco just to show me the giant stuffed animals and feed me free samples. When we say our prayers together at bedtime whenever we are in the same place, and sometimes even on the phone. When he’s baking another apple pie and lets me sample the dough and lick the bowl (the best part). When I’m with my family and my Sissy and I put on Amish-looking nightgowns to embarrass Flynn in front of her boyfriend. Or when I’m with Mama somewhere in public and act really strange on purpose to see her reaction- slightly horrified and slightly encouraging.

The other way that I procrastinate is by waiting until things in my life are “just right” before I live life to the fullest. In metaphorical terms (or maybe an example, sadly): I can’t fully enjoy the beach because I don’t have a supermodel bikini body.  [The big exception here is my relationship with my husband, Drew. We were impractical. We got married in the middle of medical and dental school, and we still live 6 hours apart. Some people wait to get married when everything else in life is filed away and put in order, but we knew that we would always be busy, and if not busy with school, busy with our careers, etc. We seized the day. This isn’t surprising if you know Drew]

I refuse to think of my body as beautiful when I’m over 130 pounds. I refuse to watch the episode of television I really wanted to see until I’m done with all my work. I refuse to call friends that I haven’t talked to in a long time because I’m worried they are upset I haven’t called in a long time. I refused to write the advice book I’ve been wanting to write about body image because my body image isn’t perfect yet. I refuse to go to that bible study I thought about attending because I have not been prayerful enough lately. I’ve been refusing to blog because I didn’t have insight important enough to share.

The psychologist I have been working with teaches me to enjoy whatever I have going on today, right now, as it is, without judging it. She also refuses to let me forget the progress I have made when I start to regress. My goal is gradually shifting from having a perfect body to being perfectly happy with my imperfect body. And now I am realizing that this is a goal shift that should occur throughout my entire life: to be content with what is right now– what is happening right now, what my body weighs and needs right now, how insightful I am right now, and what is worth doing right now.

And somehow, when I find myself doing this, I realize that I am physically and spiritually and emotionally worthy of it all. And there is no reason to procrastinate feeling worthy or feeling loved.

A Journey of Healing

I recently began a new and important journey.

It is a long-awaited journey of healing.

I am choosing to share this because I am proud of the changes I am making and because I believe my struggle is one that is shared by many.

As the Parable of the Servant in the Gospel of Luke (12:36) illustrates, much is required of those to whom much is given. I have been given my fair share of problems and struggles, but I have also been given a passion for sharing and thinking through words and writing.

I have considered sharing this aspect of myself before, but I have been too afraid, too embarrassed, and too much of a procrastinator. But the role of a servant, of any human soul or beating heart, is to worship and struggle and strive to grow in the here and now—not tomorrow.


So here it goes.


It is difficult to define the point at which my battle began. If I had to put a date on it, it would be in the fall or winter of 2003. I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade. Perhaps it was getting glasses and braces in the same year that did it—or maybe it was just becoming a woman in a world where appearance is highly important. Whatever the trigger was, it was strong enough to break down my entire hierarchy of values and replace it with one primary concern: being thin.

I stopped eating for about six months. By my 13th birthday, my family had begun to notice that my weight loss was intentional and excessive (thank God for Mama and Anne). My family gave me two options: I attend intensive outpatient psychotherapy and eat as I was instructed to do so—or I would be sent far away, to an inpatient treatment facility for girls with anorexia nervosa. I chose to stay home. I chose to eat. I chose to gain weight. More importantly, I chose to live and be fully alive.

Many people know this part of my story; many people observed it themselves. But I have not advertised the next part. Somehow, the next part feels less heroic.

I never stopped valuing thin. I never stopped admiring anorexic supermodels. I never stopped considering every calorie that I put into my mouth. I never stopped hating myself every time I gained a pound. I never stopped viewing food and my body as things to be altered and manipulated, punished and worshipped. I even had a year of chemotherapy, and I still cared about being thin. I celebrated the weight I lost during chemo.

And so for over a decade, I have lived with this battle inside of me. Gaining weight then losing it, binge eating then dieting, allowing the number of the scale to define both my happiness and my self-worth. And while there have been many amazing things happening in my life over the years, this was always going on in the background, sometimes as a whisper and sometimes as a storm. Therapy sessions, self-help books, promises to myself and to my friends and family. None of it worked because I was never ready to commit; I was never ready to let go of the control and the obsession. I wasn’t ready to take a leap of faith.

I have had moments of being ready throughout the past few years. When I got through my cancer and regained my health again I felt ready. When I fell in love with the most amazing man I have ever met I felt ready. When I began to take on the role of a physician I felt ready. And now, as a wife and as a future mother (not pregnant just eager to adopt one day) and future doctor, I am finally ready enough. I am ready enough to stop checking my weight every day. I am ready enough to risk gaining a few healthy pounds. I am ready enough to take responsibility of my own healing, to put time and effort into therapy and journaling. I am ready enough to realize that my thoughts about food and my body are at complete odds with who I am and what I stand for.

After meeting with the most wonderful therapist I have yet to work with, she challenged me to write a reflection about our talk. It is everything that I am feeling now.

Today, I realize more than ever before that my relationships with food and my body have not been in alignment with my values. They have been in complete opposition of everything I stand for.

I stand for love and compassion towards others, for understanding and acceptance. I am comfortable with uncertainties when it comes to my faith. I am comfortable with diversity despite my Southern Mississippi upbringing. I have felt at home in Hindu temples and Indian buffets, in European Cathedrals filled with relics, in Buddhist meditation workshops, and in labyrinths and prayer gardens. I have felt at peace in yoga sessions and in nature, in art galleries and nursing homes. I have been able to find God and hope in the midst of children dying of cancer and as I walked the line between life and death. I am able to sit next to the sick and the dying and feel their sorrow with them as I help them to feel less alone on their journeys. I am able to make meaningful connections on every journey I take and never exit an airplane without a new friend, whether I know their names or not. I am courageous; I take leaps of faith because I know that failure is easier than never reaching for my goals. I feel at home when I am caring for others- physically but especially emotionally. I feel at peace when I am surrounded by people, these magical beings filled with the gift of love. I believe that love is the most beautiful and pure thing in life, and that love is evidence of God and evidence of an afterlife or some kind.

I love to laugh and make others laugh and was once recruited by an entertainment agent to perform stand-up-comedy. I love cooking without recipes so I can add whatever feels right in the moment. I love playing the piano, but only when it’s songs I write because then I can play what I’m feeling. I love to do arts and crafts, even though they never look like what I set out to create. I love dogs- their innocence and trust and willingness to love completely without judging. I love the feeling I get when I am watching a horror movie and have no clue what will scare me next. I love to dance with my husband, who is also my best friend in the world. I love flowers and gardens and would like to build my own fairy garden. 

And none of this—none of who I am or who or what I love—is reflected in the way I feel about my body or the things I have done with food.

My relationship with my body and food is cold. It is filled with hatred and guilt. It is built of rigidity and rules. It is black and white, all or none, good or bad. It is a number on a scale or a size in a pair of jeans. It is about comparisons and competition, about winning or losing, but I can never win. That eating disorder part of me is not understanding or compassionate; it is judgmental and critical. It does not love anyone or anything except control. It hates laughter and social occasions. It is afraid of love or hope or taking any risks at all. It is lonely and afraid, but instead of reaching out for help, it pretends that it can control the whole world by the way she eats. My eating disorder believes that people should be punished—that I should be punished—for imperfection.

 I realize that even after 12 years, there are two parts to me. The eating disorder is still there, expressing her thoughts and opinions and punishing me whenever I choose to listen. I no longer want to make room for her inside of me. I want to be all the things that I value and all the things that I truly am.

I want to learn to eat with compassion for myself. I want to learn to bathe my body and exercise and get dressed in ways that are gentle and loving and not judgmental and fueled by hate or shame. And once I am free, I want to teach others to be free, too.

I sat in mass this evening, and for the first time, instead of praying to have more control over my eating, I thanked God for my body. I listened to the words of the Eucharist and noted all of the symbolism in the Body of Christ. I realized that food and the body are not separate subjects from God or categories of sin. They are outlets through with God often acts. They are miraculous portals that allow humans to connect with God. To hunger and thirst, to taste and become satisfied, to touch and to be touched. These things are inherently beautiful, meant to be savored, not controlled.

I have begun a new journey. I hope that I will allow this journey will be as Holy as my destination. Thank you for being a part of it.


Our Greatest Power

This morning I felt sorry for myself.

It started late last night, when I impulsively ate a few too many spoonfuls of Nutella. At 6 AM this morning, I hit the snooze button, so I couldn’t get in a morning workout. I went to school feeling somewhat oversaturated. Then, I got to class and had to sit through four hours of a “career workshop” for medical students that are unsure of what field they want to go into. Although it was a great workshop, I already know what I want, so it wasn’t necessarily for me. I felt lonely throughout class. Because I’m out of town visiting Drew so often, I don’t spend a lot of time outside of school with my wonderful classmates, so I sometimes feel a little disconnected, like many of them are close friends, but I am not. I wanted to pout.

At noon, I left class for my one hour lunch break and had a revelation: I was being a Debby Downer. So what if I ate too much chocolate or missed my workout routine? So what if I’m lucky enough to know what kind of doctor I would like to be? So what if I’m blessed enough to have found the love of my life already so I don’t spend as much time with my single classmates as they spend with each other? Poor, me. Poor, healthy, accomplished, married, Maggie.

Determined not to feel sorry for myself over nothing, I raced to the gym and got in a 30-minute treadmill workout. By the end of it, I had decided to turn my day around. How? I made a choice to be grateful. Just like I had to do every single day during my year of chemo, when I actually had something to be upset about.

After my lunch hour, I went back to class ready to get the most out of whatever there was to learn. It was a procedural workshop, and I got to learn how to do a lumbar puncture, insert urinary catheters into male and female mannequins, start an IV, and do phlebotomy. I made a big effort to speak to my classmates, to initiate conversations with them, and I realized how much everyone was genuinely happy to converse with me. I realized that they never isolate me; i only isolate myself.

As I walked home, I remembered how lonely I had felt early in the morning. I called my number one hero in life, Mama, and talked to her for a long time while I sat on my back porch. Then I called my best friend from college, Rachel. Then I wrote almost 50 thank you notes for wedding gifts and realized how many people love me because that’s not even a fraction of the notes I need to write. Then I called my best friend from high school, Amanda.

And at the end of the day, I realize that all of this love was there when I woke up, i just didn’t choose to recognize it.

Gratitude is our greatest power and, often, our most difficult choice.

Tomorrow I will choose to be grateful for all the love that God keeps pouring into my life. I hope you will join me.