Brene Brown

Wholeheartedness: Practicing Self-Compassion When I Feel Like I’m Failing

Today I feel like I’m failing at life.

I’m not a very “together” person and honestly, I’ve never tried to pretend that I am. I don’t have a problem admitting that I mess things up sometimes. But lately it’s felt like all the time.

There are dozens of things I know I’m not very good at. I don’t like failing at those things, but in a way, my expectations of myself aren’t very high. I’m prepared to deal with these failures. It’s so much more discouraging to find you’ve failed at something you like to think you’re good at. And I’ve been failing like a boss.

You know how sometimes you pray for patience and then God gives you lots of trying circumstances as opportunities for you to practice? And (if you’re like me) you’re like, “Yeah, not cool, God. Not what I meant.” I feel like that’s what’s happened to me lately.

At the beginning of the year I said, “Ok, God, I want this year to be about learning wholeheartedness. I want to live with intention, to connect, to be compassionate, and to live a life that isn’t ruled by shame.” And I feel like God said, “Ok, well here’s some anxiety, and here’s some loneliness, and here’s a heaping spoonful of shame. Go ahead and practice wholeheartedness. Sucker.”

Yeah…Thanks, but no thanks.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience.” This is the ability to accept that you’ve made a mistake without letting it affect your sense of worthiness. It’s the ability to lean into those feelings of vulnerability and silence what Brown calls your “shame gremlins” by practicing self- compassion. This is how we can admit to our mistakes and learn from them without letting our mistakes define us.

I have been lonely lately. Not, “I have no one to hang out with” lonely. More like I don’t feel a strong sense of connectedness and belonging. This has made me self-focused and self-centered. I’ve spent more time feeling sorry for myself, thinking about what I wish I was getting from others instead of about what I could be giving. And this has led to some pretty epic fails on my part.

My shame gremlin sounds like a meaner version of Mushu from Mulan. (Hashtag Disney4Eva). “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow…” except more like, “This is why you’re lonely. Because you don’t deserve love and belonging. Because you suck.”


Yesterday I let my shame gremlin overwhelm me. It was one of those days when I went to bed at 8:00 simply because I couldn’t bear being conscious any longer. I woke up this morning feeling about the same and frankly, I don’t feel much better now, but I’m going to try to practice shame resilience. And I’m going to start by extending grace.

The thing about grace is, it’s always there for me if I just let myself receive it. The only thing standing between me and grace is my shame. I inked this word, “GRACE,” onto my body because I wanted it to mark me, but I still have trouble letting it pierce my heart.

When you’re not very good at something, the only way to get better is by practicing. So I’m practicing. I’m practicing extending grace. I’m saying, “It’s OK that you really messed up, here. You are already forgiven. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. You can grow and you can learn from it. This does not affect your value or your worth.”

I’m still feeling pretty crappy. But that gremlin sounds a little quieter now. He’s still talking, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen.

What Makes You Vulnerable Makes You Beautiful: A Review of a Book That’s Changing My Life

daring greatly

A Review of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

I’ve spent the past few weeks telling everyone I know to read this book, so I thought I would put together some sort of official book review. Although I mention the books I’ve read or recommend in my monthly “What I’m Into” post, this is the first book review I’ve ever done on the blog. I think this book is powerful and I hope if you haven’t read it yet, that you will soon.

Brené Brown is a skilled researcher with a Master’s and PhD in social work. She has dedicated the last decade of her professional life to studying shame and vulnerability. Her two TED talks on these topics have been viewed by over  This book is the perfect mixture of hard data and personal stories and her message is one that I believe every human being can relate to. This book does not apply to people of one particular religion, race, family demographic, or socioeconomic status. It is a book for everyone.

The title of the book comes from this powerful quote from Theodore Roosevelt,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Brown began her research by studying human connection, but very quickly discovered that there was something that kept coming up when she interviewed people about connection. She would ask for stories of connection, and inevitably, people would share the opposite – what disconnection felt like. She noticed a common element among the stories of disconnection and that element was shame, which she defines simply as the fear of disconnection. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Brown differentiates between shame and guilt in one of the simplest and yet profound ways I’ve ever encountered:

Guilt = I did something bad.

Shame = I am bad.

She explains how this sense of shame stems from the feeling that “I’m not enough.” Not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, successful enough, funny enough, etc.

Brown states that shame blocks our ability to make meaningful connections with others, and the only way for connection to happen is through vulnerability – allowing ourselves to be truly seen.

Vulnerability has such a negative connotation for many people. In our culture, we often equate vulnerability with weakness. Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure” and argues that vulnerability is a risk, but it is not a weakness. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Unlike how many of us think of vulnerability, Brown reassures us that vulnerability does not mean “letting it all hang out,” but is instead about “sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned a right to hear them.”

Brown goes on to identify the “vulnerability-shields’ people put up to protect themselves from being real with others (perfectionism, forboding joy, and numbing being the major ones) and to give the “daring greatly” alternatives to these behaviors (embracing the beauty of our cracks, practicing gratitude, and finding true comfort).

Through the book Brown explains how developing shame-resilience and practicing vulnerability has the power to radically transform our relationships and our lives. She gives practical examples of what this could look like in a business or work environment, in the other leadership roles we fill, and in parenting. Although I’m not a parent yet myself, I found the section on parenting particularly interesting and inspiring. This section was full of good, practical examples of how we can break the cycle of shame in our homes and teach shame-resilience for the things that happen outside of our homes. We can cultivate empathy, self-compassion, and a profound sense of belonging in our children by first cultivating these things in ourselves.  Brown explains that being vulnerable is one of the most powerful ways we can parent children, “…the question isn’t so much, ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?’”

In her previous book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown explored the concept of “Wholeheartedness” which she defines as living with a sense of worthiness – of love and belonging. She interviewed hundreds of people and studied what separated those with a sense of worthiness from those who struggled for it. She talks about this research in one of her TED talks. Brown says that the difference between these two groups of people was only one variable. “And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”

“And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect…The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful… They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

I think Christians (in the Reformed tradition especially) have some push-back against the idea of our own worthiness. We balk at expressing what we perceive to be an overly high opinion of ourselves. What about being hopeless sinners in need of Christ’s grace? I would argue that Christ’s grace is exactly why we need to see ourselves as worthy. That we are worthy because of the work of Christ. Maybe failing to see our worthiness is really a failure to understand and accept the work that Christ has done for us. Maybe combatting shame and embracing vulnerability are essential to how we live the gospel.

This book is making me consider the kind of person I want to be. It has challenged and encouraged me to identify places of shame in my life and to combat them. Embracing our imperfections and our messiness is something I had already been thinking about and writing about a lot over the past year, and this book has confirmed for me that this is crucial to living an abundant life and to becoming the people we want to be.


If you don’t feel like you have time to read the book, or just want to hear more before you do, here are Brené Brown’s two TED talks. They are well-worth the 18 minutes of your time.


What I’m Into: June 2014 Edition

It’s time for the monthly round-up again. If you are into this kind of post, check out Leigh Kramer’s monthly link-up to find other bloggers’ posts or submit your own.

What I’m Reading:

My plan was to tackle some non-fiction books this month, but I ended up going in a different direction. This month turned out to be more stressful than I thought it would be, leading me to devote most of my reading time to fun, easy reads that served as a mental break from some of the stressors of real life. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want the play-by-play.


BridgetBridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding. The return of Bridget Jones as a 50-year-old widow with just as much personality and all the same quirks we either loved or hated about her in the first place. Basically, if you loved Bridget before, you’ll find her not much changed (in a good way). If you found her annoying, this probably isn’t the beach read for you. I read this during our weekend at the beach at Namhae and it was fluffy and charming.


MindyIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling. Ok, I’m pretty sure Mindy Kaling is my spirit animal. Again, I guess it depends on whether you generally find her funny or not, but I do and I thought this book was hilarious. And I also wanted to be her best friend. I can’t wait for her second book to come out.




Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. I found most of the characters to be interesting and complex and I’ve always enjoyed the types of narratives that start with different characters in different places and slowly intertwine. It was interesting and held my attention from beginning to end. And for the first time I considered the phenomenon that Easter happens IN THE FALL in Australia (and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere).  Mind bomb.



DaringDaring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown. I won’t say too much about this now since I am planning a blog-post review of it in the next few weeks, but I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s different than I expected it to be – for some reason I was thinking it was more creative non-fiction whereas it is true non-fiction written by a real researcher. I believe everyone struggles with shame and vulnerability and I also believe the ideas and strategies in this book about embracing vulnerability and developing shame resilience has the power to change people’s lives. You should read it and be open to finding yourself in it.

Currently reading: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (pen name for J.K. Rowling), Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman with an eye on Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt for the near future.


What I’m Watching:

I know I’m behind the times, but I just started watching The Good Wife and I’m totally hooked. I also spent some time this month getting all caught up on my Pretty Little Liars, which of course, has become more and more absurd and convoluted with each passing season, but which I can’t stop watching because I need to know what the heck is going on. Also those girls have great hair and I feel like I could learn a lot from them.

See what I mean. Total hair envy.

See what I mean. Total hair envy.

Jonathan and I have been watching the new season of 24 and catching up on Scandal now that Netflix just released new episodes. We also have been excited about the return of Graceland – we really enjoyed the first season and hope the second one is just as good.

I also saw Maleficent a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was an interesting take on the story and Angelina Jolie was fantastic. I really, really want to see The Fault in Our Stars even though I know I will cry buckets, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to make it to Korea so I might have to wait awhile.


What I’m Eating:

Curry curry curry. I’ve liked curry for a long time, but I suddenly find myself wanting to eat it always. Indian curry. Japanese yellow curry. Thai green curry. I love them all. I still haven’t gathered all the necessary ingredients for completely homemade curry, but I’ve been rocking the packaged stuff I can bulk up with veggies and the restaurants in town that serve it.

I’ve also been really into this super easy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious almond sheet-cake recipe. I made it once as an experiment, then again for a baby shower, and again this weekend as Jonathan’s birthday cake. This thing is scrumptious and soooo easy. (Though I do but about half the amount of powdered sugar called for when I make the frosting and it’s still so sweet you’ll get a headache if you aren’t careful).

Photo from

Photo from


Oh, and I also made the discovery of this super easy and delicious way of doing pork loin! All you need is steak seasoning, balsamic vinegar and oil. Soooo delicious!

Photo from

Photo from


You can follow me on Pinterest if you want to see what else I’m cooking.

On the Blog:

This month has been a doozy. I started out with a post about the title of my blog, Such Small Hands. Then I had this article about sex published over at Relevant and received a ton of messages alternately praising and berating me. I wrote this response post about my experience. Jonathan and I celebrated our anniversary and I wrote a short post reflecting on that. And I wrote a post challenging myself and others to live a life of extravagant generosity.

I have some exciting upcoming writing opportunities in the pipeline as well – first of all, Brett Fish Anderson  has given me the opportunity to do a series of guest posts on his site expanding on some of the thoughts in my Relevant article regarding purity culture and pre-marital/post-marital sex. I’ll be linking to those posts here as they go up over the next few weeks.

Secondly, Explore God, a website that focuses on creating thoughtful content that engages with spiritual doubts and questions, has invited me to join their team of writers. Check out their website and keep an eye out for something from me sometime in the fall.


On the Internets:

This tongue-in-cheek piece “When Suits Become a Stumbling Block” is the funniest thing I have read in a long, long time. If you grew up in the Evangelical Purity Culture like I did, this will make you laugh. Please remember that this is a SATIRE and don’t get your panties in a wad.

“Cough. Breathe. Cancer. Dance.” by Shawn Smucker at A Deeper Story. This beautiful piece about mortality and suffering and beauty hit very close to home as this month I received news from home that one of my loved ones is losing one of her loved ones.

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary’s post “A Million Ways to Say it Wrong” about her recent trip to Thailand and the near impossibility of finding the right words to talk about things like human trafficking, prostitution, and human rights violations, but also the absolute necessity of trying.

Also, this video which just makes me all kinds of weepy.


What I’ve Been Up To:

Jonathan and I took a long weekend trip to Namhae, which is an island just off the coast of southern Korea (connected by a bridge) where we explored some terraced rice patties, lounged at the beach, and went kayaking. He wrote a blog post about it here on our Korea blog.

On June 13th we celebrated our anniversary and Jonathan surprised me with a trip to the Busan Aquarium. Fun fact about me – I am, for no discernible reason, obsessed with aquariums. Second fun fact – the lighting in the main tank of the Busan Aquarium turns out to be the prime place to take the most hideous/evil-looking pictures of all-time. I gave myself nightmares when I saw this one.

Hideous me

Yesterday was Jonathan’s birthday so we celebrated with cake a presents and dinner at a restaurant. It was low-key, but I think still a good way of honoring the wonderful man he is and who he is becoming. In case you didn’t know it, I really love that guy.

Other than that, we are winding down the semester at school. My students have finals this week (even though there are still 3 more weeks of classes after this) and I’m in crunch time for planning our English Festival and the two camps I’ll be working before our official vacation time. But today is July 1st which means we are 43 days from being home for vacation. I’m considering making a paper chain to count down. As we say in Korea, “Fighting!”

Daring Greatly: Hugging Strange Old Men and Living With Extravagant Generosity

Once when I was around ten years old, my mom and I were at the eye doctor. As we were leaving, an elderly man came into the doctor’s office alone. He looked pale and sad and lonely and I just wanted to hug him. My mom and I left and I told her as we walked to the parking lot that I thought he’d looked like he needed a hug. My mom said, “You can go back in and hug him if you want. I’ll wait right here.” So I did. I went in and said, “Excuse me, sir. But you look like you could use a hug.” And I wrapped my chubby arms around him and hugged him.

Obviously, he freaked out. His body went rigid and his face went from looking tired and sad to totally panicked. His eyes bulged out a little. It’s possible he had a mild stroke or something, but I’ll never know because I promptly got freaked out when I realized that his gruff exterior was not melting from my kindness like Daddy Warbucks’s did with Annie and I turned around and ran out of the doctor’s office.


I’m an idea person. I’ve been this way since I was a child.  I am relatively aware of what’s going on around me (which is a nice way of saying I’m nosy) and I frequently have ideas about things I could do for other people – a physical act of service, a gift I could give, a message I could write, a contribution I could make to a cause. I don’t say that to wow you with my holiness – it certainly doesn’t make me some amazing person that these things occur to me, especially since I rarely act on them. But I recognize that not everyone is this way. For example, my husband, who is a much more generous person than I am and will do anything you ask of him without complaining, doesn’t think this way. He is much more willing than I am to serve others if he is aware of a need, but the ideas of what these needs are and how he could meet them just don’t naturally occur to him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just not how he’s wired.

I, on the other hand, am both perceptive (again, read: nosy) and a planner, which means I more naturally see needs and have ideas out the wazoo for ways I could help meet them. But I’m not so good with following through on those ideas. Which somehow seems a lot worse.

A few weeks ago at Bible study we were talking about what it looks like to have faith when you feel God is prompting you to do something and you don’t exactly know how to do it. We talked about the excuses we make for not following those promptings.

These are some of my most common excuses:

  • “What if it really creeps them out and they take it the wrong way? I mean, I’m pretty sure I gave that old man a heart attack that one time.”
  • “But I can’t do everything. It’s just not possible to give in all of these ways. I’m just ONE woman!”
  • “I’m sure they are getting tons of encouraging messages from other people – it probably won’t even mean anything to them to get a note from me. Actually, they will probably think I’m a weird stalker.”
  • “I can’t contribute enough to this need to make much of a difference. Better to put my money towards a smaller need where it will really matter.”
  • “I mean, I don’t want to exhaust myself. I’ve had a really long week at work. This will probably put me over the edge and then I’ll be mean to my husband. So really, by not doing this, I’m thinking of my husband. Best wife ever.”

I mean, they’re pretty bullet-proof, right?


I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which is about the power of vulnerability to transform our lives. Brown is a sociologist who has been researching shame and vulnerability for more than a decade. I haven’t finished the book yet, but one of the most thought-provoking points I’ve come to so far is the link between shame and scarcity. Scarcity is this idea of “never enough” that permeates Western culture. It plays out differently for different people, but it hits most people in some form or fashion. It’s the idea of “I am never                                enough.” Never good enough, never successful enough, never smart enough, never pretty enough, never funny enough, never interesting enough, never rich enough, never thin enough, etc. (I actually wrote a post about that about 3 years ago). I’ve been struck with how this internal monologue of scarcity shows up in the ways I love and serve others.

I want to live a beautiful life – to be a generous person who gives freely and who makes others feel seen. But I am full of excuses and full of fear. Fear of how giving that way to others will affect ME. Because if I follow through on all of those promptings to give to others, who will be looking out for ME? How will there still be enough for ME?

I wonder, what would happen if I stopped making those excuses? What would happen if, to the best of my ability, I just went ahead and did each of those things when they popped into my mind? What would it look like to give extravagantly -of my time, my gifts, my energy, my intellect, my love, and even my finances? This summer I am daring myself to let go of my excuses and my rationalizations and my scarcity-driven fears, and instead I am going to try to do one simple thing. Whenever that idea pops into my head – to buy someone’s coffee or make cookies for my coworkers or to send a Facebook message to a girl I haven’t talked to since high school to let her know that I was thinking of her the other day and hoping that she’s doing well – that I will just DO it without giving myself the time to make excuses. (I mean, I’m probably not going to hug any strange old men. Not every idea is a good idea. But many ideas are both good and possible if I just keep myself from getting in the way.)

I have a 5th grade student named You Min. Every day she greets me by saying, “Hello Teacher, I am wonderful, smart, beautiful You Min.” At first, I thought she was confused – maybe she meant to be giving me a compliment? Or maybe she’s asking me to give her one? But then I realized, nope, she’s just pretty kick-butt and she knows it. Maybe that’s what living without scarcity looks like – it’s ok for her to be awesome and know it, because that’s not taking away from anyone else. There’s enough awesome to go around. And maybe it’s ok for me to give extravagantly when I feel the nudge to do so. Because there’s enough love to go around. There’s enough joy and grace and hope and beauty and goodness and freedom to go around. So let’s spread it around.


PS – When we talked about his in Bible study, my friend Laura said, “I feel a blog-post coming on!” So, Laura, it’s ok if you take credit for this one. There’s enough credit to go around. You can have this one. ; )