How Transition has been Kicking my Butt

After 20 years in beautiful, sunny, diverse Southern California, I am moving back to Pacific Northwest, to my husband’s hometown of Portland, Oregon.  Portland is a beautiful city blah blah blah. But right now I’m in the process of saying goodbye to a city that I love. I’m saying goodbye to relationships that began when I came here in 1993. I’m leaving the family that became my family when my mother nearly disowned me. I’m leaving the Korean American church that blessed me into ministry when my mother had cut me off from my Korean home church. I’m leaving the church that hired my husband as youth director and then became wonderful place of healing and growth and blessing to my husband and I. I’m leaving friends. I’m leaving a ministry context where I have deep trust and partnerships. So, I’m feeling some angst.

Here are some observations and reflections on this season of transition and stress.


1)   Get your inner life in order Girl- and apply lessons you’ve learned over the years!

In May, my husband and I had a wonderful time travelling through Europe. I had an amazing month of reflection and prayer. All the Christian inspired art really spoke to me and fed my soul. Flash forward just two months later and I’m a slightly crispy and very exhausted urban project director. Some of that is natural- leading an urban project for 7 weeks with 50 students is an all consuming endeavor. But a lot of my fatigue comes from the fact that I didn’t maintain my inner life disciplines of reflection, Sabbath, rest, and spiritual direction. I realize that I can maintain my inner life disciplines when I have no stress up until a medium level of stress. But when things crank up to level 7 to 10- I just let it all go. This season has revealed some weaknesses in my inner life.


2)   Erna- pay attention to you marriage!

I know that you probably think that  my marriage is made up of running in slow motion across flower covered fields and holding each other- just like people in the movies hold each other. But lets get real. There is no cuddling in a heat wave. TOO HOT! And as I have been emotionally depleted and tired from ministry, and my husband has been travelling to Portland for work in two week stretches, our marriage has taken a hit.

I had a chance to do some reflecting and I realized that our approach to high stress seasons is to just white knuckle through it and then try to get quality time on the other side.  But as my insightful husband commented- we really just have one tool in our tool belt- quality time. And when stress periods go for longer, we just empty the tank. This season has revealed a weakness in our marriage. We are starting to have good conversations about other tools that we can use in the MIDST of stressful seasons, instead of just waiting for them to be over.


3) Numb the pain!

I have known for a long time that I use food to numb out stress and anxiety. Also, I sometimes use a cocktail or two. And sometimes a combination of both. There is nothing like a taco run and some tequila to wash over late night loneliness or anxiety. This summer I met a fantastic woman named Jasolyn. She has become a huge inspiration to me in this area. About a year ago, Jasolyn realized that she had been numbing pain in her life through food and she courageously joined a 12 step program that helped her discover her food addiction. Over the last year she has lost over 100 pounds. But as I listened to her share-  it became clear that it wasn’t really about the weight. She talked about the difficulty of facing pain and really processing it. She talked about how scary it was not to numb out painful experiences or negative feelings, but to actually feel them for the first time. As I listened to her, I could see that I had been avoiding feeling sadness, loneliness, loss, and disappointment. I had been using food, and cocktails, and Netflix to numb it out. I felt so inspired by her courage. So much in our culture is about numbing out. And I don’t want to live in fear of my own emotions.   I want to learn from my friend Jasolyn’s courage and character.


Being under the stress of leading the summer urban project and getting ready to move has revealed some weaknesses in my life. I have tools and disciplines that get me through about a level 1 to 7 of stress. But as I have been in stress level seven, eight, and nine  – I have seen some weaknesses. Last summer I was incredibly proactive as I saw a stressful season approaching. I knew that I would be directing LAUP on my own- so I went totally vegan and eliminated caffeine and alcohol. I also saw my spiritual director weekly, had a prayer partner that I connected with every Friday, and sent out prayer requests every week. I felt totally present and focused during the experience. I poured myself out completely during the summer, but I felt so much better as I did it. So I have a positive and negative example to draw from.

I feel an invitation to go deeper with God and my character in this season. Anyone else out there feel me on the pain of transition? Tell me what you have learned about yourself in the midst of transition.

11 thoughts on “How Transition has been Kicking my Butt

  1. Thank you for vulnerably sharing your weaknesses. I am in a season of gathering tools for the tool belt, and trying to be real about things I suck at. I don’t want to have any illusions as I prayerfully consider ministry (and that I am so self-reflective to find them all is probably one illusion already!). Anyway, I appreciate your openness. Especially about marriage. It’s new, and we’re figuring it out, and we continue to be in states of transition throughout. And some seasons are more taxing then others, and sometimes we are better at seeing our angst meters before it is too late… but it takes work. I’d love to hear the tools you two discover during this season 🙂 I’m sure it will be helpful as we look to the last couple years of grad school (“crunch time”) and possibly joining full time staff 🙂

  2. I’m with you! We’re just a few weeks ahead of you in the transition to a wonderful place where we have roots — and yet it’s hard. The physical move is actually the easy part, because the truly hard parts (goodbyes, self care, new rhythms, sinking roots) is hard. Once the BUSYness of packing and unpacking is over, then the real hard part begins. I am taking joy in the process of nesting, design, bonding with the new house through the kitchen. Making community will be the hard part. I’m hoping to find a couple well connected people with shared values who can introduce us to a whole new world to discover. I can’t wait to visit you in Portland! Our guest bedroom in Seattle is yours anytime.

  3. Erna, this gave me some insight into what I’m struggling with in my transition to being a new mom while dealing with the stress of a new job where I work with really sick kiddos. I always have a base level of stress. Meanwhile, I’m still figuring out what community looks like now that I have a little one which has left me a little lonely and without the robust support I need at a time like this! I resonate with letting inner life slide and resorting to numbing. I’ve been sensing a need to spend regular time with God and also create an outlet for deeper sharing but it helps that you spelled it out like this! Blessings with moving to a new city – from someone who’s moved to 3 different cities in my last 5.5 years of marriage. 😉

    • Bo- so great to hear from you! Sounds like you are in so many transitions at once. I know a lot of new moms that have shared how crazy it was to figure out prayer and inner life in the midst of such a demanding season. I may be getting in touch for some advice on how to transition to a new city! Blessings on you in all the things that you’re doing.

  4. Holla,
    I am with you in this though at a MUCH smaller level of gravity. The irony is that I just moved from Portland, go figure. Thank you for reminders of the simplicity and danger of coping and numbing. Good word.

  5. Erna. First off, just want you to know how much I’m going to miss you. Second, you freakin rock. Thanks for sharing what’s been happening lately, I know the feeling. Not sure if this will help much, but I wrote a post on transitions a LONG time ago (when I first came on Staff). Take pieces and even go to the main article I referenced:

    Love you and miss you tons!

  6. I’ve been through this same process in thinking about my stress and how I respond to it. Mine is strange in that I’m really good probably between 4 and 9. If I fall below 4, I can respond as poorly as when things are seemingly spiraling out of control at a 10.

    My spiritual director had really interesting insight for me just this week that figuring out what feeds our souls and helps us interact with Jesus most fully can be really counterintuitive at times. My sabbatical was nothing like what I thought it would be, and it was really easy to think that I didn’t “make the most of it.” But I’m coming back refreshed and having such a deeper intimacy with Jesus because I was engaged with systems and thinking about operations. I needed the time away from NWN, but to feed my soul, I needed to stay thinking about, sitting in, engaging with systems. She noted there was a huge difference between being busy and doing for the sake of doing vs. the way that my soul comes alive when I engage with God in structures/systems. I’ve never thought about my relationship with Jesus in this way – it was incredibly profound for me.

    That sort of went off topic, but really just an encouragement to explore different tools and ways of interacting with God that are outside of what we usually think refreshes us.

    • Thanks for your reflections Jess. I like the category that your putting out there. I’ll think on it. Glad you annoyed your sabbatical!

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