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I grew up moving. A LOT. This made it a struggle for me to make friends. 

That's not entirely true. I had friends. I wasn't a total loner with no one to talk to.

But I didn't let anyone in.

No one really knew the real me.

I was really good at putting a smile on my face as the new girl, and joining in with the crowd.
photo from wix website builder

But I never felt like the girls in this picture.

These girls remind me of my sophomore year of high school. I was entering my 11th school... and I made it to the cheerleading team. All of my cheerleading "friends" looked like these girls. They could be found smiling and laughing and telling stories in a circle everywhere they went.

They "accepted" me into their group, but I was never really in the circle. The more they leaned into one another to talk, the more and more I began looking at the backs of their heads and shoulders.


This "outside the circle" feeling followed me throughout most of my life. It wasn't a very good feeling.

In a nutshell...it felt like UN-Belonging.

Did you know that we have a psychological need to belong? Your brain experiences pain when that need isn't met.

Actual physical pain.

Every year that went by in my life that I didn't feel like I belonged, my brain was feeling the pain of it.

Eventually I stopped looking for friends. I was afraid of the pain I might feel when they leaned in forward to their other friends. I believed it was better to just not have friends than to feel that pain again.

But do you know what.... even though I was choosing to "not belong".... it still hurt.


God designed our brains to need each other. Choosing to go against that design didn't make life any easier.

Over the past few years, I've noticed that God keeps putting other people in my life to develop relationships with. People that are friendly, people that are not so friendly. People that are stronger than me, and people that are weaker than me. People that are flawed, just like I am, and people that also need to connect with me.

I've discovered that I can only meet that need of belonging, when I let people in.

That need to belong won't be fooled by fake relationships.

Surprisingly, being myself has led me on a journey of making friends.

Or maybe it's not so surprising. It's the way God designed us to live.

How about you? Are you choosing to "not belong" or to "belong"? How's that working out?



Bad things happen. They happen to everyone. 

Some people seem to crumble under the weight of “bad things” in their lives while others manage to let things go quickly and easily and don’t appear to be affected by the very same “bad things”.

If you’re in the 2nd category, you probably don’t even know why you are this way.

If you’re in the 1st category, you wish you knew their secret.

As a category 2 person myself, I think I’ve figured it out and I want everyone to learn this secret! I don’t want it to be a secret, I want it to be a freely given gift to everyone I meet!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about joy. But did you know that there is something that goes hand in hand with joy? It’s called capacity

My techy friends probably picture the hard drive of their computers and think they know what capacity is.

My electrician friends probably see the wiring of a house and think they know what capacity is.

Anyone who’s ever heard my Dad Ed Khouri teach probably sees the mountain climbing graphic he made to describe capacity, joy and trauma.

But I think I’ve got a different picture that might help it really click for everyone.

Capacity is like a bucket. 

Some people have a big bucket, others have a small bucket, and even others might just have a tiny lid.

When your bucket gets full and spills over- things get messy! 

Sometimes this results in you losing your temper, sometimes it looks like a mental breakdown, sometimes it results in a night of sobbing uncontrollably… and most of the time it leads us to crave stuff that will hurt us in the long run. (Alcohol, drugs, junk food, unhealthy relationships, etc).

Picture your bucket… whatever size your bucket is, that is a representation of how many “bad things” you can handle without spilling over. Bad things might be actual traumatic events in your life… things like abuse, abandonment, death of a loved one, divorce, fire, storms, war etc. 

(the world of psychology calls these things Trauma B)

But bad things can also be things like traffic jams, fights with your spouse, deadlines piling up, screaming kids, lack of nutrition, etc. 

(these are called Trauma A- the absence of good and necessary things. Did you realize that normal everyday stressors are the absence of peace that you need to function properly?!!)

But did you know that you that you actually have 2 buckets?

JOY is also like a bucket.

The 2nd bucket is your JOY bucket and it holds all the good things for you.

Good things like those times when someone was glad to be with you! Good times like walks in the park, watching sunsets, catching fireflies, laying on the beach listening to the waves, petting your dog, laughing together with friends.

The really interesting thing is our buckets always match in size. 

 We actually WANT our joy bucket to overflow!


Because when the joy bucket gets full, it automatically trades up for a bigger size. This means, your capacity bucket gets bigger too! 

The bad news is, without much joy in our lives, our joy bucket shrinks, and so does our capacity bucket.

Having a bigger joy bucket and a bigger capacity bucket means we can handle all the stuff life throws at us. Our capacity bucket can handle just about anything that comes our way. 

photo borrowed from

Some of you might be thinking, “But I don’t want a big capacity bucket because that might mean more bad things will happen.”

But that’s not true.

You see, having a big capacity bucket doesn’t mean we will necessarily fill that bucket with bad things. It just means when a bad thing comes along, there’s room for it to rest at the bottom. 

(We don’t really carry them around like the boy in the picture above, so they don’t need to be balanced.)

Remember, it’s the JOY BUCKET that decides how big of a bucket we need. 

So keep filling that joy bucket! Trade up for a bigger set of buckets!  Make filling your joy bucket a priority!

Here’s a few things you can do to get started:
  • Smile at someone; ask them how they are doing. Be more like “Elf”! “I’m Buddy the Elf, what’s your name? What’s your favorite color?!”
  • Go for a walk at sunset with someone. (a loved one, a neighbor, a sibling anyone!)
  • Fly a kite!
  • Start an Appreciation Journal (have you heard about the power of gratitude lately?!)
  • Make a CD of your favorite songs and give it to someone!
  • Put down your cell phone and look into the eyes of the person across from you!
  • Sing really loud to a favorite song with someone in the car with the windows down
  • Laugh! Out loud! Just start laughing… it becomes contagious! You don’t even need a reason sometimes. 
  • Whenever you’re with a loved one, pause and remember that the most important thing is to be glad to be together. Whether you’re working, cleaning, watching TV, playing cards or eating a meal… make being glad to be together the priority!

Here's to filling our joy buckets!!!


talk to strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers” was the theme for my generation growing up. It remains the theme today in most parenting advice columns. 

With pedophiles and murderers on every mother’s mind… it’s not surprising that we continue to insist on this rule.

“Don’t talk to strangers” when said to a child in the context of protecting them is a necessary blanket statement that we hope will keep them from getting into that strangers white van or accepting a piece of candy from the old man behind the playground.

Now, maybe this is just me, but I think somewhere deep in the file cabinet I call a brain, I still hear this warning when I’m around people I don’t know. This silent warning has blended with my “introversion” and “shyness” and kept me from lots of joy.

You might be wondering why I just brought up joy. If you think that joy is happiness, it shouldn’t have anything to do with maintaining that rule of “Don’t talk to strangers”. 

But joy isn’t happiness.

Joy is relational. 

Joy is the reaction in our brain when someone is glad to be with us.

This can happen when we’re experiencing a happy situation, a sad one, a scary one.... any situation at all. 

But it only happens in the context of RELATIONSHIP. Joy is what we need. It helps our brain grow healthy connections. Joy reduces stress, improves our immune system, improves resiliency and transforms lives for the better.
For people like me, who “shy” away from meeting new people; that means joy is hard to come by unless I’m with my existing “people”.  

The problem is, I moved a lot. I moved so much growing up that in 12 years of school I went to 20 different schools. 

That meant that I was constantly meeting “strangers”. The file cabinet in my brain made it an extremely lengthy and difficult process to make friends. Whether I realized it or not, I was fearful of new people and new relationships. Even though that’s exactly what I longed for.

It’s not the ideal environment for joy when you’re afraid of everyone. Now don’t get me wrong… I was not CONSCIOUSLY aware that I was afraid of people. This was a fear I wasn’t in touch with. But that’s the really special thing about our brain… it does quite a few things automatically without us realizing it!

God designed our brains to come alive in the context of relationships with Himself, and with other people.

When I walk around avoiding eye contact, avoiding conversation, and embracing my “shyness”, my brain becomes starved for joy.  
But what if I wasn’t trained to be afraid of everyone? What if I saw people I met as opportunities for joy? What if I opened myself up to relationships and my brain was fed with those relationships?
Do you know what else your brain can do all by itself? It can read people. In the world of psychology it’s part of what they call “emotional intelligence”.

For our purposes, let’s just call it the “reading system”.b The reading system helps our brain interpret what’s going on in others brains. However, if it isn’t working correctly, I might “misread” you.
Actually, let me be honest... SINCE mine isn’t working correctly, I’m controlled by fear because I can’t read you!
"Better to be safe than sorry" is my brain’s motto.

Another way to look at this, is that if I’m feeling fear (unbeknownst to me), and your reading system works well, it will recognize that I’m afraid and your interactions with me will be colored by that knowledge… even though you didn’t consciously form an opinion about me! c

Being “wired” in the brain with fear is really a major hindrance to anyone who is trying to build joy. 

That’s where an active relationship with Immanuel can help. Immanuel is able to help me recognize my
own fears, and when I am able to look at them with honesty and vision set in reality, I can then use the facts of what’s really going on around me to determine whether or not my “fear” is justified. 9 times out of 10, it’s not. And for those times when fear was a healthy reaction to the person in front of me, Jesus is able to help me feel safe again.

Now I can talk to strangers. I can see people as opportunities to smile and make friends; even if it’s just while I’m standing in line at Wal-Mart. I can build joy everywhere I go. It’s good for me, and it’s good for them. When I’m not living out of fear, joy has a chance to grow. 

Coming Soon:
Life & Recovery Coaching that will come along side YOU and teach you how to build an active relationship with Immanuel so you can move from a fear based life to a joy based life!
a: “Joy Starts Here” by James Wilder, Edward Khouri, Chris Coursey, and Shelia Sutton www.joystartshere.com
b: "Brain-Based Parenting" by Daniel A. Hughes and Jonathan Baylin
c: “Reading a face is tricky business”  http://phys.org/news105118816.html#nRlv
Photos are mine
Jesus drawing found on google images


joy island

I am currently in the process of getting certified as a Life and Recovery Coach through the NET Institute's Rise Recovery Coach program. One of my recent homework assignments was to come up with a creative "story" that will explain how addictions use the way our brain was designed against us. The trick to this assignment was that I was NOT allowed to use brain talk or scientific wording at all! 

Here is the story I came up with..... I hope it paints a picture for you that peaks your interest in this subject! This story can serve as a "base line" of understanding the brain.... which I'll explain more about in future posts! 

For now.. Welcome to the islands......

Once upon a time there was a mystical land of islands. The main island was called Joy Island. Everyone that lived on the island of joy was free to come and go as they pleased. Joy Island was a great place to live. People here supported one another and were always glad to be with each other. They did things together and had lots of fun. Even their work and chores felt like fun because of the way they were glad to be together. 

Joy Island had everything they needed, but sometimes things would happen that required them to travel to the other nearby islands. Those islands were Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Shame and Hopeless Despair.

Each family would build their own bridges to get to those islands when they needed to. The more frequently they went as a family, the bigger and stronger their bridge became. Walking together over to Anger island or Fear island on a regular basis, and then returning back to home on Joy Island was the way to build strong bridges. Strong bridges meant that it was perfectly acceptable to go back and forth. It was totally safe to explore all the islands from their well built bridges.

However, if they avoided a certain island, their bridge might be nothing more than a flimsy wooden swinging bridge! Only going a few times to an island, or pretending they didn't ever need to visit a certain island was a sure way to end up with a rickety bridge!

There was really only one rule about traveling to those islands. Don’t go alone! It was really hard to get back to Joy Island from the other islands if you went alone, and no one wanted anyone to get stuck in those places!

Overtime though, some families stopped going to some of those islands all together. This left really weak bridges in place that couldn’t hold up to any stormy weather.

One day, little Evie took a trip by herself to the island of sadness. She used one of those small, weak bridges to get there and as soon as she arrived, a storm raged and washed away her bridge. She was stuck! Being stuck on Sad Island was not fun! Sad was a miserable place to live.  

It was only meant to be a temporary place to visit after all.

It didn’t have any of the things she needed. And it was lonely. There weren’t any fruits in the trees here, and hardly any shade to shelter her from the sun. She was forced to go inland to look for shelter as more and more storms kept raging by. The problem is, the further inland she went, the sadder she felt.

 She started looking around Sad Island to find something to make her feel better. Much to her surprise she discovered a drink that made her smile easier. She started drinking it every day! It felt so good to smile again! It was getting easier to live on Sad Island now that she had this drink! Even though she still felt sad in between drinks… she was starting to believe that her drinks were better than life back on Joy Island.

One day, she discovered some other people who had come to Sad Island on a boat from their home on Anger Island. (They had gotten stuck there a long time ago and found a way between these 2 islands). One of these people was a man… he told her how pretty she was and introduced her to sex. Now she was starting to feel really good on Sad Island! With her drinks and her sex, she could barely remember Joy Island anymore. 

Except for those annoying times when she was quiet and alone and the sad feelings started creeping back in.

Pretty soon, her drinks and her Anger Island boyfriend stopped feeling so good. So she needed to get more. She traded her boyfriend for a new one, and added some pills to her drinks in order to feel good again- for a little while. This continued until she eventually lost her little shelter on Sad Island. 

She decided to move since she couldn’t afford to live with all her drinks and pills and boyfriends anymore. She stole the boat from Anger Island and tried to find a new place to live. Unfortunately, she ended up on Hopeless Island! 

Hopeless Island was really isolated and far from the other islands. Here Evie missed her drinks and pills and boyfriends, but discovered a sugar tree to help ease her pain. She built a new home right next to the sugar tree… the sugar tree feelings didn’t last long, so she had to keep eating from it all day and all night long. Whenever she stopped eating from the sugar tree, the noises from Shame Island (her closest neighbor) drove her crazy!!

Evie is so far from home now that she is just ready to give up on life. She knows that making homes on these islands was not what she wanted in the 1st place, but she has no idea how to get back to Joy Island- or if it even exists anymore.


Can you relate to this story? Stay tuned for my explanation for how this story can be translated into real life, and real science, and real "God's design" for our life.

*None of these pictures are mine. They were all found using google image search.