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When Life Is Too Full

Author guides others in finding fulfillment when life is too full

You’ve held a full cup of hot beverage in your hands. On cold mornings, it warms your palms. A sip soothes your insides. Yet you handle this full cup with care, keeping the hot liquid safely contained. In life, a “full cup” has become a metaphor for being busy — too busy, too much to do, too much to think about, too much to …

What if our too-full cup doesn’t calm or satisfy our inner spirit? This is the question that independent psychologist and Western Michigan University professor Karen Horneffer-Ginter pondered and journaled about in 1999 and 2000, when the births of her two children, Nathan and Kenzie, came like dollops of honey for her already full cup: She was director of WMU’s Integrative Holistic Health and Wellness Program. She shared a private counseling practice with her husband, Paul Ginter, also a psychologist. And her mother was in the final stages of cancer.

A decade later, she transformed her writings into a book, Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit: Nourishing the Soul When Life’s Just Too Much, which was published by Hay House a year ago and is available locally at Kazoo Books, Michigan News Agency and Barnes & Noble.

“Even before having my children, I was on the edge of being overly busy,” she says. “I was an over-achieving young person, a perfectionist with an agenda of things I was hoping to accomplish. Suddenly my schedule had to be oriented around these two lovely beings.

“When I entered that stage in life, everything was tossed up in the air. All those neat and tidy formulas for how things should fit in my life and how things should work … they didn’t fit so neatly anymore.”

Horneffer-Ginter says she was thrilled to be a wife and a mother and have a fulfilling career, but her attempts to balance work and home created tension. “I felt even more desire to quiet down and turn within and connect with spirit, but there was less time to be had. I really couldn’t pull it off anymore.”

Life’s full cup became a topic of conversation among Horneffer-Ginter and others. “I found that people were hungry to attempt this imperfect dance of doing meaningful things in the world while not becoming disconnected from their inner self,” she says. “They wanted to fill their lives with pursuits that mattered while not completely losing their sense of center. To some people, this connection felt spiritual, and to other people it simply felt like having a comfortable answer when someone asks, ‘How are you?’”

The antithesis of being in touch with your inner self often appears as stress and irritation. It is what a full cup, sloshing over, feels, looks and sounds like. Horneffer-Ginter, as a counselor, counseled herself. She saw the parameters of her situation. She became more flexible, realizing that on some days she’d need to trade in a daily hour of yoga poses for a few essential stretches, a half hour of meditation for a few moments of closing her eyes and breathing deeply.

Yet, in addition to her ongoing academic writing, she made time to journal. “I found myself creating this narrative about things that happened each day that were often humbling and humorous. And I found that I would lighten up and feel better about the situation. Everything felt less overwhelming.”

Those journals became the foundation for Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit , which offers a multi-faceted message about slowing down and quieting down, about laughing and finding humor while embracing life’s difficulties.

The book has drawn a more far-reaching response than Horneffer-Ginter anticipated. When the publisher asked her to identify her target audience, she says, she thought of mothers of young children who, like her, were working outside of their homes. But the people who have purchased her book represent a broader demographic. The passages that address caregiving speak to people of either gender or any age who are in that role. Retired men say they appreciate the book’s philosophical discussion of life.

“It surprises me that they, at that retrospective stage in life, want to hear what a 44-year-old has to say,” Horneffer-Ginter says, smiling.

She says it’s been rewarding to connect with readers both locally and internationally and hear how the book has inspired them. Parker J. Palmer, author of Healing the Heart of Democracy, The Courage to Teach and Let Your Life Speak, called Horneffer-Ginter a grounded and gifted storyteller. “I love this book so much I read it in one sitting,” Palmer said. One reviewer said reading the book was “like being immersed in a gentle love letter for the soul.”

Horneffer-Ginter, who was born in Detroit in 1969 and has lived in Kalamazoo since age 8, has been thinking about matters of the soul for a long time. As a child, she had a Presbyterian upbringing and a keen sense of wonder. “From a very young age, I would sit in church with such curiosity about God,” she says. “I would often think that, all over the world, people were spending their Sunday mornings in different ways and coming together to answer questions of what life is all about.”

In college, at the University of Michigan, she read the works of Joseph Campbell and was pleased to see he had articulated thoughts that had been running through her head for years.
Many of these thoughts involve the mind/body/spirit connection, a perspective of holistic medicine and mental health that has always fascinated her and that is a unifying theme of her book.

She laughs while recalling her first job, at age 26, teaching alternative and complementary approaches to medicine and bedside manner to students and physicians at a medical school in Chicago through a program hosted by Loyola University.

“A few people were interested in integrative medicine and had acquired grant money through which I was paid,” she says. “But 95 percent of the people there had absolutely no interest in anything I was going to share with them.” This experience, though, helped her realize that she wanted to work in a place where she felt supported by a like-minded community.

In 1998, after obtaining a doctorate from the University of Illinois, she found that “perfect fit” by moving back to Kalamazoo and into a work opportunity in holistic health at WMU. She found comfort in knowing that her husband, who is nine years her senior, had trained in that program and received his doctoral degree in counseling psychology at WMU.

Paul Ginter, whom she had known as a teenager and met again a decade later, also had a job opportunity in Kalamazoo. Besides providing jobs for both of them, the move allowed Horneffer-Ginter to spend time with her mother. Then, in March 2007, Horneffer-Ginter and her husband, along with Patricia Frawley, started the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness, on Peeler Street in Kalamazoo.

With her Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit manuscript accepted by a major New York publisher, Horneffer-Ginter came to appreciate even more her slower-paced Midwestern roots. “There’s a hundred things the publishing industry says you should do,” she says. “Be bold, PR-minded. Play the game and play it big.”

“But my personality is still that of a Midwesterner. It’s a stretch for me to deliver my elevator pitch in 20 seconds. Yet, they all say, ‘What’s your brand? What’s your pitch? Say it quickly. Be succinct. Be confident.’ All of this kind of stuff is so different than the softness and humility of being raised here.”

Nevertheless, she acknowledges that she is marketing her book via her website, social media, book blog tours, excerpts and articles on websites such as The Huffington Postand The Caregiver Space, a companion course through the inspirational website DailyOM, Internet and radio interviews, book trailers, a reading excerpt on YouTube, and speaking engagements locally and throughout the Midwest.

Yet Horneffer-Ginter defines busyness in her own grounded, Kalamazooan way — in companionship with a supportive and easygoing husband whom she says “is a lovely complement,” raising her creative and active children who are now 14 and 12, counseling clients and educating students who will become the next generation of holistic counselors — and promoting the message of her book, of course.

With much on her plate, Horneffer-Ginter still appreciates taking the time to sit in stillness, sip from her full cup and quench her thirsty spirit.


“My personality is still that of a Midwesterner. It’s a stretch for me to deliver my elevator pitch in 20 seconds. Yet, they all say, ‘What’s your brand? What’s your pitch? Say it quickly. Be succinct. Be confident.’ All of this kind of stuff is so different than the softness and humility of being raised here.”
—Karen Horneffer-Ginter