Through the Fog


Sometimes words or encouragement or sitting with someone is not enough. Depression is that insidious. It doesn’t play fair; it has no rules, rhyme, or reason. It doesn’t respond to life even at its best.

“Reach out to someone because you never know” is not bad advice. But simply being kind to someone is not enough to stop an avalanche. It’s a drop of water in a desert. It’s not as if enough words will suddenly activate a lever that stops depression in its tracks. It shouldn’t be on family or friends to find a magical threshold, as if the right amount or combination of words was ever going to help.

Being a presence, to be there for someone, is always enough to give—but it may not always be enough to save.
You may not feel adequate enough to help someone who struggles with depression, but that was always true: you can’t be enough all the time.

We cannot cure terminal, and some sorrows only get healed by heaven. That’s a terrible, awful, unfair truth. But God forbid if I ever go that way, I hope you will be released from the guilt of thinking that it was up to you somehow.
When I enter that fog of depression, I’m always aware this might be it. This might be the one that wins. I wish I could tell you that your prayers and messages and books and casseroles and pizza dates and medicine and therapy and holding my tears will get me to the other side. So far, it’s worked. One day, I don’t know. I hope to God it will keep working. For one more day, I hope so. To experience your love and laughter and kindness is still worth it to suffer this fog.

— J.S.

To Wait, To Hurt


So my wife and I have been trying to have a child for eight months now. No news yet. I know that eight months is not a long time. I’ve heard it can take years. But—it’s been a little discouraging. Sometimes painful.

I was watching a couple of those cute Disney World videos the other day: a dad plays piano at a Disney hotel while his daughter cheers him on, or a mom takes his daughter dressed up as BB-8 to see BB-8. I love watching that kind of stuff these days. And I didn’t expect to feel a strange, almost fiery ache in my chest. It’s a bit embarrassing. Like vicarious joy and hope and jealousy and wistful delight all mixed up and rolling around inside.

Is that weird? Small? Over the top? I don’t know. It feels crappy, truthfully.
I’m really waiting and wanting to be a dad. I didn’t expect it to hurt this much.

I’ve noticed there isn’t a lot of literature for guys who are waiting. I know this is a much harder role for women, and I don’t mean to compare. But it’s hard to know where to go or who to talk to about it. It’s a compound loneliness, when it feels like no one really cares that you’re lonely.

One thing I’m learning in the process is that I don’t control a thing. Very little, really. Miracles are God’s business. I can’t make that happen. It’s frustrating. Humbling. Exhausting. It’s enough to make me pray and do a little light cursing. That’s the language of waiting.

The one thing I’m holding on to is the old cliché: the waiting isn’t wasted. I’d like to think so, anyway. I’d like to think the waiting means something. That it’s redeemed somehow. Is it? I really hope so.

— J.S.

Still You Are


I cannot promise that life gets better. Life can be cruel, unfair, intolerable. People can be downright mean. Failure and rejection will happen. Risks don’t always pay off. You will miss chances and opportunities. Injuries and disease are a real danger. Our brains are often broken by depression and other lifelong illnesses. People will leave.

But none of these things—absolutely none of them—determine your worth as a person. Nothing that has happened to you gets the say on who you are. Of course, life hurts. We’re allowed to hurt. We’re allowed to be mad. We can vent and yell and shake a fist at God. All of that is being human. But all the ways in which life can be unfair do not have a single thing to say about you as a person. You are loved, regardless. You are loved simply because you were born. For me, that’s often enough for the next breath. Looking back, I’m glad I breathed again.

As it were, your life has launched into being, and it is the one song you get to sing. It is a song full of beauty and terror. It is a tree full of colors and crevices. There are wonderful and terrible things that life has to offer. But all of it is yours. I hope you lean into it as much as you can. It’s a crazy and ridiculous thing to be alive. I remember the philosopher saying when we look at “how things are” then we will go mad, but if we see “that things are,” that things even exist at all, we might find joy in the madness.

No, I do not feel loved all the time. It comes and goes, often based on my performance or my mood or from some bad pizza the night before. We are weird temperamental creatures. We are capable of having complete blissful giddy euphoria in one second, then chest-crushing deflated saddening numbness the next. Again, none of these things determine your worth. You are loved through and through. You were loved before you got here. You are loved, outside of your age or achievements or acclaim or applause. You are loved. I mean it.

— J.S.

Believe It


You are loved.

You might have heard that a million times, but it’s no less true.

You do have a Creator. He is with you. He is bigger than your situation and closer than your deepest hurt. He’s not mad. He is cheering for you and rooting for you this very second. He’s okay about all the things before. He sent His Son for that very reason.

You can put down the blade. You can throw away the pills. You can quit replaying those regrets in your head. You can quit the inner-loop of self-condemnation. You can forget your ex. You can walk away from the things and people that destroy you. You can resolve your conflicts right now. You can sign up to volunteer at that shelter. You can have the courage to stand up for justice in the street, in your office, in your home. You can forgive your parents. You can forgive your children. You can draw boundaries and say no. You can go back to church. You don’t have to sit in the back. You don’t have to prove your worth to the people you’ve let down. You don’t have to live up to everyone else’s vision for your life. You’re finally, finally free.
You are loved. I am loved.

As much as I love you, dear friend, He loves you infinitely more.

Believe it. Walk in it. Walk with Him.

God is in the business of breathing life into hurting places.

This is what He does, even for the least likely like you and me.

— J.S.

Lessons I Learned from Leaving My Evangelical Church

A year ago, I left my evangelical church. I’m still glad I left. But I made a lot of mistakes along the way and I learned some important lessons.

Continue reading “Lessons I Learned from Leaving My Evangelical Church”

Thank You, Friends


Here I am, super excited, in front of the publishing house in Chicago. I turned in the final draft of my book just a few weeks ago. The book will be out May 2020, and I seriously can’t wait for you to read it.

I’m thankful for all those who have helped to get me here. I’ll never get over it. I have realized over and over that no one can do this alone, and that no one is a main character unto themselves. I’ve been grateful to be in the shadow of wonderful leaders. I’m happy to be their support, sidekick, and cheerleader. I’m learning that the goal isn’t to be a hero of my own story, but to help you be the hero of yours. God bless and much love to each of you.
— J.S.

I Signed a Book Deal


Hey friends! I’m excited to announce that a few months ago, I signed a book deal with Moody Publishers. I’ll be under their imprint Northfield Publishing, which also publishes the bestseller The Five Love Languages.

My book will be called The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise. I talk about wrestling with different voices including self-doubt, people-pleasing, trauma, grief, and family dynamics, and finding your voice amidst mixed messages. The book is also memoir-ish and goes through my journey as a hospital chaplain, my strange Asian-American upbringing, and constantly questioning if I’m wearing pants right now.

Along with my wife, parents, and brother, I’ve dedicated the book to my dear friend John Edgerton, who passed away a couple months ago.

I recently met the Moody Team in Chicago and they’re a fantastic, spectacular, and absolutely dedicated group of people. (I also got them to do the wow face.) I felt truly loved and heard. While they work with hundreds, even thousands of people, they spoke with me as if I was their one and only client. It’s not something you can fake. I really appreciate their push towards diversity and that they’ve given me the freedom to write with my whole self, no holding back, with the ugliest parts of my story. They championed and advocated for authenticity the whole way. I’m glad to be partnering with Moody and I can’t wait for you to read the book.

The release date is May of 2020, just nine months away. Be on the lookout for a launch campaign, for podcast and radio interviews, and for free content.

God bless, friends, and much love to each of you. Thank you for being a part of the journey here.
— J.S.

The Three Hardest Words


Dear friend: I know you might have had a picture of how you wanted your life to be, but some terrible tragedy swept it away. We all have a certain picture of how we want our lives to be, and sometimes it gets ripped from our grip and smashed to pieces. Our dreams can get crushed in an instant, no matter how much you’ve planned, with irreversible results.

You might be living in a life right now that doesn’t feel like it’s yours. You might be in a different place than you had hoped for, than you had imagined a year ago, a month ago, a minute ago. Your heart will pull for another chance, another door, another world.

The three hardest words to live with are often: In the meantime.
Yet — in the meantime is the whole thing.
If you’re waiting for your “real life” to start after the heartache, or even after good things like graduation or a wedding or when you get to the big city, you’ll stay in a holding pattern. The time will pass anyway. The tide doesn’t wait.
So I hope you’ll consider starting in the meanwhile.

When a dream dies, it dies. We can mourn. We can pound our chest. We can bleed. And at some point, you can open your hands to another dream. I hope you find it. It might even look a lot like your old one: but you won’t. It’s you that will be new.
You can overcome what’s over, because you’re not over yet.
When the ten count is over: you can count to eleven.
What comes next will not be what you had envisioned. I hope you’ll keep dreaming anyway. I hope you‘ll consider God can do a new thing.
You are free to pursue something new.
— J.S.

Stand Against, and Stand For


In sixth grade, I had this friend who was six foot two. He was twelve years old, with wrists the size of my torso. Imagine that: my own personal giant.

He became my voice.

His name was Tripp. I was bullied a lot in sixth grade, but when Tripp was around, nobody tried to clown me. One time, Tripp wrapped his hand around a kid’s head like it was an apple, and no kidding, just like a crane out of heaven, he gently placed the kid on the other side of the hall from me. For weeks, that apple-headed kid had been telling me to go back to China. After the crane incident, Apple-Head never bothered me again.

The thing is, nobody should need a guy like Tripp. We should all get an equal distribution of voice. But that isn’t how it is right now. People get squashed. Silenced. Stuffed in a locker. Told to get on a boat.

Really, I wish everybody had a guy like Tripp who spoke up for them. I wish that nobody needed a guy like Tripp, either. Until then, I’m grateful for the people in the hallway who speak up. Not just online, but in dorms and cafes and churches and check-out lines, when it’s not easy or popular, when it costs something, when no one is looking and when everyone is. I hope to be that guy, too. A crane out of heaven.

— J.S.

Grieve Angry


The other week, a shooting took six lives and I thought, “That’s not too bad.” I immediately felt sick. Because this isn’t normal. It isn’t okay. And I don’t want to get numb, desensitized, detached, withdrawn. I don’t ever want to get over the anger and grief of how “normal” this has become—whether it’s thirty, six, or one.

It’s a national habit to look at the death toll, but shootings really destroy lives twice. At the hospital, we regularly receive GSW (gunshot wound) patients through the ER. Many survive. Sometimes, surviving is worse. The trauma of it. The nightmares. To witness such a thing is a lifelong wound. The death tolls are horrific, but the mental and emotional toll is just as destructive. I’ve been up close with GSW victims and families—and I can’t watch the news with neutral disinterest. I can’t watch movie violence the same way. I will never get the smell out of my nostrils. When you sit among people with bullet wounds, you see most political “dialogue” for what it really is: fear, cowardice, pomp, rationalizations, and self-aggrandizing, all which speak past the victims instead of for them. I hope I’m not doing the same thing. Please tell me if I am. Please tell me what I can do.

I don’t know if anything will change. Again. It seems hopeless. But I want to grieve angry. I don’t want to calm down. I want courage. And compassion. And champions who will make waves so that something will change. God, keep us loud. God, give us strength.

J.S.

What Am I About


Towards the end, when my then girlfriend came home later and later and stopped picking up my calls, I’d get in my beat-down Corolla and try to find her. Windows open, stomach twisting, December air pouring in: I have to find her.

What would I do, though, if I did?
Storm in and madly declare my love? Fight the other guy? Rant and sob and flail as they stare?
How exactly does this scene end?

I drive everywhere. Hotels, theaters, restaurants, subdivisions, complexes. I ball up my fists and strike my own forehead, stay awake, stay alert, mad that I only have two eyes, mad at myself for doing this.

At a complex, I find her car. With the Columbus State sticker. I wait. The sun comes up, a wax smear. A door opens. I think it’s her. She’s with someone. They kiss, I think. I knew it. All this time. I get out of there. I end up in a hospital.

It’s embarrassing to remember this story. I learned the hard way that it’s possible to get so attached to someone that you want to die, that you can’t imagine going on. You can become sick enough in your stomach over another person that your very life is coiled with theirs. And to plant a soul in something so collapsible leads to a life that is untenable.

There’s a codependency so overwhelming that you wait for the other person’s every text, flinch at their every move, hang on their every word, cater to their every whim. It’s a panicked, mindless, gut-squeezing desperation, a constant seasick cramp that craves a look, the nod, their attention.

On the surface, it probably looked like I really loved The Girl from Columbus State. But my over-attachment made me controlling, manipulative, overbearing—and really, I drove her away. It was as much her decision as it was mine. I blame myself.

I learned that I can only love others when I enter into their lives with a surplus, and not to steal their worth for my own. That requires knowing who I am, to know what I’m really about.
I had to ask myself:
Who am I without you?
What are my non-negotiables?
What am I called to contribute?
What am I made to do? To be?
What am I about?
— J.S.

Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— J.S.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— J.S.

To You, John


I’ve always been uncomfortable speaking. I have a bad case of stage fright and I’ve been introverted long before it was internet points. It might be hard to see but I’m shaking and sweating up there. The very thought of speaking makes my guts go funny. Plus, I’ve been told my actual voice sounds like one of those surfer turtles in Finding Nemo.

I spoke on Sunday just hours before John’s funeral. At one point during the message, I paused for a a very long five seconds. It wasn’t because of the stage fright. Of course, I thought about John. Every Wednesday where I work, we have a chapel service, and John was always there. Every single Wednesday. It makes me crazy thinking he won’t be at chapel anymore. He was always the first to enter the the doors, the first to share a prayer request, to enter the discussion, and the last to leave after talking about the sermon for ten minutes. Sometimes weeks later he’d tell me, “Hey I tried that thing you preached about three weeks ago.” I hardly remember what I ate yesterday. But he was that kind of guy.

I’d like to think in some way that John will be there. Cheering us on. Making the church exactly what it should be. Here’s to you brother.
— J.S.

(And thank you to my brother Pastor DL of Harvest KPCO for extending the honor to preach. Love you man. Your church is just as generous and wonderful as you.)

To Be Set Free Takes Honesty


Honesty is the first step to healing. It’s really difficult to confront your own ugliness inside. It’s hard to confront your own selfishness; it’s threatening to confess that you are wrong. But it’s only with a reckless self-confrontation that you can be liberated from the lies you have believed. You can see the lie for what it really is. It’s only by stepping back from the momentum of darkness that has swallowed up your vision that you will begin to see once more. The light is staggering, blinding, painful, and even humiliating, but to see yourself as you really are is to begin the path to be set free.
— J.S.

You Can’t Be Too Hard on People


A homeless man once told me: “You can’t be too hard on people. They only know the world they came from.”

I’d like to believe that everyone’s trying their best with what they have in all the ways they know how. Maybe not everyone’s trying their best. But it doesn’t help anyone if we don’t believe the best about them. And that’s my best: to believe we’re trying.
— J.S.

Grace Is Something Different


Grace is thoughtful. It considers a back-story, an upbringing, their trauma and trials, the whole person, and not just a tiny single slice of their life.

Grace brings wholeness to a hasty judgement; it regards my own flaws first, in light of the grace I’ve also been given.

Grace brings what could be instead of what should’ve been. Grace covers my past and empowers my future. Grace does not shame. It does not enable. It does not condemn nor condone, but convicts and re-creates.

Grace confronts the worst of a person and does not shy away from surgical rebuke. At our worst, we realize how much we must confront the ugliness inside. But grace restores there, in the wreckage. It sees what is both our doing and the undoing of others; it sees both our affliction and the pain that was inflicted. It is always healing the fractured fallen weary sinner.

Grace is what we least want to give but most need to receive. Jesus saw what we deserved, but gave us what we needed instead. That’s grace. Not merely unconditional love, but counter-conditional, unfazed, unrelenting.

— J.S.

About to Get a Therapist: How Do I Do This?

Anonymous asked a question:

Hey there. so I’m going to be starting counseling soon and I’m kind of anxious about it. Do you have any advice on opening up to a new medical professional?

Hey dear friend, that’s great news you’re getting counseling. If it were up to me, I wish we could all have a mental health scholarship to get a counselor.

In my experience here’s what I’ve found to be helpful in a therapeutic alliance. It’s a lot, but of course, you don’t have to memorize these or anything. Maybe even one thing here will give you some peace. And friends, if I missed anything, please comment below.

Continue reading “About to Get a Therapist: How Do I Do This?”

How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?

Anonymous asked a question

You know what? I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards Westboro Baptist Church and I’ve searched for Christians who have reached out and I could only find two on the whole internet. I’ve noticed Christians disassociate themselves with them understandably but I think they are victims in many ways but ultimately been held in bondage by the enemy. I don’t hear about enough of us praying for them for their own sake. What do you think?

Hey dear friend, I think this is extremely kind and generous of you. 

It’s true that the members of Westboro Baptist Church, in a sense, are victims of their founder Fred Phelps. In fact, his granddaughters Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper left the Westboro cult around 2012. They’ve both since become activists, particularly Megan Phelps-Roper. They certainly deserve our compassion and empathy and a second chance. Megan credits Twitter users with changing her mind about Westboro, because it was there she found gracious and real people who were willing to dialogue with her. It’s possible that in our lifetime, Westboro will cease to exist. 

Here’s the thing. The Westboro cult is inexcusably terrible. No one should ever feel like they have to reach out to them. It’s up to each person to decide whether they’re called to dialogue with them, pray for them, or connect with them. No one should feel less compassionate just because they’re not reaching out to Westboro. Some people are simply gifted at reaching out to very difficult people. Some of us were never meant to.

Continue reading “How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?”

Challenge What You Believe


Our convictions can only be as strong as the questions we ask.

I’ve been in places where questions got me shamed, assaulted, and destroyed. Our platforms of social media, church, politics, and campuses might seem open-minded and willing to dialogue, but if you move against the status quo, you’re likely to be called a heretic, sinner, apostate, or ridiculous. Most places will stomp out dissension and cancel you if you mess up a single time. We can play the game of “we are a safe place,” but conflict always shows our true selves.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. I don’t like asking uncomfortable questions, or being challenged with ideas I’ve never heard, or assuming that my precious ideas are too narrow and naive, when really my own ideas have never evolved. I’ve shut down disagreeable opinions not because the content was unsound, but because I was comfortable where I was. God forgive me for covering my ears to a better version of life.

If you’re in a place that won’t ask questions and always reject what you ask, then 1) you might be called to shake the status quo, or 2) it’s time to leave.

I want beliefs that have been strengthened by skepticism, that have gone through the crucible of confrontation, experience, and a choir that doesn’t always echo each other. I want truth that will keep me through darkness. I need a faith full of doubt to make it through the hardest valley. I want resilience born of grit and growth.

— J.S.