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 And I don’t want to get numb, desensitized, detached, withdrawn.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.

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.

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How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?

Anonymous asked a question:

I read a text post from you about wanting friendship just for appreciation of the person, not opportunism. I used to be like that. But somehow through the hurt I’ve accumulated from people, real relationships feel too fragile. To cope, I found myself using people for clear defined reasons, than sentimentality. It has kept me safe, but I feel like I’ve lost a part of my humanity too. How can I love people for who they are despite the total possibility of being letdown?

Hey dear friend, thank you for your very honest message.

I went through a very similar phase where for years, I couldn’t trust anyone. I had been brutally hurt by a church and I never thought I would recover. I did. It took a ton of therapy and self-examination and safe people to get there.

Continue reading “How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?”

The Only Time a Christian Goes First


When I preach love in a time like this, my words aren’t credible because the church is not. I can’t help but feel the church is always part of the problem. We contributed to this mess.

The church is called to be the safest, most gracious place on the face of the earth. Not perfect, but passionate, with arms open as wide as the cross. I know I’ve fallen short. God help us. God start with me.

— J.S.


I Hope You Will Hear Me


Eventually I’ll say something that you’ll disagree with. I will disappoint you. I’ll come off brash, inconsiderate, ignorant, and misinformed. Your favorite writer or pastor or celebrity will miss an angle or fumble a point or miss the whole thing. You’ll think, “How could I have ever liked this guy?” We then dismiss and demonize based off one sentence, one phrasing, one particular choice of word. I’ve done it, too. You know, farewell forever.

Maybe it’s for a legitimate reason, and they really did go too far. Then farewell, sure. But I wish we could give a little space for a conversation. Even over coffee. It’s possible this person misspoke because they’re just a person and they don’t always get it right. It could be that they need the patience of dialogue to re-examine what they said, instead of the hasty hate-train that offers no fair exchange. It could be they really didn’t know better, or they just needed a nap.

I want your help. I want to know when I’m wrong – but it’s hard to hear what’s right when everyone is yelling. I want the freedom to make mistakes so that I’m not afraid to learn from you. I don’t want to be afraid that you’ll throw things when I don’t phrase things exactly the perfect way. And really, I’m not sure if you would listen to yelling, either. I’d want the same chance you’d want for you, too.

I know there are some non-negotiables that can never be compromised. I cannot say every “side” is equal or that every platform is good. None of us will ever agree on everything. Sometimes we must part ways. And that’s okay. I just don’t want to judge an entire life over a few degrees of difference. We can disagree and still be friends. Even if we must part, I want to become better from our disagreements, to see what I had not seen before, and mostly, to see you. I will hear you.

— J.S.


The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests

Anonymous asked a question:

I’ve followed you for a while. I find solace in your blog. I recently did a Spiritual Gift Test in my leadership group at church. I scored a 23 in Mercy and Administration (out of 25), but I scored an 8 in Faith. The test is a tool to show your best qualities to serve your church. It really struck me hard, as I struggle with what God’s intentions are for me, and what my path is. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I just don’t know what to do anymore. 

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing your struggle here.

Please know: there are a lot of “spiritual tests” out there, and I wouldn’t trust them all very much. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions, of personality tests and horoscopes and “strengths finders” and “which Marvel character are you,” and while they’re fun, they should never become permanent labels that determine your growth and journey.

I have to ask, who is developing these tests? Is it like every other westernized test with a western bias? Are they evidence-based? And if so, how? How many people have been misled by these things? And in a hundred years when they develop better tests, are we all just doomed today?

The most famous test of all time, the Myers-Briggs, is absolutely not based on any evidence or science at all. It’s also highly binary without any sort of continuum or grey area. And since major companies have been hiring and firing people based on tests rather than interaction, it’s a really big deal that we take a step back from them without condemning ourselves to one singular fate.

In fact, if we take a step back from a lot of books and blogs, many of them can be helpful, but they should all be filtered through skepticism. Authors, pastors, celebrities, and “experts” can offer good-sounding advice that does nothing but sound good. Always, always discern.

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Compassion Fatigue: The Heartache of a Job That Requires All Heart

Anonymous asked a question:

I’m a medical social worker and quite new to the profession. For a long while I had thought that it was what I wanted to do in life. Now… I’m not quite sure. It’s exhausting and I’m not quite sure if it’s beneficial for my mental health in the long run… so many patients to see who need a lot of help but hospitals just want to hurry and discharge them. Part of me wonders if it’s worth it or is it better to just work an unemotional administrative job. Any advice? Prayer please

Hey dear friend, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I also applaud you for choosing your profession. I work alongside many social workers (I’m a hospital chaplain) and y’all are seriously the best of the best.

A few things. If you haven’t done so already, I would consider seeking therapy. It helps. Anyone in the field of service and healing takes on so much, and it’s too much for any one person to hold. It requires processing.

I would find experienced people in your field and be in conversation with them. Process with them. Ask them how they did it and how they continue to do so.

Some hospitals are not like others. I’m fortunate to work at a really good one where the nurses and doctors really care. Your issue might be the place you’re working at.

You had also mentioned it might be better to work an “unemotional administrative job.” I can tell you right now, almost any job is emotional, including admin. It really depends on how your workplace helps you to deal with those things.

Which brings us to “compassion fatigue.” This is a very real issue. Some of us (like me) over-identify with our patients and tend to feel everything all the time. It’s not entirely a bad thing, but it can also be draining. Some of us (also me) have a bit of a savior-martyr-hero syndrome and really need to check our motives. We need safer boundaries and more spaces of rest. We’re likely to pour out so much as if this is “sacrifice,” when really it’s self-harm and it ends up harming everyone.

It’s helpful to know what your rhythms look like. It’s worth asking: When do you get most tired? Most hurt? What do you do for rest? What is your body telling you today? What are your heart and mind saying? How can it be changed for better today?

Two other important things.

Continue reading “Compassion Fatigue: The Heartache of a Job That Requires All Heart”

In Darkness He Rolls the Stone


When I ask if God is good
I see a cross, an empty tomb.
What He writ large in the stars
is writ small for our wounds.
From the sky to my sin
He is re-making us again.
When nothing else is good,
He is the only one who is.
— J.S.

Jesus, Barabbas, You and Me


I wonder how they could yell Barabbas instead of Jesus.
I wonder how they sang “Hosanna” and days later, “Crucify him.”
I wonder how Pontius could wash his hands of it, as though a dirty conscience could be so easily cleaned.

But – I am Barabbas, sinner set free.
I yell “Crucify him” as I sing praises with ease.
I am Pontius, who turned a blind eye to glory.
And yet, so Christ still died for me.
Still he died, where I should be,
a perfect love on that tree.
J.S.


If You Say You Love God


It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.

What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.

It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.

This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.

No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.

J.S.

What I’m About


Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
J.S.

You Are My Family


I grieve with you. I am angry for you. I hurt with you. Your pain is my pain.
J.S.

I Am Not My Depression

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi J.S., as someone who has been diagnosed with depression, GAD, and PTSD, your writing has been a huge comfort. I wanted to ask this – have you come to accept your battle with depression? I still struggle to accept that my mood is out of my control. My faith has been rocked after the past few years of intense battling. I still get discouraged when I think that I have to work so hard to feel “normal” and even then, normalcy isn’t guaranteed. How do you continue to trust God and fight through?

Hey dear friend, first I want to encourage you: You are loved, you are incredible, you’re doing great.

My answer to your question, “Have you come to accept your battle with depression?” is both Yes and No.

Yes, I recognize that my brain is broken. Something essential to my well-being will always be missing. I will, out of nowhere, seemingly at random, fall into the abyss for long seasons. One day, my depression might win. I have accepted it as much as any person can accept they are mortally wounded. I have accepted the hand I’ve been dealt.

But no, I do not accept my depression. I am angry. I am livid. I am insulted by it. I hate what it does to my friends and family. And I have to fight. It’s exhausting. But I have to scream no. And I think part of my non-acceptance is what keeps me alive. I do not accept that God wanted this for me. I am open to therapy, to medicine, to every treatment available. I have to fight.

Continue reading “I Am Not My Depression”