A Voice to Carry You



My book comes out on May 5th, in just a couple days. I’m grateful to so many.

I believe that no one is a self-made person. People enter our lives, whether for a second or a season or decades, and they support us. But perhaps more importantly, they speak into us.

I want to thank two people in particular. In grade school, I had a teacher that I’ll call Ms. Macklin. After we did a short story assignment, she took me aside after class and said, “You need an agent.” At first I thought she said, “You need an Asian.” Maybe she was telling me I needed an Asian friend, since I was the only one in the entire school. But she explained, “A literary agent. You know, to get your work published. It has to be published.”

Before this encounter, I had always wanted to be a writer. I had carried around a notepad since I was five or so. I wrote stories about the ducks at the local pond, especially about this one duck who had a lopsided wing. I made up an entire conspiracy about how the town was polluting the water and causing the ducks to be sideways. The twist: the ducks were fighting each other, and it was the violence that caused them to be lopsided (and yes, they eventually united to stop the pollution too).

Ms. Macklin believed in me. It was really the first time someone had commented on my writing. It put the bug in my ear: “It has to be published.”

In community college, I met Professor Marcus, who preferred to be called Rocky. She smelled like potpourri and was fond of wearing trench coats, probably made of hemp. She took me aside after class (this is a common tactic apparently), and told me, “I say this to everyone but I only mean it once in a blue moon. You have to be a writer.” Rocky coached me. That entire semester she poured into me: how to write, edit, edit, edit, simplify, clarify, amplify. It was hard. It was wonderful. Like an education at Hogwarts. What a gift she was.

Ms. Macklin and Professor Rocky are still a part of me. Their voice, the gentle way they corrected me, their kind way of saying hello when I entered. I was a lonely kid a lot of the time. But they made it bearable. And they made me a writer. Just thinking of them, my heart swells. Where would we be without the people who look us in the eye and with total confidence say, “You, you got the stuff, you got what it takes, and you, I even like you, and I like what you bring into the world” …?

I’m thankful. So thankful for the teachers, leaders, mentors, counselors, therapists, parents, random elders at the airport, the security guards who paused to chat, and the man who helped push my car out of the road after an accident in the rain: each of you made me a writer. I hope I spoke into you even a fraction of what you spoke into me.

I’m thankful for you. In a world such as this, you have been strength and beauty.
— J.S.

Even If I Don’t Get It


Once I had this friend who was embarrassed by my laughter. At the movies, he would literally shove my shoulder to tell me to quiet down. At first I just stopped laughing around him. But eventually I stifled my laughter around everybody.

That same friend couldn’t believe it when I was sad about something, or hurt, or not enjoying myself. I was being a downer, I guess. I was interrupting his life.

We went hiking once and he kept telling me to smile. “Why don’t you laugh?” he said. He knew I had lung issues and breathing problems. But he wouldn’t slow down for me, not for a second.

We’re not friends anymore, but here’s the thing: I don’t think we were ever friends. He wanted a customizable, checklisted, wishlisted type of robot that met his every whim. That was all. He couldn’t imagine another person with needs beyond his own. And I was happy to cater to him. There was something about his bully-like authority that I was attracted to, as if I got strength from his domineering. But no, we were never friends. I was his rug, his lapdog.

I could be mad at him, but I’m guilty of the same thing. Sometimes I don’t understand a person’s fears, dreams, and goals, and I judge them for it. I don’t get their hobbies or the movies or music they like or the fact they love quinoa and kale. Mentally I belittle them for being them.

We do this with mental health, gender, race, culture, their stories: it’s as if we withhold permission for people to feel hurt about the things that don’t hurt us. “It’s never happened to me, therefore it never happens” is the most destructive lie that destroys connection.

But I want to get it. I want to get your fear, anxiety, pain, your worries and heartaches and shame. Your whole story. To really listen means that another person’s story is more important than my own right then. But that’s how we grow. That’s how we heal. That’s how we find laughter, loud and free.

I’m sorry I didn’t listen earlier. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. I want to. I want to hear you, and by hearing, fully see.

— J.S.

Holding My Book, “The Voices We Carry”


Good Friday to you, friends. My publisher sent my books early for me. It’s incredible and surreal to finally hold my book in my hands.

My book launch team is still open if you would like to help support the book release. You get an advance copy of the book, giveaways (like art by Red Hong Yi), Q&As, and live video chats: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thevoiceswecarry

You can also preorder my book here, which releases May 5th: https://www.amazon.com/The-Voices-We-Carry/dp/0802419895

God bless and much love to you, friends. All peace and grace be with you.
— J.S.

[Thank you, awesome team at Moody Publishers.]


Why I Needed Parasite

The cast and crew of "Parasite," including Yang Jinmo, Han Jin Won, Kwak Sin Ae, Lee Ha Jun, Yang-kwon Moon, Song Kang Ho, Cho Yeo Jeong Lee Sun Kyun, and Bong Joon Ho arrive at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)


I saw Parasite / 기생충 in a packed theater with a diverse crowd. Looking around, I never could’ve imagined a day in the States when such an audience would watch a movie in my language, with my people, telling our stories.

It really meant a lot to me. I have to tell you why.

I remember in middle school when someone assaulted me while yelling “you ch_nk yellow belly.” Someone shoving me in a hallway telling me to go back to where I came from. Multiple times someone would squint their eyes, do their version of an Asian accent, pose at me like Bruce Lee, all while high-fiving each other. Having to endure that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, being told it was “art.” Someone in my college history class telling me that Korea needed to be nuked, and “it doesn’t matter which one.” I remember when my dad’s business was spray-painted with a swastika. I remember inexplicable rage when some kid yelled “your dad killed my dad in the war,” and his dad picking him up later after he was sent to detention.

Art, music, film, books: these things have the power to take away our fear, our bigotry, our assumptions. They turn masses into individuals. They turn cartoons into real people. For someone like me, I have to prove daily I am a real person. For art to put my story into public consciousness is allowing me more room to breathe, to exist.

A part of me wishes a movie like Parasite could’ve been accepted earlier. Seeing a face like mine on a big screen has an immense affect on how we see each other. But more than that, a good story, like the one in Parasite, makes us more human. Hearing more stories makes us better, more whole, more gracious. We need diverse stories, and good ones.

During the movie, I looked around. Seeing so many faces enraptured by a powerful story, taken in by faces that looked like mine, I wept. Certainly I wept because the movie was incredible. But I wept feeling something I never had before: a kinship with strangers. Humanization. The image of the divine, seen and known.

After the movie ended, we all sat in our seats for a while. Collectively, our breath was taken away. And collectively, we were sharing breath. Maybe I’m making too much of a movie. I suppose it’s a silly thing to weep about. It only tells me how long I have been deprived of such connection. These stories, they’re important to tell.

J.S.


This was posted on my Facebook here and Instagram here.


Still Believing the Best


In the end, you can’t force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.

You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.

You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.

You can’t force an apology.

You can’t force someone to engage in justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.

You can’t force growth.

You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.

In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this to others as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that can leave us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care if others don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be cynical to cynicism. Because I don’t want to perpetuate one more cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to react to someone’s reaction all the time. And I must believe the best of others, because change does not happen by standing over, but standing with, in trust.
No, I cannot force change on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.

— J.S.

With Hope Intact


I have to admit I often weep reading the news. It’s exhausting. Infuriating. Heartrending. I always want to do something, but I’m not sure where to start, how to help, who to ask. There are so many ways to help, but it never seems enough. The needs are overwhelming.

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 are not yet fully arrived, not yet fully home, but we bring a glimpse of home to a world so tired and torn.
— J.S.

Top 19 Posts of 2019

Here are my Top Ten Posts of 2019, from leaving church to codependency to suicide awareness to my favorite female influences.


Runner-Up: I Signed a Book Deal

19) Grace Is Something Different

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

17) The Only Time a Christian Goes First

16) Healing from a Breakdown Over a Break-Up

15) Are You Secretly a Liberal Who Hates Conservatives?

14) What Am I About: On Codependency

13) How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?

12) Why Do You Love Your Wife?

11) My Favorite Female Influences

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

9) My Greatest Fear Is Death

8) Lessons I Learned from Leaving My Evangelical Church

7) How Do I Confront a Friend Who Is “Sinning”?

6) When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome

5) Is Suicide the One Unforgivable Sin?

4) The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests

3) How Do I Open Myself Up to Friends Again?

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

1) I Am Not My Depression

Loneliness: The Unnamed Pain


Let’s talk about loneliness.

I’m not a therapist or doctor, but as a hospital chaplain, I’ve seen the terrible and awful effects of loneliness on mental health. The problem is that it’s tough to admit, almost embarrassing to say, “I’m hurting from loneliness.”

Loneliness is a double-bind in that in order to find comfort, it requires reaching out to people or for people to be near. But some of us have been alone so long, it’s unthinkable that we can connect with another human without risking rejection—which fuels more loneliness.

The unhelpful reply I hear to “I’m lonely” is “Why don’t you just make friends?” But that’s like saying, “Why don’t you just get rich?” or “Why can’t you just go to the gym?” We’re already in deficit, a lap behind, because we fear connection in proportion to how alone we feel.

It’s difficult to make friends and keep them. It’s hard to have real friendships that are not just functional transactions. Even when someone is surrounded by crowds or well connected, they may be the loneliest people on earth, because all their “friends” are transactional.

I don’t know the answer to loneliness. But I know what the answer is not: We can’t just snap out of it. We can’t just cure it with a party, a bar, a church, a dating app. It requires intentional investment and yes, the risk of rejection. The opposite of loneliness is courage. It takes courage to reach out, to enter each other’s orbit, to risk trust, and to be alone in our thoughts and fears.

Friends, this week may be lonely. This season can be brutal. They can remind you of all that’s missing. As trite as it sounds: You may feel lonely, but you are not alone. May you find the courage to reach out, to enter the possibilities of love in all its heaven and heartache.
— J.S.

The Only Time a Christian Is 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.

It’s Not Always Persecution


If your faith is making you a jerk, throw it out and start over. If your faith makes you want to fight “worldly people” all the time and you‘re always shaking your head at “this generation,” then your god is too small and your god is probably you.

One of the reasons I was an atheist for so long is because I often wondered if religion makes people worse. Objectively worse. Religion seems to set up a battle position in which “I must guard the truth” and “If you disagree, you’re the enemy, the infidel, the heathen, and evidence of the apocalypse.”

Instead of serving the poor and welcoming foreigners and loving the rejected—you know, the stuff that the Bible cares about—money is spent basically enforcing a kid’s fort with passwords and Don’t Enter signs and alarmist war strategies against a phantom caricature that’s only made up to feel like something important is being fought for.

My guess is that some religious folks do not see their faith as a gift that has saved them, but rather as a weapon by which they must “save” everyone else. So then, the kingdom-military-triumphalist language in the Bible is lifted to boost the ego and separate from “worldliness” and to claim that any criticism against the church is “an attack against the family.” It makes Christians look really weird. I don’t mean that in a good way, like “Wow she’s so weird for giving away money to fight human trafficking.” I mean weird as in “He just hurled that venti Starbucks coffee at the barista because it didn’t say Christmas on it.”

Yes, persecution exists. Which is all the more reason that saying persecution can never, ever be used in a comfortable context. God stop me if I ever think I’m being persecuted when I’m really being called out and held accountable. God help me if I ever use my faith to divide, out of superiority, as a lens of cynicism, instead of giving me hope that we are all within God’s grasp, His grace, His peace.
— J.S.

More Than All That’s Happened


If you’ve grown up in the same town long enough, most people assume you’re the same person you always were. They can’t see past the past version of you.

I wonder a lot: Are we doomed to our former selves, time-stamped to who we used to be? Will the things we’ve done and used to do always drag at at our heels, a permanent anchor?

There are days I keep imagining what other people are saying about me. I imagine a room full of them shaking their heads. “A chaplain? Who’s he kidding? I know who he really is. He’s not the guy he pretends to be. Nobody like him could change.” It keeps me up at night. I mentally argue with them until I’ve finally proven I’m not that same guy. I’ll spend hours inside my own head explaining my side of the story and why you need to know I’m not a bad person and that I’m sorry for the person I was before.

But you know, no one may get to hear your side of the story. No one might believe you’ve changed. Even when you do the right thing, you’ll be accused of wrong motives. And you are still accountable to the wrong you’ve done, as much as others are accountable for how they’ve wronged you.

But there is a grace that says you are different now, and the old you is dead. Buried. No longer you. Maybe no one will know you’ve encountered the kind of grace that has not just changed you, but made you completely new. Your trauma, your guilt, your past, your labels: they’re taken in by grace, by a love that sees in whole and stays. Imagine that. The world may call you something, but you are more. You are new. You are always more.
— J.S.

I’m Sorry for the Bad Advice


It‘ll happen. You’ll give bad advice. I have given plenty. And it seems every season, I end up disagreeing with a lot of things I’ve said the season before. So is advice ever really any good?

I’ve met people who will say things like, “A long time ago you told me ___ and it really changed me.” And sometimes I panic. Do I even agree with what I said before? Wasn’t I a different person then? Wasn’t I just saying flowery poetic idealistic stuff that wasn’t field tested? That I wasn’t even living out myself?

Here’s where we need to be cautious. The advice we hear, whether from a friend or blogger or leader or pastor or celebrity or book or podcast, is probably good advice. But it might not be for you in your current walk of life. It might just be for that person, in that season, and they grew past it already. Or their advice was something they just made up, and it was never time tested or proven. It sounded pretty, but would never work in the dirt, in the hustle, in the hurt.

It’s amazing how a string of eloquent and witty combination of buzzwords can truly change a life. But I also worry that those same words can take us down a path not meant for us. Or it worked at the time, but can’t now. Or those words came from a version of myself that was a moron, and has learned much better. So the advice you’re hearing from somebody is just a temporal snapshot. It’s a set of clothes, and you can outgrow those.

Don’t trust me. Don’t trust this. Don’t trust an articulate, punchy, hyped up blog post or TED Talk just because of a few flashy graphics and catchphrases. Discern. Think through it. Investigate. Hear many opinions, not just one. Search yourself. Trust your own tears; they’re speaking. Seek new ideas. Seek God. Seek what is timeless. And don’t be too ashamed of your older self: that person believed some weird things, but those were growing pains. You’ll always feel weird about your old self, but that means renovation has happened.

— 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.

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.

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.