All my books are available here! — J.S.
Officially graduated from my year long chaplain residency. Pics of our ceremony service. Thank you and love you friends, for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you to the incredible doctors, nurses, surgeons, unit coordinators, PCTs, environmental services, and every other unsung hero of the hospital. On to more chaplaincy and the next chapter!
Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
“A chaplain? What do you even do?” someone asks.
Usually I answer with the checklist stuff, because it sounds purposeful.
“Death and bereavement. Viewings. Living wills. Next-of-kin search. Find a surrogate. Bless babies. End-of-life support. Comfort families in the waiting room. Respond to a Code Blue. Pray.”
And then I say, “Mostly, I talk with sick people.”
To be truthful, the to-do list stuff is easier because it has tangible goals. It has an official air, with a definitive landing. But the talking part is weird and sloppy. It’s like slow dancing with a stranger.
Dialogue has no rules about it, which sounds romantic, but imagine two people trying to dance for the first time with their shoelaces jammed up in knots, and the patient expects me to a be a professional when half the time I’m learning on the fly as I adjust to the patient’s feet. It sounds cute but it’s clumsy.
Imagine trying to start a conversation when:
Case 1 — A young man drives off a bridge. The paramedics find a gunshot wound in his side. It’s possible he had been running from a drug bust gone bad. His entire family is notified; the man dies; the family is screaming at the top of their lungs in the waiting room.
Case 2 — A woman’s husband has just died. She’s handling it well. She even makes a few jokes next to her husband’s body; she’s had time to process his dying. But she’s more upset that her husband’s family is trying to grab at his will, his wealth, his house. The woman asks me what I can do.
Case 3 — An ex-convict has a body cast from head to toe. He believes that God might be punishing him. He confesses that he’s killed a few people; he wants to kill someone when he’s out of the hospital, but his sickness is changing his mind.
Case 4 — A boy under ten years old has been struck by a car. The boy is injured but recovering. His parents are taking shifts at his bedside; I walk in the room to find his mom. She’s relieved it wasn’t worse, but she’s scared.
Case 5 — An elderly woman is dying. She has no home, her family is out of state, and she thinks she’ll die alone. She asks me how to do a funeral, how to get right with God, how to reconcile with her husband.
Case 6 — A dying elderly man asks if it’s morally right to prolong his own life on an artificial machine.
Case 7 — A woman has had five heart attacks, but she’s not slowing down. Her two daughter are in the room, one who works at a hospital, and they’re both concerned for their mother’s health. She promises she wants to take care of herself, but her daughters are doubtful. They look to me for answers.
Do I tip-toe around their concerns? Or do I offer my opinion? Do I leave it open-ended? Or do I help them work it through?
Marriage is hard. Pretty pictures and bite-sized highlights might give you a false impression that it only takes sparks and looks: but the gritty reality is work, tears, and sacrifice. It’s a dance, everyday, to compromise and serve. In the depth of this tough humility, there can be great beauty. Real joy requires a fight from our very best.
Photo by The Ganeys
I did this photo shoot a few years ago with a ton of smiles and silly faces—but this picture was a bit closer to how I was really feeling. It was during one of the most miserable seasons of life, when depression had hit full force and I was contemplating The End every waking moment. I had gained over twenty lbs from binging and I randomly fell asleep in my office and I kept letting go of the steering wheel, daring myself to crash. No one knew what was happening; I tried to tell someone but he laughed it off: “Look at you, how could you be so stressed when you’re so blessed?” So I kept up the smiles and silliness, all while my insides were wax dipped in acid, melted to the thinnest thread, stretched between bones across a chasm. I was Zeno’s paradox, motionless in motion. I was begging God to kill me.
I wanted to give up: but no. God said no. He was stubborn, and so I was, too. I hustled. I fought the dark with everything, both fists swinging, screaming and laughing at the same time, crawling by my bare fingernails to the lip of the well I had been cast down. Slowly, painfully, somehow, I made it through, mostly because I kept waking up and I was astounded to find myself still breathing, and because I gained ground by inches. Colors returned; the fog lifted over time; I found people I could tell; I got a dog and I lost the weight and I survived. It’s not as romantic as it sounds, and I don’t know if the next one will win. But that time, at least, I did. He did. God didn’t answer my prayer then, and it was the best “no” that I’ve ever gotten. I’m here, just barely. So is He, completely.
— J.S. Park
“Because the Bible says so.” Okay, but whose interpretation? Yours? Mine? From the era of the Crusades? When they were burning people at the stake? When it was used to support slavery? What if we have different conclusions? What if we’re both wrong?
One time after church, I texted this girl “You looked great today” and she didn’t reply. And then I felt horribly stupid, like just beat-myself-up stupid. You know, that swimmy sick-to-your-stomach anxiety when you want to jump out the window with a desk tied to your leg. I mean who even says that out loud to another person? I kept repeating it in my head over and over in the most nasal voice possible – You looked great today! – and doing the corny Yeah-You-Betcha wink. I lost sleep. I had that late-night regret twitch where I wanted to punch myself to never do it again. The cool thing is that now we’re married and it’s awesome.
We often waste an incredible amount of time wanting to be somewhere else, someone else. Our head-space gets clogged with compare, contrast, what if, why can’t, I should. But you’re never getting this time back. You can’t borrow tomorrow. Please don’t save the best for last. The best is all of you, here, where you are, brightly lit and painfully now, in this breath you’re leaving. Each second dies as it is born; every hello must say goodbye; all is fading in the collapsing hallway of a fragile hourglass, a grain at a time. You are here. The best is you, now.
Love is not passive,
kindness is not silence,
and compassion is not quiet;
sometimes it means we raise our voices
to fight for our very lives.
Art by 1of1doodles
The way of propositional politics in the hands of fallen men always crushes the people it was meant to restore. It weaponizes an idea into picket signs, angry rants, loud bloggers, hapless trolls, and mob mentality.
Our minds are so Pavlovian-conditioned to lock people into categories that we forget: no one ever fits the one-dimensional cartoon-caricature that we wish them to be. This sort of prejudice makes it easier to bash others by dehumanizing them, until all we’re left with is an unrecognizable political tapeworm that feeds itself and helps no one else.
Jesus knew that we could not affect change by categorical conflict, because it would be like fighting for a territory that becomes a scorched wasteland after the fight is over.
So Jesus stopped the human cycle of binary wars by calling us all equally loved, equally dignified, and equally heard. Jesus saw each individual as a holistic, multi-dimensional, complex, conflicted person and met them in their own condition, wherever they were — because this is what grace does.
Without the same compassion of Christ for the people he loves, all our bravado and chest-beating is absolutely pointless. We will be buried with our picket signs without having known a single human life. We will have succeeded at minor skirmishes and stomped on human stories. We will win at social reform but still be spiritually deformed. We will legislate laws on disagreeable issues but lose the human heart — on both sides.
I hope we’re not just clamoring for faceless disembodied ideology, but that our sleeves are rolled up in the mess of hurt people.
The only credibility left is compassion.
I pray our voices be burdened with the weight of such conviction.
You’ve had the Late-Night Regret Twitch: to mourn over why we couldn’t have just done better. There are defining moments in the past where we think, “I should’ve went to that city. I should’ve gotten that job. I never should’ve dated her. I wish I could un-meet him.”
My dear friend: If you’ve really messed it up, I don’t believe you can “fall off” God’s Will. I don’t believe that God’s Will could be a fixed straight line. I don’t think God ever says, “Well, you fell off the track so good luck in the ditch for the rest of your life.”
Many earnest Christians assume that this relationship or this job or this house is the one that God really has for them, so they invest their entire heart into these things. But at any moment, our idea of the future can be upturned. We see it happen all the time. Did that mean God had it coming for them? Does that mean they’re now out of line with God’s Will and they need to claw for their dream again?
When I read Scripture, I see that most of the biblical characters had to change choices on the fly. They would run into a dead end, back up, and start again. They spent years in circles. Sometimes God would reveal what to do next; other times they would just pack up and start walking. Their lives were flexible. They didn’t have one specific dream. They did mess up, a lot. I’m sure they had tons of Late-Night Regret Twitching. I’m sure, like us, they often thought, “It’s too late for me.” But in hindsight, the very interruptions and unforeseen circumstances in their lives were part of God’s Plan A. Every wrinkle in their story was a new doorway.
And God’s Will, in the end, wasn’t so much about what they were doing, but the kind of person they were becoming. The destination was important, but the journey was the pulse that beat their hearts.
By grace, I mean offering a second chance. A third chance. A tenth.
By grace, I mean giving yourself a chance to move on from what has happened and what you’ve done. It means freedom from self-punishment and over-compensation.
By grace, I mean the expectation of a new life for yourself and for others, who want to reclaim their lives from their former selves.
By grace, I mean believing that you are loved by your Creator, by your community, and those who truly know you. It means believing you have a purpose that has not been devalued by your past, but could only be strengthened by it.
By grace, I mean entering the fractured lives of others to pick them up from the wreckage and rebuild what can be salvaged, with both eyes ahead, to a better future.
Art by Britnney Borowski
Real love doesn’t meet you at your best.
It meets you in your mess.
[Art from Judith Bernice]
If you’re breathing, you matter, because you matter to the One who gave you breath.
Art by worshipgifs
Love doesn’t keep a score. It wipes the record clean each day. It says good morning today and goodbye to yesterday.
Art by jeannedarvin
Hello dear beloved friends! This is a message called, Rest and Resolve: What Gets Us Through Deadlines, Demands, and Disorder.
I talk about Jesus versus Peter at the Transfiguration. Some other things I talk about are: That moment of exhaustion when you sigh for a long time before you walk through the door, the burn-out check-out from school and marriage and career, the strange beauty of enjoying something you can’t pay for with nothing to offer, the greatest miracle Jesus ever pulled, faith as a long-distance relationship, a word for both perfectionists and slackers, and the one crucial question they ask you at a car accident.
All messages can be streamed here. Be blessed and love y’all!
Today I’m unusually bitter and sad about people, and I’m so very tired and cynical over everything, including myself.
May I be honest here? People are people and sometimes people will drive you insane, and some days I just want to pack up and take the next spaceship off the planet.
I know I’m not supposed to say any of this because Christian bloggers and pastors are so inspirational and full of “never-give-up” pep. We love our slogans and re-tweetable one-liners. I want to be part of the cute punchy Instagrams with the sugary Christianese quotes. But days like today, I just want to give up on everyone. At times being positive makes me feel downright sick. I want to flip a table and go to sleep for a month and I look at my Bible and laugh.
People can be so maddeningly frustrating, and I know this because I disappoint myself too. We can be in the trenches with someone for months and months, pouring out grace and absorbing all the hurt and sharing life to the bottom, but that person might do what they want anyway. I know that no one owes me anything and this isn’t about “listening to me.” I’m not trying to pull pity here. It just hurts to see a person that you invested in so completely lose it and drop off the face of the earth.
I usually hear from people when they’re desperately in need. I never get to see the other side when it’s better, and maybe I have to be okay with the unresolved-ness of it all. What I’m asking for sounds petty and unreasonable, and again, that’s not to say, “Oh poor me.” But I wish I had more reason to hope, more reason to stay. It’s so selfish, but I wonder why I keep doing this.
I’m learning that faithfulness is more important than fruitfulness, because even when there are no results and rewards, I’m still meant to run this race. Yet I’m also learning that most of the race will be hard work, in silence, amidst people who often don’t care, with little evidence that we’re making a difference and many failed heartbreaks of seeing others walk away. I’m learning this can be a cruel, thoughtless, heartless world, and to be a fleeting flash of light is so much better, and so rare. I’m learning again and again to trust God for what I cannot see, because He’s the only one who heals hearts to glory. I’m learning to encourage others along the way, because so many never get to hear that they’re doing all right, and I want to be the one voice in the crowd that actually breathes life, even when it’s for a second and forgotten.
God is in the business of breathing life into hurting places.
Art by Nikolette Montaño
germandreambaby asked a question:
Do you think that the love God has for us and for the entire creation is somehow different than what we understand as love? I mean, does the love of God have (entirely) different characteristics than human love? thanks for answering!
Hey dear friend, the short answer is: sort of yes and sort of no.
The love of the Christian God is so unique in that it purports no agenda, has no need for reciprocation, and has the motive of no-motive. God’s love exists simply because it does, for no reason except that He loves. There is no transaction, no equal exchange, no real economy. It is like a waterfall with no source and no ending, a constant wave after wave.
At the same time, God is unflinching when it comes to justice as being a part of love. Love is not merely sentimental, but also incorporates the safety and health of the other. That means telling the truth and keeping others accountable and gently persuading others away from the cliff of self-destruction. C.S. Lewis said it best: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” In fact, Lewis said this within the context of WWII, in the midst of atrocities, referring to how we can love the “enemy.”
Many of us will lean too much to one side or the other. In other words, every culture will have an incomplete misinformed idea of “love” because it’s either too sentimental or too safe. We go for sappy careless love and end up enabling and spoiling. We go for “tough love” and end up controlling and wounding. We get our boundaries wrong all the time, either too much or too little. We might pour out until we’re irresponsibly draining ourselves, or we might speak so much truth that we come off shrill and unapproachable. Sometimes we hold on too long or we let go too early. Such a perfectly balanced love is impossible for us, and we will never get it completely right.