Who I Speak For


I need to tell you this story.

When I was a pastor over ten years ago, I preached at a tiny conference and afterwards a young woman approached me. She had tears in her eyes, said she was single and anxious all the time and nearing forty years old and had “accomplished nothing.” I hurt for her.

Then suddenly—
I drew a blank on what to say. My seminary hadn’t prepared me for this. And I was scared for her. How would her church reply? Her pastor? Was this place safe? All I could do was process with her, validate her feelings, remind her of her inherent value, pray with her. Was that enough?

After I had met this young anxious woman, I changed two things.
1) I rewrote the rest of my sermons for the week.
2) I vowed to always think of this woman and others like her every time I spoke or wrote.

I knew up to then, to my own shame, I had never preached for the ones in the back row.

How could I have forgotten? I was once in the back row too. But my eagerness to keep “sound” and sound pretty and to please my professors overshadowed grace.

To this day, if anything I say does not speak to the person in the back row, to someone like me or her, it’s not worth saying. I have to remember where people really live. Hope cannot smother or bypass, but must only gently enter.

If our words only work for the well-off, able-bodied, and undisturbed, then maybe we’re
1) only speaking to popular powerful folks,
2) expecting profit from big pockets, or
3) comfortable outside reality.

I have a litmus test when new theological movements pop up. Will it matter to one of my dying patients and their families? Maybe that’s basic and unfair. But that litmus test has simplified and clarified my faith.

I still make this mistake, but always a reminder to myself: If it doesn’t work in the end, it won’t work at the start. If it doesn’t work for the wounded, it won’t make you whole. If it means a lot of arguing and posturing instead of compassion and action, I’m too tired to care. I don’t. Leave it out of the patient’s room and keep it on your platform.

Jesus is with the wounded and that’s where I want to be. Bottom line, dotted line, and end of the line.

Keep me where the people are.

— J.S.

What I Used to Believe


What do you no longer believe?
What are old beliefs you grieve?

I used to believe
all anger was wrong, so I was the captain of the tone police—
until I discovered politeness is not rightness, that anger is not always hate, but hurt, and to be loving is to be fiercely angry at injustice.

I used to believe
forgiveness meant friendship and even a flicker of pain meant I hadn’t forgiven my abusers—
but I found I can forgive from afar, over a lifetime, and that the pain was not my lack of forgiveness but how deep the wound was carved.

I used to believe
that death could bring people together—
until I saw covid take hundreds of thousands of lives and not even their deaths could evoke compassion,
until I saw refugees ceaselessly die in the headlines and too many justified their demise.

I used to believe
that god was American, homophobic, emotionless, and secretly disappointed in me—
until I found God had a vision of grace far greater than our sight, an imagination that far outweighed mine.

I used to believe
my value was found in my usefulness and contribution,
instead of inherently being human,
in an irrevocable Image.

I used to believe
every pain had a purpose, a connect-the-dots lesson, a fire to refine us, a reason to teach us—
until I saw pain is pain, it is not mine to explain, and maybe the only reason it happened was evil and abuse and systems that need to be unmade.

I used to believe
my depression was from a lack of prayer or faith or moral grit or fortitude—
but my mental health only lacked the help I needed and I found that therapy and medicine were not giving up, but giving life.

I used to believe
those who looked like me chose to be silent and passive—
except we were not silent, but silenced, and we had always spoken up despite this.

I used to believe
we could never unravel lopsided power dynamics and racist systems—
until I saw heels in the dirt making moves insistent, for years they had woven new stitches by inches.

I used to believe
everything I believed
was so certain.
I grieve my certainty
but I trust the mystery, to know
there is always more unknown.
Being “right” is to be alone,
but in discovery
we walk each other home.

— J.S.

Theology Is Complete with Our Hands and Feet


There’s a classic dispute among psychologists that’s best shown by the hair dryer story. It goes like this:

A woman believes her hair dryer is going to burn down her house. It gets to be a real problem; she’s driving back home twenty times a day. Her work life and love life and social life all take a hit.

Finally a therapist asks her, “Have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”

It works. When the fear creeps in, the woman opens her office drawer and sees the hair dryer and she’s fine.

Some psychologists see a major problem here: “Nothing was solved! She still has issues! She needs to get to the root of it!” But others say she found a solution that worked for her.

I lean toward the second camp. The problem was real to her and so was the solution. Maybe later she would get to the bottom of things. But until then, she had found a way to make it okay.

The big idea is her story was taken seriously. That was the start of her wholeness. Only when a story is fully heard is there the possibility of connection or challenge or growth.

The thing is: Too many of our injuries are real. It is not merely “in their head” or “their side of the story.” And it is not enough just to believe it happened.

Abuse, racialized trauma, mass violence, systemic failures, misogyny, manipulated power dynamics, and all the mental health issues not seemingly visible—all of these need empathy, but it doesn’t stop there. They also need presence, action, compassion, and a complete reframing of all the ways that things are done. Justice would make things so right that we would never need accountability or to convince others to “believe me.”

It is already hard enough proving my injury is real.
I have the scars to prove it.
But what I need is more than belief,
more than moved hearts, more than speech.

Theology is only complete with our hands and feet.
Psychology can diagnose and make valuable notes, but only heels in the field, in the dirt, bring us hope.
Even with all our treatment and remedies, I still need you to sit with me.
In grief, your advice is probably good, but not as good as being on the floor with me.
May your pain be mine,
and your hopes mine too.

— J.S.


Part of this post is an excerpt from my book The Voices We Carry

Everything I’ve Seen Is Almost Too Much


This is my face near the end of a chaplain shift at the hospital.

I entered chaplaincy almost six years ago. I have loved every second of it. And every second of it has been brutally, insanely, impossibly hard.

I’ve sat with thousands of patients now. So many who told me their final words, secrets, regrets, confessions. At their deathbeds, watching their heart rate dwindle down to single digits. Their last breath on earth.

I have seen terrible things. There are sounds a human can make which no human ever should. Pure agony. Sometimes grief. Other times relief.

Something I haven’t talked about much is that during my year long residency, I lost my faith. I reverted back to atheism for a long while. I’ve shared before that my faith has always been skeptical, cautious, doubting every single day. I’m like one of those Israelites who probably ran screaming through the Red Sea, not sure if the walls of water would hold up all the way. In the hospital, I had seen too much. The waters crashed down. All this suffering, I couldn’t comprehend a god who cared about this random, haphazard, utterly chaotic madness. No pattern. No reason. Babies born to die? An entire family burned down in their sleep? A roof can just fall on a child’s head? I found it hard to believe in a god at beside. I also found it hard not to believe, either.

Eventually I did come back around. But different than before. The walls of my faith had broken, rebuilt, expanded. I found out miracles were not just healing, but a story finally being told, a family staying night after night, a covid patient rolled to a balcony above their family to say one last goodbye, a baby after weeks in a box being able to breathe on her own.

Today I am one year older. And I feel I have lived a thousand lifetimes. I have died a thousand lifetimes. I’m glad to do so. To be in the shadow of my patients, to be their cheerleader and sidekick, a tiny lighthouse in the dark of the sea: there is no higher honor than for me to cheer on my patients, who are the hero of their stories. I am but a footnote. I am grateful to be one.

I wrote a book to honor my patients, and I can only hope I did some justice to their voices.

— J.S.

My New Podcast Coming Soon: The Voices We Carry


Hey friends! I’m excited to announce I’m starting a podcast soon based on my book The Voices We Carry.

I know everyone’s got a podcast going these days. Mine is a solo broadcast: the goal is to champion your voices. Here’s a bit of what to expect.


1) Q&A. I’d love to engage with your questions about mental health, grief, loss, trauma, my doubts and depression, church, theology, race, politics, my chaplain work at the hospital and homeless shelter. About anything you’re going through. #AskMeAnything


Here’s my Q&A archive to see questions I’ve answered before (and I can answer again!)


2) Your stories. I’d love to share your stories on the podcast. Please feel free to share about a particular voice or message stuck in your head that you overcame (or didn’t). How did you find your voice through the process? I can keep you anonymous if you’d like.


3) Corrections. I will correct my old writings that I don’t agree with anymore. To criticize my old posts and ideas. To share where I totally missed it.


4) Challenges. I get it wrong, a lot. And I’d love to change my mind. I want to hear your disagreements. Not to fight, but to expand our voices together.


5) Reviews. Tell me about a movie or book or video or blog post or news article. I’ll watch or read, and we’ll discuss.


Please message me through Facebook, comment below, or email me at
thevoiceswecarry@gmail.com

Thank you, friends! Looking forward to it truly.
— J.S.

p.s. Our baby isn’t here yet, please send prayers!


Interviewed on Moody Radio live by Chris Fabry


Hey friends! I was interviewed on Moody Radio on Chris Fabry Live.

https://www.moodyradio.org/radioplayer.aspx?episode=317991

We talked about validating someone’s pain and story, how to deal with the voices that get stuck in our heads, some stuff from my book, and my work as a chaplain.


3 True Hospital Stories and What They Taught Me About Grief, Hope, and Unseen Work


I share three true hospital stories which are “deleted scenes” from my upcoming book, The Voices We Carry.

— J.S.


[Stories have details changed to maintain privacy.]

Your Hurt Does Not Determine Your Worth


For those who have been severely hurt by COVID-19, whether you lost your job, freedom, have tested positive, or know someone who has:

When you become ill or lose something valuable, it’s easy to tie up your hurt with your worth. When you can’t work or lose your once vibrant health, it can feel like it’s your fault. Physical illness still has a deep social stigma and it can seem you‘re less of a person when you’re sick. Unfortunately, our health is measured like wealth.

I read an interview with a man who tested positive for COVID-19 who said, “I felt kind of dirty. Psychologically, it’s weird, hard to accept. It was hard to tell my family.”

I’ve seen this in the hospital. Patients not only feel physical pain, but an embarrassment about their situation. It’s an almost humiliating dread and shame, like their body has betrayed them. To be stripped of health can send a brutal and confusing message: “This pain I feel is who I am.” And so often they blame themselves, because we’ve been trained to believe that when we’re sick, we’re somehow morally wrong inside.

The thing is, you can do everything right and still get sick. Yes, it’s absolutely crucial we stay at home, wash our hands, and keep distance. Please hear me: these rules are necessary and they mean life or death. But there’s a side effect of any rule: a built-in legalism and judgment. Even when it’s not your fault, the false message we preach is that to fail the rule means you’ve failed at life.

If you end up testing positive for COVID-19, you might be seen as bad or reckless or lesser, as if “you didn’t try hard enough.” Even if you recover, you might get strange looks at the office or from your family. You may feel cursed, stained, unclean.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how you got ill. What matters is that you’re made in the image of God still. Your body and health and job are not a currency for your worth. By grace you are more than the things you lose and the things that happen to you. The grace of God is so that nothing can separate you from His love, that He has no social or spiritual distance from you, that He sees you far more loved than you see yourself.

While you may be cut off or abandoned and it‘s crushing to the soul, the one who made that soul will never leave, never forsake, never stop drawing near to you. This may not fix anything now: but please know, in the midst of an unfixable situation, He is with you. He is always with you, and by grace you are always more.

If you know someone directly affected by COVID-19, my hope is you will see this person from the eyes of grace, that they’re not their illness, that their hurt does not determine their worth. Love them. Humanize them. Affirm their dignity and their imago dei. To see a person is to heal them. See by grace.
— J.S.

Facing COVID19 from a Chaplain’s Perspective



Hey friends, I did a video with my publisher Moody Publishers to talk about COVID-19.

I go through five points: How to approach the pandemic from a chaplain’s perspective—dealing with our fear, with each other, and with ourselves—and I directly address those who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have lost someone to it.

I hope even a single sentence will help you through this time.
(Also, this might be the first time you’ve heard my voice or seen me in video, I apologize in advance.)

God bless and much love to each of you, friends.
— J.S.

Fragile and Resilient: So We Fall and Rise


I’m always saddened by how little it can take to break someone, because they have already suffered so much. And I’m always surprised by how much a person can endure and keep fighting.

Lisa and Aletha, twin babies, had a ton of complications. One had survived. The other had died. The mother had just lost her own mother. The father had fled.

I had been called up for a baptism, my very first one. I entered the room with a bottle of saline water, feet shuffling. The mother called me in.

“Chaplain,” she said, smiling. “Weird to see a guy walk in instead of walk out.” She chuckled, and burst into tears. Then laughed some more.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “How are you?” “Besides wanting to punch my boyfriend in the neck?” She cackled, loud enough for a nurse to walk by. “It is what it is. I’m so tired of crying. I just found out I have to put my dog to sleep. What a week it’s been. I’ve never had to be so strong.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “Maybe you don’t have to be so strong. Weak and strong are both okay.”

She replied, “I’m surprised I’m still alive.” She grew a fierce look. “You know, chaplain, I’m not religious. I don’t know why I want this. It just feels right. Bless my baby into heaven, and bless the other one to live her best.”

Both the cribs were next to her bed. I looked at Aletha, perfectly still, future interrupted, a snapshot of dreams in a box. My stomach swirled with a very different grief, a pain over all that could’ve been. I sprinkled some water over Aletha and I held her and I prayed.

I thought about how resilient and fragile we are, little creatures born into blinding stimuli, fighting for breath, fighting to the very end. I saw that flat-lines can become summits and a pulse can crash mid-flight, and what crushes one person may sculpt another, and healing is just as hard as hurting. I grieved over all that Aletha would miss, and I was scared for all that Lisa would endure.

After I prayed, the mother said, “That was a weird prayer. So weird. It was perfect.” Through tears, she laughed hard.
— J.S.

[Details altered for privacy.]

Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?

Anonymous asked:

How do I deal with the death of a loved one?

Dear friend: I’m so sorry. A close death is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. There’s almost no getting over it. Grief is less like a cold and more like a shadow, always lingering even in the brightest light. It gets easier, but it stays with you in all kinds of ways.

As a hospital chaplain, I have seen hundreds of people die now, and there’s no formula or plan or mantra to get you through. All the hard things you’re feeling, whether it’s numbness or waves of pain or a deep soul itchiness or a tight chest or an empty stomach or rivers of tears, are all a part of grief. You’re not crazy. You might see a random thing that will remind you of your loved one, and it will hit you in the gut. You might visit a street or see someone’s smile or hear a movie quote that reminds you of everything, and it will hit you all over again. That happens. You’re not crazy. 

Continue reading “Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?”

They Say “Don’t Cry” — But So We Must.



It’s a crazy incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching over for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. My chaplain friend never judged, only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. It was a little embarrassing. But something shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

— J.S.


The Call That No One Wants.

“Are you Angela, the wife of Tyrone Simmons?” I ask her.

“Yes,” she said, voice rising, searing the phone in my ear. “Yes, chaplain, why?”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but your husband Tyrone is here at the hospital.”

I hate this part. I’ve made this call so many times. “Are you able to be here? Will you be with anyone? I’m not sure yet, the doctor can tell you. The doctor can answer that. The doctor will update you. Please drive safely. The doctor will know.”

Angela’s husband Tyrone had been driving to work and he was hit by a truck. Most likely died instantly. He probably never knew.

Continue reading “The Call That No One Wants.”

Officially Finished Chaplain Residency


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!
J.S.

The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.

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.

No—it doesn’t always work out.

The storm doesn’t always pass.

There isn’t always closure.

Not everything will be all right.

I won’t know why.

There’s a moment in the hospital when our illusion of safety is shattered and the stark reality sets in:

Things won’t change,
they won’t get better,
there won’t be a miracle,
and there won’t be a happily ever after.

It looks like God has exited the building, and that maybe He’s not coming back, and that we will never, ever know why this awful tragedy had to happen.

Babies die. Spouses drop dead at thirty. Diseases take and they take and they take. Prayers go unanswered. Drunk drivers walk free and their victims die slowly in a fire. People die alone. Some people don’t know who they are when they die; some people don’t have a single number they can call. They’re cremated by the county without a trace.

I soon found that I was having a series of tiny panic attacks over faith, more and more disorienting, these little underground bombs that threw me into crisis and left me scrambling for answers.

After a particularly hard case where a young woman’s dad shot her mom and then himself, I came home and tried to pick up some random inspirational book from my bookcase. What I found inside was so unimaginably distant and disgusting that I nearly threw it at the wall. I went through a few more books, and words that had once comforted me were crass and trivial. I couldn’t possibly believe that any of these authors had really suffered or seen suffering. I’m sure they had—and that’s what I wanted to see. Their raw edges. Not these luxurious, over-privileged travels and extra tips on mental re-arrangement, completely removed from the wounded. I saw these first-world tales as they really were: shallow, out-of-touch, and bereft of consequence.

I was lost in the whirlwind of malheur, the pain underneath our pain. I was struck by intrapsychic grief, from the loss of what “could be” and would never come to pass. I was a wax thread in a hot oven, my old beliefs dripping and frayed.

I suddenly understood the intensity of the Psalms, all the anger and violence and whiplashes of doubt, encapsulating the moments when we can no longer un-see this garish void of the nether, the unreturned.

I wondered if maybe it was easier not to believe, because believing was so dangerously painful.

Continue reading “The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.”

I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?


It’s a crazy, incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching my eye for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. I was embarrassed, but my chaplain friend only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands, one of those prayers where it sounded like God was her best friend down the street. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. Something then shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.

Like many of us, I’ve been reading on many of the horrible events this week and all the media circus which it entails. In a sea of crowded voices, both reasonable and ugly, that has said nearly all there is to say, I want to risk one more voice to the busy ocean of opinion.

I work as a hospital chaplain and I’ve sat with many, many patients and their families as the patients lay dying. I have watched quite a few slip away. It’s always a terrible situation; death is our common enemy. Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve. My job as a “professional griever” is to approach each person with grace, sensitivity, and comfort, the best of me for the best of them, as much as I know how.

It’s not my place or my role to evaluate this person in their pain. And I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s place or role, ever.

I’m trying to imagine saying some of the comments I’ve read online to these patients and their family. And I can’t. I would not. Even if this patient may have been a criminal or had brought this situation upon themselves (which has been true some of the time), it’s still a terrible tragedy that they’re in this room. My patients and their families have the same hopes, fears, dreams, passions, uncertainties, and regrets as you and I have. They deserve the same dignity as you and I would want. Some of them were never accorded such dignity in their lifetime, and for some, it was this exact reason that they ended up here.

Somehow, we have socially distanced ourselves from loss by multiple levels of removal from the actual horror of loss itself. We undignify the dead by a jester’s court of judgment, by a carnival of commentary, by a platform of preprogrammed snark. We wait to see what our “side” of the discussion wants us to think, so that we neither think nor feel for ourselves.

You only have to read or hear a few callous comments to know what I mean: each proceeding comment moves further and further away from the actual people, until verbal semantics has smothered the very real loss of life into a wordplay competition. You might win: but what do you win? It seems we’d rather deconstruct or reduce these events into “legal” and “moral” terms, or punchlines and memes, or cautionary tales — and the result is abstract heartlessness.  Many of us have forgotten what it means to sit with loss and to feel the depth of its irreversibility. To simply weep.

Continue reading “Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.”

15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Things I’ve learned not to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy:

“Everything will be okay.”

“You’re so strong!”

“Pain is what forces you to grow.”

“God has an amazing plan for your life!”

“God is using this for your good.”

“God just wanted another angel in heaven.”

“It could’ve been worse.”

“At least you’re still alive. At least—”

“Cheer up and stay positive!”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

“Time to pray really hard and read more Bible.”

“God is using this as a wake-up call.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— and other motivational poster clichés.


Things I’ve learned to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy (and even then, not every time):

“I’m sorry.”
“How are you right now?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be mad.” (Or scared, or hurt, or sad, or weeping, or uncertain.)
“How can I pray for you?”
“I’m always here.”
Or the best thing: listen.

J.S.


Photo by N Medd, CC BY 2.0

Five Husbands.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities are altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

The doctor tells him in one long breath, “Your wife didn’t make it, she’s dead.”

Just like that. Irrevocable, irreversible change. I’ve seen this so many times now, the air suddenly pulled out of the room, a drawstring closed shut around the stomach, doubling over, the floor opened up and the house caving in.

“Can I … can I see her?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor points at me and tells Michael that I can take him back. The doctor leaves, and Michael says, “I can’t yet. Can you wait, chaplain?” I nod, and after some silence, I ask him, “What was your wife like?” and Michael talks for forty-five minutes, starting from their first date, down to the very second that his wife’s eyes went blank and she began seizing and ended up here.

I’m in another room, with a father of two, Felipe, whose wife Melinda is dying of cancer. She’s in her thirties. She fought for three months but that was all the fight in her; she might have a few more days. Felipe is asking if his wife can travel, so she can die with her family in Guatemala. The kids are too young to fully comprehend, but they know something is wrong, and they blink slowly at their mother, who is all lines across greenish skin, clutching a rosary and begging God to see her parents one more time.

“Can I see them?” she asks the doctor.

Another room, with a man named Sam who has just lost his wife and kids in a car accident. Drunk driver, at a stop sign, in the middle of the day. Sam was at home cooking; his wife was picking up their two daughters from school; the car had flipped over twice. The drunk driver is dead; Sam doesn’t even have the option to be angry. Sam was hospitalized because when he heard the news, he instantly had a heart attack. He keeps weeping, panicked breaths, asking to hold my hand because he doesn’t know how he can live through this. He hasn’t seen the bodies of his wife and daughters yet.

“Can I see them?” he asks me.

Continue reading “Five Husbands.”

We Bleed, All The Way Up


The patient really believed her cancer was somehow “God’s amazing plan for my life.” She went on to say the things I always hear: “He won’t give me more than I can handle. Thank God we caught it early. God is going to use this for my good.”

I get why we say these things, because we’re such creatures of story that we rush for coherence. But even when such theology is true, I want to tell her that it’s okay to say this whole ordeal is terrible and that it really hurts and that we live in a disordered, chaotic, fractured, fallen world where the current of sin devours everything, that bad things happen to model citizens, that nothing is as it’s meant to be, and the people who don’t catch the cancer early aren’t well enough to thank God for anything, and that not every pain is meant to be a spiritualized, connect-the-dots lesson as if God is some cruel teacher waiting for us to “get it.”

Pain doesn’t always have to be dressed up as a blessing in disguise. God hears our frustration about injustice and illness: for He is just as mad at suffering as we are. He doesn’t rush our grief. He bled with us, too, in absolute solidarity, and broke what breaks us in a tomb. He is the friend who meets us in our pain, yet strong enough to lead us through. I can only hope, in some small measure, to do the same.

J.S.