If you’re breathing, you matter, because you matter to the One who gave you breath.
Art by worshipgifs
If you’re breathing, you matter, because you matter to the One who gave you breath.
Art by worshipgifs
This is the Preface for my book Grace Be With You. The Preface is about the gravitational power of story that connects us. The book is a compilation of my stories, encouraging quotes and poems, and everyday encounters from the road to the hospital to cafes and gas stations. Be blessed, dear friends.
There’s an old Star Trek episode where a particular alien species, the Tamarians, can only communicate in images and allegories. As the helpful android, Lt. Commander Data, puts it:
“Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.”
This strange constraint plays out to amusing fashion throughout the episode, as each party is frustrated by their miscommunication, and the tension nearly boils over into a knife-fight and all-out war (maybe your idea of amusement is different than mine). By the end, one of the Tamarians sacrifices himself in order to create a heroic narrative that both his people and the Federation can understand. It succeeds; this act of nobility becomes the bridge towards peace. The great Captain Picard realizes, “The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication—connection.”
We’re not much different than the Tamarians. We risk the friction of our jagged edges to connect, not merely by formulas or flowcharts, but by a sloppy crawl through our shared, lived-in journey. We crave a common vocabulary beyond the heavy anvils of prose, crafted from imagination and our unified experiences.
Stories contain power because they seem to unveil secrets that have long been muddled, as if we’re unearthing lost royal treasure. But more than that, stories are a connective tissue, bringing us together by the longing and landing of a resolution.
Since a narrative thrust is essentially driven by an unresolved tension, with unassailable obstacles besetting a goal on every side, we discover in them the depth of our courage and cowardice, and we find out how to be. We find what we’re meant to look like.
We find, perhaps unwillingly, that we are not always the heroes, but in need of rescue: because we’re so often the cause of our own tension. And this is what puts us in the same boat, the same battle. The best stories require first an examination of our limitations, and then a cooperation as equals, through a slow-burning realization that we are not opposed to one another, but can reach the same goals with a little spunk and ingenuity. From Star Wars to The Karate Kid to The Lord of the Rings to Up, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to a genie in a bottle, these are tales told side-by-side. We find we are fellow travelers, not so different, really, with a universal desire for shalom, a harmony—and we can’t get there alone. Heroes cannot fly solo, and villains are not beyond change.
Stories and symbols have a way of disarming us, too, getting to the inside of the matter with gentle precision. Propositions are a bit like bricks and beams: necessary for the foundation, but soon rigid and inflexible. Narratives and metaphors have a dynamic of growth to them, like seeds pushing through the dirt into the sun, and they give breath. Or maybe, as one theologian said, they are windows that light up the house and give it air. It’s why Nathan the prophet did not approach David with lectures and bullet points—”Three reasons that adultery and murder are bad!”—but instead with the innocent story of a poor man and his ewe lamb, ending on a twist that David could not negotiate. It forced David to rise from the dirt, into light.
Jesus himself spoke in parables with great aplomb, from mustard seeds and millstones to swords and sparrows to wedding feasts and rebel-runaways. Jesus’s disciples often had trouble deciphering his parables, which Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure at times—but ultimately, the parables were pointing to a future work on a cross and in a tomb. His stories pointed to his heart, and his heart sculpted the greatest story of them all: a final sacrifice to bring us peace with God and one another. He spoke of rescuing us, because we could not do that on our own. We were never meant to.
Only Jesus could become our bridge of peace, our shalom. And this kind of love is not merely the royal treasure, but the very purest stone from which all treasures are made.
The following pages are much like rotating the facets of such a jewel, pointing to the pulse of the galaxy-sculptor. These stories and poems and thoughts are chiseled by joy, sorrow, failure—and the great love that has cast a shadow on them all.
My hope is that we meet somewhere between the words, to connect, because I believe this is the truest stuff of life. Stories help us to mesh in this tapestry, that in our overlap, we’d find strength hand in hand. I’m excited. I’ll see you there.
— J.S. Park // Grace Be With You
Photo at top by sonlight972, used with permission.
Real love doesn’t meet you at your best.
It meets you in your mess.
Art by 1of1doodles
The fear of moving forward is often obliterated by moving forward. Do it scared.
Art by Pam Carbungco
The book is a collection of short stories, poems, and thoughts, many of which you’ve seen here on this blog.
It’s available now in paperback and ebook!
Hey dear friends! This is my newest book, Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers. It’s a collection of stories, quotes, and poems, most of which have gone “viral” on this blog, with all new content. The Foreword is also by my wonderful friend T.B. LaBerge.
The book has four chapters, each a unique theme: to encourage, convict, engage, and transcend. Contained are quick quotes, humbling plot twists, and everyday encounters on the road, at the hospital, at cafes and gas stations and funerals and churches.
Be immensely rocked by His grace!
Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:
It’s about the uncomfortable, brutally surgical confrontation of accountability and its necessary benefits for growth and life.
Here’s an excerpt:
You’re ready to quit your addiction.
You’re ready to be teachable, to be under leadership and mentoring.
You’re ready to own your problem and get the help you need.
You’re ready for accountability.
All this sounds romantic, but accountability is a deliberate confrontation with yourself through another person—and confrontation is hard. It’s even harder when you begin to see the depth of your own issues and all the ugliness inside, the things you were happy to ignore before you decided to recover. We’re so much more entrenched in our habits than we think, so accustomed to “the way things were” that our bodies will desperately claw back to our old destructive ways.
Recovery is a street-fight, and our darker side will never fight fair.
Plenty of us can quit without physically quitting. We can live this way for years, thinking that “showing up” is enough and we can skate by on the bare minimum.
In other words, perseverance is not just staying in, but being in. It’s being present and engaged.
It’s not that we don’t have it in us to persevere. It’s that all of us wasn’t in the task at hand. Even a person who gets to the finish-line, who didn’t put their all into it, hasn’t really persevered.
I do this, too. I can be there but not there. And I’m learning that being disengaged begins with my expectations.
… No one ever told me, “Emotions are different than passion. Emotions are the little spark that gets it going. Passion is what keeps you running the marathon, even when it gets boring, even when things don’t go your way, even when the path takes a bunch of detours and it’s not as pretty as the picture in your head.”
Read the full post here!
I don’t think I’ve ever really met anyone who is living out of a full cup.
What I mean is: Everyone lives a lot further ahead than they really are, giving advice they don’t follow and loving others without any love for themselves and running on empty all the time. We’re all on fumes.
I’m finding out this is okay for today, and no lifetime is meant to be lived in a day.
There’s this Secret Guilt going around that we’re all halfway hypocritical frauds who will maybe one day catch up to an awesome version of ourselves. It’s a desperate hope that we’ll eventually do what we’re preaching with our mouths and our blogs. And then we blow up or flip a table or punch a wall and that monster comes out, and we think “Where did that even come from?” — and the Guilt chokes the pit of our stomach again.
The finality of settling into your own skin never arrives.
We co-exist with the monster.
I remember a famous pastor who deleted his entire backlog of podcasts from his first years of preaching. Because he “no longer agreed” with those old messages. I thought it was pretty humble. But I also thought, What about those people who heard those old messages? What if they followed through on that stuff? Are they just screwed? And ten years from now will you delete your stuff from today?
Every artist I’ve met says their first drawing, song, poem, novel, or dance routine was unworthy. They’re hard on their first creations. You know, that whole “you are your own worst critic” paranoia. But: Don’t we all have to purge these things before moving onto greatness? And what about those people who enjoyed the first creations? Are they just idiots?
Everyone keeps saying, “I used to be so stupid.” Or, “I was so empty when I taught that thing.” Or, “I didn’t even deserve to preach that sermon on marriage, my own marriage was failing.” Or, “I wasn’t even following my own advice.”
It’s a reoccurring pattern. No one ever thinks they’re good enough to do what they’re doing. Or they think now they’re okay, but everything before today was terrible. “I finally found my voice,” they say, which is at once a victory and an admission of defeat.
It’s scary to think we’re always walking in the dark, the light dissipating just out of reach.
I have preached in front of three people. I’ve led awkward Bible studies for two or three disinterested young students. I have been close to canceling major events where I expected hundreds, but only a couple dozen showed up. I’ve served in ministries that shrank and fought and panicked and split.
If you’re there right now: don’t get discouraged.
Sometimes God calls you to be faithful even when it’s not fruitful.
He is still doing something amazing. But those breakthroughs only happen when we persist, persevere, and press forward. We love to see instant miracles, but miracles can grow slowly too.
We are tempted by a future where we have finally arrived to the big time — but maybe this is it, this moment, where you are called to be completely engaged and totally present, eye to eye, face to face, heart to heart, with your one or two young disciples. To change even one life is the big time.
Writing this one meant a lot to me as it contains real stories from real people with heartache, loss, and (not-so-easy) redemption. I often recounted these stories with tears and prayers. Life doesn’t always wrap up in a bow-tie with a neat little lesson at the end, but people still choose to endure despite all that has happened. Even brokenly, they crawled forward and went on.
I hope you’ll consider picking up the book. It’s on sale for 8.99 in paperback and 3.99 in ebook. It’s meant for you if you’re hurting right now, and meant for your friend if they’re hurting too.
Be blessed and love y’all. — J.S.
1) Praise Him.
Pull out your favorite worship CD or line up a playlist. Even if you don’t “feel” anything the first song or two, just keep listening. Turn it up loud, in the car or in your room. Sing. Eat up the lyrics. I recommend: David Crowder, Phil Wickham, Tree63, and Brooke Fraser.
2) Encourage someone.
The only thing better than receiving is giving. Text, email, or message someone a simple encouragement. “Jesus and I love you.” Send out Bible verses. Say specific things about that person. Warning: You might enter a crazy rush of encouraging people and start giggling madly to yourself.
3) Pray for someone.
Write out a list. All the times you said, “I’ll pray for you” — take five minutes to do it today. It might feel jumpy and awkward at the start: just press through it. Pray in a widening circle, starting with your family. Pray for missionaries, your church leaders, the weird kid in school, for the people in news headlines. Pray for yourself. Tell God about your day, your dreams, your worries, your hopes. Thank Him.
One day you’re smooth-cruising through the halls, high-fiving random strangers and yourself and soaking in the standing ovation, and the next minute you’re in the valley of a fresh oozing wound inflicted by the ugly, brutal weapon of words. You’re playing the endless loop of that three-second sentence, a fishing knife scooping out your guts, forcing your chin down like it weighs the size of the world. At any moment, in any place, discouragement can uppercut your soul and keep you down way past ten.
The occupational hazard of ministry, a wise pastor once said, is discouragement. That’s true for all of us. It’s unavoidable. It’s a fog that seeps into all our work, our words, our interaction, even the taste of food and the vibrancy of colors. There’s really no dancing around it, so we must deal with it.
At the center of this fog are truths and lies that fight for our sanity, and that war will be brought to the battleground of our emotions. We must, kicking and screaming, bring that fight up to the doorstep of our mind and in light of God’s Word. Regardless of how we feel, there’s a truth that exists. We press into it, or don’t. Press in.
For Sunday worship service, I handed out a small sheet of Bible verses for reflection and prayer. Here they are.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
2 Peter 1:5-7
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.