You Are My Family


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

Only Heroes and Monsters


No one is the one-dimensional, evil caricature that they’re painted to be.
No one is the shiny version of a person that’s worshiped on a pedestal.
It’s easier to hate a cartoon-parody idea; to denigrate a hologram; to blast the artificial; to praise the effigy. It’s easier to demonize a faceless, disembodied, phantom enemy.
If you and I could sit down for coffee, we would discover hidden layers, messy dimensions, buried motives, unspeakable trauma, two fractured people hanging on.
We are wildly struggling, conflicted, complex.
We are not wholly evil nor holy good.
Yes, monsters deserve justice for their crimes. Heroes deserve more applause. But I will pause to consider that we are often both. We can be our own worst enemy, and we are just as capable of being our own heroes, overcoming the worst of us with the best in us.
Across a table, chair to chair, eye to eye, we might disagree—but I hope we will learn how we came to be. To hear the whole story.
— J.S.

A Time to Speak, a Time to Pause


I’ve seen bloodthirsty demands that “public voices” must speak on every social issue.

There’s a harsh condemnation on the silence of celebrities, clergy, artists, authors, and your average blogger—as if that silence was the same as the injustice itself.

I absolutely agree we must speak up. Silence perpetuates the status quo. I believe in the the gritty necessity of protest and picket signs. We cannot sit idly by in the isolated concerns of our own four walls. Silence is the accomplice to injustice, and I expect better from those who have the golden reach of influence. Our platforms have a responsibility.

I also wonder about the hasty speed we comment on issues which are still unfolding. I wonder how many half-informed people are writing too quickly to get clicks and views and attention and to catch the viral heat of the moment. I wonder if we can both raise our voices while listening across the widening divide. I wonder how we can slow down in crisis to engage with the hurting rather than brew up a think-piece for yet another grand, eloquent, self-promoting manifesto. (I know, I’m guilty of doing the same thing here.)

And I wonder why we demand so much from public voices, as if we are waiting to be told what to think. Or worse, to validate a preprogrammed opinion. Maybe those voices indeed have the power to change things—but we do too, starting with ourselves and the people in the room. We don’t need to know everything first. We can start with the stories across from us.

It‘s physically impossible to care about everything all the time. We can choose to be passionate for just a few crucial things in our very short time on earth. It can’t be done with a flashy, trashy headline that’ll be forgotten in a week, but by the accumulative power of listening to other voices as we find our own. I cannot speak for you, but with you. And if you and I are to be a voice for the voiceless, maybe that means stepping off the stage and passing the microphone to the unheard. I want to hear you.
— J.S.


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Forgiveness Is Not Friendship


It’s unfair to rush someone into forgiveness. It’s powerful and necessary, but forgiveness is not a one-time moment that magically seals up the wound. It takes a deliberate, daily battle over a lifetime. That occasional angry twitch doesn’t mean you’ve failed at finding peace; it’s only part of the process. Let it happen. It hurts because it meant something. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. No one is allowed to rush your healing, including you. No one can just “get over it.” It’s your pain, your pacing, your tempo. But I do hope to see you on the other side, where there’s freedom. You can take all the time you need, and I’m with you.
J.S.

Loving “Them.”

The nurse told me that the patient Willard had taken a bite out of another nurse. He had swung at one of the doctors and thrown urine at a surgeon. Willard couldn’t walk; he kept demanding to go home. “Get me a wheelchair, I’ll flop in and ride over you people.” The staff kept trying to get him to stay, to get treated, despite his violent non-compliance, because nurses and doctors have the guts to look past that stuff.

The staff called for a chaplain, and I was the lucky one. I walked in and saw the patient had a tattoo of a swastika on his hand enclosed in a heart.

My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spray-painted a red swastika next to the front door of my dad’s business. Though my dad had tried to paint over it, I could still see it on hot summer days, a scar on the wall and a scar in my head, a mad throbbing declaration of all the world’s ugliness dripping in crimson. I still dream about it sometimes, and in the dream I’ll peer down at my wrists, engraved with the same red marks down to the veins.

The patient, Willard, saw me and said, “Thank God, a chaplain, finally someone who can hear me.”

But I didn’t want to hear him. And a part of me also thought, “You deserve this. I hope you never leave. Then you can’t hurt anyone out there.”

He said, “Look, I see your face, I’m not trying to hurt anybody. You get it? I just want to go home. Fetch me a f__ing wheelchair, would you?.”

Willard got louder. He clenched his fists and waved them around. He went into an f-bomb monologue about the staff, “you people,” about the whole dang world.

I had half a mind to leave. I didn’t have to stay. I didn’t want to stay. I kept looking at that swastika. I kept thinking he deserved to be here, to be sick and sorry and helpless.

When Willard stopped talking for a moment, I said the only thing I could think of.

Continue reading “Loving “Them.””

You can do the thing. It starts with another thing.


You can really do the thing. You can really achieve the dream and pursue your goal and find recovery.

But it has to start with one thing. It has to start with letting go of a lot of other things.

Maybe that means your current group of people. Or one person. Or some late night habits. Or the thing you keep throwing money at. Or an ideal version of yourself that’s just impossible.

None of that is easy, I know. I have this habit of starting new stuff and then I quit halfway through. It’s because I look sideways, seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s discouraging. “I could never be that good,” the little voice says. Everyone else seems better. More witty or charming or articulate. I’m missing “it,” you know, the elusive charm they were born with. So I stop doing all the things. “They’re already giving the world what I can barely do myself,” is the voice that keeps me down.

I have to let go of comparison.

I have to let go of some romanticized self.

I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be well received, the fear of silent response, the fear of crickets and tumbleweed.

You can do the thing. It starts with letting go of fears, habits, harmful people, bad advice, even beliefs we once held dear.

You can really, really do the thing. The stuff that hinders can be shed.

— J.S.

Work in Progress Looking Forward


Trust that God is working something in you now, something you can’t imagine, a miracle beyond proportion.
Look beyond circumstances, long nights, broken trophies, mental arguments, the swirl of gossip, the false self-talk that you’ve rehearsed over and over.
Leave yesterday where it belongs.
Don’t cave in to what has happened to you.
God says you are more than that – because you are His.
As hard as it sounds: you are loved, you are treasured, you are written on the heart and mind of your Creator.
Rejoice and revel in what He has done, is doing, will do.
— J.S.


I Still Believe the Best.


In the end, you can’t really 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 social 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 as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that leaves us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care if you don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be jaded to being jaded. Because I don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to be a reactionary pawn.

No, I cannot force anything 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.

What They’re Going Through.


I saw this very slow car on the highway in front of me that was rusted through and ready to fall apart, and for some reason, I got overly irritated at someone driving so slow in such a beat-up car. It must have been going 40 in a 65 mph zone.

I passed and pulled up next to the car, and I got a glance of the lady inside. Suddenly I felt terrible. She was a rundown tragic mess, mascara all over, like she had just heard the worst news in the world. Her shoulders were fallen into a heap and her mouth was open and her eyes were glass and mist. She was staring into nothing.
I’ve been there. I know what that’s like. When the world is gray noise. When you’re completely numb and unable to see how it could possibly get better.

I got behind the lady again to follow her and make sure she was okay. She got off the highway safely. I thought that if other drivers were going to get mad at her, they could get mad at me first.

I thought about all the other times I had judged too quickly, how I hadn’t slowed down for the other person to see them, to ask how I could help. I had gotten it wrong a lot. I didn’t pause to get the whole story. It all changes when you know what a person is going through.

— J.S.

Turning Point.


Most testimonies have a turning point: “And then I met ___” or “Someone reached out” or “I got this text at the perfect time.” It seems random, but those people and encounters and messages of encouragement happened on purpose. Someone made a choice to reach out, get involved, get near another person’s heartache, and help them for one more step. It was enough to get them moving again. Maybe it was no big deal for the person who reached out. But to the person they helped, it meant everything. It was the turning point. It was the beginning of seeing new light, of finding a new dream, the start of healing. A little bit of your time and wisdom might turn someone’s life around. I’m thankful to those who pressed in and breathed life.
J.S.

The Voice That Overcomes.


I took a speech class in college because of my stage fright. The professor, Mr. Johns, was about the most encouraging guy on the face of the earth.

There was a girl in the class who was just like me. She was the class because she wanted to overcome her fear. In her first speech, she burst into tears and couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I had it bad, but this girl came undone at the seams. I was worried that we’d have to call an ambulance for her. She wanted to stop but the professor got up right next to her, nudging her to finish. Some of the others stood with her and we cheered her on, rooting for her, clapping and fist-pumping and even saying “amen” the whole way. She finished the speech.

By her final one, she could do it up front by herself. She knew we were still with her up there.

— J.S.

To Love Is to Fight.


I’m all for love and patience and understanding and compassion —

But there’s also a time to say enough is enough. There’s a time to vent, weep, scream, shake a fist, and to simply be mad. There’s a space when things aren’t okay and the injustice is still a fresh wound and no one is supposed to tell you how to feel. We need to grieve before jumping to commentary and those extra little points of debate and platforms and policy. We need to grasp the magnitude of what happened without rushing to a better place, so we can do the hard work of healing deeply, and to ensure that justice is not forfeited for the sake of politeness. Sometimes love has to be outraged, because it won’t sit down and take anymore of this. Sometimes love has to get up and fight.

— J.S.

Everyone Has a Vision for Your Life


Everyone has a vision for your life. Everyone knows who you ought to be. Everyone has advice, the right answer, the easy fix.

But no one can bear the burden of those expectations. You can’t be enough all the time, not even for yourself.

You will disappoint people. You will disappoint you. It happens. It hurts. And that’s how it goes. The eventualities of life have a way of creeping in, regardless of best efforts and right motives.

You will get crushed by the weight of others’ plans. But you’re not obligated to respond to everyone’s criticism all the time. There’s no pleasing everyone. Some will have already made up their mind about you, no matter how much you sing and dance. Your side of the story won’t always be heard. Your intentions will be negatively filtered and your words shot down at first glance. That’s okay. Criticism is important, but you can’t speak on what you didn’t say. You can only mean what you did say, and mean it well.

Be encouraged, friends. You are doing a good thing. A new thing. By the grace of God we do our best and get up again.
— J.S.

Faith That Burns Slow.


I imagine that when Moses split the Red Sea, there were two groups of people.
The first group was composed of victorious triumphant warriors saying, “In your face, Egyptians! This is our God!” They were pumping their fists and thrusting their spears.

The second group was composed of doubtful, panicking screamers running full speed through whales and plankton.

I’m a Screamer. I’m a cynic. I’m a critic.

I’m a Peter, who can make a good start off the boat, but falls in the water when my eyes wander.

I’m not endorsing a halfway lukewarm faith. I believe God wants us to have a robust, vibrant, thriving relationship with Him. But as for me, I’ll be limping to the finish-line.

I’m more of a Thomas than a Paul. I’m more Martha than Mary. I’m more David than Daniel.

Yet the Warriors and Screamers all made it through.

It’s not easy to have faith the size of a mustard seed. But Jesus promised that this would be enough to move mountains, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

— J.S.

We Wear Casts.


God, forgive me for when I lack empathy,
when I jump to making talking points out of tragedy,
when I forget the pain of community and family,
when my voice is louder than theirs.
— J.S.

Here’s the Truth: Hear the Truth.


If you want any hope of change, freedom, progress, recovery, and growth: you’ll need to confront yourself, too.

The quickest way to not grow is to surround yourself with yes-men, run from rebuke, only read self-affirming bias, and unfollow all disagreement.

I don’t mean we listen to every opinion. Especially not online. I don’t mean we call each other out over the smallest infraction. I mean getting with the one friend who has tears in their eyes, voice shaking, who knows that friendship isn’t all giggles and games, who can say, “You’re better than this.” I still run from it all the time. Hearing the hard stuff is excruciating. But as hard as it is, to admit “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I’m learning, please forgive me and show me” is not the end of the world. It hurts, but not more than the pain of staying ignorant in our ego.

I hope too that we can make space for those who admit they’re wrong and apologize and ask to be further schooled. I hope we can start and finish with grace. Trust and honesty and confession only happens in spaces where we won’t be met with cringing, but embrace.

— J.S.

Strength to Fight.


“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“Amen.”

— A Franciscan blessing

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.

Squishy Small Brain.


Note to future self:
When you don’t get it right —
Apologize quickly and let go.
Don’t beat yourself up or defend yourself too long.
Humans are squishy with small brains. We don’t get it right every time. And that’s okay. Being wrong is not the end of the world.
— J.S.

No, You’re Not Persecuted.


There is a particular Christianese language that demonizes “the enemy” and “the infidel,” in which “God is on my side” and “They’re holding me back.”

This triumphalistic self-affirming theology, wrapped up in warfare terms and royalty cliches, cannot stand criticism.

It assumes all disagreement is trolling.

It attempts to say “I have the truth” as if truth must be weaponized to hold over someone’s head.

It breeds yes-men and an insider’s club.

It moralizes its own values based on “who we are not.”

It is an anti-theology that covers deep insecurity with little fleeting boosts of ego.

It attacks the most minor offenses in “secular worldly” culture in order to play victim—when sadly, Christians and truly persecuted groups are killed daily overseas.

I’m guilty of abusing the persecution complex, too. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a dichotomous division between in-groups and out-groups, between my church and your church, my dogma versus yours, to feel important, as if by lots of motion I am really moving. It’s easy for me to write a post like this and presume that I’m above all of it somehow, as if by mere awareness I have it figured out. It’s easier to look certain in our convictions rather than say, “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” or, “Can you help me understand?”

In the end, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yes, them. To them, it’s us. Every person in this discussion needs grace and a generous space. The people who “don’t get it yet” are also you and me. The people who cry “I’m persecuted” need as much grace as you and I do. I pray for me. I pray for you.

— J.S.