Hope in Darkness — an Interview with JD Kim

Finding hope in the darkness can be challenging when you have been suffering.

Grotto’s new short film, “5 Minutes,” tells the story of JD Kim and the gratitude that fueled his resilience after a snowboarding accident. There were so many interesting threads to his story — we wanted to hear more about his experience, so we approached JD with some follow up questions. 

Here’s what he had to say about his dreams of being a sushi chef, how to navigate despair that seems to only see an answer in suicide (trigger warning), and the super-simple prayer he uses during the regular rest periods he takes in his wheelchair. 

JD, thank you for sharing your story with us. The whole Grotto team was moved by your journey and resilience. Before we get into the challenging parts of your story, though, I’m wondering about your dreams of being a sushi chef — where did that desire come from? Are you a foodie? Living in Denver, can you find good sushi now?

I started working as a sushi helper when I was a high school student to make a weekly allowance and a few bucks to hang out with my friends. Gradually, I began enjoying the job — especially the parts of hanging out and working with coworkers, receiving positive confirmation from my superiors and bosses, and making creative and delicious dishes. 

Honestly, and most importantly, I decided to become a sushi chef and learn Japanese cuisine to start my own Japanese-fusion restaurant because I wanted to be rich — I was raised in a poor immigrant family. 

I used to enjoy going out to different restaurants and bars before the snowboarding accident, but I am not a foodie anymore. There are many good Japanese restaurants in Denver, but honestly, they are too expensive for my budget.

One aspect of your story that really resonated with us was the idea of finding ways to cultivate gratitude, rather than focusing on what you don’t have. What are three things you found yourself thankful for this week in your life?

First, I was thankful that I submitted manuscript files to a book publisher. I signed a book publishing contract around three months ago and had been editing my doctoral dissertation to a book format. It took more than I expected. It is my first book, and I spent many hours in research, writing, editing, and especially prayer.

Second, I was thankful for my family and friends who have been part of my life since and before my snowboarding accident — they have prayed for me to finish the manuscript. I truly believe in the power of prayers and know that I could not have crossed the finish line without their prayer and encouragement. Having family and friends who believe in God and are willing to spend their precious time for the benefit of others is truly a blessing and honor. I am who I am now because of those who have been part of my journey.

Third, I was thankful for God’s grace. Now, I am not saying this because I am a Christian and am answering a question that could be posted on your website. If you asked me what are three things that I found thankful for today, I would still tell you that I was thankful for God’s grace. I try to express my gratitude for God’s love each and every day because God’s grace is the most expensive and valuable gift I received from Him — and one that I do not deserve. This grace gives me hope that allows me to smile today in the midst of my hardship, be grateful for what I have already, and push forward in my wheelchair, “praising my Savior all the day long.”

Throughout your story, I kept thinking about the ways you’ve responded to powerlessness. Part of your experience was about confronting powerlessness in terms of physical ability, but we all confront powerlessness in different ways. Some of us are financially powerless, or powerless to change our loneliness, or have suffered from abuse and are powerless over traumatic memories. What have you learned about powerlessness that might help others who are looking for hope?

This is a great and challenging question. All people around the world experience suffering one way or the other, but in different ways. Here is what I have tried and learned so far.

Acknowledge that your power is limited to resolve the issues that make you powerless. My issue is paralysis. I am limited in my ability to fix my paralysis. Also, I had financial hardship and was unable to pay my debts and support myself financially. I acknowledged that I was limited to resolve these problems.

Do everything in your power to overcome your problems. Ask people for help. Read books. Watch videos on DIY. Work more hours. Sleep less. Fix your negative habits. Save money. See counselors. Ask Siri and Google and follow their advice. Go to church. Talk to a priest. Pray to God. Try your best until you almost have no regret.

Know that as a human being, you are by nature finite and limited. That means we cannot live a perfect life in this world. Perfect life is like a mirage. Sure, there are many people around us who might have more than we do and have the things that we desire, but their lives are not perfect, either. All of us have our own burdens stacked up in our closet. Therefore, don’t be embarrassed about your powerlessness. It’s okay that you have a problem.

Accept your powerlessness as part of your life. That is, your suffering is not your identity and value. Only when we accept powerlessness as part of our lives can we control it, name it, and even use it. Don’t simply ignore it or deny it. Disability is disability; poverty is poverty; abuse is abuse. There is no need to sugarcoat it to lessen its existence — there is no need to overcomplicate it by making ourselves the victims.

Consider your disadvantage as your advantage. If you have done your homework to resolve your problem, you will be pretty good at understanding the issues related to your situation, although you may not have the answers to resolve it yet. Now, you are in a position where you can help others who just faced a similar problem and assist them in many ways. The area of your disadvantage or problem becomes your niche.

Remember that all human beings are worthy and have inherent dignity. God made each of us in His image — regardless of our differences, mistakes, and sins. We are worthy of love regardless of our race, gender, wealth, disability, failure, political affiliation, religion, culture, health, appearance, wealth, credit card debt, grades, occupation, credit score, or age. Do not let your powerlessness diminish or alter your value.

After your accident, it sounds like you were wrestling with a sort of despair — you were ready to end your life. Suicide is a real concern for our generation — what would you say to someone who is facing the same kind of darkness that you faced? What are some ways they might be able to reach beyond their hopelessness to find something — or someone — to hold on to?

About two years ago, my friend committed suicide. She was a believer, a strong believer, who endured many trials through the help of God. Yet she struggled against the idea of committing suicide — even with the help of therapy, support from her husband and two sons and church members, and prayer. Unfortunately, she could not continue her fight. So, I want to say first that I do not take the issue of suicidal thought lightly, as if there is a silver bullet that could resolve the issue once and for all.

You are not alone. You have your friends and family who love you and care for you, although they may not be able to demonstrate their love for you in a way that you would want them to. It probably has been difficult for you to talk to them about your feelings and thoughts because they do not seem to understand what you are going through.

Maybe you’ve already tried a few times. Just know that as you tried your best, however, they tried their best to talk to you and to understand you. Even if they may never understand you, they will never give up on you. If you love them and consider them your family and friends, please do not give up on them.

You’re not alone. There are many people in your community who are going through similar challenges as you are facing right now and can understand your pain of depression, hopelessness, meaninglessness, suffering, and loneliness. Maybe they cannot understand you perfectly, but there are certain people who do want to hear you, help you, and walk with you. If we can share our suffering, we can bear our suffering together. We were never meant to live and suffer alone — we were made to do this together. Let’s do it together.

Most importantly, God loves you. He knows your loneliness and challenges and wants to have a personal relationship with you. God knows what is best for you and has special plans for you — plans not to harm you, but to give you hope and a future. I do not know what His plan for you looks like, but I challenge you to reach out to Him and try to figure out what it is. 

It took a long time to figure out God’s plans for me, and when I finally did so, I was glad that I did not fall into the temptation. I know what you are going through is tough. It seems like there is only one choice to make things better. But you will always have the same choice today and tomorrow, so why not try what worked for me and others who have also struggled like you?

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). All calls are free and confidential 24/7.

As you began to see the gifts God was giving you in your experience, you started to capitalize on the brief, five-minute rest sessions you need to take for your blood flow — you started to use them for prayer. What does your prayer during those rest periods look like? What do you do or say? For someone who is new to prayer, setting aside five minutes of quiet might be a good place to start — do you have suggestions on how they could begin praying?

I use different ways to pray to God during the rest periods. Just briefly, first, I set the alarm for five minutes using Alexa — otherwise, I would lose sense of time.

Second, I simply pray a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for what He has done for me already.

Third, I offer God intercessory prayer — I present to Him the needs of people I know and love. Without careful attention, our prayer can be self-oriented. There is nothing wrong with praying for our needs, but prayer is more than receiving what we want from God for our needs only.

Fourth, I make a prayer schedule. I design a weekly schedule in Word format and tape the printed file on the wall behind my desk. In that way, I can see the prayer schedule before I recline my wheelchair and pray during my rest periods. Without the prayer schedule, I end up praying for my needs all the time. For instance, on Monday, I focus on praying for the needs of myself and my family, friends, and ministry partners. On Tuesday, I pray for this world and other nations, and so forth.

I suggest starting with a simple prayer, which can truly change your daily prayer life and attitude. You might think that it is too simple, but that’s why it works. When you wake up in the morning, say, “I love you, God. Thank you, God.” That’s it. It is that simple. Let me tell you what I have experienced over the years through this short and simple prayer.

Many people who want to build a habit of prayer often fail because they make a big plan that they cannot complete. This failure can lead to a sense of guilt, which often is the reason why people stop praying to God. 

This simple prayer becomes easy, even after failing to pray it during the first few weeks. Yes, you will fail — because it has not become your habit. Still, don’t give up. Keep trying it. Pray when you remember it in the shower or eating lunch or dinner. You will get there. 

Just like drinking coffee in the morning can wake you up and help you to start your day, this short prayer will wake your spirit up and motivate you to pray to God, spend time with Him, and live with Him throughout your day. You will start your day with gratitude and joy.

Yes, it is a very short prayer, but is still powerful because it is PRAYER. Prayer is a spiritual act. It is an act to connect to God, who is Spirit. He will respond to your prayer. Would you not respond if your loved ones told you that they love you and appreciate you? 

Start your day with this prayer and ask God to help you to pray to Him. I promise you that this prayer will change your life. May God bless your prayer journey!

Learn more about JD’s story and the organization he built to walk with others at JD Kim Ministries.

Be in the know with Grotto