A sunrise, a goat and a broken woman.

My house, tucked into the corner of a cul-de-sac, has a yard that backs up to a mostly empty double lot. On that lot live two goats and one pig.

I’m not kidding. And y’all, I don’t live in the country. These creatures are living in the middle of traffic and noise and chaos.

The goats are large white beasts. One has a long beard that honestly makes you want to ask deep questions of him. Like, “Mr. Goat, why exactly is it that we humans insist on destroying each other?”

My two rescued hounds, Dolly and Skye, are not fans of any of the three residents on the other side of the fence. Dolly is terrified of most things and so mostly just stares in anxious curiosity. Skye, my prison-trained dog, is far more aggressive and pushes her stocky body as far as it will go into their space, barking angrily as she does. The goats and pig both just look at her, chewing whatever they’ve scavenged, quiet and unmoved. They are, in some ways, the epitome of “non- anxious presence.”

I took Dolly out for a walk this morning, and one of the goats was munching along our fence line. The bearded one. Calmly, slowly, but with great intention. The sun is shining today, a rarity in Kentucky in February, and his bright white coat stood out with such gorgeous contrast against a blue sky and the very beginnings of green grass. We watched each other for a while, and I thought how odd and lovely he was: all that surrounds him modern and fast-paced, but here he is, being his goat-y self, happy and grounded.

Y’all? I was a little jealous.


It’s dark when M and I leave our house for our commute to her school. We live east of the main loop around Louisville, and she goes to school downtown. At 7am, it’s roughly a 25 minute drive.

The whole world starts to wake up in the time it takes me to pull into the parking lot of her school, drop her off, and pull back out onto a crowded street in Old Louisville that takes me back to the highway.

It’s dark.

And then it’s not.

Across a city riddled by potholes, poverty and violence the sun rises as I drive home. This morning it rose creamy orange, like the push-ups my great-grandfather used to buy me at a little country store in Adamsville, Tennessee.

There’s a street -Magnolia, it’s called – that I turn right on as I weave my way back to the loop, and it’s lined with old homes, people walking their dogs before work, and a few shops that will open later in the day. I see it almost entirely still. And I marvel at how it feels like a corridor between dawn and full-on morning, like a soft passage between the night before and the day ahead.

It’s full of possibility, and even as my mind races about the emails waiting and the appointments pending, I try hard to savor the few precious minutes of in-between.


She was crossing the street just as I turned.

Barely five feet tall, draped in multiple too-large layers, face bent down towards the street, head nodding as if she were in another place far from here, matted gray hair bobbing along. She matched the not-yet-daylight tones of the cityscape around her and she clearly had no idea my RAV4 was so close. She scurried, almost like an animal, diagonal across the road and oblivious, her wizened face knotted up from either poor mental health or a substance. Maybe both.

I’m thankful I was paying attention. A few seconds looking at my phone or elsewhere and the morning might have gone quite differently.

As it is I cannot get her out of my head tonight.

She is someone’s child.

And at some point, even if long ago, she was newborn. Untouched. Innocent.


It’s Monday. Mine was long and held a lot. Maybe yours did, too. Maybe you’ve got loved ones on your mind, and financial stresses front and center and the reality that it is going to be spring before we know it and these dark evenings will give way to cookouts and mosquitos and sunscreen.

Maybe you mark your days by oncology check ups. Maybe by your child’s school events. Maybe you’ve got a wedding or a vacation you’re looking towards and it’s giving you life to do so right now. Maybe you’re grieving a person, a place, a dream.

Maybe, in the midst of a cold and dark and volatile Kentucky winter, you, too, need a reminder of life outside the rat race.

So, silly as it sounds, I’ll hope your week includes the delightful stare of a billy goat, a sunrise that reminds you God is at work, and another human being who humbles you, enough that you’re able to give thanks for all that has been, and all that will be.

May it be so.


The angel on the tombstone.

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

Jen Hatmaker

This last Sunday morning I had “coffee bar duty,” at my church – which basically means brewing 4 1/2 gallons of coffee and 3 gallons of hot water so that folks can grab coffee or tea or hot chocolate in between morning services. It always means showing up early to get the serving table set up and the coffee made and transferred to large cambros so it will stay hot and fresh.

This last Sunday I shared prep space with an elderly gentleman who was setting up for his Sunday School class, which meets in a large room just off the big kitchen we were in. I think was dumping out grounds from gallon #2 when I noticed he was unfolding a paper tablecloth to drape across the counter they serve their own coffee and donuts off of. It was white, and covered with silver and pink and red hearts. I smiled and said, “Your cloth there is quite festive.” He grinned, shook his head and said, “Well. My wife said we had to do Valentine’s Day today. So here I am, doing Valentine’s Day.” I laughed, and so did he, and then we both went about our tasks.

It struck me that I’d been privy to in the exchange was a man honoring both his wife and his faith community with deep care and real commitment. I rolled my eyes inwardly at how much I’d loathed getting up that morning, and here was this man, bent with age and moving at less than half the speed I was, and yet still doing the job he’d said he’d do. And then I made the choice to be thankful I was there, with him, bearing witness. Suddenly, my own morning became about service over chore, fellowship over task, connection over how much I’d wanted to stay in bed.


We welcomed to Louisville several weeks ago four generations of a family from El Salvador, United Nations sanctioned refugees. They are deeply faithful people, and I first knew this when my dad, who was part of the team that helped get them settled, told me how the matriarch of the family wanted to pray when they arrived at their apartment, and wanted everyone to know how grateful to God she was for their safe arrival.

Sunday they worshipped with us. Their English is scant, and so a team of folks worked to have our worship service streamed to them on a laptop with Spanish subtitles. They all sat on the front row, my dad and some others surrounding them as a sign of welcome and support.

Second song in, our worship music team did something that I am still marveling at – they chose a song in our congregation’s music canon that many of us know. It gets sung on mission trips and at camp a lot, and it’s a song that is traditionally sung in Spanish. Its roots are Argentinian, but it’s been very popular in United States churches for some time. I first learned it at the Lujano Presbyterian Church in Havana, Cuba, in March of 1998, while on a study trip there with fellow grad students.

It goes like this:

Santo, santo, santo. 
Mi corazon te adora! 
Mi corazon te sabe decir: 
Santo eres, Dios! 

Holy, holy, holy.
My heart, my heart adores you!
My heart knows how to say to you:
You are holy, Lord!

From where I was sitting Sunday morning, I had a straight line of vision to the end of the pew where our El Salvadoran family was sitting. And I will not forget, for a very long time, perhaps ever, watching the physical change that came over the face of the eldest man in the family as all the American voices around him began singing, “Santo, santo, santo….” The side of his face curved into a grin, his shoulders raised a bit, and his mouth opened, and he sang.

He. Sang.

And my heart almost exploded with the pure joy of it.


I cannot explain it. Not by a longshot. But both my kitchen friend and the El Salvadoran were, for me, this week, angels on a tombstone.

Out of the darkness of a world gone entirely mad; out of conflict, out of war, out of chronic or terminal illness, soaring egg prices and, as Don Henley once sang, “crooked politicians and crime in the street,”; out of hate and anger and pain and grief searching blindly for places to go and be made well; out of all that destroys us, leaves us with ragged breath and strikes fear in our hearts…

…out of all these things, these two men came walking into the same space as me and offered light, simply by being who they were in the moment. They could not be more different – different nationalities, different languages, different races, different sorrows, different statuses…different everything.

And yet, they both spoke hope to me.


I have written here before that I’ve oft been accused of rose-colored glasses, of insisting on rainbows when there are none. But know this – when I speak of hope, however much or little I might have available on any given day, I speak of it out of a deep conviction that death does not ever get the last word.

And I hold this conviction because I know what it is to somehow survive, even if on my knees and just barely, Friday and Saturday – and then to watch Sunday show up, the early light of its merciful dawn making the angel perched on that tombstone unmistakable.

As I’ve said, I cannot explain it.

And I say it holding in my heart all that hurts, in my own life, and in the lives of those I love: death – of a person, of a dream, of a life, of a way of being – does not get the last word.

The angel on the tombstone is waiting – with life.


Uploading our pain.

“Trauma has to be uploaded.” (Penelope Garcia, Criminal Minds: Evolution)

Last night my daughter’s theater cohort at her school put on a short play that dealt with suicide, particularly when it comes to teenagers.

It was both gut-wrenching and gorgeous, and I was especially appreciative of one of the school’s counselors being on-hand for the production. She facilitated a great discussion between the actors and the audience after, and made it clear she was there for support if anyone needed to process what they’d seen.

Some of the kids in her cohort I know a little, some of them I know not at all, but I’ve heard and seen enough of M’s journey with them so far in high school to know that they are all walking around in pain, whether expressed or not.

We all are.

Sometimes it’s dull, unnoticeable perhaps, except as a sort of low-grade presence in our lives, residual from some long-ago trauma that, when irritated by some conversation or experience, will flare up momentarily and remind us to take care, because even old injuries matter.

Sometimes it is white-hot, absolutely at the forefront of our existence, threatening to consume us.

Sometimes it is like a hot potato, and we don’t want its heat anymore so we toss it off to someone else with our words or actions or behavior. Hurt people hurt people.

And sometimes it is so deeply buried, so locked away in some intentionally forgotten part of who we are that we trick ourselves into thinking it doesn’t make a difference anymore. Only, chances are, it does.


I am an avid Criminal Minds fan. I blew through all 15 seasons across several months mid-2020. I was midway through chemotherapy to treat recently diagnosed lymphoma, I was mad at the world, Covid-19 raged, and nothing felt right.

Everything hurt.

And I know – it’s weird that a show dealing with utterly awful things, the very worst of humanity, would provide solace to me during a difficult time; but, I’ll tell you — that’s exactly what it did. And obviously not because of the serial killers and psychopaths. But because of the team dedicated to tracking them down. The glorious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) – Gideon and Hotch and Rossi and JJ and Spencer and Emily and Derek and Penelope and a few others here and there along the way – their bond fascinated me, gave me hope, even, because it played out onscreen the way I wish the world could be – so focused on common good, on what’s right, on seeing through the urgent task at hand, that all other differences fell away. The BAU was, at least IMHO, successful because their deep care for each other, even when they disagreed, translated into a deep care for the world and its people. All people.

The original CM aired its last tear-jerking episode just before Covid-19 struck the United States. Fast forward to this past fall, and actor Joe Mantegna, who portrays veteran profiler David Rossi on the show, has helped bring to fruition Criminal Minds: Evolution, a reboot of sorts of the original series. I was here for it as soon as saw a trailer…but I had no idea what I was getting into.

CM:E is nothing short of a brilliant exploration of trauma – both personal and collective. It’s been three years since the agents have all been scattered to working solo due to Covid and departmental budget cuts. They’ve lost not only their daily camaraderie, but their hive mind. And meanwhile Rossi’s wife has died, Penelope, their chief hacker, has quit due to ongoing panic and depression from their cases, several agents have been reassigned, and the ones left are working too long days with nowhere near enough resources. Meanwhile, the criminals they hunt have found, in the isolation of a pandemic, a way to thrive in cyberspace. They are all mad and sad and exhausted.

Everything hurts.

Rossi, especially, hurts. And he pushes the pain away with constant work, constant absence from home, too much whiskey chased by antacids, too much takeout and nowhere near enough sleep. He is terse, angry and often verbally abusive, caught up in a ball of grief that he cannot seem to either name or manage.

One evening, he comes to beg Penelope, who is happily running baking classes and a safe internet chat site for teenagers, for her expertise in a crucial case. She (at first) refuses, citing her own hard work to reclaim her mental health after over a decade of BAU work. She doesn’t want to go back to the dark corners of the world.

Rossi doesn’t like this. He needs her. Desperately. And in their back and forth is evident how much pain has shaped them both. Finally, Penelope tells Rossi he needs help. That he needs to find a way back to the Rossi she once knew, she tells him she knows firsthand how hard it is to emerge from the muck, and bears witness to how the work they once did together almost destroyed her – until she found a way to express it, name it, face it and deal with it.

“Trauma has to be uploaded,” she says to her friend, and warns him that if he does not deal with what he has been through, it will wreck him entirely.


I watched a bunch of teenagers work on uploading trauma last night, y’all. Bravely, and in their own mixed up way, but, still, they went at it. My heart broke that they even have to face such demons at all, especially when I know how responsible we adults are for most of what pains them. And that they could stand in the center of a black box stage, friends and family gathered, and express such important and deeply painful truths about the ways loss impacts a person — well, it would do the rest of us some good to listen up and follow suit.

It would do the rest of us some good to heed Penelope’s gentle and loving advice, “Trauma must be uploaded,” instead of this insistence we seem to want to die on that “everything’s fine,” and that our money, our position, our work, our big house, our ideals, or, even and perhaps worst of all, our faith, can protect us from the complete hell life can mete out.

We are not fine.

We are not okay.

We are broken at the very core of who we are.

And inside us, both individually and corporately, riots grief with seemingly nowhere to go and pain that cannot find healing.

And if we continue to seek solace in our tribes, our social media personas, our “things,” or our own anger and false certainty, we will continue to unravel at the very seams we are working so hard and so futilely to hold together.

And if our children can be brave enough to say, “We’re not okay and we need to tell you about it,” the very least we could do, it seems to me, is take their lead, and perhaps find a way towards wholeness together.

It’s long past time.


A holy ham.

I don’t particularly like ham.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it. But I’d sure as hell rather have a really good burger. Or a filet if you’re really after my favorite.

This December, though, a ham has been my saving grace….


StageOne Family Theatre is a theater company local to where I live. For 75 years, they’ve been about making live theater accessible to everyone – especially, often, young people who would not otherwise get to experience it. They run summer camps and year-round classes; they produce thoughtful, well-crafted shows that inspire thought; they believe that theater makes a difference in how we understand the world and each other. Our family has been immeasurably enriched by their work. 

For many, many years now, StageOne has, every December, put on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in play form. Perhaps you read this darling little book in grade school. It’s the story of the six Herdman kids – Imogene, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie, Claudia and Gladys. These kids are outcasts of the first order in their little town, and, to be truthful, it’s easy to see why.

They’re mean. Like, make you swallow tadpoles live and steal your lunch mean.

They’re also very, very poor. And not well cared for. And dirty. And I would suspect malnourished though the book never quite says that. Their supervision is minimal, if any, and they are subject to “child welfare” visits quite often. No one wants to be around them. Ever.

The play centers around the Herdmans descending upon their town’s annual church Christmas pageant, bullying their way into key roles and causing general chaos and discomfort. It’s actually a rather scathing critique of Christianity in parts – “Jesus said ‘suffer the children to come unto me,’ but I don’t think he meant Herdmans,” is an actual line and I laugh and cringe at it every time. 

Because of course Jesus meant exactly the Herdmans. 

It is, on the one hand, a “silly little play,” as one friend calls it. Aging, perhaps, in a world of high-end musicals and multimedia concerts. But…I dare you to watch it and not be touched, challenged, even, by the great truth that baby Jesus came for all of us. 

And all of us does actually mean all of us. 

Three of the Herdmans secure roles as the wise men. They have lots of questions as to what frankincense actually is and why in the world it was a gift to an infant. Which, I really can’t argue with. Surely the ancient middle east had something like a casserole?

Christmas Eve arrives and those Herdmans turned Wise Men, they waltz on stage carrying a ham.

Like, a shrink-wrapped, red-ribbon-bound, ham. Pink and huge and having come from their Christmas “welfare box.”

The initial assumption is that the Herdmans must hate ham. After all, why else would they have given it away? But the play’s narrator, Beth, whose mother Grace directs the pageant, somehow senses that ham means more. “They’ve never given away anything in their life,” she says, and later notes that when the pageant was over, they refused to take the ham back, because, “It’s a present, and you don’t take back presents,” says Ralph Herdman.

Y’all. I’ve seen StageOne’s production of the show no less than a dozen times over the years, and every single time I see that ham laid gently down next the manger, offered with a once mean Herdman heart turned humble; every time I see the haughty faces of the church goers soften at the gesture; every time I watch as suddenly you feel as if you aren’t watching a play after all but some crucial piece of history…every time, I am simply undone, wrecked with a desire for the truth of that ham to be what rules our hearts.  

Suddenly that ham seems holy, and the very best thing the magi could have offered. 


I know that I am not the only one for whom this Christmas season has been difficult. I mean, y’all, we are drowning after too many years of communal loss, unspoken fear and stifled anxiety. 

We need a holy ham. Something completely ordinary that knocks us off our feet and out of our rat race long enough to ask, “A ham?!? What in the world?!? Oh…wait…. Wow.”

People will likely freeze to death in my town tonight. It will be the coldest it has been since 1989 come morning. 

Someone will die of an overdose – maybe intentional, maybe not. 

Someone will wonder if tomorrow is even worth it. 

Someone will sob until dawn wondering how to pay both the mortgage and their hospital bill. 

Someone will wonder, again, why the color of their skin matters more than who they are at heart.

Someone will hear, “It’s cancer.”

Someone will face their first Christmas without their best person.

We need a holy ham. A gift that makes no sense at all but that encompasses the very sort of love we’re all so desperate for. 

What I know is this: we are aching for wholeness, searching desperately in the darkness for something that will bring us even a small bit of peace. We’re so tired. And so heartbroken. And as much as I love presents – and y’all, I LOVE presents – I know that they cannot fill the space inside of me that hurts, that harbors past wrongs and wonders over past mistakes and wakes at 4am longing mercy. 

You have such a space, too. We all do. And neither Hallmark nor Apple nor Target can fill it. 

I wonder, though, if a holy ham could. 


I don’t know y’all. The world just seems rife with pain, full up with heartbreak. And some days hope is so hard to come by. We’ve made such a damn mess of things. I have no answers, none at all. All I know is that kindness matters. And that even small glimpses of grace have the potential to see us through. 

Breathe deep, okay? I promise you, somewhere, a holy ham is waiting – and when you see it, when you notice it, sitting right there, looking for all the world like it matters not at all…you’ll know that even in the worst of our chaos and the darkest of our nights, hope waits.

Hope. Waits. 


A deer. Some memories. And perhaps a little hope.

He wasn’t bothered at all by my presence.

The deer at Berry College are largely unfazed by humans, as they are part and parcel of life on those 30-something thousand acres, even in well-populated places like the big lawns students trek across on their way to class or the library or the dining hall. 

He had friends – three does. They were a bit more skittish and moved further away when they saw me. I was a half hour early for an alumni choir rehearsal, part of the reason I’d come to Mountain Day Weekend (a huge homecoming and reunion weekend for those of you who don’t “speak Berry”), and he and his small harem were lazily moving about the expanse of lawn and trees in front of the college chapel – a gorgeous brick and column structure that’s been around for a century. I know nothing about architecture, I just know it’s beautiful, and to walk through its big double doors is something akin to Moses approaching his burning bush.

I moved quietly to a bench that sat under a tree, just beyond the walkway to the chapel, and the buck started. The bench was nearer to him. I made no sound. And slowly and quietly as I could eased onto the corner of the bench furthest from him. We maintained eye contact the whole time. 

And then I just sat there with him. No words. Soft breath. He held his gaze for some time, as did I. I smiled, and whispered to him that he was pretty cool and I was glad to see him. 

Eventually, more people came. And he wandered off to a more secluded spot. 

It was the most present I could recall having been in a very long time. And in telling someone today about that moment, with that deer, I found my throat clogged with sudden, unexplainable tears. 


The opening lines of one of my most favorite novels read, “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” (The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy)

Three brief phrases, but in them is the truth of how a place can – for better or for worse – get in our bones, wrap itself around our very soul and take up residence in our hearts such that it can never really be gone from us nor we from it. 

That place is, for me, Berry College. It is not perfect. Nowhere is. And you can’t be part of every day life in a place for four years without both good and bad things happening there. At least not and live. 

But if there’s a place that calls me home, where I know my feet are grounded upon soil that understands me, where I’ve been nurtured and challenged and given room to speak truth as I have known it – it is Berry College. 

I came to Berry in the fall of 1993, my sights set on becoming the next Katie Couric. I declared broadcast journalism as my major, taking an English minor simply because I love words and stories so much I couldn’t imagine spending four years not studying them. 

The English minor held. The major morphed to a general B.A. in Communication. Between those two things I wrote, spoke, and studied writing and speaking to my heart’s content, reveling in any opportunity to delve into relationships, how we communicate and how the stories of our lives often define us.

I also, despite my attempts to avoid doing so, found myself filling up any available elective space with religion classes. Old Testament. New Testament. A seminar on Amos, and another on Hosea. 

Berry was, and is, a mixed bag theologically – I valued that then, as I do now, because I believe that our individual life experiences cannot help but influence how we read Scripture and how we understand God. That said, when, during the fall of my senior year, I made the decision to apply to seminary for graduate school, I was pretty taken aback, hurt, even, when several student peers told me I couldn’t be a minister. That was men’s work. 

Almost exactly twenty-five years later, on the second Sunday in October, I delivered the sermon for the Mountain Day Weekend worship service. The full sanctuary held some of the people I love most in the world, and I remember thinking, as I began speaking, “How in the world did I get so very lucky?”

God’s hand was all over it.

And y’all, it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with how, if we’re paying enough attention, listening hard enough to our lives, are present enough, we sometimes find ourselves exactly where we didn’t even know we were meant to be. 


I told a friend this week that I am overwhelmed with how loud and angry the world seems. My own city is rife with overcrowding and poverty and violence. An election cycle is in full force and this makes me anxious in all sorts of ways. Mostly because to my left and to my right are people I love and I am tired of all of us getting played by people more interested in power than anything else. Our children are literally not safe at school. Friends and family are critically ill. Milk is entirely too expensive. And I very selfishly cry sometimes at the thought that maybe I won’t actually one day make it to Ireland. 

I’ve lost any notion of how we face such unending chaos and grief and fear. I only know that we must endure it, must live our lives for something better – because I believe with all that I am that God is still all love, and always present, even right here in the muck and grime.

I know this, because I know what it is to join with fifty or so other voices who’ve never all actually sung together, but who can, while in a chapel we all love, after a mere few hours of rehearsal under the direction of a masterful musician, make the music of John Rutter sound like the very mercy of God come to rain down on all that threatens to scorch us. 

I know this, because there is a four-point buck wandering around Berry College who sure is something, and he reminded me that there are all sorts of holy moments in this world. And most of the time we miss them. 

But sometimes we don’t. 

Sometimes the very ground we walk on, the very air around us, is on fire with the presence of that which binds us close to one another, and to God – and in one short burst of grace we see it, just for a second. 

And in that second is everything that matters most in this life. 

In that second is healing. 

In that second is a reminder of who we are and where we came from and what will eventually call us home.


The one where I broke things, and it made me think about how much we’re all hurting, all the time.

It was not my finest moment.

I was tired. Frustrated. Anxious about a project at work. Masking insecurity and that sort of self-doubt that leaves you shaky inside with a superfluous anger.

I stomped up the stairs, working up a righteous kind of mad at the world, and continued stomping to my room where I, with great intention, slammed the door.

In the two seconds it took for a rush of air to get caught between the vehemently closing door and a fireplace mantle, I slipped through, just as that rush of air scooped up a china jewelry tray, and a framed vintage vinyl recording of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” slamming all of it to the foot-wide slab of marble flooring below the mantle.

I’ve never seen glass shatter with such a resounding crash. Never seen it splinter into more pieces than I could possibly count. Jewelry bounced across the bedroom floor as it landed, thankfully away from the marble and on to the carpet. And the china tray that held it all found shelter from the impact as it landed on top of the album’s cardboard sleeve.

I stood there. Frozen. A rush of shame flushing my cheeks, the temper I’d worked myself into dissipating faster than one boxer-terrier mix and a teenager could fly up the stairs to see what had caused such sound and fury.


The two middle fingers of my right hand will not draw up next to each other. Or even lie on a flat surface lined up together. There’s a thin, ragged V separating them — so much so that I can Vulcan salute like I wrote Mr. Spock’s character myself.

They weren’t always as they are. I think I was about 11 when, enraged as only a pre-teen can be at my mother (for what I’ve forgotten long ago), I’d rushed sobbing down the long hallway of our South Texas home, yelling, I’m sure, some sort of promise to never speak to her again, and took a flying leap onto my double bed, only to have my right hand land before the rest of me, wrenching the two middle fingers away from one another, the ring finger remaining, from that day on, slightly crooked.

I have a vague memory of (of course) immediately running back to my mother, shrieking in pain, her sympathy and desire to fix the pain perhaps less than it normally would be (and, y’all, let’s be honest — rightfully so).


Rushing off in a huff, giving into anger (and whatever other emotion it’s making a feeble attempt to mask) – these things do not work out well for me.

There is a time and place for real anger. For grief or anxiety or fear to give full voice to its presence in such a way that our true (in that moment) self is known and can be tended to. Things that are not spoken, are not faced, cannot be healed.

But man-oh-man y’all. The issue we name is so often not it at all.

A good 90 percent of the time we’re all walking around so wounded we cannot even speak the pain. But the thing is, pain will not be silenced. And if it is not given it’s moment, it will find another way — settling into our jawline with the fierce spasms that TMJ sufferers know; bubbling up when we least expect it because a movie character or storyline makes emoting possible; tightening our shoulders.

Or, worse yet, forcing itself out in self-harming behavior, angry words at those we love, sabotaging important life-giving relationships because we can’t get out of our own way long enough to see what’s keeping us from the promise of goodness and life on the other side of what’s eating us alive.


We don’t like to talk about our not-so-fine moments. We don’t like to own up to the times when the very worst of us triumphs over the very best and we’re left wondering how we got to this particular minute, with a treasured gift lying in pieces on the floor, our heartbeat beginning to slow now that the explosion has passed, somehow finding the words to say, quietly, “I’m so sorry. This is just not good, is it?”

I will never stop saying this — because I believe it in the very depths of my soul: As individuals, as communities, as a country, we are white hot with pain that has not been given its moment to speak its truth. And it is drowning us- so we gasp for air by clinging to our sides of the aisle, pulling against our terrified chests our long-held beliefs about what’s right and wrong with nary a thought to how our belief might tread on someone else’s deeply held faith or desire or dream. We are a country lost in a sea of tremendous pain, and instead of facing it, instead of letting it wash over us, we avoid its hurt by hurting one another, by pointing fingers, by declaring “stupid” those who see the world differently than we might.


Where does it hurt, y’all? What is inside you that feels so tender that you can barely stand to name it? What dream are you so afraid to acknowledge, for fear your heart might once again lie broken on the kitchen floor? What is it that scares you so much, what is it that has made you so sad, that your only defense is to strike out at another?

What’s working you into such a sea of tangled emotion inside that you can’t see what’s good around you? What’s worth giving thanks for? What’s possible? What’s real and true and worth fighting for?

These are things we have to ask ourselves, first, before anything else gets sorted out.

Like I had to kneel down at the edge of hundreds of pieces of broken glass and sort out, with self-care and intention and patience, where I was to start, so that the shards could be picked up without tearing anything else apart.

We were made in and for love, y’all. Created to know joy, to live life with and for one another. There’s no way to know any of this without also knowing pain.

Our hope lies in letting it do its work, letting it speak its truth, so that those tender, sharp places can be made whole again.


Full circle.

This will likely not be the last thing I have to write about my trip home to Berry College this last weekend. But it is, for now, the thing I need to write. I’ve never used this platform to publish a sermon manuscript. But, some folks have asked. And, while I wrote these words for Berry, as I was invited to preach the sermon for the 2022 Mountain Day Chapel Service (an annual homecoming and reunion weekend for Berry alumni), I wrote them out of a heart that believes these words matter for all of us. Because we are, all, longing to come home. My great hope for all of us is that we one day will.

I also wrote them knowing that when I was a student at Berry 25 years ago, there were those on that campus who did not believe I could be a preacher, because I am a woman. I hope that if there is a young woman out there who has been told the same, that she can read these words and know that, “Yes. You can. In fact, God needs you to do so.”


Home By So Many Ways

Berry College Chapel

October 9, 2022

Good morning, y’all. I truly have no words for what an honor it is to be here today, in this capacity. I’m a little awestruck, to be honest, so, I’m going to begin by reading a couple of passages from the Gospels – each of them referencing a place called Bethany– a little village in Judea, couple miles, maybe, from Jerusalem. Reading these scriptures will 1) help me settle in a bit and 2) set the stage for the words I want to offer today. And, maybe you’ve heard some of what I’m going to read before. 

The first is from the Gospel of John, right at the beginning of chapter 11, and it reads: 

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,a “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarusb was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

The second is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10:

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.l Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary, Martha, Lazarus – y’all know that new-ish country song, “Famous Friends?” The guy who sings it – Chris Young, I think – tells about his hometown crew, folks who were big time in their little town, famous, even on their home turf, but that no one else would’ve ever known. Well, Mary, Martha and Lazarus – they were Jesus’ hometown crew. His famous friends no one else had ever heard of. At least not until Jesus’ followers started writing about them. 

Bethany was also the place where an unnamed, but some folks believe perhaps a Mary, anointed Jesus’ feet with fine oil, the place where Jesus cursed a fig tree (that’s a whole ‘nother sermon and maybe you can ask one of the religion professors about it, students), and,  the one place mentioned as a spot where Jesus spent the night during the week before his crucifixion. 

Bethany, was, for Jesus, and for those who knew and loved him best, home. 


I was a sophomore here at Berry before I worked up the nerve to ask my advisor if I could join the Concert Choir to fill some of my elective hours. She said I sure could, and so, I, having not really sung since I’d left high school, showed up in this very chapel, first day of classes for the new school year, terrified that it would be painfully obvious that although I could certainly carry a tune, sing well, even, I was no match for the vocal majors I’d heard warming up in the hallways of the Ford buildings.

It was not easy to be a member of the Berry College Concert Choir in 1994. Harry Musselwhite cared – cares – deeply about making good music, and about doing so well, with crisp consonants and tall vowels and deep breaths that will carry you right through the most difficult line of John Rutter or Gabriel Faure. We worked. Hard. And some days it was super frustrating. 

And some days, it was pure gold. By mid-semester, I knew I’d found my place. My people. And the hours I spent in this place, with those people, working through some of the world’s most beautiful music, were hours that challenged me. Shaped me. Forged me for far more than a choir concert. Because more than anything else, when we were perfecting a line from Candide, or a single note from Verdi, we were learning what it meant to be our best and truest selves in a way that only determined individuals working towards a common goal can. It was, as I reflected on it recently, rather revolutionary. Especially in light of a world that is, daily, more divided along lines drawn by politics, socioeconomics, race, gender and just about any other line in the sand you can think of. 

Where is your place? Who are your people? Where is it that you know, like Jesus did with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, that there was, without doubt, a chair for YOU at the table, and space for YOU to be exactly who you are, even when everything around you seems to be falling apart? Where is it that you would choose to spend the night, right in the middle of the worst week of your life, with nothing certain and everything in chaos?


I graduated from Berry 25 years ago. Which, first, seems impossible. But, second, y’all so much has changed! There was a pay phone at the end of the hallway in the East Mary dorm when I was a student. A. Pay. Phone. You better believe I knew how to charge a call back home to my parents’ house in Winder, Georgia, on that pay phone. 

But also. There’s TikTok now. 

And Loretta Lynn is dead. 

And so is Michael Jackson.

Also, did y’all know there was a football game here last night? And I’m not talking about Ted Lasso or the Premier League. Like, actual American football? Did anyone ask Martha Berry?!?

There’s folks that should be here, too. I know my class is not the only whose lost classmates we loved – many of them far too soon. 

So much has changed….

Some of you in this room graduated 50 years ago. Some of you a year ago. Some of you are professors who’ve lived a whole career as Berry College faculty, and some of you are parents who are just glad that Mountain Day gave you an excuse to come check on your kid midway through her first semester of college. 

However it is that you are here this morning, whatever connection to this place, this school, this home, has brought you here – we’ve all come by so many ways. 

Some of us have come by way of heartache – life stories having not gone at all as we’d planned and dreams we once had shattered on the kitchen floor. 

Some of us have come by way of sorrow – loved ones lost and relationships broken.

Some of us have come by way of cancer or diabetes or Parkinson’s or some other serious illness. 

Some of us have come by way of carpool and baseball practice and juggling professional and personal lives with a triple latte in hand and a daily prayer that we’ll make it through. 

Some of us have come by way of standing in the trenches of injustice and demanding that all God’s children know real equality and true freedom. 

So many ways. So many stories. So many different paths we took from this place, and so many different paths that have brought us back. And I wonder how those of us returning after some time might be finding each other different. 

I wonder how Mary and Martha found Jesus different when he showed up, road worn and weary at their place, knowing the fate that awaited him, and also knowing that there, with them, he was safe. Bonded in their common faith, their common desire for Jesus’ message of unconditional love and grace to be known. 

We are, this morning, gathered together in a moment of reunion, come from a world torn apart by hate, by rage, by grief – we are a broken people in this country, there is no way around that fact, and I would imagine that we have come to this space with as many different ideas about why that is as there are individuals gathered here. 

But I also know that what draws us here unites here. What draws us here is a mountain woman who believed that education mattered, and who was determined that even the poorest of mountain children were deserving of such an education. What draws us here is a woman who believed that book learning matters, yes, but so do the things we learn with the beating of our hearts, the things we learn with the work of our hands. What draws us here is bigger than each of us, and it calls us to a way of being in the world that, I believe, is capable of making a difference – of healing, even, some of broken places. 

I mean, did it matter at all, your time here? Does it matter that you’ve known life in this place? A place that came to be because Martha Berry was brave enough, visionary enough, revolutionary enough, to speak when women weren’t often allowed to, so that the children around her could dream of a better future?

Does it matter that you call – or at least once called– Lavender Mountain home?

It does to me. 

I can’t y’all how many people in my life in Louisville, Kentucky just roll their eyes when I start talking about Berry College. “We know, Julie, we know. It’s the most beautiful campus and the biggest campus and there’s lots of deer. We KNOW.”

(Although, in recent months, the fact that season 4 of Stranger Things was partly filmed here, has, I admit, earned me street cred with my teenage daughter and her friends.)

I wonder if sometimes the disciples rolled their eyes at Jesus when he said something about Bethany. “We KNOW Jesus. Mary and Martha are there, and Lazarus is the coolest. We KNOW.”

Bethany mattered to Jesus, by all Gospel accounts. It shaped him, I think, for ministry, perhaps in ways that weren’t obvious, but that were no less important.

Whatever way you’ve come here this weekend, whatever path led you home, it isn’t like anyone else’s – and yet, there is something so incredibly sacred about so many of us finding our way here. 

Common ground is extraordinarily difficult to find these days. Heartbreakingly so. Every day, it seems, we find new ways to pit ourselves against one another. 

And yet – here we all are this morning. On common ground. 

Here we are. Home. 

The real question, though, is what difference will it make when we leave again?


For the wee hours of a Friday…

There’s an odd comfort in the green dots along the right side of my screen – their light says I’m not the only one in my time zone awake at 4:30am. If “never alone” is the core desire of our hearts, then I suppose, for this moment anyway, Facebook has offered solidarity for once, as opposed to its way-too-normal pattern of encouraging us to tear each other apart with half-truths and false outrage.

A friend from high school…another mom from church I know just a little…a few clergy pals…a former youth group member who I know is a new dad and so I can guess why he’s awake. And me. My own head full of all the things parent and professional never mind the zillion other bits of news and moments of worry begging at the edges of my mind for its attention.

Did you know there’s still a war in Ukraine? I wonder how many moms are awake in the middle of the night there, maybe just praying they’ll see sunrise.

I sit curled up on my couch, coffee brewed earlier than usual, my incorrigible-but-darling mutts not even ready to make their morning dash for the backyard, and I marvel at the sweetness of this life I’ve been handed. Nothing perfect about it — it’s shot through with things I wish I had gone different, words I wish I’d said sooner or not at all, dreams shattered on the kitchen floor and a thousand fears that gnaw at the edges of stubborn hope and a real faith that no matter what, God is to be seen and felt and heard.

Whatever it is that you face this Friday, y’all, whatever joys await, whatever sorrows weigh heavy, whatever heartache is threatening to undo you, whatever happiness lurks on the horizon…whatever it is, the only thing I can offer is what I know for sure: You are not alone.

Neither are those mamas praying for an end to bombs and bullets in Ukraine.

And on the days when everything seems just a bit too loud, too much, too…everything…perhaps, “You are not alone,” is just exactly what we need.

And more than enough.


phlebotomies. trauma. and, perhaps, hope.

A super fun (sarcasm font) complication of how long it took for my particular form of lymphoma to be diagnosed is that I have, for well over two years, been carrying way too much iron around in my blood. Which is particularly ironic (in that Alanis-black-fly-in-your-chardonnay kind of way) when you consider that I was also acutely anemic prior to diagnosis and treatment. I do not even pretend to understand all the science, despite due diligence of researching Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia (a “lazy-ass” cancer as my WM friend Lisa calls it, because it smolders, sneaky – like, wreaking mild havoc in ways that make it hard to call it what it is).

In my case, two years of (we now know) pointless iron infusions led to a toxic build-up of iron in my blood, while I still remained anemic. The damnedest thing, right? Then a brilliant oncologist said, “Ooh, this is lymphoma,” and I immediately had all sorts of tests and treatment. This past spring it became super necessary to deal with the iron situation — if you don’t, it comes after your liver and kidneys (and I’m not here for that).

My ferritin levels in May hovered around 1000. A “normal” ferritin read is more like 200-250. My oncologist would feel better if I were at 100, just to be safe. Since mid-May, I’ve had 11 phlebotomies — a weekly draw of about 17 oz of blood, that is then thrown away (which breaks my heart, but no one wants my cancerous blood), making room for new, non-iron laden blood, to be made. It’s exhausting. And frustrating. And throws a real wrench in the 24 hours after. Because, you know, I’m down a pint. But–drum roll, please–it’s working, and as of last week, I’m sitting pretty at 260 for my ferritin level.

Come on, 100!!!

My blood is toxic. And it had begun affecting my overall health and wellbeing in potentially awful ways. And the bad stuff has to go, to make room for good stuff.

The bad stuff has to go, to make room for good stuff.


I spent an hour each with two compassionate, brilliant, insightful women today. One is my therapist, the other is my massage therapist. One takes care of my head and my heart and the places those two parts of me intersect. The other takes care of my tense shoulders, knotted hamstrings, and pesky TMJ.

They both help me find the things inside me that are, perhaps, affecting my overall health and wellbeing, and then work to help those things resolve, heal, relax — enough to make space for more good stuff to grow.

The bad stuff has to go, to make room for the good stuff.


Our bodies hold our unresolved, un-dealt-with trauma, y’all. And if you’ve lived very long at all, you’ve known trauma — in some form or fashion.

Significant loss is trauma. Betrayal is trauma. Acute bodily injury or illness is trauma. Abuse — in any form — is trauma. A dysfunctional family of origin is trauma. Divorce, even if it is the best decision you can make with the situation at hand, is trauma. Mental illness is trauma.

And, of course, so is life-changing tragedy. War. Poverty. Violence. Political toxicity (I’m looking at you, USA).

You know what else is trauma? A freaking global pandemic.


We are, collectively, holding more pain than we know what to do with.

We are, individually, fostering everything that has brought us to where we are, good bad and ugly.

We are, as communities, groaning, with an ache we can’t even describe.

We are, y’all, toxic with unresolved trauma. Full-up with a grief we don’t even have words for. Yearning, with hearts that don’t even know how to express it, for belonging, for safety, for the kind of love that leads us to our best selves and calls us home to all we ever wanted.

And while I am no expert on any of the things I speak of, I know for sure that if we do not find a way to both name and face the heartache, we will, eventually, fall victim to it.


I have long believed, more so now than ever, that our hope lies in each other. And I know that this terrifying.

I really, really do.

We are so afraid of being truly known, even as we long to be. So afraid of being fully loved, even as we beg to be. So afraid of being our true selves, even as we ache to be.

It’s madness. And it’s killing us.

Phlebotomy seems easy in the face of all this, even as it quite literally drains me every week. And yet — in it is physical manifestation of all that I have written here. Because it makes me feel weak. Vulnerable. Like nothing is for certain. Watching that pint of blood drain out of me is a reminder of all that makes me human, all that makes me afraid, all that makes me fear the dark, scary corners of our lives, where our deepest fears dwell.

And also.

It reminds me that light cast on those dark, scary corners is medicine. That in our frail humanity is actually tremendous strength. That in my story and yours, there will, of course, be trauma that threatens to undo us. And that also in our shared story is a promise that we are never alone.

And that in your blood and mine runs the ever-present, grace-filled, unending love of a God who has not, I promise you, brought any of us this far to leave us alone or broken or without hope.

The bad stuff has to be let go, so this good stuff can get to work.


This Thursday, I’ll see phlebotomy as space-making. As exactly what it is — an opportunity for healing.

And I’ll pray that somewhere in your week is a similar moment of such grace.


scene from a coffee shop.

One of the things I missed most during the “lock down” days of the Covid-19 pandemic was working at my local coffee shop.

I’ve worked from a home office fulltime for four years now, and prior to that, often enough that I usually spent the first couple of hours each morning curled up in a favorite corner, fresh latte in hand, letting the hum of the espresso machine, the buzz of chatty baristas, and streaming music blend into the most perfect background noise for a morning of emailing, brainstorming or writing.

Said coffee shop has been back open for a long time now, but I’m just now finding my groove there again. Strange that something I missed so much became something I had trouble remembering to return to.

I woke up this morning knowing I was going to have trouble concentrating at home. Every single point of possible distraction was illuminated: laundry, a needy dog, dishes in the sink, landscaping I wish I had time for, even closet organizing, which I despise, seemed to be screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!”

I threw everything I needed to do my actual job in a bag and walked away.


I had just finished a muffin, was enjoying my first few sips of latte, and was wading through email when I noticed them – an older man, maybe early 70’s, white, hair neatly coiffed, dressed nicely but casually in jeans, tennis shoes and a tucked in gray tee, and a young man. The young man, shorter, slighter and with dark olive skin, was in a coat, and I quietly laughed — the temp hits 65 here in Kentucky on an August morning and people done with a long humid summer start dressing like it’s Thanksgiving.

The young man spoke, and I realized, through his garbled and halted speech that he was likely either a survivor of brain injury, or, he had a developmental challenge of some sort. He hollered a cheery hello to the baristas, and the older gentleman smiled, placed a gentle, but firm hand on the younger man’s shoulder and said, “Just two coffees, please.”

It took everything in me not to stare, because y’all, I was hooked. I desperately wanted to know things — who were they? Why were they together? What was the story?

Reluctantly, I returned to the tasks on my laptop screen.

And then, two minutes later, I heard, “Hello!” I looked up to see the younger man standing right next to me, his companion looking at me with what could only be described as a silent plea to be cool about this invasion of space and quiet.

“Hello!” he said again, louder this time. I smiled, closed the email I was working on and said, “Hey there.” He grinned — so big, y’all. And the older gentleman’s face relaxed and he offered a slight, grateful nod of his head in my direction.

The younger man asked me a question. I couldn’t understand him so I said, “Can you say that again?” He did, and I tried, but I just could not make it out. His companion saw my desperation and immediately came to my rescue, “He wants to know if you’re from Egypt.”

He wants to know if I am from Egypt?

I rolled with it.

“No, I’m not from Egypt.” The younger man looked disappointed, so I added, “I was born here. In the United States. In Arkansas.”

Y’all, you’d have thought I’d offered him a million dollars and a new pony to boot. He turned to his companion, a smile splitting his face and echoed, “Arkansas!” I laughed, out loud, and said “Yep, Arkansas.”

He turned right back around and told me something else, quite emphatically, and again I looked to the older gentleman for help.

“He wants you to know he is from Baghdad.”

“Baghdad!” I said, and my new friend nodded vigorously, as I added, “That is much further from here than Arkansas!” And he just cackled.

I guess maybe the older gentleman thought I needed to return to work, because he kindly and quietly redirected the younger man to a nearby table and their coffee. I watched them for a moment, hundreds of questions on the tip of my tongue, and then went back to my screen.

Ten minutes later, I heard a faint voice, that sounded like it was saying, “Bye!” but I was caught up in responding to a coworker. “BYE!” I heard it again, louder this time. I looked up and there was my friend, waving fiercely and the older gentleman just shaking his head in amusement.

“Hey! Bye,” I said, “have a good day, ok?” He nodded, and then reach out his fist for me to bump it. I obliged, but just as my fist was going to make contact with his, he grinned, quite devilishly, and jerked his fist back, smoothing it over his ear while managing what I think was a wink.

And I just laughed. And laughed some more as they walked away, the young man quite pleased with himself, and his companion chuckling, as his charge yelled, “Bye!” and waved at every single person on the way out.


And that, y’all, is why I work at coffee shops.

Because where else do you have a random conversation with a man from Baghdad who has trouble communicating vocally, but who did not hesitate to make connection with every person he saw.

Covid-19 has stolen such moments from us. So does social media. So does the fear of being shot. Our anxiety and fear and uncertainty about these days we are trying to survive sometimes causes us to make our world very small — circling up around ourselves the people and things we know for certain.

But this morning, my world got a little bigger. Because I know that somewhere in it is a young man from Iraq who thought I was worth talking to this morning. And I hope he has the best day.