And yet here we are.

If you are an avid fan of Law and Order: SVU, and have not watched the two-part season finale crossover with Law and Order: Organized Crime (OC from here on out), maybe don’t read this until you have.

We good?

Ok, quick refresher: I’ve been watching SVU all 24 seasons. All. Of. Them.

Yep, that’s right. As of this week, I have spent exactly half my life deeply involved in the lives of Olivia Benson, Elliot Stabler, Odafin Tutuola and the rest of the crew, even as “the crew,” has morphed and changed multiple times.

So. That said….

Detective Stabler, an original SVU character, disappeared after like season 12 – the actor and management kept butting heads over salary and contract, so the real-life drama goes. But the storyline is that he abruptly left SVU and his longtime partner/best friend Benson after a child died in a shootout. The L&O world mourned, let me tell you, even as Benson went on to find new partners and work her way up to Captain. Most of us deeply committed (read: obsessive) SVU fans have a real soft spot in our hearts for Benson and Stabler, the “oh they are so good together in so many ways but he’s married and we love his wife too,” conundrum a yearly source of prime time stress.

Stabler reappeared as the central character in OC three years ago, via a crossover with an episode of SVU, and those of us who’d been waiting Ten. Long. Years all squealed loud enough to wake the entire city of New York. Benson and Stabler, reunited, finally.

The premise of the first season of OC is that Stabler’s wife has been murdered by actual organized crime, and he needs Benson’s help to find out who and why- this leads to a permanent position on an organized crime task force in the NYPD. He hasn’t seen Benson in 10 years, but now he’s back, and he needs someone he trusts to help him. They are, after all, old partners, and just like you never forget how to ride a bike, they’ve never forgotten how to work together, how to support one another, how to be there for each other.

I think they are, in part, so inviting as characters because at heart (and whether we’d admit it or not) we all long for a connection like Benson and Stabler. Someone who can guess our next move; who knows our hearts sometimes better than we do; who would quite literally take a bullet for us if needed; and for who we’d do the same; who loves us good, bad and ugly no matter what but who also almost always sees the good over everything else.

And so here they are. Over a decade after they last saw each other – both of them with a world of hurt and trauma and grief and adventure and story to share. They never expected to be in close proximity, in close relationship, again. And yet….

This season ended on a note that left longtime fans wondering, “Are they finally more than work partners?” Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they will remain trusted colleagues, committed friends, maybe their long unanswered questions of “Is there something more here?” will be answered. Maybe not. But as I’ve watched this story unfold over the last few years – as well as the last 24 – I’ve been struck at this truth: We never know how things will end up – jobs, relationships, families, where we live, what we do – we never know, despite all our planning, all our goal-setting, all our efforts at creating the life we’ve always thought we wanted….

We never know.

I can’t decide if this is terrifying or invigorating or hopeful or what. I can assure you that if you’d asked me at 25, or even 35, if my life is, right now, as I imagined it would be, the answer would have been a resounding, “Hell no.”

Not a single thing is as I thought it would be.

Not. A. Single. Thing.

And yet here we are.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, a teacher of Maddy’s, who has become a dear friend and who has also survived cancer, said to me, “Julie, it’s going to teach you things you didn’t know.”

He should have added – and maybe he meant – and that you need to know.

He was right, of course. As I’ve written before, while I would not have chosen to live my life with a chronic blood cancer, I am unequivocally grateful for the things it has taught me. It’s a long list, those lessons.

Yesterday, as I remembered that friend’s words, and as I was texting with a dear one I’ve known since childhood (and who I did not ever anticipate being so close to midlife) I thought, the friend’s words are true of most things in our lives, especially the things that we do not expect, or plan for, or even want.

They teach us things.

It’s like I also once wrote before – I don’t believe God causes our pain. I also don’t believe God wastes it. I believe with all my heart that in our deepest heartbreak is also where it’s possible to find our greatest experience of love.

In the first episode of the opening scene of the season after Stabler leaves, Benson is told by their then-captain, “He’s gone.” She backs up against the wall behind her, her entire body reacting to the news that her best friend has left her without warning or notice, and she slides down it, falling to her knees in shock and grief. It’s a brutal scene, impeccably acted.

The thing is – it isn’t possible to really live, to fully love, without heartbreak – the kind that, if you allow yourself to feel it, brings you to your knees and makes you wonder how in the world anything will ever be okay again. And also the thing is – the only way forward is straight through the heartbreak. Which is exactly what Benson does – her heart broken, her entire landscape having shifted, she keeps going.

She. Keeps. Going.

And in the keeping going a whole new life opens up. One she never thought could be possible.

In the last scene of the last episode of this last season of SVU and OC, Stabler and Benson find themselves having finished a difficult case, one that brought up a lot of hard things for them both. Stabler is leaving for an assignment undercover, and he’s come to say a temporary goodbye. And in their care for each other, in their honest conversation, is the truth that they never imagined to end up so close again, and there’s so much to work through – but all they want is for the other to find the happiness, the wholeness, each longs for.

Maybe that will be together, maybe it won’t – but in the space of all that has been between them, and all that could be, was a lot of hope, a lot of promise that on the other side of pain dwells a mercy we’ve never dreamed could be ours. Even if that mercy doesn’t get written or experienced exactly as we’d imagined.

And so here we are, y’all. Everything that we’ve lived having brought us to this particular moment.

In the space of all that has been, and all that could be – that’s where hope takes its very firm root, and where mercy starts its slow, beautiful work.


It’s okay to not be.

I somehow missed Ally McBeal the first time around.

I’ve made up for that at an almost embarrassing pace recently, blowing through multiple seasons after a dear friend recommended it. It makes me laugh, cry and, yes, even cringe a little, every episode, and I’m not sure there’s a better vocal music line up across a TV show, ever.

It’s not even close to politically correct, and I’m not even sure it would make the airways these days, but then Friends probably wouldn’t either, and I will go to my grave watching Friends reruns when I need to laugh.

You’ve never met a more neurotic, dysfunctional cast of characters. Ally herself – with her vibrant fantasy world, her dancing baby and her unicorn, her impromptu theme music that no one else can hear accompanying her every move – she’s a dang hot mess, no question. Her boss is one step away from blantant misogyny at every turn, his partner is the quirkiest dude you can imagine, her former boyfriend-turned-coworker is needy and manipulative, sex is the topic of the day most every day, the notion of “frenemies” is alive and well, and not a single person seems to have had anything close to resembling a happy or whole childhood.

And yet.

The showrunners manage the most lovely and tender and true treatments of real-life issues: mental illness, gender identity, divorce, infidelity, loneliness, profound loss – all the things that wreck us are part and parcel of the lives of Ally and her Cage and Fish associates and friends.

I don’t know if I would love these people in real life. But I sure do on screen. And this morning, in a text conversation with a theater mom friend, I realized why.

Ally McBeal makes it okay not to be okay.

(Read that again.)

I mean, the whole story line centers on a highly successful, highly lucrative law firm. And yet that’s somehow not even the point. What matters most is that yea, they may all be damn good attorneys, but also they’re so terribly wounded. And it’s the woundedness that makes it possible for them to do their best work.

All their accolades. All their wealth. And they are not okay. But, somehow, that’s okay.


Last night my daughter went with some friends to an annual tradition at their school – senior “solo mios,” an evening in which senior theater students get to write and act out their truths via a short monologue. The story is theirs. Mine/mio.

She came home levelled at the depth of feeling and honesty she heard from her classmates – stories of addiction, abuse, loss, insecurity, self harm, mental illness – it was all there, written and played out on stage with the sort of vulnerability that leaves you breathless with its intensity.

Y’all, we’ve built a world that does not value our softness, our real. We’ve created a society that demands that we push away pain and grief in favor of accomplishment and triumph. We’ve placed more value on that which fits in than that which does not. Despite the reality that therapy and counseling are more talked about, more easily accessed than ever before, our public spaces still do not value big feelings.

And we all, whether we like it or not, have very big feelings at some point or another.

My daughter, like her mother, often has very big feelings. And so yea, she came home levelled last night, but she also came home knowing “It’s not just me,” that we all have such unbelievable and painful and beautiful stories that have led us to where we are, and that we each hold inside us such sacred longings to be known, despite and maybe even because of, all that has made us who we are.

The very best thing about theater, if you ask me, is the way it gives us permisison to feel the things we need to feel. Stage actors may often be broke – but I’ll tell you, they know and see things so many people don’t.

When you’re a stage actor, it’s okay not to be okay.


I do not know a single person who is, right now, “okay.” Even (and perhaps especially) if they pretend or purport to be. Too much is happening. The world is too fast and too furious. Our hearts are too broken and our lives feel too fragile.

And I wish we could all just say that, own it for what it is and then figure out a way forward that leads to healing.

It’s killing us, our disdain for vulnerablity, our refusal to celebrate, or even admit, that we don’t all fit in the same size box.


There’s an episode of Ally McBeal in which Ally imagines she’s hearing and seeing Al Green everywhere – he pops up to sing an appropriate number at the most innapropriate times. She can’t hide this disconcerting distraction from those around her, and, understandably, they’re all a little concerned at her hallucinations. And so is Ally.

But also? She kind of likes it. She claims it. And maybe this is a little crazy. But maybe also it’s Ally’s mio – her truth, at least in that moment. It’s sort of like she’s saying, “Yea. I am not okay.” And it’s only then that she’s able to figure out a way out of Green-land and back to sense of perspective and grounding.

I don’t imagine Al Green singing along to my life; probably you don’t either.

But also? I bet you aren’t okay, not entirely. And neither am I.


I will never see strawberries the same way.

(NOTE: This is for Ariane, Logan, Erin, Maddy, Cooper, Sarah, Jenny, Andrew, Phil, Erik, Vivian, Stasia and Tyler, with deep gratitude. What you did together was remarkable.)


“What’s this?” I said, as I came in the door, dropping keys and and my purse and extra playbills on the kitchen counter. She had a small item wrapped in tissue in her hand, and was setting it down next to my things. 

She smiled, “Just look. I warn you, you’ll cry.”

I unwrapped the tissue to find a small sculpture of strawberries – painted a vivid red, their little seeds so carefully placed and their green stems perfect. 

“Strawberries,” I breathed.

She nodded and said, “They were a gift.”

And, just as my girl said I would, I teared up all over them. 

I’ll never look at strawberries the same way.


I’ve been chewing these words around in my head for well over a week now, not sure how to write them without sounding like an over-the-top proud mom. 

To be clear, I am fiercely proud of my 16 year-old daughter’s turn as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank, as produced by Louisville’s CenterStage – a stellar community theater affiliated with the Trager Family Jewish Community Center. The version of the play CenterStage put on is the 2013 Broadway production, in which Natalie Portman played Anne. It’s tender; terrifying; delightful; gut-wrenching; heartbreaking; and, somehow, hope-filled.

Fiercely proud. 

But even more, I am in awe of the way a passionate director, an excellent crew, and a talented cast told a story I thought I knew – and yet, as they told it, I felt as if I was learning it all – Anne, the Holocaust, all of it – for the first time.

I’ve read The Diary before now. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in DC – twice, actually. I’ve read Elie Wiesel’s Night. I’ve seen Schindler’s List. I’ve read more historical fiction about World War II than I can even remember. And I’ve read what history I can find of my maternal grandfather’s capture and imprisonment in a camp for Allied soldiers and officers by the Nazi regime.


I thought I knew.


Monday morning, April 10, a shooter brought Louisville to its knees in horror and grief. Just like so many shooters have over so many years now in other places in these United States. 

That night, Maddy went to the theater for tech rehearsal – The Diary of Anne Frank was to open in three nights. She went to this rehearsal having spent two hours of her school day on a level 1 lockdown because of the proximity of the shooter. 

That particular evening, stage guns were being used for the first time – right at the end of the show, in those terrifying moments when the Nazis finally invade the annex and find Anna, her family, and their friends. I don’t know how to tell you what it’s like, in these particular days, to watch a gun being leveled at your child, even when you know the gun isn’t real; even when you were later told by your daughter, that during the first run with stage guns, the actor playing a Nazi gave her a small, almost imperceptible wink as he pointed at her, doing his best to ease the tension of a difficult moment on a hopelessly difficult day (thank you, Tyler). 

That day, violence and fear and rage and grief felt too close to home.

Opening night of the show fell just as Passover was ending, and though I am not Jewish, I felt that keenly as I found my seat, the stage set as if it were just after the annex has been ravaged and its inhabitants taken. Behind me sat a man wearing a yarmulke. Halfway through the first act, I heard him break into sobs. I closed my eyes at his pain, at what the scenes playing out on the stage must have done to his soul. 

For him, as for so many others in the theater that night, the violence and fear and rage and grief … beyond too close to home. Right there with them. With all of us, if we had the openness of heart and mind to let what we were seeing do its work on us. 


There’s a scene in particular that did me in each night of the show’s run – Anna and her father, Otto, are sitting in the tiny space of a room Anna sleeps in. She’s had a nightmare, a vivid one, and her screams not only wake her fellow annex residents, but they make them all fear capture even more. 

She has turned her mother away, and asked for her father – much of the show highlights the closeness of Anna and Otto Frank – and in this moment, the tenderness of a father who wants to comfort his child, and at the same time, protect all of them in their hiding, is front and center. It’s raw and painful – and at the same time, the most beautiful expression of relationship at its best. They hear sirens and cling to each other, all thoughts of Anna’s nightmare fading into the very real sounds of war all around them.


I believe with all my heart that being brave enough to own our stories, being kind enough to listen to the stories of others, and being compassionate enough to see where our stories and someone else’s might overlap is the very essence of what it means to be human. I believe we were made to be in relationship, created for love, and breathed into existence only for good. 

And I have come to believe, after the last few weeks, that the real power of Anne Frank’s story lies in the brutal and beautiful story of good, ordinary humans facing extraordinary evil by choosing relationship, and, in doing so, choosing hope. 

As much as I thought I knew, the way I understand the Holocaust has shifted. It is no longer a historical event I learned about in school, protected from its hardest truths by time and space. 

It is real. And this shift is an example of why I will write, scream and insist until my dying breath that we will never learn to love one another better if we do not first make an effort to understand each other’s stories. We will never triumph over evil without insisting that there is so much good in each of us.

We will never be what God (however you understand or name God) has called and created us to be without standing against that which would name any one person more or less than another. 


The last full company scene of Anne Frank begins with the joy of the annex residents having gotten fresh strawberries from their outside helper. “It’s been two years since I’ve had a berry!” one of the adults exclaims, all of them relishing the goodness of the strawberries.

The children – Anna, her dear Peter, and her sister Margot- all run up to the attic of the annex to eat their berries, laughing as they do and imagining what life will be like when they are finally free to go home. They’ve heard an invasion at a place called Normandy has happened, and they have reason to hope. 

And then…then the Nazis come.

And the half – eaten berries fall to the floor.

I will never look at strawberries the same way. 

And for that, I am grateful. 


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?