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.


from the inside out.

My daughter attends a performing arts school where she majors in theater. She basically spends half her day in arts classes and half her day in academics, and her major class is the only class she has every day. Her “theater cohort” began together as freshman, and they will stay together through their senior year. She spends more time with these students and their teacher than she does anyone else except immediate family. They are her people — even when they are arguing, competing, annoying one another, and all the other things.

Today, Curly Girl read part of their assigned reading from the day’s lesson to me on the way home from school. It was about acting “from the inside out,” and talked about how the best actors aren’t the ones who put on a perfect mask and perform a role — even if they do so quite well. The best actors are the ones who bring their full selves to the art — who dig deep into their own person, with all their faults and brokenness and dreams and disappointments and joys and offer those things into the character they are playing. After all, the reading said, every role you play is your body, your voice, your life speaking — and the more vulnerably and honestly you do that…the better at your craft you will be.

“That right there!” I exclaimed, as I navigated onto the interstate and the inevitable stop-and-go traffic, “That’s not just acting! That’s being human!” She laughed, and then, with all the wicked timing that makes her so good at dry comedy on stage, she said, “You’re going to blog about this, aren’t you?”


I helped lead a conference last week for work — a hotel-based event with intense speakers and people flying in from all over the country and heavy topics. Lots of logistics. Lots of interpersonal heavy lifting.

This was not my first such rodeo. My entire career has largely been “up front,” in some form or fashion — whether speaking or writing or coordinating, I’ve never really been unseen as a professional. But holy cow…this time it felt different. I tried to suss out why — and at some point it dawned on me that it was, in fact, my first such rodeo post-pandemic, post-chemotherapy, post-March 2020 and everything after.

I could feel it in my bones — the hesitation, the second-guessing, the “Did I remember to do …?” or “Am I sure this the right way to…?” Several times, I found myself wanting to find the most lovely of masks, cover up my entire rusty and anxious being with it, and lead from a place of safety. Of (even if false) security. Of a projected version of me that felt much more likely to succeed than the sweaty panicky me.

I had a story I wanted to tell. It’s a story I’ve told before, and it comes from Captain America: The Winter Soldier — where Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Sam Wilson (Falcon) are running and they pass one another saying, “On your left,” and it becomes a bit of a joke in that movie…but as the Avengers story continues and, eventually, the Endgame is made obvious, “On your left,” becomes a promise — “I’ve got you. On your left. You’re not alone.”

I can’t tell it without crying. And, so, sometimes I choose not to tell it, even when I want to. But Saturday morning, as we were ending the conference, it seemed the only word that would do in the particular moment we were in. And sure, I guess you had to be there, but maybe you can imagine the twin convictions I had that the promise, “On your left” needed to be offered in the moment, and, that I could not do so without choking up, so there would be no mask. No retreating. No perfection. Just me — broken and weary and unsure, but also certain that everyone else in the room was also those things, and “on your left,” seemed the words that needed to be said.

(I also read my favorite Psalm, 121, and it mirrors “On your left,” quite well if you ask me and maybe that is helpful information for you churchy types who read this blog.)


I am more convinced every day that somewhere between the pandemic, TikTok, mass anxiety around violence and politics and whatever else is swirling in your life or mine, we’ve been stripped of our capacity for living our lives from the inside out.

Because y’all? Our insides are just too damn scary right now. Behind our keyboards is safer. From within our tribes is more secure. On our designated right or left side of the aisle makes us feel like we belong. Our insides are exhausted from an endless barrage of national and global crises, never mind our own personal ones, and the thought of sharing exactly how messed up we are from the constant assault of it all is really more than any of us can take most days. “Back to normal,” even if an illusion, feels more comfortable. Like my rescue Dolly’s kennel — she could use a larger one, for sure, but she likes the one she has, and so please do not remind her that her tail is sticking out of the bars, she does not care, and will stay right where she is ma’am, thanks.

And in the middle of all of this, a theater teacher at a public magnet high school is teaching my child to practice her art with her heart wide open, with her insides leading the way.


We have to stop hiding, y’all. We have to stop pretending that a four bedroom three bathroom house in the right neighborhood means much of anything at all. We have to stop thinking our flush bank account makes us special. We have to stop assuaging our own insecurity with an attempt at outer perfection that is not only futile, but utterly exhausting.

And also we have stop believing the lies our own doubts tell us. Y’all, we’re all just a mess. And we have to stop trying to be anything but who we are — we have to stop pretending we’re waffles if we’re really cauliflower.


Bring your full self to this life. Even if you cry in a hotel ballroom on a Saturday morning in front of 45 people, most of whom you don’t know all that well.

You’re you. And in you is something the world needs. 


Lost men. Lost dogs. Lost everything. (facing our grief, even in its monotony)

Over a decade ago, I briefly shared an office with a coworker who was retired from the United States Air Force. He was very much in the midst of figuring out what “Act 2” of his life would look like. I was sort of in the same boat, having recently “retired” myself from 15 years of congregational youth ministry. We enjoyed sharing space and worked well together. 

Some of you who’ve heard me speak might know this story – but one morning, he came in, silent, moving with less energy, and his usual cheery “Good morning!” replaced with a terse, “Hey,” as he sat down at his desk. 

“You good?” I asked, unable to just let the obvious change in demeanor go.


“Um, ok. You sure?” I pressed. 

“My dog died.”

“Oh,” I responded, “I’m sorry. Really, I am. I know that pain and it sucks.”

He grunted a response and I let it go. Until about ten minutes later, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a grown man sobbing. 

“Hey,” I said, turning towards him, “It’s okay. Just cry.”

He whirled around, looked me square in the eyes and barked, “No. It’s not. You tell me, Julie – you tell me how I can stand over the bodies of six dead airmen and not shed a tear, keep it together, and my damn dog dies and I lose it!”

I did not say a word. I simply held his gaze until he’d regained some composure and then, quietly, told him again how sorry I was, and then listened while he told me about his dog. 

He never mentioned the six dead airmen again. And I’m no grief expert, but I know enough about how it works to be pretty confident that while, sure, his dog’s death was sad, the grief it caused to explode in him had a lot more to do with those lost men than it did the dog.


We are terrible at grief in the United States. I mean, terrible. And our inability to name the things we’ve lost and truly mourn that loss is costing us everything – our very humanity, in fact. 

Hundreds of school children have now fallen at the hands of killers with assault rifles, thousands of lives and entire communities changed as a result. 

Covid-19 has ripped at the already fraying seams of our life together – loved ones have died, significant occasions have been missed, vicious arguments explode over the efficacy of vaccines, our workplaces and work habits are forever changed.  

Inflation is blowing up household budgets left and right, and the level of stress this causes the average family gets played out in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

Political toxicity, false information, and zero room for civil discourse pervade every aspect of our lives and our “communication” has been reduced to snarky memes, cable news hottakes and whatever hashtag makes clear our allegiances. 

And against the backdrop of all of it are the normal losses of this life–disease and divorce and layoffs and shattered dreams. 

We are, y’all, awash in grief. Nothing is as it once was, and we have chosen to drown our complicated sorrows in fear and anxiety and constant attack, as opposed to naming the common enemies, and doing the very, very hard work of sacrifice, of relationship, on behalf of each other and our children.

Our grief, unnamed and undealt with, is exploding. We cannot contain it, and it frightens us in ways we cannot begin to explain. 


If you have not seen Maverick, the 35-years later follow-up to Top Gun, I highly recommend it (and if you somehow never saw the first one it is widely available on various streaming services right now, so catch up!). 

In making plans to see it, I expected to be entertained, and was curious about what they’d do with the story. 

I did not expect to be blown away by a box office smash that explored the effects of trauma, how grief changes us in profound ways, and how sometimes, healing happens when we don’t even realize we still need it. The loss of “Goose” in the first movie drove the entire storyline of the second movie. 

And isn’t that as it should be? Shouldn’t such a tremendous, unexpected, tragic loss drive, in ways good, bad and ugly, how we live out what we’ve got left?


There is a monotony to grief – it’s a long, arduous, path. Sometimes there are moments of relief – quick glimpses of grace that serve as enough hope available to carry us forward. But often it is just one uphill slog after another, even circling back on itself in unexpected moments that exhaust us and leave us wondering if we’ll ever see the light again. 

But y’all. I promise you. There is no way through it but, well…through it. It has to be named. Claimed, sat with, absorbed at face value. We have to let it overwhelm us long enough to want real healing – otherwise we simply toss it off to someone else, and, in doing so, multiply its harm.

I once heard a nonprofit leader say, “Hurt people hurt people.”

Read that again.

Hurt people hurt people. 

We are all hurting. Constantly and more deeply than we’ve got a healthy grasp on. Because damn this world is just so vicious right now. In so many ways. 

But we have to stop hurting each other – with our spoken words, with our social media presence, with how we engage in relationships, with how we behave (both actively and passively).

We have to stop hurting each other. 


Name what you’ve lost today. 

Sit with it. 

Lay on the kitchen floor and sob if you have to. 

Text or call a friend or a family member and share it. 

Find a good therapist if you need to (hint: we all do).

Let the reality of the loss overwhelm you long enough to make a desire, a space, for healing. 

There is no more avoiding what we’ve lost if we’ve any hope for a better way.



It’s been a minute — over three months, actually, since I’ve come to this space to pour my heart out, to try and make some sense in my tangled spirit of what’s happening in the world. Written words seem futile in the midst of sound bytes and TikTok reels, truth actively constructed by pundits and tribalism to the point that anything passing for civil discourse is, most days, lost in the wasteland of cable news and social media.

And, my thoughts on the things ripping us apart these days — gun violence, abortion, inflation, immigration, even Covid-19–don’t fit into a nice box with a pretty bow, and so I generally dwell in murky grays, because I find life to be inexplicably complicated and horribly messy. And I think mostly the complexity and messiness terrify us, and so we cling to black and white.

I majored in journalism in college, minored in English. Written words, stories, are what I know, how I make meaning. Insta’s content creators care nothing for such words. And yes, I use both Facebook and Instagram, but I suspect to my detriment and heightened anxiety, especially as of late.

I dearly love people across the theological and political spectrum in our country — people on both sides of that damn aisle who love me, support me, enrich my life and who are daily conversation partners, people who have shown up for me with some kind of light in my darkest days. I sometimes vehemently disagree with these folks on either side. I sometimes am disappointed in these folks on either side. I sometimes wonder if they are disappointed in me. Most often, I lay awake at night insisting with the most stubborn and maybe even blind sort of hope that we will, somehow, find a way forward in this country I love, in this community I love, in these relationships that give me life. It is, most days, exhausting.

My daughter recently spent eight days in Costa Rica on a mission trip with our church. They had fun in that beautiful country, to be sure, but most of their time was spent working in acutely impoverished communities — building a wall where one was badly needed, installing a ceiling in a house without one, taking food boxes to families who depend on such deliveries. If you ask her how the trip was, she will say, “It was life-changing.”

Monday morning, on her fourth day back in the United States, as I drove her to her summer internship, she burst into tears. We’d been talking about all the things tearing this country apart, the news having exploded while she was away, and she said, “Mom. It was so peaceful in Costa. Nobody was angry with anyone else. Everyone smiled.” Through her tears, she went on to marvel at the joy of the people she served, and how mixed up she has come to believe our priorities are here.

We value the wrong things in these United States. And in doing so, we forget what’s best about us, what’s good and true about this beautiful nation and her people. We focus on wealth and power, first and foremost, serving our worst demons, instead of our better angels. And as a result, we’ve created systems of control and riches that care nothing for actual human beings.

Systems overwhelm us. They seem too much and it’s hard to really take a look at one and see how it developed, how it grew, how it corrupted, even, and how it might be fixed; or, if necessary, destroyed, to make space for something new. And because we don’t know what to do with these systems, we attack each other. We assume that any one person who identifies as pro-choice must not mind murdering babies, and we assume any one person who identifies as pro-life must not care about women’s rights. Neither of these media and politically propagated extremes are true. They just aren’t. But again, we do not to explore the gray, the complexity. We find comfort in absolutes, even if those absolutes are making us less than who God created us to be.

I could go down the list…because over and over again we scream, “If you are not this, you are that.”

I have spent more hours than I could even begin to count the last several months searching for the right words, the right story, to help bring about healing, understanding, real relationship — the kind that could redeem us all. Perhaps it’s misguided, arrogant, even, to think such right words or right story are even possible. Still–our narratives are all wrong and the only way to correct destructive narratives is to reshape them into narratives that build up, that offer hope.

What I long for is a world where we focus on the person. And if we do not agree with that person, we ask, “Why? Tell me about your life,” instead of turning away; a world where we value a person’s life story over a person’s current opinion; a world where we leave room for “I might be wrong,” or “I’d like to try to understand;” a world where we don’t try to make decisions about how another person ought to live his or her life, because we have not walked in his or her shoes.

Most of all, what I long for is the very blessed day when we catch a glimpse, even if only for a moment, of how God sees each of us: wholly and completely beloved.


Each of us.


Your enemy.

That person you hate.


Each of us.

No matter what.

What would happen if we made naming that belovedness – in ourselves, and in one another — our aim?

How would it change tomorrow?

What would you do differently?

Who would you, just maybe, see in another light?



On climbing mountains and moving forward.

Camelback Mountain – so named because from a distance it does, indeed, look like a camel, laying down, with its hump rising up high out of the desert – sits on the edge of Phoenix, AZ.

My work takes me to Scottsdale, AZ every January, and the retreat center where we stay is just across from the land at Camelback’s base. It’s a startling, bare sort of beauty, the way the mountain emerges from darkness at dawn and returns to darkness at dusk, the dominant thing from any viewpoint, and sometimes, well into evening, stars and moon lend their light just right and you can make out an inky outline of Camelback’s peak.

Camelback rises to about 2700 feet in elevation – it does so with no graciousness, no easing in – it is straight up, no mercy, and with, along the Echo Canyon Trail at least, multiple, “This is a good time to turn back if you are already struggling,” signs. There are no gently winding paths. No shaded hills. No spots to rest, really, even. You just go. Over giant rocks and around massive boulders and outcroppings, and if heights are not your thing there’s more than one place where looking down is not advisable. There are no fences between you and the sheer, rocky side of Camelback.

This past January, looking at Camelback the first night at the retreat center, I thought, “I need to climb that mountain.” I’d done it once before – ten years and another lifetime ago. But this time felt different. I needed to know that trauma and cancer and pandemic and work challenges and anything else could not keep me from this very difficult – both physically and mentally – thing.

It’s pure stupid to attempt such a thing on your own, so thankfully, when I suggested to my coworker that we have a sort of staff retreat and climb a mountain together he did not flinch. “If we can do this, we can surely raise that extra quarter of a million we need this year, right?”


We got water. Sunscreen. Snacks. We fully charged our phones and texted our departure time to two colleagues, promising to check in along the way.

Less than 20 minutes in I remembered why Echo Canyon Trail is described as “an intense and difficult anaerobic hike.” In just 1.2 miles it ascends 1280 feet. Sure, it’s no Kilimanjaro, but if your jam is usually a tame few miles of jogging through your neighborhood on a nice morning, well, it’s a bit of shock. 

And y’all, there’s one stretch of boulder climbing where if there is any way out, you are tempted to take it. Hand over hand, legs stretched as far as they’ll go, every muscle poised to boost you from boulder to the next, and as far as you can see, just more of the same. The only way out is up. And the only way up is to just do it – focused, careful, determined, and pushing away every single bit of fatigue. 

It feels as if it will never end. As if the summit, which is less than a quarter mile away at that point, will never actually appear and you’re going to be climbing that damn mountain until the day you die. 

I may have teared up at one point. And I definitely wondered what in the holy hell I’d been thinking. 

But then–I swear to you–I thought, “If you can do chemotherapy, you can do this. If you can be an only parent, you can do this. And if you can do this, you can certainly get that massive grant report done next month, you can certainly figure out managing your kid’s schedule and finances and home projects and Every. Thing. Else.”

Every. Thing. Else.



We’ve all got everything else. It’s just really difficult to find a way forward right now. For everyone I know. And whatever else we’ve got going on in our lives, we’re also all carrying this background communal anxiety– inflation and Covid and Ukraine and worrying about our kids in the midst of all these things and…good lord. I could go on and on. So could you. 

“Everything hurts,” a friend of mine said recently in a text message, and I knew what she meant. There’s just so much so horribly wrong. 

The day I started chemotherapy, my oncologist said to me, “You’re anxious today, Julie.” I laughed, super nervously, and said, “Shouldn’t I be?” He smiled and nodded his head, but then said, “It will be okay.” As the daughter of a cancer survivor, I’ve spent just about my entire adulthood fearing its presence in my life, and here I was, a chest port newly installed and IV drugs already making their way into my system when I’d barely had time to process the diagnosis. 

“You’re anxious today,” felt like the understatement of a lifetime. But there was no way out. There was only forward. Straight through the difficulty, trusting that somewhere, ahead, was something worth getting to. 


When the last bit of rocky hell that is the Echo Canyon Camelback climb gives way to a relatively easy few steps that get you to the summit, there’s something that gives inside you – it’s like the last hour or so’s difficulty realizes it was kind of a jerk and eases up long enough for you to regroup, catch your breath, and then … y’all…then…there are no words for the view spread before and around you. Miles and miles stretching in every direction, the air so sharp and the vista so clear that you just sort of collapse into the raw beauty of it, able, for a moment, to rest in the truth that you just did a really hard thing and you’ve every right to bask in the moment. 

We’re capable of so much more than we ever give ourselves credit for, y’all – I’m convinced with all that I am that God breathed into us what we’d need to live the life that same God calls us to. 

Hear that again: I believe God has given us what we need. Even when we cannot see it. Even when it seems so damn hopeless. Even when our hearts are broken beyond what can be spoken. Even when nothing seems like it could ever possibly be okay again. 

God has given us what we need. And has done so with a Love that cannot be matched, moved, changed or lost. 


You’re exhausted, I know.

You’re terrified, I know.

You’re overwhelmed with grief, and you’ve lost whatever scrap of hope you might have been clinging to. 

Your heart has been broken, again, and you can’t see how it will ever piece itself back together. 

I know. 

The weight of the world seems impossible.

I know. 

The summit seems unreachable. 

You can do this. I promise. 

And if you can do this, there isn’t anything else, ever, that you cannot do. 

God has given you what you need. 


A word about our kids (and compassion) from a former youth pastor…

I spent fifteen years pastoring to middle and high school youth in a congregational setting.

Those fifteen years held tremendous joy. All across this country are amazing grown adults that I was once privileged to work with–they are doctors and lawyers and nurses and businessmen and women. They are actors and writers and teachers. They are pastors and homemakers and artists. They are raising families and doing good and making the world better.

Those fifteen years also held tremendous heartache. That one kid who ran away from home and got caught up in the porn industry; the one whose family fell apart late in his high school years and I’ve no idea what happened to them all; the one who I once saw using drugs in a park, and I can still remember the look on his face as he turned away from me; the one who is a single mom to a special needs kid; the one who struggled mightily to maintain her mental health, and who I imagine still does; the one who honestly and truly felt something was not right inside her and so fought to figure who she was physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually; the one whose dad died during such crucial teenage years; the one whose girlfriend was raped after they’d been out one evening; the one whose dad was an alcoholic; the one whose dad skipped town before she could walk; the one whose whose own drug and alcohol use led to more awful situations than any young person should have to hold in their memories.

It’s the heartache I’m remembering this morning. Because all over the world, and right here in our own neighborhoods, our children are hurting, in ways seen and unseen, and we are, daily, failing to tend to their pain.

Lift the politics, the social norms, the tribalism, the opinions and whatever your someone’s someone says “This.” about on social media — it doesn’t matter. Our children are dying–if not physically, certainly emotionally and spiritually–and we keep yelling at each other about whose right and whose wrong, and who is to blame and who is not.

Look, it doesn’t matter what you think of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine–children are dying today as a result. And they sure as hell had nothing to do with the hundreds upon thousands of years of unrest and conflict in that region of the world.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand or agree with or are afraid of or feel sorry for children who are struggling with their gender or sexuality–hands down and regardless, anyone, and certainly a child, who is carrying such difficult and potentially painful things deserves first and only our compassion.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a mental health issue or a gun control issue, or a combination of both or neither–our kids learn “intruder drills” at their schools and that this is even necessary should bring us to a our knees in fervent prayer and willing redemption regardless of what we believe the root cause(s) to be.

It doesn’t matter what your own social media habits are, our children are being raised in an environment where “content creation” is more important than actual experience and real relationship–they are far too often losing any sense of who they are beyond their Instagram. Everything is meta, and they are so completely lost in it. We all are.

I could go on. But I’m going to assume you see my point. We’re sacrificing our children at the altar of our own political and sociological and theological wars, and it is costing them their lives.

And parents, grandparents, guardians, other concerned adults? I know how scared you are. I know how afraid you are of this world we’ve handed our children and how difficult it is to figure out a way forward that is less fearful, more whole, more of what we’ve always wanted for them. Every morning, when I drop my precious girl at school, I say, aloud, to her “Have a good day baby, I love you.” And as she walks away I whisper quietly, to myself, “And please God keep her safe until I am back here to get her.”

I know the dangers. I’ve seen them. Up close and far too personal. It is a terrifying landscape. And it is easy to lose hope.

And also…

I believe with all my heart that real kindness and true compassion and actual selflessness, combined, are capable of pretty much anything. And so, I am wondering, lately, what it would look like if we all made a consciousness decision to first, try compassion.

Set aside your disagreement. Your fear. Your need to fix. Your desire to change a mind or even a heart.

Try, first, compassion.

Look past the facade. The Insta-perfect image. Dig down past the political label, the address, the life choices, the depression, the anxiety and see the person.

And then try, first, compassion.

Maddy and I have radio station we typically listen to in the car. We adore the morning show on this station. We are often annoyed by the afternoon DJ. But yesterday, that DJ that generally drives us crazy stopped for just a second and went, I can only assume, off script to talk about Russia and Ukraine, and, truthfully, the world in general. He said there are folks in Russia and Ukraine who love their children, too, who only want the best for their communities, too, who want, just like us, to have a safe home and a decent meal and maybe a few good friends.

Maddy and I both listened, gape mouthed and wide eyed until a commercial break, and she said, “Well dang. Afternoon annoying guy is suddenly all brilliant and caring!” I laughed, long and loud.

But she was right. And so was annoying afternoon guy. We’re just not that different from each other. We never have been. And it is our insistence otherwise that is tearing us apart.

Y’all. Our kids are dying. Inside and out. And it’s all on us. And we have got to find a way of shoving past our own fears and insecurities and anger so that we can meet them where they are, offer a hand and say, “Where does it hurt and how can I help?”

Because at the end of the day, all of our kids, yours and mine and everyone else’s want the same thing: and that is to be loved and held safe, without question or merit or condition.

Forget everything else.

Try, first, compassion.

Nothing else is working.


The Right Thing To Do

Make me a channel of your peace:

Where there is hatred

Let me bring your love

Where there is injury

Your pardon, Lord

And where there’s doubt

True faith in you

(Prayer,” Come From Away)

Live theater is pretty much our favorite thing to do in our house – and it’s not a cheap hobby, so generally theater tickets are “special occasion” type things. And, this year, Maddy’s big Christmas present came in the form of tickets to opening night of the national tour of Come From Away here in Louisville. I’d been wanting to see it for quite some time, and Maddy’s interest was piqued when her theater teacher at school had her freshman theater cohort study the show last fall. 

Real quick: CFA is a musical adaptation of the story of Gander, Newfoundland, where many planes were diverted out of American airspace on 9/11. In short, this little island town of 9,000 people was, without warning, flooded with planes and people. People from all over the world. Many of whom did not speak English and had no idea what was happening. People who were terrified. People who could not get a hold of loved ones in the United States. People who were hungry and needed medicine and water and phones to call home. People who were suddenly stranded on a Canadian island for five days. 

A Canadian island that turned itself inside out and upside down to care for the hundreds, thousands, even, of people who had suddenly landed in their community – “the day the world came to town,” they called it. Hundreds of local volunteers mobilizing to house and feed and otherwise care for completely traumatized strangers. 

One Newfoundland man was shepherding a couple from an African country from their plane to shelter – the couple was terrified, and the man was searching for some way to assure them all was well. The couple had with them their copy of the Bible, and the man realized that even if their bible was in a different language it would still be numbered the same. He pointed to their bible, and then flipped through it until he found Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything….” He placed his finger on these words, and showed the couple–the only way he could tell them, “It’s ok. Don’t worry. You’re safe.” Philippians 4:6 is Philippians 4:6 in any country, and in any native tongue. “In that moment,” he said, “we began to speak the same language.”

Gander’s library was converted to quiet space for prayer – Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus all making space for the Holy in the face of their fear and pain.

A local SPCA volunteer searched the planes for animals, finding dogs and cats and even exotics stowed away. So she set about caring for them as best she could.

A rabbi who happened to be on one of the diverted flights coordinated kosher meals. 

People pooled their backyard grills for a massive cookout. People bought up diapers and formula and tampons and water bottles and whatever else was needed from local merchants and took them to the “come from aways,” the strangers in their land, and said, “Here. Whatever you need.”

Y’all. There almost aren’t words for it. These people in this little town quite literally welcomed the world – and they did so with a level of hospitality and care that my faith would call nothing short of Christ-like. They sat with people in their grief and shock. They held babies and they held hands. They gave of themselves in the most sacrificial and beautiful ways. They made it possible for hundreds of stories to be told about that horrible day, stories that bear witness to the ways that 9/11 continues to shape our world as we now know it–for better and for worse. 

Maddy understands 9/11 only as a historical event – but seeing this show together made space for her to ask me about my experiences that day. I told her where I was and what I did when I heard the news, and who I talked to that day, and what I remember about that time. We talked about the best of people on display everywhere–and we talked about the worst of people, too – how anyone remotely resembling Middle Eastern was suspect, and how when people are afraid they sometimes do and say things they normally wouldn’t. 

CFA’s cast is small – only about 20 folks, and they all play multiple roles. And the music is all performed by a 6-8 person on-stage band – mandolins and guitars and an “ugly stick” – this delightful Canadian percussion instrument made from recycled household items like mop handles and tin cans and the like. As the last scene closes, the band takes center stage, breaking into the most glorious Irish-Canadian-bluegrass type music that I’m not sure anyone could listen to without jumping up and dancing. The Kentucky Performing Arts Center’s Whitney Hall can hold over 2300 patrons. It was pretty full opening night of CFA, and as that band took the stage, every person in the hall took to their feet, and within seconds all of us were clapping, right on beat with that ugly stick, joy just exploding throughout. Maddy said, “Mama! Everyone is clapping! Everyone is doing it!” “I know, baby,” I said, tears streaming down my face, “I know.”

In that moment, everyone in Whitney Hall in downtown Louisville was speaking the same language.

And I breathed a silent prayer of thanks that my daughter was witnessing a glimpse of grace–a snapshot of the very best of humanity. Such glimpses are, I believe, what makes hope possible.

Here’s the thing y’all–those people in Gander, they did a miraculous sort of thing. Loaves and fishes feeding the 5000 sort of stuff. But I can’t shake the simple truth of their miracle: they just did what needed to be done. And they did it because it was the right thing to do

It was the right thing to do. 

In the face of global terror, communal grief and trauma, and thousands of individual heartaches, the right thing to do was to offer food and drink and shelter and, even if but for a moment, the promise that “Right now, right here, you are safe. And you do not need to worry.” 

The right thing to do– and they did it no matter language or skin color or political affiliation or socioeconomic label or gender or age or anything. They saw a need and they met the need. And, in doing so, offered up a master class in what it means to live up to what our God created us to be. 

Y’all. We are, right now, in the United States, not worthy of Gander’s legacy. We are tribal and cruel and selfish. We are quick to blame, bereft of real kindness, anything but hospitable, and more focused on our next Insta-worthy moment than real relationship. We’re feeding what’s worst in us; meanwhile, our better angels, if we’ve even any left, are starving. 

What I want for Maddy–and for your children and grandchildren, too–is Gander, Newfoundland.

I want the right thing to do. 

No matter who you are. Or where you’ve been. Or what color your skin is. Or who you love. Or how much money you have. Or any other BS narrative we’ve created about who is worthy and who isn’t. 

I want Gander, Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. Where all who had “come from away,” were called friend, and assured that they belonged. 

Simply because it was– and is – the right thing to do. 


Mary’s choice.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….” (Luke 1: 46-47) 


“The Magnificat,” it is often called; or, “Mary’s Song” – either way verses 46-55 of the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke are among my favorites in all the Bible. They are beautiful. Earnest. Full of thanksgiving for the moment at hand, even as unbelievable as it all must have seemed. 

A likely terrified, certainly poor and bewildered and pregnant, teenage girl prayed them to the God she trusted would not forsake her in the midst of it all. 

It’s humbling, I think, to imagine all that she must have been feeling, and yet, still, she was able to sing with joy at the life emerging within her, to stand firm in her belief that God was in it all and would see her through.

And this morning I pray for a spirit like hers. 

  • Because tornados have decimated cities and taken life and destroyed dreams and the devastation is almost more than I can wrap my head around
  • Because families are messy and relationships are hard and we’re all carrying more grief and angst than we’ve found a way to name and it is tearing us apart
  • Because life hands us all hard things, but some folks seem to be bearing more hard things than others and it isn’t fair and I can’t fix it
  • Because children are missing
  • Because Covid- 19 has taken some 800,000 American lives and we still fight about it
  • Because social media is bringing out the utter worst of us and I cannot understand why we choose its false narratives over the truth of how much better and more truthful our lives and conversations are lived face-to-face
  • Because…
  • Because…
  • Because…

How did she do it? How, in the midst of chaos and fear, could she sing of her spirit rejoicing?


A dear friend of mine was traveling yesterday, and her journey included a stop at the Atlanta airport–a behemoth of frenzy and impatience if there ever was. My friend and I were both raised mostly in the Deep South, and we value our southern roots fiercely (even as we understand the many complications and contradictions present in its history). 

She texted me early afternoon, “The attendant in the ladies’ room is saying (on repeat), ‘Come on baby, when you are leaving, be sure you have your cell phone and everything else and go out there and make baby Jesus proud. Merry Christmas!” #onlyinthesouth

“Omigod,” I texted back, “This is everything!”

“It sure feels like it,” came her quick response. 

Go out there and make baby Jesus proud.

On the one hand, I feel we’ve failed in this entirely.

On the other hand, I feel like if Mary could, in the midst of all that was happening to her,  summon her words of thanksgiving and adoration, then maybe, even now, thousands of years later, all is not lost, and we’ve still got time to honor him with more than frankincense and myrrh. 

Because, this year perhaps most of all, honoring the baby Jesus has less to do with whatever holiday deal Best Buy is offering and more to do with how we care for those who have lost everything; how we shepherd those who are lost; how we listen to what’s behind that social media post; how we pay attention to those who are hungry and lonely; how we live our own lives in ways that take less and give more. 

How we gather up the things we need, and then go out, and make the baby Jesus proud. 


The truth is, I know how she did it. I know how she praised her God even as nothing around her made sense. 

She chose to.

She chose to see the good that could come of anything God had a hand in. She chose to name that God was with her and would not let her go. She chose to let the joy stand tall over the fear. She chose to remember all that God had done, and so trust all that God would do. 

She chose to let her soul magnify her Lord. 

And, in doing so, made space for a Love unlike any that had ever been, to be born. 

Oh y’all…I know….

I know the heartache and anger and grief and all of it is so much. It’s all the time and everywhere. And how we do actually choose to have some sort of joy or hope or belief in another side to it all is really a very tall and difficult order.

All I know is that Mary lived in a time when nothing was easy. And her life had little value to those in power. And there was a great deal of turmoil and evil swirling about. And it must have all seemed very hopeless.

And still. She chose to sing her song.

I believe with everything I am that our lives might well depend on making the same kind of choice.



“My soul magnifies the Lord,


    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,


for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;


for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.


His mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.


He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.


He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

    and lifted up the lowly;


he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.


He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,


according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 (Luke 1: 46-55, NRSV)