“It is like losing your legs, then getting a whole new pair and having to learn how to walk all over again. But you have to decide if you even want to walk… Things don’t always turn out the way you think,” said Dr. Donald Berry on life after the recent death of his wife of 31 years.

He met his wife in 1981 while they were both in seminary and connected, “Our first conversation was about her parents health issues, and I actually think she had just gone a date with another guy,” he records.  

Her name was Carolyn Berry. She had originally gone into college studying zoology but ended up studying religion as well. Then she went on to seminary and received an MRE, Masters in Religious Education.

“Our first date was to see On Golden Pond at the theater,” Dr. Berry explained.  They had met in March and were married in August. “The whole process was a sped up, you see, considering we our dorms connected.” As they finished school, they lived in a trailer in the first years of their marriage, Carolyn graduated 8 months pregnant with their first child.

After graduating he explained that, “the mission door was closed at this point, we just were not comfortable with how things were working out.” They had a tough season of moving back in with his parents and not having  work. “Big churches didn’t want me with me with limited experience, and then smaller churches wondered why I wasn’t employed and had a PhD.”

A teaching opportunity then arose in Florida, that allowed the doors to open up for them to go abroad as missionaries for a total of four years.

As a missionary, life is difficult. “We were all by ourselves, just buying school supplies for our daughters without knowing any Czech is difficult. At first its adventurous and fun and then its stupid and idiotic, and then you adjust,” he explained.

They moved back to the States, and Dr. Berry taught and worked at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Soon after he moved to where he works currently, Gardner-Webb University, in Boiling Springs, NC.
Here in Boiling Springs, Carolyn finally got to teach as an elementary school teacher, and Dr. Berry expressed, “She was so happy! She loved them and they loved her! She was like a surrogate mother to them.”

Dr. Berry was originally over the Global Missions Resource Center for two years in 1999. He then developed the first missiology classes, and following was approached with a request to create the first World Religions major.

In 2009 Carolyn was having some health issues and received surgery. This was the first of many surgeries, including a hip joint in 2010. Life had improved for the Berry family. However, in 2011 Carolyn was unable to hold things down.

They found out she had stage 3 stomach cancer. “We were shocked,” he stated.  This news was followed by three surgeries in just one month. Although when looking back on the situation, Dr. Berry believes, “She should have been sent to an oncologist and tried chemo first.”

She had 25 radiation appointments within one year. After one of the surgeries she became infected with E Coli as well. Through all of this Carolyn was frustrated, but remained determined. “She adopted the phrase ‘People say why me, I say why not me?’ and her motro became “Choose Joy,” he recalled.

Carolyn survived all of this and went into remission. Yet three to four months later a PET scan revealed the tumor wasn’t actually gone, “I knew what that meant,” shared Dr. Berry. They began more vicious chemo treatment and she kept fighting. This was a very difficult season for the Berry family.

As life moved on in 2012 “We then had in house hospice, and try to stay upbeat,” Dr. Berry described, “but not much later I was not my home and my daughter took her to hospice. Carolyn called and told me on the phone so that I could go ahead and get my crying out.”

She went to hospice facilities on a Thursday and died on that Friday. “She didn’t want to die at the house for the memories and the grandkids,”  according to Dr. Berry.

“With grieving… there are so many different levels of grieving,” stated Dr. Berry , ”I have done many funerals from 90 years old to two years old. I thought I knew what it was like to grieve. But I didn’t know how debilitating it could be. Nothing I had experienced could have prepared me for this.”

Dr. Berry expected himself to be mad at God, but he really wasn’t. “Call this cliché, he said, but I believe God is not the causer of every storm, but the author of every rainbow.”

When giving comfort over death, he reminds himself, that when it is parent versus a child, “I don’t even try to pretend to understand.” He continued to explain When someone is grieving and asking that why question, “the last thing they need is an answer… and I don’t know and hug is best. Don’t feel like you have to fix it, you can’t.”

He continued to explain, “You never know what is going to trigger it. It is like you are standing in calm water, and then all of the sudden you look up and it is a tsunami those don’t stop they get further apart.”

“You don’t get over it you learn to live with it.” That is what he is currently doing. Yet he still explains, “at this juncture I would say I am standing and have taken a few steps. I wouldn’t say I am walking again.”  He has found great comfort and therapy in teaching and interim, even in his exhaustion and grief.

Dr. Berry explained that currently, “Rediscovering who I am, that is the scariest part. Before I was married I was a son to my parents, then for 31 year I was Carolyn’s wife. Now I have to figure out who I am without those things.”

Through the years of their marriage, Dr. Berry went on to pursue a PhD after encouragement from a professor. “It’s by the grace of God I have a pHD, it was nothing I originally considered.”

Dr. Berry is currently a World Religions professor at Gardner-Webb University. He was born and raised in rural Kentucky as the youngest of 4 children. His father was illiterate and because of this, really pushed education for his kids.

When looking back on his childhood and how he has gotten to where he is now. Dr. Berry considered himself to be an average high school student. “I played the drums, baseball, and had the long hair and wore plaid. That was the style then”  He originally considered a vocational path, however, to his father, “college was not a choice.”

“I about flunked out my freshman year, I had a 1.6 GPA” commented Dr. Berry. He continued to say that the, “scare and reality of flunking really motivated me and I really began to work hard.” He graduated with a degree in social work.

During Berry’s time in college he was heavily involved with CRU, campus crusade for Christ.  This is the time he also felt the call to ministry, “now not a pastor, but more of missions. I didn’t even consider reaching at that point really.”

After graduating college he traveled and spent 6 months abroad in Turkey, Israel, Switzerland, England, and Sweden. “It was eye-opening, and really gave me a global perspective,” he said. This has now shaped a lot of his life and career. While in school, he served as pastor of several churches.

When asked about what his wife was like he said, “She was genuine with no pretense. She was a bit sweet and sour. Charming and genuine, but sour as well with a feisty side. She taught me how to love. I would never gotten my doctorate without her believing in me.”

And in his closing words, as his life has most definitely proved, “Things don’t turn out the way you think”


Straight Ahead!

Watching the Alabama verses Auburn football game tonight with my family. It was a GAME. Such a sweet victory for Auburn. Tennessee played and now we are watching the Clemson verses SouthCarolina game. I really enjoy college football.

God has given me some sweet metaphors today through watching the games. One that has emerged the most for me, and although I really do enjoy football, and I understand it, terminology is not by any pro.

There were so many moments, where the QB would just attempt to run straight through the pack. It did not work well.I have seen it work well, and sometimes it does wonders. Tonight, it didn’t do much. It just ended in one yard gain dogpiles.

Then there were moments when receivers caught the ball, but would swerve, pause, and spin. Sometimes going sideways, even slightly backward before they went forward.

And it worked.

They stopped, slowed down just smudge, would look at the options. They had to swerve all around. No straight shots. The success rate of solid plays was much higher when they didn’t just plunge forward.

Sometimes, I just want to go straight ahead. I want to just plunge right through and GO. I want to do it the fast, straight, logical way. I want to do it my way.

But, swerves and twists, pausing, and going backwards when it does not make sense, works. God knows best. Even in the ups and downs, plot twists and turns. I want to trust him. I want to listen to Him. Even when everything in me just want to go STRAIGHT AHEAD, FULL SPEAD. I want to listen to that quite, gentle voice. That tells me to turn around or go left, when it does not make sense in my little head.

That gets touchdowns.


I was at the airport the other day, headed home. I checked my bag, went through security, found my gate, sat down until my plane arrived, and then waited for the plane to fully board and takeoff. Lines, layovers, and the whole flight I waited to get where I wanted to be. Obviously, a part of the airport and flying experience is waiting. It felt a bit like life here on this earth, a bunch of people hoping to get somewhere else and do something else.

Through this experience, I realized something about life. Hope deals with something in the future, but it sure does influence the present. If you are flying to see your grandkids, you sure are cheery. If someone is flying to a business conference, it’s a somewhat mundane experience. If you are flying to a friend’s funeral, mourning comes along. This happens whether we are aware of it or not.

Where I am traveling to, invades the current moment. Where my hope is for the future, it affects my here and now perspective. So where is my hope? What is hope? Our English language has different perspectives on hope. The modern meaning of hope “to wish for, to expect, but without certainty of the fulfillment; to desire very much, but with no real assurance of getting your desire.”  However, the more biblical idea of hope is a “certainty, a strong and confident expectation.”

I easily get them mixed up. I often begin to put my hope in things that cannot sustain and will let me down. Things like blue birds and sunshine, and the hope that life will just be zip-i-dee-doo-da, without trial and struggles.  It is not bad to want these things! Heck, who wants to be sick, make F’s on tests, and be sad all the time? Yet, inevitably, I find myself eventually anxious, depressed, and frustrated when these hopes don’t work out. When my hope is placed in this world, it feels and looks hopeless.

So often I hear us Christians depressed and discouraged at the terrible state of our nation, our world, and our churches,and the next generation.  Watching the news gives me immediate frustration. Then I think. Hello!? Duh. The world at this point is a messy. It is filled with brokenness and sin. The world is in need of a savior.

I am blessed to be friends with all kinds of people, believers and non-believers. My life in just the past month has been overwhelmed with a lot of hopeless stories. Of disease, abuse, self-hatred, and brokenness. They are friends that don’t have hope anymore. They don’t even want to live. But. As Christians! We get real hope. That is a BIG deal.  It is a game changer. When our hope is in Christ, it is in something that will not change. It does not fail. It does not waver.. It is consistent. His promises are not broken. This hope does not disappoint. In Jeremiah 33:17 we hear that “the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

This is where my hope is placed, in the Kingdom of God. In a God that is good and great. In God that sees this earth, knows our pain, and has plan for a grand future. Hope in our Lord now gives us peace rather than fear. It gives us joy. It gives us security. It changes how we see ourselves and others. I then see the world as a place that there is hope for. I like life with hope. It is a treasure.

Yet, so often I ignore the hope I have. I forget where my hope gets to be, and I lean it up real nicely on the economy and weather. Things that are not consistent.

Now, is it wrong to be affected by boo-hoo life things? I think not! Life is hard. Sometimes it will feel hopeless. However, thankfully as son or daughter of Jesus, it does not have to. We choose what to place our hope in. In this Christmas season, I want to remember that my hope is not in this world and days are coming, when the Lord will fulfill his good promise.


“15 things Jesus Didn’t Say”

15 things Jesus Didn’t Say:

“For God was so disgusted with the world and you that he gave his one and only Son.”

“I have come to bring you a new religion.”

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have correct theology.”

“If anyone would come after me, let him disparage all other religions and their followers.”

“If you love me, you will regularly attend a church of your choice… within reason.”

“Blessed are the tithers for they shall be called the children of God.”

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in Heaven after the earth goes up in flames and destroyed.”

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ which means the people with whom you attend church and relate to in your Christian sub-culture.”

“In my Father’s house there are a limited number of rooms. But no worries, there is plenty of room in Hell.”

“The kingdom of God has come!… Well, not exactly. I mean, not completely. Let’s face it, the really-real kingdom comes after we die. Hang in there. It won’t be long.”

“And you will know the truth and the truth will make you superior to all the other simpletons who never learned Greek or Hebrew.”

“You are the light of the world… well… in a sinful-filthy-scum kind of way.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you a checklist of things to do and not do in order to remain in God’s favor.”

“For God so loved the world… you know like theoretically… as in, God loves the big ‘W’-world. But when it come to you specifically, that are quite a few things that would need to change for God to actually and specifically love… or even like… YOU.”

“He appeared to his disciples over a period of 40 days and spoke about how to incorporate his life and teaching as a 501(c)3, and go into all the earth to build mega-churches in his name.”

– Jim Palmer. Notes from (Over) the Edge


“11 things that Will Preserve Your Soul”

1. Contemplate your sin in light of God’s grace and contemplate God’s grace in light of your sin.

When you contemplate your sin apart from God’s grace you end in despair. When you contemplate God’s grace apart from your sin you fail to see the cost of the cross. When you do both you’ll find yourself overwhelmingly thankful.

2. Remain in Community.

Doing life in community can be challenging but it’s crucial. Because we’re relational beings community is inescapable. Even if we check out of church we will end up in community. Also, communities are formative. Every community has certain values and virtues it provokes people to pursue. Remain in the Christ-focused community of the church, it will preserve your soul.

3. Ask your friends about what God is doing in their life.

Has it been a while since someone has asked you “How is your walk?” When you ask that question you are letting them know that it’s OK to talk about Jesus. It might be awkward at first but it’s worth it. This helps to form community and creates accountability—God will use this to preserve your soul.

4. Start tithing.

(and if you’ve started… give more, or in other directions) 
We know you only make $30 a year. That’s not the point. It’s a discipline, it has to start some time. If you already tithe, find other avenues to give. After all, He’s given you a costly gift.

5. Daily write down things you’re thankful for.

Psychologists have discovered that we more easily recall times of trauma. That means you might need to do some digging, but there are PLENTY of things to be thankful for. Make a list, daily (James 1:17).

6. Be bold about your faith.

Is Jesus really king? Are people really dwelling in spiritual death, going the wrong direction with an eternal trajectory? Does Jesus save? YES. Sure it can be awkward but in announcing God’s saving reign we often see that He does indeed reign and He does indeed save.

7. READ.

Maybe you’re tired of the cliche “leaders are readers” but it’s true. But reading isn’t just for leaders. In reading, we put ourselves in a posture of humility—we admit we don’t have all the answers and consult voices that do. This posture of humility, if cultivated can work its way through our life and help preserve the soul.

8. Cultivate godly confidence

While the world longs for acceptance and validation Christians should not strive. In fact, Christians should be more confident than anyone else—the Christian should live knowing God’s deep and passionate love for them. Not because of what they’ve done, but because of what has been done for them. Let the truth that you are loved fill your life.

9. Find a rhythm.

Too many students live disjointed, random, ‘ping-pong’ ball lives. Start shaping a rhythm to your life. What do you need to provide personal health and a Godward focus? Quiet times? Yes! Exercise? Yes! Prayer? Yes!

10. Confess your sins.

With sin we often have one of two reactions. We laugh it off, “Can you believe I did that?!” Or out of shame, we conceal it. The first reaction dismisses the sin and the second allows the sin to cripple you. There is another option: confession. When you confess your sins to a friend you essentially say, “I am not where I want to be and I need your help.” This build community, creates authenticity, and is a mark of obedience (James 5:19).

11. Go to war.

While many dismiss language of spiritual warfare (and others seem too interested in it) it remains something the Bible speaks frankly about. The theologian Richard Lovelace writes, “In folk religion, the posture of the Christian towards fallen angels is defensive; in Scripture the church is on the offensive, and the blows it receives from Satan come from a retreating enemy.” Jesus says it this way: “I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19). You have been given a sword, use it.

– Bryan Halferty