Hospitality

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About 3 weeks ago, I got a call from my dear next door neighbor.  She was careful to qualify information she wanted to give me, emphasizing that whatever Sherod and I decided in no way affected her or her husband.  But there was a friend of theirs who was needing to move his two horses from where he had been keeping them and was wondering if we would have any interest in talking to him about the use of our pastures.  I met him and his wife, we talked, we walked around and looked at how to make this all work and finally shook hands on it.  Today, Gus, a Blue Roan (named after the Duval character in Lonesome Dove) and Scout, a Pinto named after one of the horses in Lone Ranger, moved in.  I was just out to see them.  When I got to the barn they were at the distant end of the pasture but hoofed it on over to see me.  I had nothing to offer but came back to the house and got a couple of carrots to take to them.  I have to confess my hand shook a little as I offered up my gifts–them’s big teeth in those mouths and them’s big creatures.  But they took their carrots very delicately and then we stood and looked at each other for a while, I took some pictures and said good night.

A lot of other things have happened this week, including how on Wednesday, I went out to skim the pool right as dawn was breaking and found a little tortoise swimming around in it. I scooped her out and sent her on her way, glad I’d been there in time to help her out because it is hard for a little animal to get out of that pool.

This morning I went to the Okra Festival in Burkeville. I went with some friends and we got there very early so not a whole lot was cranked up. But there was pickled Okra to be bought and a Hot Damn Jelly Co Peach Pulla Chile Jam to try, and an amazing small house full of graffiti and folk art.  We also stopped at the bait shop down by the railroad crossing.  Neighbors of mine have just bought it, a young Air Force family trying to start a small local business.  Today they were selling pulled pork sandwiches, chips and a soda for $4.99.  I was introduced to some other members of the town, and ran into two just lovely older ladies who are members of St Paul’s, Lowndesboro.

I think it was around this time last year, in Sweden, that I said home for me was wherever I could go to church and light a candle for my mom.  I was partly right.  This summer, I have learned that home also has something to do with running into people you know almost every time you go to the store.  But even more, this is what I know now about home:  home is the place where you can make space for dogs when they are sick, and one more cat than you’d planned to have.  And two horses (the goats will come later, as will the donkey).  And you stand in the middle of all those creatures, and the thick air in the growing darkness of dusk and you are overwhelmed with the knowledge that you will keep them as safe as you can and they will be your companions and friends no matter how dark the night.

Tomorrow, Sherod begins the journey home to me and all our critters.

My Friends

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I have not had the words.  Some of what’s happening that breaks my heart is too close and I am not able to write about it with the kind of honesty and distance that it deserves.  My colleague and fellow sojourner, Joe, and I are beginning to rough out a project to write a book about the ministry I was a part of.  In the meantime, I often hear the voice of my Hebrew Scriptures professor, Mr. Griffin, echo in my mind, describing how Genesis is so brilliant in its spare and simple description of the way sin cascades.  The agonizing reality of our broken humanity even when there are neither saints nor demons continues to be excruciating to contemplate.

I have not had the words to talk about the bigger parts of the story I belong in, as a naturalized American citizen, As good as this summer has been, I am still searching for my voice and work and all I seem able to do right now is listen to others.  I marvel at their courage. Their insight. Their insistence that there are truths worth telling and we can all make a difference.  Somehow, each of them is helping make me stronger, more clear about what I might be able to do and be.  When I strain to look ahead, I am aware that if there is anything I have brought with me from the past 8 years, it is a certainty that I want to meet people where they are and engage in real conversation, not accusation and judgment. I can no longer work where life gets reduced to binary alternatives and polarities–good and bad, White and Black, Rich and Poor.  I worked out of easy polarities a lot in the past and somehow, I find God’s presence where there is room for more complexity, more of a both/and than an either/or.  I want to build, even if that is an achingly slow and difficult process.

While I let all that rumble and roll in me, what I am most moved by is the courageous, the fierce introspection of a number of my friends. Each in their own way gives witness to the poet Anne Sexton, claim:

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind

Carolyn Cook, MaryBeth Butler, and Laurie Brock, (I actually only know you through your blog) what glorious writing…

The Next Project and The Stubborn Weed

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This week I am taking an online clas to learn how to use Adobe Captivate, software for creating online courseware, and racing to meet another deadline for my project with ECF–it is a graduate level, 5 day course that, if everything keeps moving forward as it has so far, will be offered at at least two Episcopal seminaries during their January/Epiphany term in 2015.  Even if I only work outside for a little while each day, that is what is giving me sanity.  Now that I’ve done what I could for the first rose bed, it’s time to take on the next project.  Out in the front of the house, there are beds that are a dreadful combination of tacky white stone c%@p and weeds with a few very pitiful azaleas struggling to survive amidst the ugliness. Oh–and those cement faux-grecian urns.  Yesterday evening, this urn and its sister found a new home behind one of our sheds.

I’ve started with the weeding;  in this bed too, I have come across the weed with the root system from hell.  As God is my witness, this time, I am going to dig as far as necessary to get it out. Then I am going to get all those ugly white stones out of the bed, if it takes taking them out by hand, one by one.  Friends from more northern climes than Ft Lauderdale:  I welcome your suggestions for what I can plant instead.  And if there is anything I could/should do to tend to those poor, beleaguered azaleas…

Daisy keeps trying to tell me she could do that, she could help, she would love to help.  But I know her too well. If I let her out, she will first try to catch all the squirrels in the front yard and then wander away.  Love my dog…

Spot, Dot, The Dogs And My Flower Bed

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There is both more and less to say than ever. I won’t describe myself as a spectator but I am mindful that my ability to influence the direction or outcome in any significant way related to ministry or world events is, at best, very limited. I don’t have the relationships here in Lowndes County, and I cut the ties with Fort Lauderdale. I get glimpses, both here and there, of challenges and opportunities and as much as I’d like to wade in and engage, I can’t. For now, that is a very, very good thing.

What I can do is right in front of me. My dogs are better but neither is back to 100%. When Sherod called early this morning I only had to say a few words for him to say, “you sound all stressed up”. I was. Earlier last week, I moved upstairs to the large room over the garage because our bedroom is the first place getting renovated. This morning I came downstairs and slammed into a wall of stench. Boo had left me a present on the kitchen floor last night. A bit later, I went out with the dogs and Daisy hunkered down to do her business but some was left half-hanging out of her. No amount of effort worked to finish the job. I was headed into the house to get a washcloth to help her clean off when she made a mad dash and slipped in ahead of me. She proceeded straight to the rug in the front room to do some serious (and seriously disgusting) carpet surfing. I really wonder about this sustained metaphor in my life right now. At the very least, I sure am having to clean up a lot…

On the other hand, while I was out with the girls this morning, that fall breeze with the edge of chill in it wrapped around me. This weekend I did some more work on the bed where I will plant some of my roses next spring.   I have mixed compost, and good soil in with the clay, and covered it over with pine bark mulch. I’ll do that at least once more over the next few months and hope to be able to do my planting in late March. But for now, I get to anticipate, and imagine, I have to allow the earth to lie fallow for a while.

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And my new cat. My sweet, new cat. Maria and I have renamed her so we now have a set: Spot and Dot. Dot is my faithful companion when I am out gardening and most evenings, I sit outside and she comes and gets on my lap. Regularly, she moves closer and closer to the house. She is spending most of her time upstairs on the deck, though occasionally, she lies under a tree next to the house. Weather forecasters and the Farmer’s Almanac are calling for a cold winter. I am hoping and trusting that the cold will be a way of bringing her further into our family life.

I am still moved by the way our little brood comes together at night. I expected Daisy join me in the other room and she has. It is harder for Boo to get upstairs, but she makes the effort most nights. I had thought Spot would prefer to keep hanging out downstairs, in the part of the house that’s more familiar to her, but that isn’t the case—it’s a veritable parade up the stairs each night at about 9 o’clock. Then, without fail, at about 4:30 in the morning, Spot nuzzles up to my face, settles on my chest and begins purring and making biscuits. Not long after that, we stumble and tumble down the stairs to start a new day. Most days, I go ahead and feed the girls first and then make my coffee, but occasionally, I ignore their Jedi mind control games and get my coffee first. All three of them have no compunctions about sitting in an almost perfect semicircle in the kitchen looking at me a bit accusingly while I grind my coffee, and do the rest of the liturgy to the Coffee Gods.

I don’t quite know what to make of all this goodness as the world around me burns with rage and horror. I pray a lot. I wait and listen for what God is calling me to next. I am especially aware that this is Sherod’s last Monday in Fort Lauderdale, that Sunday he will say his final goodbyes, Monday he will visit with Maria and Tuesday he will be here. This growing season of solitude is almost over.

You Clean It Up–Again

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There was a retch-edly familiar smell in my house early this morning.  And a miniature schnauzer who looked as sick and miserable as her big sister Boo.  It was both a relief and absolutely awful for me.  Even more mess to clean up.  What we are dealing with is a stomach virus.  Boo came back home with me.  Daisy stayed with the vet because she needs to be rehydrated intravenously and get stabilized.  They will both be puny for several days, in all probability.  Now I am off to do some scrubbing with water and vinegar because I left in a hurry with Daisy earlier and the mess is the gift that keeps on giving.  This time, there is little in the way of inspiration or insight.  Just a grim determination to clean up all the shit and get on with my life…

You Clean It Up

clean_with_vinegarBoo is very sick. Last night it was clear she was very puny and this morning I got up to find a whole lot of fetid mess on the floor, including blood. The sun was not up yet and the vet doesn’t open until 7:30 AM, so I got to work cleaning. I have always been beyond squeamish about nasty, gross stuff and always admired Sherod’s capacity to very matter-of-factly clean up in situations like this. I am ashamed to acknowledge that on way, way more occasions than I should have, I begged, cajoled, conspired to get his help because I didn’t want to clean up the mess, claiming all the while, “I just can’t”.

I still had to work hard against my gag reflex this morning. I lost the battle, stopped to take care of that, and then went back to my work. By 7, the floors were clean. I got ready and headed into Selma with my sweet dog and friend. The doctor took one look at her and the bag I brought in with some of what I had found and began to give his assistant instructions. Boo was led away and he asked me to head back home because it would take him all morning to do tests on her. I am still waiting to hear.

In this anxious time there is yet more learning for me. When Boo got sick last month, I was beside myself at the notion that she, who has been Sherod’s faithful companion, might die on my watch, as if that somehow would reflect that I had not taken good enough care of her. Last night, I could see how puny she was feeling and I actually started to dial our new vet’s home number and then put the phone down.  And then I found myself stepping back, refusing to go into high drama.

Boo is almost 14 years old—that’s a lot of years for a dog, especially a Lab. To take her in last night would have been to start a chain of crisis responses that somehow felt wrong. Instead, I took time to sit on the floor with her and rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. That tail wagged the whole time. I got to think back and remember when we brought her home. Instead of trying to fix it, I allowed myself to accept her old age and infirmity. When I finally turned out the light, she was lying right next to Sherod’s and my bed, on my side—she hasn’t ever done that before, though she sleeps in the room with me. I woke up a couple of times in the night, heard her breathing and went back to sleep, assuring myself that she was still alive.

This morning, when I cleaned up the mess, I understood Sherod’s matter-of-factness. It’s about love. It is about doing what you have to do because that is what it means to love. Even when it stinks to high heaven, even when it is gross and especially, when the mess leaves no room for doubt that all is not well, you clean up. You do what you can to help, including leaving her with someone more competent to respond than you are.   You surrender her and your own self to a mercy far greater than we allow ourselves to see most of the time. Now, I wait in fear, hope and trust that no matter what the outcome, my girl Boo is held gently in the hand of her creator and nothing can change that.