Meet Mo

Little Mo

Little Mo

Ever since we got married, all of our animals have been females: cats, dogs, chickens, all of them girls.  Martha Elizabeth, Sherod’s daughter, lived with us for a time, and of course, Luz Maria did too.  The Mallowman has always been outnumbered.  Yesterday that began to change when we realized that a hen was a rooster.  Today, we drove way far out in the country, past Marion Junction, to look at some little labradoodle puppies.  Now, this is no fancy breeder, though the Lab mama is a pretty girl (we didn’t get to meet the dad, though, obviously, he is a standard poodle).  We aren’t talking pedigree or special food or anything like that–just farm dogs who made some babies.

We came home with one.  His name is Mo.  And that makes three.  Three bandido amigos:  Sherod, Mo, and Bruce, the rooster. Between them, they should be able to cause a goodly amount of trouble.  Miss Daisy rode out with us and when I got back in the car with a little bundle in my arms, she was not amused.  In fact, she, who always sits in the front seat, half-way across my lap, growled and went to the back and would not look at me.  I finally put our new baby down on the floor and only then, would she deign to come back and visit with me.

Mo and Daisy getting acquainted

Mo and Daisy getting acquainted

After we got home, they hung out a bit and Daisy seems a little more curious and willing to play.  I tell her she has a boy toy now. She is awfully clingy and needy right now, though.  That new baby thing, I tell you, it’s hard…

I miss sweet, gentle Boo who was such a fine old lady.  I am thankful that she graced our lives for 13 years.  After 3 years, Daisy continues to be a constant source of amusement and delight with her expressive ears.  And now, there is room in our hearts and in our home for one Mo!

Uh-oh

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I had a bout of insomnia last night and then managed to fall asleep at about 4:30 this morning.  A while ago, I tentatively opened an eye and there was the Mallowman, standing by the bed, smirking.  “We’ve got trouble in chicken land,” he said.  “I was up at six, made my coffee and sat out on the back porch as first light broke through.  That’s when I heard it.  A rooster crowing.  And then he crowed again–a rather juvenile-sounding rooster, but nonetheless, a rooster.  I looked over to Fort Yolk, Home of the Mother Cluckers  [I know, my spouse is too clever by half].  That big old meanie we’ve been worried about because she was always pushing the other girls around?  She’s a ROOSTER”.  I responded with one word that I cannot print here and got up in desperate need of a bracing cup of coffee.

Almost as soon as we got the chicks in June, I noticed this one was bigger.  I wondered if it might have been born a few days before the others.  Then we both saw how she seemed more aggressive than anybody else.  Last week, we noticed one of her tail-feathers beginning to curve in a most rooster-ly fashion.  But we have seen no sign of spurs and everyone says a rooster has spurs.  My friend Pat, the chicken whisperer, and her husband Larry, came over, observed, and opined.  We concluded it was just a mighty big hen.  And we were all wrong.

Now, the question is, what the heck am I going to do with a rooster?  I asked Sherod if it was possible to neuter him.  He laughed.  We’re considering taking him to the Autauga Chicken Auction and just giving him away.  If any Lowndes or Montgomery County peep would like a beautiful Americana rooster–I’ll deliver.  If anyone further away has always wanted one, I might make the drive too.  Sherod’s idea is to let him be fully free-range when he is big enough to put the fear of God in other creatures. The problem with that plan is, a) I could not live with myself if something like a fox or a coyote got him, and b) I want to be able to let the girls out to range around for at least a couple of hours a day without fear of getting assaulted.  I am wide open to any other suggestion someone might have.  But the bottom line is this: boys are nothing but trouble, at least in the chicken coop, and I want my pretty chicken girls to have a placid country convent life.

AAARGH!

Home

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In the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, after having made arrangements for the care of all the animals, Sherod and I drove down to what some folks call the “Redneck Riviera”. We were going for some very quick R&R in Destin, Florida, before the new realities of working full-time kick in on Sept 1. School has started just about everywhere now so the crowds are much, much smaller, especially when you check in on a Sunday and leave Tuesday. We got a good deal at the Sandestin Resort, packed our bags and took off.

As we walked from the car to the lobby to check in, I could already smell the sea breeze. It was wonderful. Check-in was uneventful, we got our keys and headed to our room. It didn’t take more than 2 seconds after we opened the door to realize we’d been sent to a room that had not been cleaned. In fact, the previous guests must have had a truly grand time to judge by the mess they left behind. A call, abject apologies, a return to the lobby, and we were sent to a much, much fancier room, higher up in the fancier wing of the resort. Much of the room was wasted on us—it had a little ‘bunk nook’ where small children could sleep comfortably and even give their parents some privacy. But the balcony was lovely and the view spectacular.

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The weather could not have been more perfect yesterday, especially in the morning. We read and swam and sat under the umbrella and didn’t do a whole lot. We had some nice food. By this morning, we were ready to come home.

I think it’s like this:   In my last year living in New Orleans, I was a chaplain intern at what was then Southern Baptist Hospital. I was buying time, trying to figure out how in heavens name to get to seminary and begin the ordination process as a Colombian woman on a student visa who was in a diocese that was only just barely beginning to consider women for ordination. I had no real idea how the process worked and even less sense of how to navigate the institutional and political realities of the Episcopal Church. It didn’t help matters that for two years, I had been babysitting the Bishop’s children—he or his wife would come to my dorm to pick me up whenever they needed me to stay with their girls because I didn’t even own a car. The pieces just weren’t there to be taken seriously.

I had landed in this year-long internship when the priest who was responsible for campus ministries at Tulane recommended I apply for this program to at least begin to get some piece of preparation for ordination behind me. I could get a paid internship because I had just graduated from college and I could get a special visa extension for “practical training”; if all else failed, doing this internship would allow a bit more time to figure out what I could do next.

The work was brutal that year; I did not have the theological underpinning to make a lot of sense of what I was doing. What I did have though, was the privilege of working with an amazing hospital staff. There’s a kind of humor in hospitals that I have never found anywhere else and still miss! One night, right before Christmas, I was on call, which meant I slept over at the hospital and was available for any and all calls where the nursing/medical staff thought a chaplain could be of help. There were 7 deaths that night, 3 of them in the oncology unit where I had gotten to know most of the patients because it was one of my assigned units. One of the nurses looked at me and said, “Sugar, after a night like this, there ain’t but two things can get you through: real good food or real good sex.” I actually found a third alternative. More than once, still without a car, I got on a Greyhound bus and rode to Biloxi to sit on the beach for a few hours and let the ocean do its healing. I also became really good friends with one nurse, Katherine, and when summer approached, we agreed that the next really bad time, we were going to the real beach, the beach around Pensacola, or even better, Destin.

On one summer weekend when it hadn’t even been a bad week, but we both had enough money, we took off in her little Honda (and in those days, they were little). We crossed the Pontchartrain headed out of New Orleans on a Friday afternoon and got to Pensacola pretty late in the evening but not too late to party at Seville Quarter, which in those days was a happening place. If memory serves me correctly, we got back to our tiny, cheap motel room almost at dawn. We slept a couple of hours and then continued to Destin. The beach was a great place to recover. What I remember most is that in those days, all there was along Highway 98 was sky, sun, the most glorious water I had ever seen, and sand dunes–miles, and miles, and miles of sand dunes. Even at the height of summer, the traffic wasn’t bad and the stretch of beach we found was almost empty. In the midst of the grit and suffering and death that defined so much of my internship, that weekend was one of the very best experiences of being young and carefree I ever had.

The contrast between that memory and what Destin has become sorta hurt. It’s a resort destination now, manicured, developed, and designed almost beyond recognition. There are a few places where you can still see the wildness of dunes. I noticed both mornings we were there that a tractor was smoothing out the sand, as if, somehow, the sand was not pristine enough, not beautiful enough as plain old sand on a beach. There is no sense of connection—it is all commodity. Turns out that almost the best part of these days was the rides down and back on country roads that took us through places like Liberty, Opp, Pine Apple, Greenville and Georgiana. By far, the very best part was getting back home to Lowndes County, the good ole 45.

A north wind is blowing and the high today was about 84 with low humidity. Fall is moving this way. Late this afternoon, we let the girls out of the coop and sat and enjoyed their antics, my Mallowman and me. We didn’t have to pay $45.00 for the chairs we sat in, I drank some water, Sherod some Costco wine, not $20 margaritas. This is Sabbath time for us–right where we live.

Just like that…

Preparing for the Pastoral Care Retreat Church of the Ascension

Preparing for yesterday’s Pastoral Care Retreat , Church of the Ascension

A few weeks ago, as I was wrapping up my work with ECF, I found out that I was under very serious consideration to become interim, part-time priest-in-charge at a parish in a reasonable driving distance from the farm. The Episcopal Church has a very structured, well-defined calling process that does not quite fit with a priest like me picking up and moving from one diocese to another. When Sherod and I bought this farm and moved here, I understood that I was probably going to have to put together a patchwork of ministries for myself. I had expected that my position at ECF would be the ‘core’ of my vocation for the foreseeable future. This possibility afforded me some relief; it was good news that, along with serving at St. Paul’s, Lowndesboro, I might also be able to work with another congregation.

To tell next part of the story, I need to do a quick rewind to the Spring: in April, at about the same time as I decided to move on from my work with Vital Teams and ECF, the rector of Church of the Ascension called to ask for some help for the summer. We met and agreed that I would take on a temporary assignment with him, working about 4-6 hours a week to provide liturgical and pastoral coverage, especially while he took time off during the summer. Though we set a definite start date, we left the back end of the assignment a little vague. After being contacted by the diocese about the interim position, and faced with the strong possibility of adding another part-time position, I needed to plan an ‘end game’ with Andrew.

I sent him a brief email and asked to meet with him after returned from a trip he was scheduled to take. Less than an hour after I sent the note, he responded and asked me to meet with him. The conversation was lively and just knocked the socks off me. I left with an offer for a permanent position at CotA. We began by talking about a ¾ time job but in the end, we agreed that I would come on board full time. Today at both services at the Ascension, Andrew announced my appointment as the new Associate Rector.

This means so many things. Sherod will more than likely take over Sunday duties at St. Paul’s and I will be the clergy-person’s spouse—available in a pinch, but no longer priest-in-charge. I am saddened and also glad that I live in Lowndesboro; there will still be ways to stay engaged in a community that is, quite simply, home. There is a budding Latino ministry at the Ascension, launched by a very capable and committed person who is a postulant for holy orders. My work will be to support her and the programs she has already launched; I am thrilled to get to help. All summer, I have been engaged in Pastoral Care ministries—not only doing a lot of visiting, but discovering some opportunities to open more spaces for the lay leadership teams that have thriving ministries to stretch and start dreaming for themselves and the congregation. Finally, I am glad I will also help the leadership team continue to explore and try new ways to serve a younger segment of the population in Montgomery.

I am beyond thrilled. More than once in the past year, I found myself grieving deeply for the kind of ministry I thought I would not get to do again. The people of St Paul’s have tended to each other and their community with style and grace for years and years; you don’t come into something like they have and stir things up without unleashing all kinds of “unintended consequences”. My work was, first and foremost, to stay out of their way.  Not being a rector or priest-in-charge is more true and real to the many pieces of life I juggle. I have come to the conclusion that I work out of an economy of ‘spiritual energy’—the joys and heart break of mothering Maria continue to require a lot from me and I can easily find myself depleted of joy, hope, charity and laughter. With a retired spouse who’s pushing awfully close to 70, I am thankful not to carry the burdens or responsibility that go with being a rector or priest-in-charge. There’s my aging dad in Panamá, my roses and my sweet chickens. They will need my continued attention and they are also my grounding and my sanity.

I also feel some pride and some extra responsibility because I am the first woman clergy to serve in this parish.  Today, an elderly woman who was raised here came up to me in tears and told me how she had prayed since she was a young girl for there to be a woman clergy person; we’ve all of us got things to learn. What makes my heart just sing this afternoon is that I get to be directly involved in ‘boots on the ground ministry’–where for me at least, there are so many thin places between the ordinariness of life and the Kingdom of God and I am so privileged to live and move and have my being precisely in that space.

So here I am, a new Associate Rector.  And just like that, it all changes.

“There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been…
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

East Coker
T.S. Eliot

Further reflections on the call to serve

Kim in Iraq

Kim in Iraq

I had a bout of sleeplessness last night and peered out into the darkness for a long while, Daisy on my lap, the silence of fields on either side and in front of our small farm keeping watch with me. I thought about those Army women who have gone through Ranger School. Before too long, my thoughts turned to Kim, Sherod’s and my niece. I had only been married to Sherod a few months when he, his sister and most of her family, my mother-in-law, my step-daughter and I, all went to Fort Rucker, an army base here in Alabama, where quite a lot of helicopter training takes place. Kim had gone through college with the ROTC, and now had successfully completed flight training. We were at Rucker for the graduation ceremony.

This was 1988, when hair-dos were poufy, dresses big and shoulder pads even bigger. I wore my wedding dress, a relatively simple linen and lace, Talbot’s, tea-length dress, and I laugh now because even that dress had shoulder pads. Yuk! In her dress uniform, Kim was as stark and severe as we were frou-frou. I don’t say that critically—I was in awe of a young woman, still in her early twenties, who had already been seriously tested. Responsibility, discipline and duty were not new to her. Like Sherod, her dad, Clyde Enderle was an airman who was killed in the line of duty when his aircraft was shot down not too long after Sherod returned from Vietnam. There were some brutally hard times after that for her family and Kim started learning leadership skills when she was knee-high to a grasshopper.

The night of her flight school graduation, one of her cousins on her dad’s side of the family, also an officer with the Air Force, would do what I think we all desperately wished her dad could have done for her. There’s a pin involved and it is supposed to be decorously pinned to the person’s uniform. But there is a variation on that practice. The Army says it frowns on this tradition but I don’t think it really does, at least not completely. It’s called getting your blood wings–getting your blood wings means the person doing the honors literally jams the pin into your flesh. It is a very concrete reminder of the depth of commitment our military folks make to serve—even unto death. That night, Kim got her blood wings and I still wince, though my memory of that moment is that she stood ram-rod straight and flashed that brilliant Kim Enderle smile. I imagine Clyde was beyond proud of his girl that night.

Kim went on to serve in Bosnia, Germany, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan, with tours State-side as well. By the time she retired a very few years ago, she was a Lieutenant Colonel. There are so many different parts of her military career and her patriotism that I am deeply moved by. But perhaps the thing I am most proud of, as her aunt, is Kim’s courage as a gay woman. On the one hand, the call to serve was deep and strong, she was following in the footsteps of uncles, great uncles, and her own father. She was highly accomplished as a helicopter pilot and a strong leader—she responded to a sacred call when she joined the Army.

On the other, it was in that culture that Kim wrestled with, and finally accepted, who she was: a gay woman and beloved child of God who could not deny that God-given truth about herself. Love has come and love has ended through the years for her. I have seen the honesty, the struggle, the moments of great joy and goodness as well, in the commitments she has made—she has honored her relationships like she has honored every other part of her life. For a long time, she learned about loving under the constant threat of losing her vocation. The years when she lived under the shadow of being dismissed from the army for who she was, and even during the years of “don’t ask, don’t tell” were hard. There was pain and disappointment that the country and army she served saw her as “less than”, a liability to be easily discarded. What I was able to witness, time and again, was her willingness to sacrifice enormously, in all kinds of ways, so she would never compromise her pledge to serve. She served with distinction, integrity and honor.

There are all kinds of heroes in the world. Kim is one of mine…

They made it

I could write pages and pages.  For several weeks now, a number of women clergy from all across the Episcopal Church, including me, have been praying for three women going through the Army Ranger School.  One of them has had to redo a portion of the training and so is still at it.  Today, the other two completed the training and will graduate with their classmates in a few weeks.  I am proud.  I am in awe.  I am grateful.  I wish neither women nor men had to learn what you have to learn in Ranger School.  I wish we were all learning more about making peace, rather than being more effective warriors.  I would probably find the worldview of these young women very different–uncomfortably different–from mine.  But once again, what so many said a woman was not capable of doing, was not beyond reach.  I will keep praying for endurance, strength and determination for the third young woman.  Tonight, I will also pray for God’s blessings to be on the two women whose names have not been released and who were foolish enough to believe that they were capable of changing something, even when everyone else around them said it could not be done.  ¡Bravas!