Progressing in the direction of summer

This year, the biggest part of my spring work has been in the flower beds—that’s where I tend to my roses and continue to add to the collection of perennials I hope will be the biggest part of all those beds. I’m also carefully starting to learn about ornamental grasses and have planted a few in the newest bed. We’ll see how it goes.



About a month ago, though, I had a pound of wildflower seeds and a quarter pound of mixed sunflower seeds I sowed into the area in our wildflower patch that was nothing but red Alabama dirt. Each year since we’ve been here, we’ve added to the patch, and now, the perennials that were sowed in earlier years are flowering. The hollyhock is especially lovely this year, in two vibrant shades of pink. These are biannual plants that seem to be reseeding themselves so hopefully they are now a more permanent fixture in our garden. By next year, the whole section we had designated as the wild flower patch will have been planted and our job from then on will be an occasional reseeding.  I have come to love the patience of slow work that I measure not in months, but years.


Sherod has been busy with the vegetable garden. Okra, squash, onions, zucchini, lettuce, eggplant, cabbage, spinach, strawberries, asparagus, basil, peppers, chives, and tomatoes are all in the ground. So far, the strawberries and carrots have been a bust, but everything else is thriving. I asked for two San Marzano tomato plants and one already has fruit on it. We’re hoping to can some serious pickled okra this year.


Then there are the volunteers and the left-behinds. Our blueberry crop will not be anywhere near as abundant as last year. Sherod is an exuberant pruner and had at the blueberry bushes the fall. We do well with a smaller harvest this year, especially with the promise that 2018 will return us to the kind of crop we saw last year; we used our last package of frozen blueberries just a few weeks ago and they tasted especially wonderful! Along with the gift of blueberry bushes that was left behind for us, this year we have some unexpected volunteers. Sherod put up a little shelf on one of the big trees in the back yard and stocked it regularly with sunflower seeds for Buddy. Along with him, other squirrels and lots of birds feasted on them. Not all the seeds made it into bellies and instead, fell on the ground. We now have a circle of sunflower volunteers blooming and bringing us great joy.


Spring is progressing in the direction of summer…



The mountains are so beautiful.  I forget about all the wild and wonderful streams, rivers and waterfalls that shape them until I am back; then, I think I could just stand and watch the water forever.  And I had never seen a miniature iris before–no more than 2-3 inches tall and exquisite. Be still my heart.



It is Night


it is night.

Today at a Newcomer’s Luncheon at my church, I described my work by saying no two days are ever alike. A while ago, I tried to go back to retrace just this past week: After church on Easter Sunday, I found out I am baptizing 7 children in May and another 9 in June. The next day, which was supposed to be a day off, saw me helping with a serious pastoral crisis.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

From Sunday on, right beneath the surface of my consciousness was the challenge of preaching about Thomas once again. How much more can you find to say about that passage when it comes around every year on the Second Sunday in Easter. Hitting another dead end in the effort to get my dad squared away with hearing aids, followed by a bridal party luncheon I was very late to because of said dead end. Driving, driving and driving some more, almost always squeezing in a phone conversation and maybe even some singing, with Maria while I drive, lunches and listening, wedding leaflets, web page stuff to learn,  a quick run up the road with a good friend and some time to enjoy a place called Petals from the Past, which sells some pretty amazing plants, especially roses.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

Yesterday evening, I watched a radiant bride come down the aisle, a moment of joy for a family that needed such joy and then I came home to get a few more pieces in place for church.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.

Today, a confirmation class to finish preparing for, and no way to stop after celebrating at 8, teaching the confirmation class at 9, and preaching at 10:15. After the service it was time to hurry down to the newcomer’s luncheon. Then back home, planting, weeding, mulching, watering, cleaning out the chicken coop, doing laundry and dishes and paying bills; tying up loose ends because tomorrow, we’re going to the mountains of North Carolina for a couple days.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

All of that is done and now, the night prayer I most love, from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.








The Foolish, Frivolous and Fun


I adore fountains; in some respects, I am the opposite of a pyromaniac.  Each year, I have tackled one of the flower beds that the owners of our farm, once removed, must have tended to lovingly. The next ones, not at all, so the flowerbeds became mini-jungles, more eyesore than anything else.  This year, I was determined I’d have me a fountain and broached the subject with the Mallowman as the clearing out part of the project began.  His response was, “not no but h^%l no—I am not running out electricity to that bed, I am not hassling with a fountain, just no, no, no, no, no.”  I was the model of self-restraint and did not push back (at least not too much) but I was sorely disappointed.  A couple of weeks later, in the middle of the night, I woke up with a possible solution, got up and googled “solar powered fountains”.  Well, there were quite a number of them. Most of them were very tacky, the few I liked were very expensive.  BUT—you could buy a “solar powered fountain kit” for about $50.00.  A container from Lowe’s and voilà—a little garden fountain for under $80.00 bucks.

As soon as it started working when I set it up this afternoon, I came running into the house to get Sherod to come see. He’d just sat down and with some sighing and rolling of eyes, he finally graciously hauled himself out of his comfortable chair and followed me. As I’d unpacked all the pump gear and assembled it, he’d been mightily unconvinced. Imagine, then, my utter delight, when he cracked a smile big enough I could see his dimple. Life is sweet, sweet, sweet.

Not Empty


My hands were bright red, they ached, and I had almost-blisters where I’d been holding first the shovel and then the rake. My back ached, my feetsies were grimy and I was dusty enough that there were these deep tracks where the sweat had run down my face.   On this, the third of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, I had needed to get 2 cubic yards of mulch spread out on my flower beds. I got home from work, threw on gardening clothes and a hat and got out there.

As I shoveled mulch into the wheelbarrow, rolled, poured, spread and came back for more, I remembered how 10 years ago, right about now, I had such intense pain in my poor, battered left hip that sometimes I hesitated to even try to stand up, wondering if my hip would simply give out on me. I realized, again, that I literally could not imagine myself doing the gardening I do these days until 3 years ago, when the world as I knew it ended, and instead of taking to my bed and pulling sheets over my head, I moved to a farm in Alabama and spent the better part of a summer mowing grass with a push-mower. I repeated a beautiful line I saw this morning: “Living in the power of resurrection, means refusing to accept that anything that is broken will ultimately remain broken”[Roberta Bondi]. People I serve are dealing with intractable, complicated brokenness; one day at a time, in slow and careful steps, others around them are helping to bring healing. I’m getting to see amazingly creative problem solving. Perseverance with remarkable good humor.

A few days ago, I noticed a deep hollow in one of our trees in the backyard. This evening, as I finished my work, the light was just right. I grabbed my camera and looked in, not knowing what I would find yet aware that in a week when the imagery of tombs looms large, even finding that hollow empty would remind me of resurrection. Not empty. Holding new life.

Those Terriby Thin Spaces Between The Cross and Resurrection


Holy Week ended with glory, sadness, a strange new sense of what Easter might mean. There were some small, quite unimportant pieces: Very unexpectedly, I found myself both in awe at the grandeur of the celebrations at Ascension and so missing Holy Week in the small community I served in Fort Lauderdale. On Saturday morning I drove into town on my favorite country road, probably driving a little too fast, with windows and sunroof open, sun and breezes playing tag in my car, Classical Gas playing full blast. I was thankful to be fiercely missing folks I love and fiercely loving the ones I am with.

At another point that same day, Sherod and I looked at each other in some bemusement: yesterday, Sunday of the Resurrection, he’d be celebrant at an Easter Service in St. Paul’s in Carlowville, and then join Bishop Sloan and the good people of St.Paul’s, Lowndesboro, for an Easter lunch. I’d leave the house by 7 a.m., be home for a short time after church in Montgomery, then go make a pastoral visit in Elmore and stop in at a gathering in Prattville. We would not get to be with each other until the very late afternoon. I can’t remember the last time we got to spend Easter together. In our almost 28 years of marriage, only once, in 1996, did both of us have Christmas Eve off. I can’t remember the last time we were actually in the same place of worship on either of the two “high holy days” of the Christian Church. There’s a peculiar grief that goes with that realization.

But it was yesterday afternoon when it all got really topsy-turvy in me. I went to visit someone who first suffered a devastating loss. Then she suffered a devastating stroke. And now, in the day of medical care tied to results and profit, she has been placed in a kind of limbo because her progress with OT and PT was not adequate to the standards established by ‘the system’; it is cheaper to condemn her to lie alone in a small facility, far out in the country. She is clean and comfortable, fed and given the basic medical care she needs, but this is not a place resourced to provide her the kind of therapeutic interventions that allow her brain, with all its miraculous plasticity and resilience, to do the kind of rewiring and resetting that would return some quality to her life. This is only a step above warehousing. Her family is fighting hard to get her more rehabilitation services, but quite simply, as a person who does not have many means, she does not count for very much and I wonder, if she does not get that additional care, how many years stretch ahead for her, trapped in a body that is both dead and alive.

I drove away from my visit with her, headed towards a lovely, gracious gathering of wonderful people, thinking sometimes there are worse things than dying. When I hear the ardent protectiveness of so many who are pro-life at a time when our country allows the kind of misery I witnessed yesterday, when it is OK in Arkansas to plan on executing 8 men in a row, at the same time that contraceptive care for women is fiercely opposed and undermined, it seems like the cross might be life and resurrection might be death, at least as we define the Christian life and faith in our time and place. These are not very cheerful thoughts on the second of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. I especially struggle with a sense of my own smallness relative to the enormous complexity of these days and times.

It occurs to me that “practicing resurrection”, as Andrew preached yesterday at Ascension, is precisely about finding my way into tombs like the one my friend lies in these days. For me, the work is straight-forward. I will be tempted to allow busy-ness to shield me from the distress of her failed efforts to communicate, the desperation I saw in her eyes yesterday. The cure is visits as regularly as I can manage. If all I can do is find a good story about cats—a particular love of this person—and stop in to read to her regularly, and then simply sit in silence, at least that I can do. Otherwise, the joy of Easter is nothing but but a white-washed cross and a denial of the stench of death.

Two Tiny Tales of the South


A Bunny Story.
Some months ago, our sweet neighbor’s daughter and grandchildren came to us with Rocky the baby flying squirrel who’d been caught by their cat. Now, Rocky was in bad shape but Sherod’s success as the squirrel whisperer gave our friends hope for this injured little creature. The story did not end well, but we took good care of little Rocky while we had him, and understood that in the country, that’s how it goes sometimes. A bit of time went by, and as winter became spring in fits and starts here in Alabama, another crisis. This time, our friend’s dog–a great big ‘ole dog–was found to have a baby bunny in his mouth. The bunny was rescued, and, because bunnies become more self-reliant much sooner than squirrels, he was released back out in the woods to find his way to a life worth living. A couple of weeks ago, it happened again. The bunny. The dog. The mouth. The way I heard it told, the dog has such a big mouth it was like a cavern with a pair of bright eyes peeping out from way inside. Bunnies can holler to make your skin crawl, and he wasn’t about to stay in that mouth! Again, the little bunny was rescued, and this time, kept at home with a pair of young twins to watch over him.

You have to know your Bible pretty well to know what name fits when, and around here, people do. Surely, that little bunny could have swapped stories with someone who was once swallowed by a whale. It’s only right then, that his name is Jonah. One day, his human friends hope to release Jonah back into the woods. For now, though, he likes being held.


Durwood the Donkey

A Donkey Story.
It’s a long-held tradition at Ascension that a donkey is part of the procession on Palm Sunday. In fact, for many years there were two donkeys that walked with a certain stateliness down the aisle. They were devoted siblings who had  always been together; it seemed unkind to choose one over the other for such an important occasion. What’s more, all that loud All Glory, Laud and Honor and palm waving would be disconcerting to a simple country animal.  And surely, it is good for a donkey to not be alone. So down the aisle they came, side by side, and then out the south transept door, their work done for another year. This year, the two fellows have a new set of humans to tend to them, friends who do not have a trailer, so the donkey boys pretty much stay put.

For weeks, we advertised on Facebook and through Constant Contact E-news bulletins for a donkey. For weeks, all we got was dead ends. Andy, our rector, thought he might dress up as a bull (he has this great bull outfit). Others suggested the Papier-mâché camel   on wheels we use for our Epiphany parade and blessing of the thresholds. Then on Thursday, a break: a short text announcing “Who do I need to talk to; I think I have a donkey”.   A flurry of communications later, this morning, Durwood the Donkey joined in the procession. He was a good sport about a walk he didn’t particularly enjoy, but he minded his humans, delighted us all (and had no accidents—whew!). The children were beyond thrilled, greeting a gentle, forbearing, new friend.

Here’s what got to me: I stopped to thank one of his humans before the service started. All around us, people were waving palmetto fronds and he wanted me to listen to something important about them. He pointed to one and said, “those palms there saved my kin”. He went on to explain that in the worst of the Depression in the 30’s, the Porch Band of Creek people suffered death-dealing hunger. While people around them got government assistance for food, his kin did not. It was the root of the Palmetto Palm, carefully dug out, peeled, boiled, and mashed, that sustained his great-grandparents, and grandparents, through those brutal years. To this day, it is a staple for this man and his family.

I’m not exactly sure why these tiny little stories are the ones that continue to knit me more and more thoroughly into this place which is my home. The humor. The hardship. The stories that are so heart-breaking and so beautiful they make it hard to breathe for a moment. The silenced voices, as well the squeaking and hollering voices of squirrels and bunnies, all crying for salvation. On this Palm Sunday, the ones I hear and the ones I don’t but are surely waiting for someone to listen, make real the original Hebrew meaning of “Hosanna”: “I beg you to save me”…

Richard Bolles, RIP


The vocation I had envisioned for myself in college, to be an Episcopal priest, began to unravel in seminary. I was too naïve, too immature, too unknowing. By the time I graduated from the School of Theology at Sewanee, I was certain I’d never be a priest. I thought, though, that perhaps I could be a seminary professor and began my doctorate in theology at Vanderbilt. But the truth is, I started that work because it meant getting an extension on my student visa and buying myself some more time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up; the only thing I knew for sure in those days was that I wanted to stay in the US and the only way I could do that was by staying in school. I am deeply saddened now,  when I consider the missed opportunity to do the kind of rigorous thinking a doctorate would have required of me.

Sherod and I had begun to date and we reached the place where a long distance relationship (he in Florence, AL, me in Nashville) was not enough and we knew how much we loved each other so I say with some humor, that my ardently feminist self traded a PhD for an Mrs.. I kept telling myself, though, that I was only taking a leave of absence at the end of my second semester and I’d be back as soon as life settled after our wedding. About 6 weeks after our we got married, things got tough for Sherod’s daughter and it became clear that we needed to have her come live with us. To be 28 years old, with a 14 year-old stepdaughter at home, meant a lot of things, including accepting that I would never go back and finish that degree.

It also meant we needed me to be gainfully employed. I was doing some translation work but that was very part-time.  Somewhere along the way, someone (and I wish I could remember who) recommended I take a look at a book called, What Color is Your Parachute. I got a copy of it and realized it was a painstaking, tough, grace-filled way of taking a good hard look at myself to figure out what I might be called to do and be, now that everything I had figured on was upside down.

What I remember most is that there were several areas of work I had to do. Working close to eight hours a day, each one took 2 or 3 days to complete and at the end, when I had worked through each area, I  had a few simple, well-distilled verbs or phrases I entered into a small circle. And when I had finished filling each of those circles, I ended up with a remarkably complete snapshot of my vocational self. The circles all came together to form a flower, and if that seems a little kitschy today, I desperately needed that kind of affirming vision of myself then. Funny how the flower itself was almost as important as the work I’d done.

The results were clear: I was particularly suited to adult education/training and organizational development. It would take a couple of intermediate steps, but I ultimately ended up doing—and loving—the work What Color is Your Parachute pointed me to. It also turned out to be work that has been enormously helpful as I’ve come back full circle to be a parish priest.

Richard Bolles, the author of this book, was an Episcopal priest. Bolles has just died at 90, after a life rich in years and blessing. His obituary in the New York Times gives a fascinating account of his life.

Although working through What Color was solitary work, there was a sense of having someone with me who could both instill hope and insist on accountability for the reader/worker of his book. Bolles knew his book had been a best seller for years on end. I imagine he heard from lots of people that his work had been transforming for many. It feels important to acknowledge that Bolles’ book took that confused, insecure, sharply angry young woman I was, and launched her on a path that has allowed her to flourish. Rest in peace, Fr. Bolles. Thank you.