Until the work is done

 

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My Dahlias in Bloom

Last Sunday, at about 5 o’clock in the evening, I hit send on an email and that was it.  The very last item on my to-do list for Ascension. It was some paperwork I had to do for a couple that’s getting married, and it was joyful work. I thought, ‘was a lovely way to end this run.’ There had been a somewhat rough pair of moments earlier in the day, as I got to the end of my sermon at each of the 2 services. There was all manner of kindness and grace showered on me as I said some more goodbyes. After the principal service I did an adult Baptism. Repeatedly at the communion rail in the three or so preceding hours, I had looked at chubby, gorgeous little babies and thought, “I baptized you.” “And you.” “And you too.” One, who I saw for the first time at the rails as a days-old infant, reached out a little hand, looked me in the eye, and waited. Until that moment, I had always given him a blessing at the rail. Now, he was ready to participate in communion and I swear, these littlest ones amongst us know, in a way I wonder if we grown-ups know, about the mystery of kinship when we gather around God’s table. To have seen all those little ones and then, dip into the holy oil and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of a beautiful woman who has endured much and still believes in love, to say to her, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever: was indescribably beautiful.

By Monday morning, I was full throttle into puttering mode—a long lunch with a new and already dear friend, some cleaning and straightening out (way more left to do), a culinary adventure. I don’t know what got into me that made me decide I should make the Mexican version of Matzo Ball Soup—I read the recipe in the NY Times, it sounded good and I said, “I can make that.” Well, I could make the soup part—it is pretty spectacular. The Matzo balls? Uhhh. Not so much. Don’t know if I will ever practice again, but it was fun. More small projects and appointments and errands I’d put off for months and falling into bed at night without a worry, to sleep deeply, peacefully.

Several times, while I waited for Tux to pee this week, I got to stand for a long while admiring the dahlias I planted this spring, my first time ever, that have now bloomed. Last evening, Sherod and I splashed about in the pool late in the afternoon and I told him I wasn’t sure I could ever remember being so filled with simple contentment.

When I looked at my phone this morning, there was a text. That beautiful little girl I wrote about in the previous post was actively dying—and then died this afternoon. I will do the Rite of Burial for her on Saturday morning, a service that is as much about grieving as giving joyful thanks for a little life that was infinitely precious and beautiful. I am blessed to have the help of a fellow clergy woman who will officiate with me at the service and one day will baptize little V’s sister. Usually we have several days to prepare for a service like this, usually I am not on vacation. Never before had I actually already handed in my church keys because that was all I had left to do. In ministry, usually and never are probably not words that can get used a lot so these next two days will be busy.

Tonight Sherod and I had several friends over for a dinner we’d planned several weeks ago and the company was lovely. I wished, though, that I could be in two places at once—with a family bearing such grief, as well as with the people who laughed and giggled through dinner, telling tall Southern tales and having a Colombian meal. Tomorrow I will be back at the office, meeting V’s parents to finish planning what none of us ever want to plan for a beloved child. My colleague/friends at Ascension and I will do the work of coordinating with printers, getting bulletins folded, following up about flowers and whether or not the children’s pall at Ascension will work for Saturday.

Here’s what I think as I gather my thoughts late in the evening: you grab contentment and give thanks when you can. You make every effort to be a presence of some little bit of grace when the world has ended for a family. You make your peace with what you know you will not get to do for them, though you’d want to. And no matter how much you thought your work was done in one place, as you get ready to go to another, you accept that the work is not done till it is done.

I’ll need to figure out how to grab a bit more time of rest before too long—that thing of self-care comes into clearer focus on a night like tonight. But I stopped and reclaimed my Ascension keys for this weekend. I will fall asleep tonight praying for a mom and dad, a little sister, aunts and uncles, and puppy dogs and so many others, who will have a hole in their heart after today. It all gets distilled down to that amazing line by Buechner: “This is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” That line will guide me until the work is done.

Anniversary

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Three years ago, today, I began to serve as Associate Rector at Church of the Ascension.  It’s been such a bittersweet morning of reflection for me. The passage from Deuteronomy that we will hear tomorrow and which will be, in part, what I preach about, has Moses preparing to re-present the Ten Commandments as the Israelites are about to enter the promised land, a land he will not cross into with them.  Ministry is all about these moments—of remembrance, celebration, regret, rejoicing. They are moments where, in some ways, you step out of time, or perhaps into the richness of God’s time which is timeless.

As I’ve been working on my sermon this morning, Sherod’s been watching John McCain’s funeral service. The volume is up high enough, and the words of the Episcopal Rite of Burial go so deep for me after these three years at Ascension, when I assisted or officiated at so many funerals, that even here in this quiet room, with sweet Tux resting next to me, I can recite along from memory, “You only are immortal, the creator and maker of [hu]mankind;  and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”  It is a strange and beautiful paradox that these words capture the glory of parish ministry as well.

The story that best captures the grace of this time is the story of one family, the Westons, who have kindly and ever so generously allowed me to tell their story on this page.  I remember Bill, and I remember Heather, from fairly early in my ministry as Associate Rector. In a church as big as Ascension, you first start getting to know faces as people come forward to receive communion.  I remember Bill and Heather kneeling at the rail, though I can’t say I remember them coming up together, though they probably did.  It is amazing when your regular encounters with people are about sharing communion, even if you know nothing about them. 

At some point in that first year, Heather friended me on Facebook.  Sometime in late 2015 or early 2016, I realized from her posts that Heather worked with an organization that cares for rescued dogs—and that she adores all kinds of fuzzy, furry children-friends who steal our hearts again and again.  Not too long after, there was a set of pictures, taken in front of, and inside of a small chapel, somewhere wooded and beautiful. It was how I learned that Heather and Bill had gotten married.  The pictures painted a picture of laughter and joy. It wasn’t too much longer after that when there was another picture on Facebook. This time it was of Bill and Heather with their dogs and a tiny pair of pink booties.  A baby was on her way and again, the joy.  So much happiness. So much anticipation. So much already knit together for the Westons, both as a couple, and as members of Ascension, to hold and cherish a new life.

At a staff meeting in  in December of 2016, I learned from Andy Thayer, then our rector, that with metal screeching and tearing and twisting, the Westons’ world had been turned inside out.  Heather was not yet 30 weeks pregnant when a car plowed into her car without ever using his brakes. She was injured, and her baby was in enough distress that she had to be delivered by C-Section.  No one thought that tiny baby girl would survive.  For days, Andy was on red alert, ready to baptize little Vera Jane. But he kept insisting that we should not rush to do that. If there was any way for her to be baptized in church in due time, when everything else about her birth had been so excruciating, it was worth the wait.  In parish ministry, those you minister with have so much to teach.

Vera Jane was in NICU for months on end. She had a serious brain bleed that caused extensive damage.  Andy was the Weston’s pastor and the rest of us prayed. We prayed so much. The women of the Prayers and Squares ministry at Ascension made her a little quilt and for two Sundays, it was out in the nave so all of us could stop and say a prayer, tie a knot in the yarn that binds the quilt together.  That quilt and those prayers still cover her today. Love bears fruit of all kinds and parishes are places where you get to see a myriad sacraments of love. 

 Heather and Bill shared pictures on Facebook all along the way so we had the gift of watching Vera take small steps forward, a fierce little fighter.  We saw the wonder and awe in her mom and dad’s faces, the unquestioning love that grows with a special needs child that teaches us that our definition of what it means to be a person is too often too narrow and too shallow and too limited.  Each cuddle and hug and holding of their little girl was pure gift and that was obvious to everyone.  As the mother of a special needs child, I also knew something about the fear.  The nights you lie awake and try to make sure you have thought of everything you need to do the next day, while wisps of fear slip through you from the dark and into the dark, fears about the care of such a vulnerable little one in a world growing so much tougher to navigate in.  Heather and Bill know the cost of love and they know they would gladly pay it tenfold in thanksgiving for their Vera.  Who teaches whom about holiness in a parish?

Not long after Andy left, Heather got in touch with me about baptizing Vera.  I was awed. I am still awed when I think about holding her in my arms and marking her forehead with a cross and saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Those words. The enormity of love they represent!  

With flu season, the Westons had to take extra precautions so Vera, with all her fragilities, didn’t get any virus or infection that could be life threatening.  They stopped going out much. A few days before Christmas, I drove to their new home in Wetumpka and brought communion.  Vera was sleepy and sassy and delicious and we got to talk for the first time about parenting vulnerable girls. Heather told me she’d just found out she was pregnant.  “For unto us a child is given” means something completely new for me now. And that day: the joy and love.

In early summer, another quick note from Heather and a phone conversation.  Little Vivie, due in the last part of July, would be born with Spina Bifida.  There was strength and clarity in Heather’s voice, no self pity, no drama, as she shared this news with me. She wanted me to know they were moving to Birmingham to be closer to the medical support both girls would need but she also wanted me to know she wanted Vivie baptized at Ascension.  And when that delicious girl was born on July 16th, there was jubilation and a few weeks later, relief, when the initial steps to begin addressing the issues with Spina Bifida went well.

At the same time, life was getting turned inside out, all over again.  Vera kept getting sicker and sicker with symptoms difficult to understand until an MRI showed that the brain injury caused by her original bleed was becoming more extensive, seriously affecting her brain stem, the part that regulates the most basic of our life-giving functions like body temperature and heart-rate.  The future is impossible to look into, a void where Bill and Heather, through tears, told me they trust they will find grace and God’s love. They think Vera held on far longer than she was expected to, so Vivie could be accompany her parents in the days and months and years that lie ahead. Bill and Heather have made excruciatingly hard decisions and are home with their little girls, taking each day as it comes.  

My time of walking with these beautiful people is coming to a close.  They need the support and care of a clergy person in Birmingham. I know a number of priests there and the one I would call if I found myself in such a time, has graciously begun visiting with the Westons and building a relationship with them. I am grateful.  Vivie will be baptized, though where and when is still something to decide in the future.  I trust Vivie’s baptism will be in a community, like Ascension, that will love and cherish this family, that the person welcoming her into the household of God will marvel at the miracle of this beautiful child.  The church is full of such clergy.

That there was a beginning and there will soon be an end to my time of being the Westons’ priest is both hard and wonderful.   We help each other along the way, as much as we can, for as long as we can.  We are woven together into the great cloud of saints and witnesses, and into each other’s lives, and the richness and grace of all the people who fill our lives are part of what makes it possible for us to say with certainty, “even at the grave, we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” And for this priest looking back and looking forward, I am reminded that the Alleluias ring out both in the homecomings and the leave-takings. AMGD

Passage making

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My younger brother took the picture of this sailboat when my siblings and I spent two weeks with my dad on an island in the Stockholm archipelago a few years ago. The picture captures all the grace and beauty and marvel of a vessel under sail. I have been out sailing when wind conditions were like this and our good vessel Promise sliced effortlessly through the water; the blue of the Gulf Stream off Fort Lauderdale was infinitely indigo blue in the sun. It is glorious.

To get out to the big water from our home on a canal in SoFla, Sherod and I would steer Promise through the New River, an urban version of river, a version that is cornered and hemmed in by seawalls and criss-crossed with drawbridges. Often too, I’d sit in my car at stoplights on Davie, on Andrews Avenue, on 3rd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, when a bridge went up to allow boats through. Because the river was so hemmed in and sailboats shared space with enormous yachts and power boats, they made their passage through with gallant awkwardness, bobbing and tilting, masts naked and exposed. Next to the shiny, sleek powerboats, sailboats looked nothing so much as well-intentioned tubs floating down river.

When Sherod and I would make that passage, there was always that small thread of anxiety that weaves its way through the body as you hope your muscle memory still works and your reflexes are sharp enough if a wake is unexpectedly strong or a current catches your bow just so. But it also didn’t matter a bit that we bobbed and weren’t as fast, or as big or as beautiful as others sharing the waterway with us. There was the thrill of anticipation that past Port Everglades, I’d steer into the wind, Sherod would raise the mainsail, give me a point of sail and fabric that had been flapping uselessly would begin to tighten and fill enough to cut the motor off and take flight.

Today, it is I who am a somewhat ungainly, but seaworthy vessel that has left port. When our previous rector left Ascension, I knew I would need to carry my work lightly, that a new rector might want someone else to work alongside him or her. Then I began to face into the reality of how I found myself being tugged and pulled by tides and wakes, and by the certainty that being at port no longer felt right. A few weeks ago the lines began to loosen. The rector of a parish in Montgomery that has seen its fair share of hardship and is in a neighborhood that was once upscale and is now a boulevard across from urban blight, announced his resignation. I made some inquiries about what would come next and realized I could and should ask to be considered when they started looking for an interim. I was told it would be a 1-year assignment, that normally the Bishop does not allow an interim to stay on as rector. It was scary to let go of Ascension for something that felt so fragile and temporary. But it also was wonderful letting go of some comfort in exchange for adventure.

Two weeks ago, I began a conversation with the leadership group assigned to fill the interim position. The conversation was lively. The tug was there, even stronger. A week ago Sunday we met, this time face to face. The conversation continued and ran long, still lively, still intriguing. I had made my peace with the fact that all I could expect to have was a year of interim work. Not a lot of time, but enough to start figuring the next step to take after that. As the second conversation wrapped up, a heart-stopping surprise: the Senior Warden had found out that there was an alternative to the route we were discussing. The discernment team could choose instead to go with a longer term assignment for someone to serve as priest-in-charge. Over an 18 month or so assignment they and the priest-in-charge would then decide whether or not to convert the position to a tenured rectorship. Somewhat awkwardly, we felt that possibility out with each other and I drove home trying to manage my sense of elation.

This past Sunday, the vestry at Holy Comforter met and unanimously agreed to call me as their priest-in-charge. Yesterday, the senior warden called to extend the call and I accepted. Announcements are going out. Calendars and schedules are being revised.

The passage has begun.

There are currents to navigate; some of them run swift. We are all moving in some pretty tight spaces, finding our way around each other, making sure not to leave anyone bobbing in an unnecessary wake. I am making my path out to the big waters. It’s not just that I feel awkward and and vulnerable, along with elated. It’s that I look ahead, beyond the passage out from this place I have made my church home for three years, and find myself repeating the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer over and over again: Oh God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small…

Life begins again

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Tux with red bow with Sherod

I was Daisy’s human companion and she was my friend in a way I had not experienced before. There were always  dogs in my parents’ home and dogs in Sherod’s and my home—it’s just that They were always “Sherod’s dog”, or my mom’s or my dad’s.  I went looking for Daisy and when we found each other, even though there were other people inhabiting our house, I was hers and she was mine in a deep, unshakeable sense and I never stopped being awed by her joy when I came home after work or after a trip or outing.  I cannot count the number of times she slept on my lap while I read or sewed or watched TV.  The list goes on.  I was already over 50 when I became the human companion of a dog and I never took the grace of that life and presence in my life for granted.  When grief visits these days, and I miss my girl terribly, I remember what unanticipated joy she brought.

Almost as soon as she died, I realized how much having that companionship had meant to me—how much I needed it.  I set out to find a new friend to welcome into my life, not because I was ‘over’ my Daisy or needed a replacement, but because Daisy made my heart bigger and gave me more space to love and care.  Along with some measure of guilt because I decided I would try to find a Miniature Schnauzer puppy, rather than an adult rescue dog, I also accepted about myself that there has been a lot of loss and there is probably a lot of loss ahead for me as well. My heart yearned for the kind of new beginning that tending to a young creature entails.

I found a few people who were neither breeding ‘high end’ trophy dogs nor were puppy mills and plotted a plan to visit a few with the aim of bringing home a little one in the fall.  The first place was in the northern part of Alabama and on an early Saturday morning, my dad, one of my dearest friends, and I piled in my car and headed up the road.  When we arrived, we were met by Miss Doris, one of those stern, stoic country women who live a hard life and aren’t easily impressed by much of anything.  But the dogs she had were lively and well cared for; one looked just like my Daisy, and the place was clean.  When she was with her dogs, she melted and spoke so sweetly and kindly to them that it was obvious it was these beautiful creatures that she could connect with much more easily than us.

She had a dame with a litter that would be ready to get released around the time I had been planning to bring a puppy home.  But there was one little girl sitting in a separate area, looking both forlorn and curious.  She was the last of a litter and had been reserved by someone who refused to take her home, demanded her money be returned because she had wanted a completely black pup.  This one had white paws and a flame on her chest so she was not good enough.  My dad, my friend and I took turns holding her and there was no doubt for me. I called Sherod to ask what he would think of me bringing a puppy home that day and he just laughed. He said, “I knew you’d get one today. Come on home and bring her.” As we walked back to the office area to do the paperwork, Miss Doris held this 8 week old in her hands, rubbing on her head and saying, “I told you you were going to have your very own family.”  I am struck that she, like Daisy, and even like Luz Maria, came to us because others would or could not have her.  

There’s quite a bit of accommodating that goes one to make room for a puppy.  She’s at the place where she wants to chew everything; sometimes we let too much time go by before letting her out to do her business and we’ll find a little puddle of piddle.  A few times its been more than just that.  The first time she saw her ‘big brother, Mo’, she yelled like a banshee and her heart raced against the hand I held her in. Mo too had a hard time with her at first. though now they play in the morning and evening until they wear each other out.  I’ve been able to take her to work at least a couple of times a week where she naps draped across my foot a lot of the time . When I have to go do something, someone else on the staff watches her or I put her in a doggie play pen I got for her, along with the squeaky toys she adores.  

This past year has been a time of huge shifts underfoot for me, with the departure of the rector who hired me to serve as the associate rector at Ascension. The shifts continue and there is very little clarity about what lies ahead.  Associate rectors in particular, are called to hold their jobs very lightly in this kind of transition.  It’s not a comfortable, easy place to be.  And all that finds its proper place in my life when my new girl, Tux (short for Tuxedo) has worn her little self out and settles against me, puppy breath and tiny grunts included, for a rest. She reminds me that I have been most blessed by allowing myself to have and hold what others had passed over, as well as to let go of the scripts I come up with for how the path ahead should look. 

With her, life begins again.

My Sweet Daisy

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Three Sweet Friends: Daisy, Spot and Boo

A few months ago, I was getting ready to crawl in bed and looked over at my sweet Daisy. In 2011, she was four years old and had been relinquished by her human, a woman who had just gotten divorced, gotten sole custody of her 3 children and then gotten laid off.  Daisy was in a rescue program and I was looking for a schnauzer to adopt. My parents had had wonderful schnauzers for several years and I had fallen in love with the breed.  She and I bonded almost immediately; Daisy was always anxious when I left, and so relieved when I came home, that she zoomed around the house barking and yapping before jumping on a chair to greet me and demand some love and attention. For a while, when I was traveling a lot, she’s wail when I pulled out a suitcase to pack for another trip.

On that particular night before I got in bed, Daisy had already setttled in her little bed next to my side of Sherod’s and my bed.  She looked small and as adorable as ever so she melted my heart and made it clutch for an instant. I knew she was 11 now, an aging dog, like her aging person.  I got down next to her, rubbed behind her ears and thanked her for the joy.  Just about every night after that, it became our little ritual.  I did not want to take for granted that she was in my life.

More recently, I started doing cross stitch work again and Daisy would jump up on the recliner, settle on my lap and take naps while I worked.  As with Sherod, she brought the most extravagant kind of grace through the simplicity of her companionship; in those moments too, I was grateful, mindful that life goes by and we miss so many of the things that really matter if we don’t pay attention.

The dogs took much longer than usual to stir this morning. When it was time to get up, so they could have their breakfast, and I my coffee, while Sherod slept in a little longer, Daisy seemed to struggle.  Instead of the little trot that had always been the essence of her peppy self, she walked slowly to her bowl, looked at it and then went and got on her favorite chair to rest.  I threw on my clergy clothes and found an emergency clinic for animals in Montgomery.  At 6:30, I was flying down the road to take her. I hoped I’d have enough time to find out what was going on before I had to do my church stuff.  When I checked her in, they told me it would be a while before they could actually examine her and they’d call me as soon as they knew something, so I went on to church.  At 9:30, they called to say her liver was riddled with cancer, she hardly had any platelets left, and was starting to bleed internally.  About an hour later, after a quiet visit, where I got to say thank you one more time and hold her in my lap, a kind, gentle woman vet euthanized her while Daisy leaned against me, the two of us together to the end.  

Not long ago, one of my dad’s dogs was really sick, so sick we thought she might die that day; Sherod had used his tractor to open a small grave.  I brought home my sweet girl and it was the harshest and most beautiful kind of grace to get to carry her body out through the garden I think she always saw as a smorgasbord of cat poop, into the pasture, past Jack one of our resident horses, and to the place where I could kneel down and gently lay her to rest. This was the biscuit princess of the universe so I put one of the biscuits she adored in for the journey. The sun beat down on me on this brutally hot and humid Alabama day, but I was so extraordinarily glad to get to bury her, shoveling the red Alabama dirt that stained her paws after four years of making this piece of paradise her home.  When Sherod got home, he used the tractor to push some more dirt over her grave and tamp it down so she will truly get to rest in peace.

She, Spot, and Boo, the three Bandidos, comforted and healed me through the heartbreaking first weeks after I left my ministry and daughter in Southeast Florida. The other two had already gone ahead of her–Boo in 2014, Spot at the beginning of this year.  They’re calling for storms today and this evening out here in Lowndes County so I may not get to see the stars.  But this I know: tonight, God will be out there with that extraordinary little girl dog Daisy. Daisy will run and fetch stars with her Creator, and  Boo, and Spot, and Polly.  I can almost hear those little feet trotting back to God, ears perked up at attention, and her eyes shining with joy. Once again, no, not just tonight, but always, I will give thanks with a grateful heart.

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Is that me you’re talking to?

A Story in two parts

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Part I

Setting:a pole barn in Alabama full of good stuff for hidey holes but it is hot as forty hades…

Lil’bit:              Giiiiiiilbert. I have been missing you sooooooo much.

Gilbert:           Yeah, well kid, it’s hot in here and I’ve been busy.  Just got back from my afternoon constitutional with that old man, his dogs and Sunny.  What’s happening?

Lil’bit:              I’m bored and I’m lonely and that human that brings me food scares me

Gilbert:            Listen, come with me.

The two make their way from the pole barn to a small building close by. A shop—real guy’s space with fishing poles and exotic saws, shelves almost to the roof with all kinds of hidey-hole potential, too. The big cat shows the kitten how to use the cat door.

Lil’bit:              Wooooooowie zoot, what is this place?

Gilbert:            It’s where the air-conditioning is. And food. And water. And stuff to play with. It’s where Sunny and I take our siestas and where we sleep at night. You can stay here if you want

Lil’bit:              Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, I love it here already

Gilbert:            Take it easy kid—no need to jump on me like that…

Meanwhile back in the farm house, there is great sorrow weighing down like so sacks  of rocks. The humans have not seen a little feral kitten that showed up a couple of weeks ago.  Did a hawk get him? Were the coyotes by for a visit? What happened? Should they have trapped him and forced him into safer space? They sigh.

Part II

The next day, in the same farmhouse, there is great rejoicing under heaven for one who was lost has now been found. Sure, he’s knocked over some human stuff in the human’s workshop but all of it can be picked up and put back up. What matters is lil’bit’s alive, and in a far safer place than the barn. Lil’bit and Gilbert are rolling around in the sawdust when the woman human comes in and puts some food in the dishes.

Gilbert:           Hey kiddo—it is not polite to try to push me so you can eat with me. There’s another dish right there.

Lil’bit:              But I want to eat with you. It tastes better like that. And I like how you are rubbing behind my ears, and grooming my back. OOOhhhh, keep scratching that feels soooo gooooooood.

Gilbert:            Hate to tell you bud, but that’s not me. Stop eating and turn around and look up.

(Lil’bit looks up and tears off like a bat out of hell)

Lil’bit:             Oh sweet mama, she’s gonna kill me, she’s gonna kill me, I know she is. I’m about to pee in my britches…save me sweet Jesus.

Gilbert:            Relax. She just wants to be your human friend. Come back and eat. (long pause as Lil’bit approaches the dish with great trepidation) See, she’s doing it again and it’s not so bad huh?

A small parable of joy

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About 10 days ago, a little feral kitten took up residence in our pole barn. S/He’d come staggering into our property earlier in the morning and when I figured out s/he had found a hidey-hole in the barn, I put out some food and water. The kitten was so skittish that there wasn’t any way to get close, though it became clear almost immediately that the food was getting consumed and the kitten was staying put. I was fearful for what our two cats, Gilbert and Sunny, might do in response to this interloper of their homestead, when it became clear that lil’bit was going to stay around for the food.

Yesterday, when I put dinner out in the little dish in the barn, Gilbert, our boy cat (who is all boy, and can play pretty rough) came bounding up and tried to start eating the food until I shooed him away. I went on with some other things I was doing in the yard until I happened to look back in the direction of the place in the barn where I most often catch a glimpse of the little kitty.  Gilbert sprawled out on the cool dirt in the barn as the kitten approached him. I knew better than to try to run, scoop up the kitten and I knew with dread that I was about to watch a massacre take place. What I wondered was how quickly Gilbert would kill the kitten.

Huh.

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Gilbert and Lil’Bit Playing “Whoobass”

That’s not what happened. I had caught them playing what we call “whoobass”  in my family. Gilbert was as sweet and gentle as I’ve ever seen him be. That small fluffy baby cat was deliciously playful and only stopped teasing with Gilbert long enough to look at me with mild curiosity, not fear. Today I started back to work after a glorious week-long stay-cation, and before I left, I took some more food out to our new baby. The two were back playing with each other.

What is the kingdom of God like? The kingdom of God is like Prince Gilbert of the homestead who had good reason to protect his territory and drive out the stranger, and who instead welcomed one who is vulnerable and scared and alone and said, “you are my friend.”