Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Psalm 16:6:

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.

Yesterday morning, as I was drinking my coffee, I was pondering my new barbed wire fence along with several things going on in my parish, my diocese, and the Episcopal church at large. As you may know from reading this blog, back in April I had all my fences replaced. The fence builder and I had many discussions about the fence; most pleasant, some a little confrontational, but they were the good kind of confrontational, the "How do we work this out so the builder is satisified with his work and makes a reasonable profit, and the owner is satisified with the function of the fence?" kind.

As I look back, there were phases of how I viewed this project.

The first phase was simply understanding what my needs were. I needed a fence that my mule would not thwart. This part of my pasture encloses my two donkeys, a horse that doesn't belong to me, and my mule. (Long story about the horse, which I'll avoid for now.) The problem was that my mule, as mules are prone to do, had a habit of destroying my old fence by pushing against it. My old fence was square woven wire with a single strand of barbed wire on top. Mules, by and large, see boundaries of any sort as "something to push against and see what happens." If something tasty was on the other side of the fence, he would simply put his hoof in the woven wire and squish it down and stick his head under the strand of barbed wire through the hole and eat it. If he thought the fence was six inches short to simply lean over the whole shebang on the other side and eat, he just leaned against the fenceposts until they moved in the clay soil or snapped off at ground level.

So in just a few years he had taken a relatively nice fence and turned it into a squashed, outward leaning contraption that really would not hold equines in if they took a notion to leave.

Mercifully, none of my equines had a desire to leave my property. They certainly COULD have walked off and done it if they had chosen, for several months. I knew once they DID, I would no longer be able to keep them in with this fence. My prayer time often included "Oh, God, please don't give the equines a reason to wander or suddenly find themselves on the other side of the fence and think "Oh, boy! We can do as we please!" Ok?"

So one need was to "keep the equines properly penned."

Then I realized another reason was "to keep my dogs OUT." Fences don't just keep things in, they keep things out, too. My mule dislikes dogs to the point he will stomp them flat, if given half a reason. I did not want to find my dogs dead in the pasture looking like they were hit by an 18 wheeler. So I realized I needed to have this fence secure enough at the bottom to make it dog-unfriendly.

The next phase of this operation was, "what did I want to change about the arrangement of my fence and corrals, and what did I want to keep the same?" I realized that the previous owner had conveniently made a few little corrals to separate cattle, which was nice, but he did not have a chute for doing things like veterinary work. I wanted to have a chute with gates at both ends that was narrow enough to confine them, so the vet could give shots or examine them. So we added a chute when we rebuilt the corrals. We added a squeeze gate so I could go inside the fence easily to turn the water spigot off and on that is hooked to both my stock tank and my garden hose.

As the work progressed, much of the conversation between my fence builder and me was about "how the previous owner didn't do it right." For instance, the clips that held the woven wire on were on the outside of the fence--so when my mule pushed against the wire, they simply sprung open and bowed the woven wire out and away from the fence line. We put the clips on the inside, so when he leaned against the fence posts, this would not happen.

In a similar vein, the previous owner had the gates opening outward. That never made any sense to me. If an equine got mad and kicked the gate, and it had flown open, well, it would have been wide open and out they would have all vacated the premises. We re-hung the gates to open inward. That way, an angry kick would have still appeared that the gate was "closed" to an angry equine, and they would not be as likely to test it.

We also opted for Missouri hedge for the corner posts (believe me, it lasts forever--there are 50 year old hedgeposts still being used for fences here and they are still good) and for metal fence posts that were a foot higher than the ones I had. That was more likely to make my mule disinterested in leaning over it. The underside of an equine's neck is very sensitive; he would not want to scratch himself there very much.

Most fences around here are 4 or 5 strand. We decided to use seven strands to make the gaps narrow enough they would not tempt my mule to stick his head between them. Oh, believe me--he tried to put his head over and through in the beginning. But he decided it was not worth the effort after a few days! He also strung an 8th strand near the ground line of the fence, where it abuts the house and my backyard. This was a decision I made after watching my dogs a couple of days. My littler dog seemed interested in testing if he could get between the gaps. That put a stop to his testing.

But what I realized, as I was drinking my coffee, was that I put a lot of mental effort and consideration and contemplation in something as simple as a barbed wire fence, and I realized I am at a place in my life where I am also doing that with the "fences of my life."

You know, in some ways, we "inherit the fences we have," just as when we move to a new house we inherit what other people did at the house prior to our taking possession. I have some pretty clear personal boundaries in my own life, and they have to do with my relationship with God through my worship time, my prayer time, the Bible, and our prayer book. As a member of the Episcopal church, I've inherited our rules, canons, and constitutions. I don't always like exactly where the fence line is in some places, but I am pretty satisfied about where it is, and don't see a need to tear it down--both at an institutional church level and a personal level.

But, like my mule, I am prone to pushing at the fence posts if I see something interesting on the other side. I have that desire to explore--always have and always will--and that in itself is not wrong--nor is my desire to sample all the grass I'm allowed to sample.

In short, if that fence is not well-constructed--with those inward-facing clips and the inward-swinging gates--my natural exuberance and curiosity, coupled with my perceived needs--can sometimes make a poorly-constructed fence pop open or gap. Then I sort of find myself outside of the fence--firmly outside--KNOW I'm outside where I'm not supposed to be--going, "Hey, how did I get here????" I am there both because of my desires and in spite of my best intentions with what I wanted to do with those desires.

In short, a well-constructed fence is better for me. One of my life-long internal struggles is to constantly push at rules and authority--not to break them or destroy them, but simply to experience their fullness--yet my life is happiest when I finally stop pushing and accept to live within them. But I do not get to that place unless I push first. It is why I need strong individuals to lead and guide me--ones that will hurt my feelings sometimes, but in love. It is why my own leadership skills are rather "firm" and "intense." When I am the top side of the power differential, I make it very clear in the beginning "who's on top." For twenty years I have lived through class after class of medical students thinking in the beginning of the year I hate their guts, but somehow by the time they graduate, they realize, in fact, I loved them very much. Enough to be a barbed wire fence strong enough to push against me and let them explore their own fence lines.

One doesn't need an angel to wrestle with obeying God--a barbed wire fence will do!



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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