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Scott Hamilton, YTI Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling

May 4, 2018


There she was, just waddling down the street – the neighbor’s Jersey milk cow.

I had started down the road on my morning run when I encountered a cow walking toward me in the middle of the road. Picture Elsie, the Bordon milk representative, but add a tongue rolling out of her mouth and into her left nostril and you’ll get the picture.

She hadn’t wandered too far from her home when she decided that her yard was safer than dealing with me running toward her, so she turned around and trotted back to her house.

Hesitant to knock on the neighbors’ door at 6:45 in the morning, I weighed my options. Of course, I could simply continue my run, minding my own business. After all, Elsie wasn’t my responsibility. On the other hand, I could rap on the pane glass door and risk waking what might be a grumpy neighbor.

You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Bang on the door and tell the neighbor his cow is out.” It was simple, really. All I needed to do was knock on the door; doing so should not be a big deal. So why was I on the verge of what I thought was a crisis of belief (escaped cow or otherwise)?

Yep, the family lives just down the road and across a small pasture, and I’d never seen, much less spoken with, them. Their house looks a bit run down; there is all sorts of “stuff” piled on the porch, much of it unboxed. There’s an old car engine sitting on a motor stand alongside some old and rusty tractor implements. Others in town describe them as, “interesting,” or “odd,” which is code for, “They’re nuts. They drink raw milk (remember Elsie) and make their own yogurt.”

I put on my “big boy” pants, approached the door, and knocked. Almost immediately, I heard, “Just a minute…” Now, I was stuck.

While I could hear someone coming, my preparation for the door opening was sparse. Though I could see through the glass panes, I didn’t get the full effect until the door swung open. And there he was, a short, thin, white-headed man with a white beard saying, “Good Morning!” as he stood there in his crusty-looking white V-neck t-shirt and blue boxer shorts.

“I just wanted to tell you your cow is out.” Stunned, he inquired, “The Jersey?” My initial thought was, “Heck, I don’t know… the one with the udders dragging the ground!” Thankfully, what I heard from my mouth was, “The big blonde one,” my arms akimbo, demonstrating “cow girth.”

By now, he was scanning the yard for the escaped bovine he couldn’t see. His cow had lumbered down the street just out of sight, around the front porch stacked to the ceiling with various ice chests, warped boxes left open to the elements, and no telling what else.

Curious, he asked, “I wonder how she got out?” “Uh, through a hole in the fence?” was my initial brainstorm but what erupted was, “I just don’t know.”

There we were, I in my running shorts, and my neighbor holding the doorknob in his underwear. I’m thinking, “Really? This craziness only happens in bizarro world.” My brain was screaming, “Hello? Your cow is headed west, down Bluemound Road, you bonehead.”

I was frustrated and getting agitated and just wanted to run. I hadn’t wanted to talk to him anyway but my “Christian Ethic” peeked out from around the corner, saying, “Now, Scott, you know you would want the neighbor to let you know if your cow was out,” but I don’t have a cow!

As we stood there looking at one another, I motioned to my left, almost chuckling. “She headed west.” As I realized I was beginning to turn to leave, he was gone. In the time it took to have the conversation, I could have dressed, captured the wayward bovine (assuming I had one), and started my morning coffee.

God’s Grace & Kindness?

That’s when it hit me: the crisis had passed. What I feared would be a stressed verbal exchange had become a comic strip frame, including a somewhat shy man chatting with a neighbor in his underwear. Doesn’t everyone do this?

I’m an introvert and gather much of my emotional energy spending time alone. Engaging strangers is not my spiritual gift; yet, I often find myself in situations where circumstances demand I initiate conversation. As awkward as the initial conversations can be, I’m usually better for them. Sometimes life just works that way. It occasionally stretches us, urging us (if not dragging us kicking and screaming) into uncomfortable places where we wouldn’t normally venture. It’s as if God wants us to grow, and for people like me, initiating conversation with strangers, escaped bovine or not, is a challenging growing experience.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the funnier it gets. I’m a well-educated, middle-aged, married pastoral counselor who has two daughters in college (please pray…for me). I had to choose consciously to step outside myself, use my grownup words, and engage a stranger about his liberated cow.

And I managed to do it without stroking out or running my blood pressure through the roof.

You see, God is always gracious and kind; God always supplies what is needed, even if it’s necessary to use a cow. Who would have thought?