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Fences & Freedom

A few weeks ago, my brother and his family visited us as part of their summer vacation. It was classic summertime in NW Michigan hang out with beaches and BBQs, sunsets and cousin fun. He and his wife graciously shared their skills in build and design to craft a custom fence for our yard. I sit next to it now, with sun gently moving through the openings, my dogs nestled in the shade at its base. It is a gift of structure that improves the function of our yard. It is a boundary that brings safety and freedom. Beyond framing our yard, it has framed new thoughts on the importance and possibility of limitations.

I remember (if blearily) the first days of having puppies at home. It was total chaos and I was using up my phone-a-friends like crazy trying to find the resolve to continue or, perhaps more so, the permission to quit. There were many reasons for the chaos, most of which are just part of early puppy ownership, but one was the lack of secure fencing for our yard. We were significantly restricted in our ability to relax because the dogs had to be leashed and with us at all times outside. Thankfully, our neighbors offered us temporary fencing, and I remember the thought, once we got all four sides enclosed:

boundaries hold freedom

I’ve long thought of boundaries as limitations, in a “limiting” way. Holding me back from my potential, challenging connection by creating barriers between me and others, me and ideas, me and all that I might want to do. But from the moment the wonky temporary fencing was up, I saw that boundaries can be useful means of constraint, offering clarity and distinctiveness, inviting exploration within a manageable area. Without them, I had to worry about every possible threat to, or temptation for, the puppies – cars, other dogs, people walking by, squirrels in the street. With them in place, my worry wasn’t eliminated, but it was contained to a manageable level, focused on keeping only safe items in the yard and preventing them from running off in enthusiastic curiosity.

I had made my peace with the temporary fencing – materials, labor and cost seemed prohibitive to a more permanent solution and, while still wonky, it seemed to get the primary job done. But it was vulnerable – thin metal posts hammered into the ground that could hold the pups at their current size, but at full adult weight could easily be breached and had gaps patched by odd objects in an attempt to make-do. It wasn’t until I saw the sturdiness of the permanent fencing that I realized how needed it truly was.

Beyond the obvious enclosing, the fence brought so many additional, welcome benefits:

  • The capacity for shade – much needed in the warm summer days for two furry creatures and all the less furry ones too.

  • The interaction with neighbors – clear outline of our own space, allowing for respectful engagement and increased availability for privacy as desired.

  • The beauty of design – thoughtful layout and expressed creativity, with knowledge that each slat was planned and placed by hands of those who love us.

  • The fluid power of gates – to allow entry and exit, welcome and farewell, safety and security – a real time example of intentional relationship within and outside.

Temporary fences might get the job done for a while, but they are vulnerable, have few added benefits beyond their basic function and are likely to fail in the long run. Carefully constructed, custom fences not only achieve the baseline goal but offer additional benefits and are guaranteed to last – optimizing function and reliability.

We hear talk of building fences as a means of unjust separation, illustrating them as authoritarian, oppressive and restricting. Perhaps instead we can consider customizing our fences out of love, harnessing their capacity to offer freedom through structure – creating a clear boundary, designating manageable space, offering additional resources, encouraging thoughtful interaction, adding simple beauty and enhanced by gates, allowing for meaningful engagement with intentional participation from all.

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