Category Archives: In the Sheep Barn

When You Need the Ear of God in the Fast Water

An elk bugled under a night sky spilled with stars like grains of sugar. My heart lifted. The next morning, I bowed my head under the firs by the creek to listen to the Lord, marveling at King David’s request in Psalm 31:

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me. Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge…” (verses 1,2).Sept. 2015 016

Did you see that? “Bow down Your ear to me.”

What gave David the courage to make so daring a request?

I searched the creek for empty caddis fly casings for a mosaic wall. These marvels of engineering—tubular accretions of sand—protect the nymph in its larval stage when it crawls the creek bottom like a snail in a shell.

Discarded tubes were hard to find. The drought-depleted creek runs so slowly this year a thick layer of scum covers most of the creek bed.

Lord, flood me with the water of Your grace and joy. Wash away the scum of worry. Help me trust You for what I cannot see. Sept. 2015 045

Under a rough stone seven large caddis fly casings clustered—cemented to their rock of refuge to await next spring. Safe from enemies, they bathe in life-giving water in the deepest part of the creek where no scum grows, to survive summer’s drought.

The fast water.

I wedged the rock down again. The winter creek will run several feet above it, crashing and deadly, but the caddis flies will be safe. I can see the perfect analogy. But I’m afraid of the fast water.

Maybe you are, too?

I once had a ewe named Dolly who was scared of the fast water. Every spring, wSept. 2015 035hen her water bag broke and her lambs squeezed towards the outside world, she came to the barn and fell in the straw, faint with terror.

The other ewes dug holes for nests, murmured sweetly to their unborn lambs, and lay down to push, their bellies inflated like balloons. They licked and talked to their newborns, nudging them towards life-giving udders.

Not Dolly. As the wracking tremors crossed her belly, she’d head straight  into shock, eyes closed, ears growing cold, silent except for the grinding of her teeth, setting mine on edge. Every year it was the same story.OldCompBackup 1291

Bow down your ear to me. Deliver me speedily.

Often I had to pull her lambs out quickly, rip suffocating sacs away, rub the lambs
down, and swing them to clear their lungs of fluid, while Dolly’s eyes slowly glazed over.

A Vitamin B shot changed all that. In seconds, Dolly would lift her head. She’d stare at her babies, wobbly on their legs, hungry. She’d lick them excitedly, head to tail. She’d bawl loudly, announcing her victory as though she’d won Olympic Gold in the Birthing Event.

But after several years of emergency lambings, I had to give up on Dolly. And that’s the biting edge of my fear when I struggle with the same things over and over–that God will give up on me. Do you ever worry that way?

But God says, “I wAugust 2015 206ill never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

My shepherding was limited by resources, genetics, and stamina. But Jesus is the omnipotent Good Shepherd Who cares for us forever. It was David’s intimate knowledge of the character of God that gave him the courage to ask Him to bow down His ear.

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust.”

Spending time with God in His word and prayer builds that same intimacy and knowledge. With it, we defeat the enemy of our souls who knows how to tweak truth just enough to turn it into a lie, keeping our focus on our limiting weakness instead of God’s limitless power.

O Lord Who made the Milky Way, the bugling elk, and caddis fly, bow down Your ear to us. Be our Rock of Refuge where the water runs deep and fast, our Vitamin B to stand firm in trials. Lift our heads that we might focus on Your sufficiency, instead of our weaknesses.Sept. 2015 041

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

 

Four Reasons People are like Peaches

Sheep are individuals. A shepherd knows his or her sheep. Jesus knows my name and yours.

Are you there, Lord? I don’t know what to do. Am I trying to make a decision You have not called me to?

I count my old records–forty ewes, ten rams, 400 lambs in nineteen years–all different, nearly all with names. Peaches was a quiet Dorset/Finn cross, nothing like the Targhee, Amelia. Amelia ran if I came anywhere near her.OldCompBackup 2979

Am I running from what You have called me to? Help me stay.

Tammy let me get closer before she spooked. Apple would do anything for food. Peaches came readily to me, calm and trusting. I ran my hands through her fleece and latched her newborn lambs to nurse. Help me come to You in trust. Help me wait.

Sheep are social animals. They remember faces. They form cliques.

Bruisers like Lightning and Blackberry stuck together. They charged the feeder like bouncers, bashing others in their way. Sometimes they’d overeat and get bellyaches in all their four stomachs. Help me not covet what You have not given.OldCompBackup 435

Apple and Peaches, who were more neighborly sheep, stuck together, too. They shoved for food, but in a companionable way. They ate and chewed cud contentedly.

Cause me to be satisfied and nourished by the abundance You give.

Timid Dolly and Tammy found only tough stems left when the bruisers finished. I fed these ewes by hand in secret–the most tender leaves to make up for loss. Help me not fear. Feed me in secret. Forgive my want of lesser things.

Sheep have no natural defenses beyond flocking or fleeing.

Bruisers, neighbors, and timids hung out in different parts of the pasture. But when threatened, all the groups flocked together facing out–rams on the edges, lambs in the middle. Predators divide and scatter flocks to seek the loners.July 2015 014

Help me seek community for prayer and counsel.

Sheep prefer to be led, not driven. 

Effective leadership is based on trust. I moved slowly among my sheep, speaking softly so they could learn my voice. When I called, they came running for grain, hay, water, apples, and new pastures.

Sometimes they didn’t like what I gave them–shots, shearing, or worm medicine. But it was all for their good. Sometimes the neighbor’s sheep came to the fence. I didn’t feed my neighbor’s sheep, or treat their ailments. My voice was of no use to them.

Help me hear Your voice in this decision, Lord, and not mistake it for any other. Help me trust in Your goodness.July 2015 010

One day, when Peaches was huge with twins, she lay down, rolled into a hollow, and got stuck on her back with her legs in the air and her twin-filled belly pinned to the ground on either side, like saddlebags on a horse. This might sound funny, but it isn’t.

With her big lambs inside her and all her four stomachs pressing on her lungs, Peaches couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t make the tiniest cry for help. Her eyes rolled back in her head. But the Great Good Shepherd knew she was in trouble. Somehow, He helped me know.

I looked out the upstairs window and saw Peaches. I pulled my boots on and leapt down the stairs. I ran across the pasture. I tugged Peaches’ legs and rolled the heavy ewe onto her feet. She opened her eyes. They were brown and soft and scared. But she was safe.

Her two lambs and four stomachs hung away from her lungs. She huffed the fresh air in and out; all the wind scented with clover and plum blossoms. Her heart thudded. I rubbed her chest and spoke softly. Her eyes lost their terror. Her breathing slowed.OldCompBackup 2260

She waddled away happily to graze with the flock. A week later, her lambs came, strong and healthy. I knew God could bring His plans to fruition in my life, too. And in yours.

Thank You, Lord, for the story of Peaches. Help me remember her when I’m senseless with worry, when I’m confused and fall in holes. Please set me on my feet. Help me to follow only Your voice. Lead me on Your path, only on Your path, that I might accomplish what You made me for.

 

The Cry of Lambs

I set the puppy in the grass. Ghostly clouds of white mosquitoes rise from the verge and trail after me. “Breakfast is served!” they whine. Avon Skin-So-Soft is becoming my second-best friend.

In our neck of the woods, some mosquitoes carry the deadly West Nile Virus. I remind myself this is out of my control. I lay that worry at God’s feet and breathe in the briny wind.

Still, it reminds me of walking early to the barn one winter. In the far back pen, a ewe expelled the second of her lambs, licking it eagerly. I leaned on the rail, sighing happily at theOldCompBackup 3055 new arrivals. Their breaths rose in the frosty air. I squatted to look closer.

Despite the cold, the barn smelled warm nearer the ground, saline and blood poured out in love and sweat, silky lanolin gleaming on wool. I smiled at the new babies–wondered what sex they were, imagined the rough feel of their fleeces.

Then I squinted, trying to make sense of the first lamb. My heart thudded in my chest.

I picked up the tiny black ewe, cataloging her parts. Her woolly spine twisted like a corkscrew. Her legs splayed at odd angles, all four jointed like front legs–no back ones. Her lower jaw was missing. The lamb breathed shallowly, struggling to cry.

The lamb’s mother bellowed for her return.

I was once a teenage runaway, bellowing in my heart, peddling angrily into the night, my face wet. My bicycle basket overflowed with hastily-grabbed clothing and a toothbrush. I didn’t know where to go. Only away. I stayed in a barn for two weeks, then other places.June 2015 011

Like that lamb, I struggled to breathe, broken in every part of my corkscrewed mind and spirit. I was dying inside.

 

But I didn’t know anyone who wanted me back.

The ewe pawed her lamb. It couldn’t stand and nuzzle its way down her belly to the life-giving udder. Its defects, possibly caused by a mosquito-borne virus early in pregnancy, were insurmountable in this world. No veterinarian could stop the inevitable.

Some people thought that about me.

For ten years after I ran away, abuse was my comfort zone, depression my blanket–between visits to church on Sundays. But even the day I perched on a tenth-story windowsill and prepared to fly down to the sidewalk couldn’t thwart God’s love or plan for me.

He is the Great Physician, the Incomparable Healer, and it turns out He makes house calls. He saved me that night and forever after. Over the next decades He untwisted my heart and mind and made me whole in ways I’d never imagined.

I could only leave the lamb to die in it’s mother’s comfort, in the oil of her fleece. But God can do anything. He stood me upright, like a beautiful tree. The healing oil of His love and mercy soothed my pain.

This world can hurt us and knock us down. It can even kill us. But all the deadly mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers will eventually get smacked and fall because God, through Jesus, smacked down death once and for all to make us rise whole and clean.

Isaiah 61:3 says God gives His lambs who cry out to Him “…beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

So–take a breath, little lamb. Cry out to Him. Accept His healing oil of mercy. Then rise up tall, you beautiful one.June 2015 002