The clock on my dresser told me that it was two am. I reached for my old red bathrobe draped by the bed and sleepily made my way to the back door. Stepping into my mud boots and warm jacket, I grabbed a flashlight and slipped out into the cool night air. With each step I took, I could feel my bathrobe softly wrap around my bare legs.
Turning sleep-hungry eyes toward the starlit sky I whispered, “So, God, what lesson am I learning…or supposed to learn…through this new adventure?” Getting up every two hours should have some reward, I reasoned. Maybe it will be twins…two prize ewes or grand champion rams. I was confident God would reward those sleep deprived nights.
My Good Shepherd doesn’t always respond in a voice that I can discern with my earthly ears, but I know that he tenderly loves this slow-witted sheep of his and he works everything thing for good. So, I continued expectantly through the chilly night making my way toward the dark barn.
Bear, our old black lab, now quite familiar with my vigilance was no longer shocked into wakefulness as I entered the barn. He simply blinked and thumped his tail against the straw bed in a doggy greeting as my light beam flashed across his face in search of the ewe.
There she stood, contentedly munching away at the pile of hay I had given her earlier. This was not a hopeful sign…ewes in labor do not eat. However, she was young, barely a year, so perhaps she was not aware of what ewes do when they are in labor.
I assumed my now familiar position on a bale of hay, trying not to disturb her from any labor pains which might be in progress. The night noises enveloped me. I could hear the rest of the flock just outside the barn door as a ewe softly called her lamb back to her side. One lone neighbor dog was barking in the distance.
My attention shifted back inside the barn where I listened to Josephine peacefully chewing her cud and Bear’s soft snoring. After fifteen minutes of watching a sheep getting nervous about being watched, I headed back to the house.
“I could have been sleeping. This was a totally wasted trip,” I thought as I crawled back into my warm bed beside a peacefully sleeping husband.
Two weeks earlier Josephine, one of my precious lambs from the previous year, had begun a pregnancy prolapse. So, I had made a quick call to the our faithful local vet, and then began the now familiar routine of catching the sheep, holding her while the doc sewed the birth canal shut, rubbing her face and trying to convince her this was for her own good. I knew.
The year before I had rubbed her half-sister’s face as the same vet had given her a shot to ease her death. She too had prolapsed, but we had not caught her until the entire uterus and lamb had been partially expelled along with part of her bowels. It had been a tough experience for the ewe, for me, and even for the vet. I did not want to see another ewe encounter the same agony.
Although he knew I needed no reminder, Doc Penner gave me off-handed instructions as he drove away. “Keep an eye on her! You’ve got to get those stitches out as soon as she goes into labor. . .” He did not need to finish his warning: “ . . or you will lose the lamb and the ewe,” was the obvious conclusion.
And so began my careful monitoring of Josephine’s behavior. To begin with, I built a pen for her in the barn. Nice comfortable straw for bedding, fresh hay to eat, her own feed bucket, a pail of water. Josephine had been one of my most optimistic, social, and energetic lambs.
In the large sheep pen, she was the one who always came running first to check for grain, or just a simple cheek rub which was reward enough. Josephine’s social spirit led her now to be agonizingly aware of her solitary confinement, so thinking this could be a matter of hours, possibly days, I brought her mother into the barn to keep her company.
I had entered the project with enthusiasm. But the days dragged on. . .and on. . . and on. Every two to three hours became a routine that affected everything I did. I would leave school (I was teaching full time at our local Christian college about twenty minutes from the farm) to go home and check the sheep. I had to be close enough to the farm that I could always be available.
And those nights! I had asked God to wake me so I would not have to set an alarm and wake Judd. God was faithful, so I always tried to be obedient and respectful of His faithfulness. I had it down to a science. Look at the clock; sit up quietly; carefully put the blankets back so Judd would stay warm; tip-toe out of the room. I was learning plenty. This whole routine of waking, of getting out of bed, of consideration for my husband, was teaching me self-discipline, faith, and obedience.
Three weeks after we began our labor watch, Josephine began to “push.’ This is it! I thought excitedly. Now we will see what it is you are carrying in that large tummy. So I intruded into her life, catching her, holding her down, pulling out the stitches. Offended by my actions, she retreated from me, not understanding in the least my verbal explanation of what I was doing and why.
But…nothing happened, except another prolapse, another embarrassed call to the vet, another escapade of catching, holding, sewing.
It would be another two weeks before my grown-up Josephine became a mother. Two more weeks of waking, or of driving home from school, sitting quietly on my bale of hay.
Finally, she delivered a nice little ewe lamb. Not twins, nothing spectacular, but a sweet ewe lamb. And Josephine was a good mother, and a sweet sister. Her twin sister who had lost a lamb a few weeks earlier desperately wanted to be a mother, so Josephine graciously shared her one lamb.
The three of them ran around in the barnyard together, both moms watching out for their precious charge. A threesome! That new little lamb not only had me, her shepherdess, but constant care from two mothers.
Looking back these many years later, I have fond memories. Yes, my threesome was much fun to observe out in the corral. But it was much more than that. The many starlit nights of quiet worship as I walked to the barn, the trips home to a quiet, peaceful farm, the knowledge that I had a God who cared about this sheep of His and yet also cared for my sheep, a God who would faithfully walk with me through this experience, waking me from my both literal and metaphorical sleep, to see His hand mysteriously working in this otherwise mundane existence of the “land of the living.”