Category Archives: The Gift of Animals

Blessed Be the Tie That Binds

He arrived one morning in a cat carrier, the last duck at  my son’s farm. His destiny was the chopping block if I did not adopt him. Why could I not make room for one more fowl?  I reasoned with myself. I had three white chickens and a little hen-house.  One more body would fit comfortably, and they could be a family.

Gently placing the carrier on the ground,my granddaughter Lillian suggested that since he had hung out with her chickens, he would feel right at home with my chickens. With trepidation, I opened the door to the carrier. Would he stay here on our little patch of Kansas, or would he go like a homing pigeon back down the gravel drive from whence he came?

Released from his cage and spotting my three white chickens, the newly acquired duck flapped his wings, lowered his head, and charged after them. I watched in amusement. Chickens had imprinted this duck, and for all he knew he was a chicken and those three were his kin. The chickens, however, looking over their shoulders, knew that this strange thing racing toward them was definitely NOT a chicken.

“Oh, help, oh help,” they squawked desperately running from this intruder for all their little legs could go. “Wait, wait!!!” quacked the duck running as fast as his short, webbed feet could go. And the chase was on.

It would take about a week before the duck would be considered an insider in this little band of fowls.

We all yearn to belong, to be insiders.  We overhear three friends enjoying each other’s company,  but we are outside the circle. Laughter floats from the yard next door while we sit on the deck, alone. We listen to someone’s plan for a day-trip, and our big plan is mowing the yard.  Two young women sit huddled together sharing their hearts with each other. Deep in our innermost being is the cry, “Oh, wait, oh wait. Let me be one of you. I want to hang out with you. I want to spend time with you; I want to be known, be loved . . . belong.

Unlike the duck and the chickens, we do  belong to the same species. We were created for intimacy, for friendship, for belonging.

We sing,  “Blest be the tie that binds/ our hearts in Christian love.” What is the tie that binds? Is it real? Is it enough? And if it is, then why do I feel lonely? Is it even possible to be satisfied with that “tie that binds?” Or am I wanting more?

No easy answer here. Or is there? Perhaps a better understanding of that “tie,” (The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Teacher) is essential to finding an answer. When we correctly understand the miracle of an “Indwelling Spirit,” we will begin to grow in our feelings of belonging.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the very foundation of our “belonging.”  The rest, that connection with others, will be built upon this  foundation.

“Never alone”; “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”; “Christ lives in me.” (See the link for more assurances: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Indwelling-Of-The-Holy-Spirit).

 

Lessons in Lambing

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.”

Beside the Still Waters

Ewe_with_two_lambs_in_the_snow_-_geograph.org_.uk_-_550962
I would say that Peg and I bonded completely, shepherdess and docile sheep, one frigid and icy New Year’s morning.

An ice storm had come in on New Year’s evening.  Judd was gone on a retreat of solitude and silence, and Sara and I were holding down the fort.  We woke up to at least an inch of ice covering the trees, grass, and road.

Despite the frigid weather, chores still had to be done, so I bundled up in my heavy-duty Army jacket and pulled on the black insulated Air Force boots. With a wool hat and warm work gloves, I was prepared, or at least I thought I was.  It should have been a quick walk to the barn for grain, to the sheep pen for hay, and to the water tank to break up the ice and run some water.

My heavy boots slipped and slid across the icy yard and down the driveway to the barn. Bear, my black lab, “guardian of the barn,” was there to greet me.  I patted his head, filled his dish with some kibbles, and refilled his water bowl.   Scooping up the grain for the sheep from the grain bin I headed back out into the icy yard.

By this time, the sheep knew I was coming.  Shoving and pushing each other they were trying to get close to the fence where I would pour the grain into their feeder.   They were all there . . . except for one!  Peg had not shown up.  Quickly dumping the grain into the feeder, my eyes scanned the large pen trying to find her.  Up against the fence at the top of the hill I spotted a gray wooly bundle.  This was not good.

“Hey, Peg,” I called to her.  She lifted her head and turned to look my way, but never moved.  Slowly lowering her head, she became a wooly bundle again.

I studied the situation for a minute and decided I had to get closer to her to evaluate what was going on, but in these freezing temperatures, the hillside was going to be nearly impossible for me to climb. The west fence would be my tow rope up the icy slope, I decided.

Stillness, ice sparkling from the trees, leaves, fence.  Under any other circumstance I would be mesmerized with the splendor of this scene, but at the moment my focus was on my obviously suffering ewe.

As I neared the ewe, I discovered she was in labor and was having great difficulty.  The lamb was effaced. But so was one of its legs.  Push as hard as she could, she was not going to get this lamb dislodged.

Back down the hill I slid to call Dr. Penner, our farm vet who had already walked with me through some of my farm crises.  Peg and I were going to need help.  My phone call got through to Dr. Penner at a garage in town where he was waiting for a tire to be changed.  As icy as the roads were, I knew it would take him awhile to get out, even after the tire was fixed.  I grabbed some towels, pulled on my snow pants, warmed my hands by the wood stove, and hurried back to Peg.

Once again I climbed the hill using the fence for assistance.  Peg was resting when I reached her.  Sitting down on the ice beside her, I began praying. “God, you are my shepherd, and I don’t know how to help my sheep.  She is your creature, also.  Please help us.”

A song came to my mind and I began to sing it softly to her, trying to comfort both of us

Beside the still waters in pastures of green,
The Shepherd is leading where all is serene;
By day and by night He will always be seen
Beside the still waters of peace.
For He’s the Good Shepherd who died for the sheep;
His own He has promised to keep.
He lovingly watches and guards while they sleep
Beside the still waters of peace.

The song comforted me as I imagined my Shepherd there with us, not exactly green pastures and still water, but lovingly watching and guarding.

My voice seemed to comfort Peg for a while.  Then she returned to her fruitless pushing.  I was at a loss.  It had been about an hour since I had called Dr. Penner.  I listened for sounds of a vehicle coming down Kitten Creek Road, but no traffic was moving.  Maybe the doc wouldn’t even be able to get here on these icy roads.

Suddenly, Peg flopped her head down on the ground and appeared to stop breathing.  “She is dying!  I am going to lose them both! Oh, dear God, I don’t know what to do.  I’ve got to do something.  Please help me.”

With that, I pulled off my gloves, rolled up my sleeve, and reached inside where I had seen a leg.  Never before had I had an experience like this, but I was going to do whatever I could.  I had to do it!  She would die and so would the lamb if I didn’t.  Amazingly, I found another leg turned under and apparently making it impossible for Peg to push out the lamb.  Carefully, I straightened the leg and gave a tug.  Out came a very wet little lamb.

Peg lay there oblivious.  Grabbing the lamb I carried it to her nose.  “Look, Mama.  Look at what we have done,” I squealed.  Peg’s head jerked up.  Giving a motherly, low and soft “meh”, she came alive again and began licking and nudging her new lamb. A few seconds later, she began pushing again.  Out popped another lamb as easily as you please.  I was ecstatic!

However, we had two very wet and cold little lambs. I had to get them safely down to the barn where they would have a soft and warm bed in the straw.  Holding the lambs up to Peg’s face I encouraged her to stand.  Slowly she crawled to her feet.  Wrapping the lambs in the towels I had brought from the house, the four of us headed down the slippery hill.

Just as I got to the bottom of the hill, Dr. Penner drove up to the barn.  Climbing out and shutting the door to his van, he chortled, “You did it!   All by yourself! Congratulations!”

After checking out the lambs and their mother and getting them bedded down in some dry straw, we walked back to the van together.  Dr. Penner had always seemed to understand my love for my sheep.  “They are going to be fine, Nancy, and you did it all by yourself!,” he said with a proud smile.

I didn’t explain to him that I hadn’t done it alone.  My Shepherd had been there with me the whole time. . . beside still waters and in pastures green.

Wounded by Love

peg picThe weeds at the farm  proved to be more than my first ewe and her lamb, Priscilla and Aquila, could clean up by themselves.  This job was going to require more wooly weed-eaters.  So we went back to the wooly weed-eater supplier, Diane, for our next pregnant ewe.  We chose Peg to join our little flock.

“Peg” was short for peg-leg, a descriptive name already given to this ewe because of her limp.   Peg exhibited an independent spirit in her young life.  Her shepherdess kept losing this wandering sheep.  Not content with the pasture Diane offered, Peg was continually getting out of the sheep fold.

One morning while Diane was eating breakfast her phone rang. “Diane, that sheep of yours if over here in our pasture.  Looks like she is headed for Anderson Avenue.” After thanking her farmer friend, she stepped out the door and gazed down the road.  Sure enough, there was that wayward ewe, getting closer and closer to the road.  “She is going for what she thinks is better grass,” realized Diane, “and she has no idea of the  danger she is in.”  But Diane, her shepherd, saw the life-threatening danger.

Donning her jacket and grabbing a scoop of grain from the shed, Diane headed out, hoping to cajole Peg into coming back home.  Peg ignored her and instead wandered farther away.  The closer Diane got to her the farther she wandered.   Something had to be done or this silly sheep was in danger of losing her sheep-life.  In desperation, Diane ran to the house. Grabbing her rifle, she went back to the neighbor’s field.  Although it would be hard to explain to this “sheep mind” it was out of affection that Diane, the shepherd, aimed carefully at Peg’s leg, and shot.  Wounded, Peg fell to the ground.  Finally able to approach her without Peg running away, Diane coaxed her to her feet.  Peg had become docile.  Bleeding and limping, she willingly followed her shepherdess back to the sheepfold.

Peg’s wound would heal in time, but she would always walk with a limp. Her limp would be a constant reminder to her, and to me her new owner, that although the lesson was a painful one, disobedience has consequences: a limp, but also a closer and more dependent relationship with the shepherd.

For Peg’s own safety, her shepherd had had to wound her.  Not because Diane did not care for her.  Not because she was angry at her.  Not because she was retaliating for her disobedience.  Peg was wounded for her own safety and well-being.

How often does our Shepherd lovingly wound His sheep for our own good?  Do we learn from our wounding? Even though there may be scars from the wounding, do we walk just a little closer with our Shepherd?

Blind Mama: The Solution

blind mama

(continued from last post)

At the point when I began calling her Blind Mama, she was following the flock by listening to the sound of their movement, but when they stopped to graze, she would lose them.  Hence, in order to figure out where they were she would constantly bleat.  At first several would respond to her.  I could hear them calling back to her, and hear her responding until she was once again in proximity and safety with the others.  But occasionally they would leave her alone in the pasture and come back to the barnyard for water or shade.

This day, evidently, none of the flock was responding to her cries, and she was desperate.  It was time for me to find a new strategy. As I untangled her from the thicket and led her down to the barnyard, I began to devise a plan.

I would be the leader.  I would take them to pasture.  Blind Mama would follow me, and the rest of the flock would follow Blind Mama.

In the beginning I started with a little grain and a halter.  She knew my voice, so I would talk to her.  “Come Mama, come Mama, here girl.”  Quickly she caught on. She would follow closely listening to my voice and the rattle of the grain.  Over a period of time, I no longer needed a halter or the grain.  My voice was enough.  Mama would put her nose against the back of my knee and she would follow me where ever I led.  The rest of the flock quickly caught on.  We were now a team, Mama and I.

One evening I was switching them to another pasture.  Instead of going down Kitten Creek Road, where traffic might be a safety factor, I decided to take them up across the pasture, down into the hard wood forest, along a ravine on a narrow path, and down into the pole shed pasture.  Mama and I led the way.  “Come girl, come Mama,” I repeated over and over as we made our way up the steep hill to the pasture.  Sixteen sheep followed us.  Mama, with her nose in the back of my knee was once more the leader.  She had no idea where we were going, she did not even realize that she was in danger as we walked the narrow path of the ravine.  Her faith was in me and she blindly followed.  And the rest of the flock obediently trailed.

Walking across the pasture that evening I had a very clear epiphany.  I had been struggling with a sense of inadequacy in that period of my life. I had been given responsibilities and leadership that I did not feel equipped to handle.   “I am not a leader.  I don’t have the answers others are looking for.  I am not wise,” seemed to be a mantra I was continually telling myself.   “But . .  . look at this little parable that is happening right now.  Look how  confident these sheep are in my leadership.  I am like Blind Mama.    I can follow God like she is following me.  With trust, confidence, and faith.  As long as God is my leader, I and anyone else who may be following me will be safely led into His green pastures.”

 

 

 

Blind Mama: The Problem

 

blind mama

I was making my way across the yard from the garden when I discerned a faint bleating floating down the hill from the pasture.  Listening for a response from the rest of the flock, I heard nothing.  Blind Mama was in trouble again.  The house had been my destination, but instead, I turned to the hillside and made my way up the rocky path to the pasture.  As I rounded the rise of the hill, on my right I could see the flock of sheep quite unconcernedly grazing in tall green prairie grass.  The sound of the bleating was coming from my left.  Poor Mama.  She was lost, totally.  She who had always been the leader of that currently unresponsive flock, had headed blindly into a thicket.  At this point in her life, she navigated the pasture by listening for the sounds of the rest of the flock but they had found the grass and had seemingly tired of responding to her cries for help.

As I untangled her from the thorns of the thicket, I remembered her early years.  She was the very first ewe we had purchased.  My burgeoning flock had begun with her story.

We had met the Clacks at church and found that we had much in common, two of those being the love of horses and of wide open spaces.  Anne and Bob had invited a couple of their grown children,  a  neighbor, Diane,  and Judd and me for a meal at their spacious ranch home. That evening as we sat around the dinner table, the conversation had slowly gravitated to our newly acquired farm .

We are looking for a couple of goats to help us by eating the out-of-control weeds in the fields around the house, we said.  When Diane heard the words goat and weeds together, she became animated.  “You don’t want goats,” she argued, turning to look Judd in the eye.  “What you need,” she said in a very authoritative tone, “are some wooly weed-eaters.  I can guarantee you they will eat your weeds, they will be easy to care for, and I can get you started.”  Diane had her own little flock of sheep and obviously was a champion for the fine practice of raising sheep.  “Besides, you can sell the wool.  You would have a great product produced by your very own sheep.”

Of course, it did not take long to convince me.  Wanting to be a good neighbor, sheep sounded good to Judd, also.  His brother, Phil, had owned goats, and was always getting in trouble with his neighbors over his wide-ranging, unstoppable goats. Judd valued good relationships with our neighbors.

Within a few days we were the owners of our first pregnant ewe.  Little did Judd suspect that I would become captivated with being a “shepherdess.”

“Blind Mama” was not her first name. In the beginning, I had quickly given her the distinguished name of Priscilla.  Priscilla began the clean-up job on our property, and  was soon joined by her son, Aquila, shortened to Willy.

My flock continued to grow, and the old pro, Priscilla, became the accepted leader of the flock.  She would lead them up the hill to pasture, back for water, and to the safety of the barnyard for the night.  They trusted her.  She was wise, patient, and protective, particularly of her lambs.

As she aged, however, her eyesight grew worse and worse.  Somehow, each pregnancy drew from her body the nourishment that her eyes required. With every new lamb that she “threw,” I watched  her cataracts grow thicker, until her eyes were opaque.

Her leadership began to be questionable.  At first, I would find the entire flock packed against a corner of the pen, or wandering down into the dry bed of a stream.  They would quietly stand where they were, waiting for Priscilla to lead them out of the dilemma. I would go out and get Priscilla started in the right direction and rescue her from her embarrassment.  I don’t know how long it took the rest of the flock to realize that she was leading them astray most of the time, but finally a new leader took over.

At this point, I began calling her Blind Mama.  By now she was following the flock by listening to the sound of their movement, but when they stopped to graze, she would lose them.  Hence, in order to figure out where they were she would constantly bleat.  At first several would respond to her.  I could hear them calling back to her, and hear her responding until she was once again close to the rest of the flock.  Occasionally, however, they would leave her standing alone in the pasture as they came back to the barnyard for water or shade.  Poor Mama.  Could I find a solution?

 

 

The Barnyard Nursery

minijersey4sale2

Journal Entry  for July 1990

The morning is cool – a refreshing change from the upper nineties and low one hundred degree weather of this past week.  Its  “due time” for Lucy, Reppert’s Jersey mama.  We are keeping her in our barnyard for the time being since I can keep a close watch on her while I tend our own calves.  I have been out several times to check on her and the other three,  Emma, our Jersey, and her two calves.

I have taken some time to sit on the hillside to enjoy the drama of this barnyard nursery.  Lucy and Emma are contentedly tossing small piles of strewn hay looking for clumps of more succulent brome caught in the drier hay.  Eventually, they will clean up the whole pile, but the adventure of finding the best first seems to be a trait common to most of these animals.

The barnyard is packed brown dirt since the rain seems to have passed us by this month. Here and there are little patches of buffalo burr with their yellow flowers peeking through the spiny leaves.  Those yellow flowers will soon become the nasty burrs that stick in tails and manes of the horses, tails of the cows, and the coat of my poor Bear.

I study Lucy for awhile to look for signs that she may be close to calving.  Lucy, her beautiful brown eyes focused on the hay in front of her, is not in the throes of calving; she is too content.

Now I turn my attention to the calves.   Both of the calves belong to Emma now.  We celebrated the birth of the little heifer, Susie, born in the barnyard a week ago.  The other little calf is a bull calf, born to another mother on a dairy farm.  Since he was taken immediately from his mother so she could give her milk to the dairy, we brought him home for Emma to raise.  Most of these dairy calves are bottle-fed, but switching them to another mother is better for the calves.  Emma quickly adopted him and is feeding him as though he were her own calf.

I watch as Lucy’s young heifer wanders far from her mother, totally self-confident and very curious. Our black Lab, Bear, and our yellow cat, Tom are here with me, and the calf is captivated by their movements.  She follows them at a safe distance for a while, and then, risking her margin of safety,occasionally comes nose-to-nose with Bear.  When the Lab reaches out to lick her nose, she jumps in the air and darts away.  Brave, yet there is a limit to the chances any self-respecting calf can take.

The difference between the natural calf and the adopted calf, Charlie, has been very interesting .  After being taken from his own mother, he has a hard time leaving Emma’s side.  Like a little gnat he clung first to her teets, and even now he hovers by her.   He has less of an adventuresome spirit because of his fear of being abandoned again.  Meanwhile, Susie, the little heifer,  wanders through the  weeds in the barnyard, picking fights with the tall grass on the side of the hill.

How long, I wonder, will it take Charlie to realize that Emma will not leave him an orphan again?

I wonder, also, how indelibly it is written in my own soul that He, my Father, will never leave me?  Will I always trust that I am His adopted child forever?  Can I be as confident as that little heifer who is enjoying her freedom?