May 26, 2010

Sheep and Their Shepherds

2010 1515 page26 caplam! Blam! Blam!?  

I covered my ears and peeked around the corner of the barn to see who was shooting. My knees buckled and I collapsed sobbing on the ground.
Daddy was shooting our sheep! I gasped for breath as great sobs racked my body. I saw him sight down the barrel, saw him squeeze the trigger, and heard the blast. I saw the white, woolly sheep jerk to one side, sway, stagger, and fall twitching to the ground, a red spot growing on its side. Then it lay still.
In those few seconds, as I lay crumpled in a small heap by the corner of the barn, my mind flashed back to our first sheep . . .
True Love
It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and people were getting married. In fact, that’s what made this day special: Dad’s cousin was getting married. Dad would be the pastor and I would be the Bible boy.
Now Dad and I were dressed and ready to go. He was wearing a black suit, and I was in a new white suit. I was so proud the buttons nearly burst off the front of it. All the way to the wedding I jabbered away to Dad. I was so excited—until we arrived at the church.
Music was playing. People were smiling and talking. And suddenly I realized I had been tricked, duped, trapped!
2010 1515 page26They hadn’t told me about something called a “flower girl.” I found out I was supposed to hold her hand as ?we walked down the aisle after the wedding!
No way! Dad could carry his own Bible. ?I wasn’t going! The music played. The bridesmaids walked in. The music played . . . and played . . . and played. Those who turned around to see what was going on probably noticed a sullen little boy in a white suit glaring back at them, arms crossed, feet planted firmly. Finally someone persuaded me to go down the aisle. I stomped up to the front, shoved the Bible at Dad, and sulked off to the side.
When the ordeal was over and we were out of the church, I wiped my hand off and shoved it deep into my pocket. I didn’t even eat any cake. I just slouched down in the front seat of our VW bug and muttered to myself.
Finally Dad came, and we began the long ride home. He tried to talk, show me things, ask me questions; but he got only grunts in return. I was mad. Then suddenly he slammed on the brakes, wheeled the car into a driveway, and stopped in front of an old farmhouse.
Now I was curious. Dad was famous for bringing things home from his trips. It might be a bag of beans he had seen a farmer harvesting, a baby raccoon he had seen running around its dead mother, or a bushel of apples. What was he after this time?
A few minutes later he came bounding out of the barn. “Homer,” he said, “get in the back seat, behind me.” He got a wrench, unbolted the front passenger seat, and put it in the back next to me. When he came back out of the barn, he was carrying a little lamb. The sign had said, “Orphaned Lambs for Sale.” We had our first sheep.
The rest of the trip was great. I scratched the lamb’s ears, rubbed its neck, let it suck on my hand until it was almost all the way in its mouth (and, of course, wiped it on my new suit).
Back to the Present
“I had to do it!”
My mind whipped back to the present as I heard footsteps approaching. Looking up I saw Dad lean his gun against the barn and sit beside me. For a long time he didn’t say anything—just rubbed my shoulder with his big hand. My sobs slowed and finally he said, “I had to, Homer.”
I could hear tears in his voice, and throwing myself into his arms I cried, “Why, Daddy? Why did you have to shoot our sheep?”
He squeezed me tight, wiped his eyes, and said, “I haven’t been a very good shepherd, that’s why. Do you remember the little dog that was here a few days ago?”
Of course I remembered! It had been so funny to see that little mutt running around the field pretending to be a sheep dog. Its high-pitched yipping and yapping had worked the sheep into quite a frenzy before we chased it off down the road toward its home.
“Well,” he went on, “that little dog nipping at their legs made cuts and scratches. Flies laid their eggs in those cuts and maggots hatched. I called the vet and he gave me some medicine and told me what to do, but it is too late for some of them. I’ve already shot two, and I’ll probably have to shoot another one.”
Spaghetti Legs
Years went by. I grew up, got married, had kids.
One day we were visiting my brother and his family in Michigan. As we followed him home from church our cars pulled into the long drive to their old farmhouse. Suddenly his van stopped, doors flew open, and people started pouring out.
“Daddy, it’s Spaghetti Legs! It’s Spaghetti Legs!” screamed my nephew, Andrew, as he raced around the car and leaped over the fence.
I knew Spaghetti Legs. Andrew had found her early one morning as he made his rounds of their sheep pasture. In the spring they’d typically have 100 to 200 sheep and lambs on their 40-acre farm. Spaghetti Legs had been born sometime during the night, and her mother had abandoned her. With so many mothers and babies, it was impossible to tell whom she belonged to, but it was clear no one was taking care of her. Andrew tried to get her to stand, but she was so weak her legs and head wobbled all over.
“Well, little Spaghetti Legs,” he said softly, “if your mommy won’t take care of you, I guess I’ll have to.” With that, he picked her up and carried her to the farmhouse. As he stood by the door to the kitchen his mother shook her head and said, “OK, Andrew, you can keep her in the kitchen. But not for long.”
Soon Andrew had a big box filled with straw sitting in the kitchen. Carefully he placed the little lamb in the box and proceeded to feed her at regular intervals all day. His parents wondered how he would handle the night shift, but he got up all through the night to make sure she had what she needed. After a day or two of this loving care, Andrew’s mother came down to the kitchen one morning and there was a bright-eyed little lamb standing in the middle of the floor. Little piles of black pellets here and there showed she had been out for some time!
“Andrew!” she called up the stairs, “take this thing hence! I will not have a free-roaming sheep in my house!”
So Andrew and Spaghetti Legs moved out to the barn. For a few days Andrew slept there with her so he could make sure she got fed through the night. With that kind of attention they formed a close relationship and could usually be seen wandering all over the farm together.
Now, as I walked over to the fence, ?I could see what had upset Andrew. There on the ground lay his friend, Spaghetti Legs, panting and shaking. Her eyes were rolled back in her head. Every few seconds she would lift her head and give a pitiful “Baa-aa-aa! Baa-aa-aa!” Again she’d lie there panting and shaking. I was sure she was having convulsions and would soon die.

What Do You Think?

1. When have you been wounded--either physically or emotionally--in your attempts to protect someone or something?

2. What motivated you to risk being hurt in order to help someone else?

In your attempts to do the right thing, what's worse: being misunderstood, or causing temporary pain?

How does your experience help you understand the risks God takes in trying to win our loyalty?

Then I saw that Spaghetti Legs ?wasn’t having convulsions at all; she was trapped. She had gotten up next to a wild rosebush and one of the canes had snagged the wool across her back. Those wicked thorns dug in, and as she twisted and turned, trying to free herself, another and another had joined the first. Finally five brambles had crisscrossed her back, cinching her closer to the ground with each movement until there was nothing she could do but baa and pant. She would have died if someone hadn’t come along.

Then I witnessed one of the most powerful illustrations of the gospel I’ve ever seen. Spaghetti Legs was free. She and Andrew were running side by side up the hill. His tears were drying on his cheeks; his hands were scratched and bloody. But as they approached me Andrew suddenly stopped, impulsively threw his arms around the sheep’s neck, and said, “Spaghetti Legs, I love you; I’m glad you’re OK.”
Suddenly there were tears in this old uncle’s eyes as I realized what Andrew hadn’t done. He hadn’t held his bloody little hands in front of her nose and said, “You naughty little sheep; look what you made me do. Don’t ever go near that bush again, or, or, I’ll just leave you there!” He didn’t even mention his hands. He just wrapped them around her and told her how much he loved her and how glad he was that she was OK.

I think of another pair of scarred hands that lovingly wrap themselves around me—not to tell me how much pain I’ve caused Him, but to tell me He loves me and is glad I’m OK now!
But Andrew didn’t stop there. Minutes later I saw him come out of the barn with his pruning shears. He cut down that old rosebush and dragged it out of the field. In the process his hands got the sharp end of many more thorns, but he didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t want anything left in his field that would hurt the sheep he loved.
The Best Shepherd
I’m thankful we serve a Good Shepherd, One who loves us enough to rescue us again and again without condemning us for what the process has done to Him. I’m also thankful that He loves me enough to clean up my field, even when I sometimes complain about what He removes. How can I be upset when I see those bloody hands, the ones that were just wrapped so lovingly around me, reaching out to protect me from yet another thorn-covered cane? 
Homer Trecartin is an associate secretary of the General Conference and director of Adventist Volunteer Services. A much shorter version this article appeared in Adventist Review, August 9, 2007. This article was published May 27, 2010.