The Good Shepherd

I went out looking for the cows at exactly noon on Good Friday, the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross. I had let them all onto the back pasture the day before because the grass was greener and longer on that side of the gate and we had run out of hay. Being content with the lush and tender spring grasses, none of them made their way to the barn this morning, except the horse, when I called them in for feed. I wasn’t worried about it, knowing they had their fill of grass. But at noon I was concerned that they might find the low part of the fence and hop over onto our neighbor’s property. So I went looking for them.

This is our sixth spring out here on the land and every time, the season dazzles me. In winter I forget what lies dormant and forgotten in the earth. Then the land awakens with a newness that always catches my breath and still leaves me dumbfounded that resurrection is possible following the cold and death of the prior season. The vibrant colors of the flowers, the welcome warmth of the sun, and the bright green everywhere awakens the coldest of hearts. Hope is possible. It is tangible.

As I’d see them in the woods, I’d name the cows one by one. Mocha, Jingle, Shalom. Bobby Sue, Jack, Little Rascal. Around the corner was King, the horse. In the top part of the pasture I found Sam and Charlie, then Sweet Baby Rae, then Squanto. There was Milk Dud. But where was Annabelle? I made my way across the creek a different way than I had come and saw a pitiful sight. Annabelle was lying in the creek. Her head was back and her body was sprawled out. She had a long vine of mesquite thorns wrapped around her body. Having three-inch long, vicious spikes, the kids call them the Jesus thorns. Eery does not begin to describe what I came upon.

I raced to her, knelt in the mud and water, and lifted her head up by the halter that was still on her. Here we go again, I thought. She is the same cow we have struggled with all year. I prayed a brief prayer for wisdom and, knowing I couldn’t lift her on my own, ran back to the house to get some help. I returned with my boys and my in-laws and I instructed them to get behind her and push her to a sitting position. With all of us heaving and pushing, we managed to get her to sit up and begin to get the air out of her system. I had no idea how long she had been down. Whenever she had gone down in the past, we have had to place straps around her and lift her with the tractor. But there was no way we were getting that tractor down the steep bank of the creek and lifting her safely. I Face-timed Jason from work and there wasn’t anything he could do . But, to our utter astonishment, right after hanging up the phone, Annabelle stood up! She got up with her back legs, pushed herself to her front knees, waited a while, and then stood completely up. It was another small miracle. Another resurrection of sorts. Another answered prayer for these animals that I have been entrusted with.

This is the creek where Annabelle was lying.
Standing next to Annabelle after she miraculously stood up on her own. Her right eye is terribly swollen from lying in the creek.
A new perspective of the shepherd’s staff. The boys used it to drive away the other cows from Annabelle’s feed so she could eat.

Leading up to this day, the Lord has been doing a deep work in my heart. I found myself dealing with deep grief from the past that I hadn’t completely worked through. It seemed to come from nowhere and hit with such a tremendous force that it startled me, really. I began to seek out close friends and ask them to pray for me as I worked through whatever this was. It turned out that what I was dealing with were lies that I believed about God. Lies that affected my relationship with Him. Lies that He was malevolent and uncaring. But as I repented of these lies and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the truth about who He really is, He gave me so many scripture passages that speak of His tender love and concern for me. My favorite one He gave to me was Psalm 103:14: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

My care for these animals grossly pales in comparison to my Good Shepherd’s love for me. His eyes are laughing as he watches over his flock. Over me. He loves me and I know it. He holds my hand and gently leads me along the way I am to go. He protects me and stands in my defense. I am his and he is mine. He went to great lengths to redeem me, laying down his life. The Shepherd becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. My sins. And the sins of those who sin against me and against those whom I love. My Good Shepherd is the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the one who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one that was lost. He came and he found me.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23

Stand!

The morning before Christmas Eve I looked out my bedroom window to see a sight that had me running out the door immediately, pulling on the rubber boots on our old porch and rushing out to the middle pasture. Annabelle, our Jersey cow was laid out on her side, her head back, eyes rolled eerily. The dirt by her feet was trenched as if she had struggled for a while to stand. Jason was on shift that day and my boys were at their cousins’, so I hollered into the house for Addie to come and, in vain, try to help me do something.

Farming, like other things in life, is manageable and even easy-going when things run as they should. When animals are healthy you feed them and let them be and they do not dominate your every waking thought. But when things go wrong, everything changes.

When we first got Annabelle five years ago.

This wasn’t the first time Annabelle had gone down. Three weeks before she couldn’t stand right before she went into labor with her calf. We had to lift her four times with the tractor and actually pull the baby out. That night Jason and I lay awake struggling with God and pleading with Him to help her to stand. Jason checked on her about 3 AM that next morning and came into the room and told me he thought both baby and mama were doomed, as she was still on the ground. Some point during the watches of the night I had to surrender my cow to the Lord. But in the morning, I went out to check on them and at once burst into tears to see Annabelle up on her feet.

But that was three weeks ago. The day before Christmas Eve I contacted Jason, who told me to call the emergency number for the vet and, when I didn’t get ahold of him immediately, called my neighbors. Our cowboy neighbor just so happened to be available and came right over and helped get Annabelle up on her right side. We were pretty sure she had bloat from being down on the ground, which is a condition that could kill a cow if the air is not released from the cow’s stomach. Fortunately, she began to belch and sitting up as she was, looked so much better. The vet finally contacted me and came over to look at Annabelle. Everything looked okay, except that she was terribly skinny and very weak. But he did not seem hopeful. Normally if a cow does not stand up within 24 hours, they will die. My neighbors and I tried to get her to stand with the tractor that day, but she wouldn’t put any weight on her feet. It didn’t look good.

That night as I was saying goodnight to Jeremiah he said to me, “Mom, I don’t want Annabelle to die.” I looked at him and rubbed his back. My 14 year-old son was a lot bigger than he was when we moved out to the land five years before. Back then we knew nothing about dairy farming, but we plunged right in and each child would take turns milking with me twice a day.

“You know what I would miss the most if we lose Annabelle?” I asked him. His back was muscular and strong. “I will miss the mornings milking with each one of you kids, when the sleep is still in your eyes and you tell me all about the crazy dreams you had the night before.”

Jeremiah laughed. “Thadd was the one with the crazy dreams!” And then, quieter, “Mom, I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to stop doing the same things I did as a kid.”

My heart surged and fresh tears came as I agreed with him, “I don’t want you to grow up either.” Already my children were growing out of their childish ways. I relished the thought of them remaining children, but I knew it is not meant to be. Things change. But this cow. How precious she would always be to me because of so many things. She was so gentle as she trusted us completely. Her milk literally nourished my family. And she bonded me with my children in a tender way nothing else could.

Christmas Eve 2015
October 2020

Jason came home the next day and successfully raised Annabelle to her feet using the tractor. Hence began one of the longest weeks we’ve had, caring for Annabelle and then another cow, who also decided to get weak and not stand. Jason lost out on two family Christmas get-togethers because he was caring for the cows. We would have to get Annabelle to stand, make sure the calf was nursing, give both cows ample food and water when they were down, shelter them creatively in the rain, and cover them and warm them in the cold. It has been laborious, but we are slowly seeing improvement in Annabelle and she is getting stronger every day. She has started to stand up on her own now, but isn’t out of the woods yet. Bobby Sue, our other cow, is still down.

Farming teaches me so many things about life. How absolutely dependent we are on God. How important it is to simply stand up. How precious life is. How vital hope is to the soul. That the mercies of God are new every morning. That His faithfulness is great.

As 2020 comes to a close, I am reminded again how very dependent we are upon the mercies of God. And how important it is to stand.

I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of the gruesome pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my footsteps. And He has put a new song in my mouth, a praise to our God. Many will see and hear and shall trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man that makes the LORD his trust. Psalm 40:1-5

The Fight for Life

I was returning from a Women’s Conference, driving the scenic country highway, worship music blaring, feeling so filled up with the joy of the presence of God. Jason called and I answered.

“Rosemary died two hours ago,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for you to come see her before we bury her.”

Talk about an emotional crash. I was halfway home, and told him so, but I knew they would still wait the thirty minutes more. He knows I need the closure with our animals.

Rosemary was our eight month-old heifer calf, born on Pentecost Sunday night. She was the exact image of her mother with her white face and orange body. She was always very scared of us and would never let anyone near her, let alone touch her. We would admire her from a distance. When we dewormed our cows this past summer, Rosemary was still too little to get a wormer, so we opted out for her, thinking she would get some of it through her mother’s milk. The summer was so dry and then the fall and winter was hit with so much rain, that it created a breeding ground for parasites. We knew we needed to get our cows dewormed again this winter, but we got busy and just did not get around to it in time. And by the time we noticed that Rosemary was not well, it was too late.

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Getting to love on Rosemary for the first time, as she never would let us touch her.

Jason and I brought her into our stall in the barn and the very fact that she was not running away from us made us realize how sick she really was. Just the walk one hundred yards from the pasture to the barn exhausted her and she collapsed as soon as she got inside. And she never stood again.

We immediately gave her a dewormer and started a process of feeding her raw milk every three hours and giving her B12 injections every day and Vitamin C. The first two nights Jason and I got up around the clock to feed her and the next day he tried to start an IV, thinking she was severely dehydrated. Our neighbor kept checking in on Rosemary and offering advice and we continued to dialogue with the vet, who basically said to keep her warm and continue feeding her.

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Jason trying to start an IV on Rosemary.

When I was finishing up at the Conference, Jason fed Rosemary a little bit of milk. She sighed deeply, and then was quiet. After a while, she sighed deeply one last time. And then she was gone.

I arrived home that evening as rain began to spritz in the twilight. I put on my boots and then hurried out to the far side of our top pasture. Jason and the kids were there with the tractor and there was a deep muddy hole in which had been placed the small body of our calf, Rosemary. All at once, in a spontaneous manner that reminded me of my mother, I began to sing “It Is Well With My Soul.” Hoping someone would join me, I sang the first verse, and then the second, and then the third. No one joined in and I could tell Jason was getting anxious to bury her before there was no more light to see. As I started the last verse, he jumped in the tractor and then, as I finished, he immediately started it and began to cover her up. All the while, the rain spit down on us.

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Looking at her grave the next day.

The very next day, Jason was on shift and made a call with the fire department to a young patient.  I don’t know the details, but in the course of the fight for life, the fight was lost.  I’m really not sure how my husband does it. He daily enters the battle of life and death and some times he is able to stabilize the patient and bring them back. But many times, he isn’t. But the fight for life must be made. It is too sacred of a thing not to fight for. For animals. But especially for people.

Rescue those being led away to death, and restrain those stumbling toward slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know about this,” will not He who weighs hearts consider it? Does not the One who guards your life know? Will He not repay a man according to his deeds? Proverbs 24:11-12

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Lament for a Dog

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Thursday afternoon our family gathered around the weak and failing body of our Great Pyrenees, Maximus. All of us weeping, we hugged his neck one last time, whispered our love for him, telling him what a wonderful dog he was, and we said goodbye.

I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you for the sudden loss of a dog. Max wasn’t old. He was just three weeks shy of his second birthday. He was in the prime of his life. No longer an immature and undisciplined puppy, he had grown to become a magnificent guard dog. He and his sister, Mira, took great care of our farm animals. They were up all night patrolling the land and keeping predators like skunks and raccoons away from our sleeping chickens. They kept an eye on our pigs and cattle and would chase away stray dogs or coyotes. And perhaps best of all, they were my children’s faithful guardians. After being up all night, they would collapse under the porch to sleep, as is the livestock guard dog’s rhythm. But the moment our screen door squeaked open and any one of my children wandered off down to their fort or to the creek, first Max and then Mira would crawl out from under the porch and be right by their side. Trusted. True. Faithful. They were the epitome of the definition of man’s best friend.

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Thaddaeus with Maximus. This happened every day. We came to regard them both as “Thaddaeus Maximus”.

I won’t go into all the details because I really don’t want to relive them, but Max went downhill fast. We noticed that he was sick on Wednesday morning, took him in to the vet, where he stayed overnight, then we took him to the emergency clinic at A&M Thursday morning and were told that his kidneys were failing. In a moment that you are never prepared for, we had to make an impossible decision. We decided that the most gracious thing to do was to put Max down.

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In the car on the way to the emergency clinic.

We came back home and found Mira, faithfully holding down the fort, wagging her tail as we arrived. But inevitably confused as to where in the world her brother went. Death is an unnatural thing. It’s not how it was supposed to be. The separation and the absence confounds us. Truly, we are looking forward to a better country. One without sickness and death.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Romans 8:22-24

All of creation is longing for the return of Christ, whereby he will put to death the final enemy, death itself. How I long for that day.

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My daughter was up last night journaling about Max. Here are a few of her words:

Maximus, you have won a special place in my heart. Even though you’re gone, I will not stop loving you. I hope you will be in heaven when I die. I hope we will meet again. I will take care of your sister. I love you my sweet, big/little bear!

Love, Addie