We loaded up Lily‘s Subaru with heated seats and drove to Wisconsin together. Find Friends says we went 120 miles from home but that’s only if you swim it. Our destination? A sheep farm. Put Lily in a pen with animals and she animates like a wind up toy. Sometimes she wonders if she missed her calling and should’ve been a farmer. I say, she can be both/and instead of either/or if she wants to.
We parked in front of an idyllic white farmhouse owned by Josh and Kelli. Four years ago, they bought the property and gave it a name: Velvet Sheep Farms. They didn’t actually know how to be sheep farmers at the time, but they wanted to be, and so they jumped in feet first, landed solidly and got to work. Since then, they’ve been crafting a life for their family that stewards their little corner of God’s world with care and kindness. And sharing it with others too.
For two days, we mostly pet their animals. Not every minute but often. And from our second story bedroom window, we could look down onto the rams’ pasture. One morning I watched them all eat breakfast at the trough and reflected on Psalm 23 where God describes himself as a Shepherd and calls us his sheep. I thought about what Josh told me about shepherding and this re-write emerged.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
Good Shepherd, every morning you feed me. You’re out in the elements early, putting high quality hay in my trough so I’m not hungry. You sow grass in my field so I have a nourishing snack to munch on all day long. You care for me with reliable rhythms so I don’t feel abandoned.
You build fences around my pastures as a boundary line because without them, I would wander adrift, following the next blade of grass. I’d meander away from your protection and provision, askew from your kindness and care. I’d be vulnerable to cars and predators and other risks I can’t even comprehend. Still sometimes, I find myself in places I don’t belong. When that happens, you find me and corral me with your sheepdog, rattling me out of my aimless rambling, back to the lushest turf.
You have placed me in a flock. I share my life with my herd, feeding from the same manger, drinking from the same bucket, rambling through the same fields. Sometimes we fight. One of us powers up and heads butt. Other times we rest contentedly together under the shade of the tree you planted in our enclosure.
There is a time for everything and my Shepherd calculates the seasons.
All winter long he leaves me to sport my “hippe-do” so I’m warmed by the insulation of a thick coat. And on the cusp of summer, he shears me down to my “pixie-do”. I don’t understand why he manhandles me onto my back. It’s not comfortable and I resist, but he shaves me anyway so I’ll stay cool in the summer heat.
New lambs are always born in the spring. Some years, I birth ewes. My shepherd provides what I need so I can give them what they need. My babies tether themselves close, grabbing incessant snacks from my swollen teats. For awhile, I am their polestar and we are inseparable. We romp the field together as I introduce them to grazing and lead them out to the borders. As they mature, they wander more, gone longer between nibbles. And when they no longer need my nourishment, they forge their own paths around the pasture, head down, eyes on the grass right in front of their noses.
You chose shepherding and you are committed to my wholistic care and my ultimate good.
You see me.
You know that my long, soiled coat gets itchy so you provide scratching posts as a way for me to deal with my irritation.
You watch for signs of distress. When I am limping, you trim my hooves so I can walk comfortably again. When I am sick, you call the vet, who comes right to my field in a mobile truck loaded with tools to diagnose and treat my infirmity. Then, you pay the tab for my care because you are so benevolent. And if you hear me bleating in the witching hour, you jump out of bed in a heartbeat to come to me. If you find a predator attacking, you declare war on my behalf.
My shepherd, he envisions potential in my raw, filthy, tangled wool. He gathers the yield of my haircut and cleans and dries and picks and cards it, knowing that someday, after it is dyed and spun, it will become exquisite yarn in every color of the rainbow. He knows that my coat repurposed, can provide warmth and protection that extends far beyond the borders of my little farm and I can unequivocally trust my shepherd to steward my contribution of wool to the big, wide world.
Shepherd, your life is so much more sophisticated than mine. You know things I don’t fully understand about what I need to live my best life. Still, you don’t humiliate me for my simplicity, nor do you expect me to be more than I am. You mininstrate me with magnanimous goodwill even though I can’t repay you.
And so I rest in the field you have sowed for me, under the shade of the tree you planted with the herd you gave me as companions. The sun shines, the breeze blows, the rain falls and the snow alights atop my winter coat season after season, and I remain here in the company and care of my Good Shepherd who chose me and delights in me because I am His and He is mine.