Little Black Lamb – II

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside peaceful waters

He restores my soul.”

Psalm 23:2

Our little Easter lived her first 2 days on a bed of grass in a cardboard box.  As she began to strengthen and stand, we took her to the little pen in the pasture where her mother and brother were.  Her mother continued to reject her, feeding and caring only for her brother.  Returning to her carboard box of hay with our family, she continued to thrive, soon joining a few other newborn lambs that had been born (unexpectedly for us!)  Easter began to become part of the little flock of orphaned or rejected lambs.  

All of our unexpected new lambs became their own little family.  Six orphaned / rejected lambs lived in a large pen in the garage until they were strong enough to go out into the real pasture.  The ewe-mothers were now in a large pasture of good grass, with a sturdy shelter with fresh water and hay.  Several had now given birth to more lambs (unbeknownst to us when they were purchased) and they were enjoying the spacious shelter and pasture of their new home.  

The ewes had been in a previous pasture where there was far less space and the winter snows had melted to black mud,  They now seemed very content in our grassy pasture.  They grazed, drank, and rested under the shade of trees or out in the open field of grass.  The lambs who had their mothers stayed close, while the orphaned lambs became their own little circle of playmates.  

Much to our surprise, we began seeing more and more newborn lambs appearing, not knowing that all of the ewes came to us already carrying their tiny ones inside.  

But the rejected and orphaned little lambs became their own little family, . . hopping and running through the grass together.  Their little happy hops always made us chuckle.  Easter joined right in with all of them.  Their energy and joy together was delightful to watch,  Bottle-feeding time was a scene of extreme competition to get their milk, noisily guzzling every last drop, pushing each other off of their bottles as if they were all starving.

Easter joined in with all the other orphaned lambs.  But afterwards, she would find me and stay near, even trying to nuzzle my fingers and make a soft purring sound.  

She would stand by the gate of her pasture, and if she caught sight of me, she would “Maaaa” 

as if calling for her bottle of milk to be delivered,  This would quickly alert all the other little orphan lambs to come to the gate and “Maaa” in a chorus that was comical and endearing.  Feeding time was a circus, as the lambs fought for their bottles, spraying each other and their human bottle-feeders with the sweet lamb’s milk in the process.  Once every drop had been drained from the bottles, the lambs would snuggle together in the grassy shelter and sleep.  

But Easter would stay near for more nuzzling and petting, until I’d slowly head back to the gate and home.  She’d follow all the way to the gate, watch me walk away, and often remain a while before returning to her little family of orphaned lambs.  

Words from so many favorite Bible verses concerning the Good Shepherd ran through my mind each time, This living demonstration of His own care and pleasure in seeing His abandoned lambs well cared for and loved brought so many verses from my childhood alive in new ways,   I was now personally experiencing the examples that my Good Shepherd had talked about.  My little Easter was now contentedly lying down for a peaceful, safe sleep in the well-protected shelter of loving care.  He was showing me in real time a picture of His Love for His lambs, of which I knew I was one. 

The Little Black Lamb

“The Lord is my Shepherd,

I have all that I need…”

Psalm 23:1

I peered into the bottom of the cardboard box and gasped.  Lying completely still was the first newborn lamb I had ever seen.  She seemed lifeless.  

Late in the night, (early on Easter morning), a mother ewe had given birth just after midnight. She had rejected this little one.  She was feeding the other…a healthy little black male.  We didn’t think this one was going to make it.  But we wanted to try . . .

This was a “first” for me.  I’d never been so near to a newborn lamb.  All I knew was that there was something about this tiny creature that had immediately captured my heart.  I was determined to see her survive.  I instinctively bgan whispering to her, gently touching her little black head.   She didn’t move, but I stayed there, lightly stroking her black, wavy fur.  Silently, I was asking God to let her live.  Little drops of water and whispers of care as I stroked her little head was all I knew to do.  When I finally went to bed, it was with  prayers of, “Lord, please let her live…”  He is the Good Shepherd,  and I believed that He still cared for even little earthly lambs.

Early in the morning, as Easter dawned, our little black lamb – named “Easter” by my granddaughter – was not only still alive, but standing on her wobbly little legs.  I delighted in watching her begin to show signs of life….drinking drops of milk, opening her eyes, standing up and moving around her little hay-cushioned box.  By the next day, she was beginning to readily drink from her lamb-bottle, and responding to the faces and hands of family members who had been cheering her on.

Although we tried several times to put her in her mother’s care, it never worked.  The ewe-mother had chosen Easter’s brother.  So we had chosen Easter.

Jesus is called “The Good Shepherd.”  We are the lambs. . . many of whom have been rejected, abandoned, left to fend for ourselves rather than being nurtured and lovingly cared for.  What “should have been” was not our story, and we were left to survive at the mercy of others, or of our own devices.  The Good Shepherd sees us in our sadness, abandonment, loss, and hopelessness.  He willingly steps into our sad reality and begins the loving care He holds in His heart for us.  It is not a “task” or a “job” for Him.  His heart of love for the lambs…whether part of His “pasture” or not, extends to each one.  He scoops us up and holds us near to His Heart as we begin to heal, strengthen, and find Life in His strong Arms of Love.  That’s simply Who He Is.

In His Arms

“Then He took a child, 

had him stand among them, and taking him in His arms, 

He said to them,…”

Mark 9:36

Oh!  This fussy little baby puts up such a fight!   She’s SO tired, yet she fights with all her might to avoid falling asleep.   Bouncing, patting, whispering . . . !  just have to wait until she gives up her struggle to stay awake.  But eventually, she quiets. . . she’s asleep!  Holding this still little baby, wrapped in her soft blanket, with her fuzzy little head resting on my shoulder, I can feel her soft hair and give kisses as I hold her near.  This part could last all day if possible!

And I wonder . . . 

When I let God hold me, is it like this for Him?   I put up the struggle of being taken away from whatever I was doing, and He wraps His arms around me, cradling my head nearest to His Heart.  He is gentle.  He is speaking in a whisper, even though I want to continue on with what I was doing.  I don’t even know what I want or need.  I just want to stay awake.

But slowly, as His gentle but firm hold of me goes on, I begin to relax. . . the complaints fade to quiet, and I begin to rest in His loving arms.  His whispers become my lullabye.  I am warm.  I am safe.  I am loved.  

I could stay here forever.

My Safe Rock

“I love you, O Lord, my Strength. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Savior, my God, my Rock in whom I take refuge, my Shield, and the strength of my Salvation, my Stronghold.”
Psalm 18:1-2      

Many years ago, while on a mountain top overlooking the Sea of Galilee, it was easy to imagine David there with his sheep.  Still quite “untouched,” you can see the carved-out rock troughs from ages past, rain-catchers for thirsty sheep remain on that grassy, high pasture.   

I noted a boulder that had a wide crevice, and decided to wedge myself into it, having always been curious about Bible passages of David’s songs about, being “hidden in the cleft of the rock.”    I wanted to know how that would feel.  It took some courage, as I don’t like bugs, and imagined there would surely be some hiding in that “cleft.”   

As I settled into my little ‘cleft of the rock’, I noted how  much more narrow my vision became, defined by the rock around me.  Then, I began to notice this rock that surrounded me, seeing tiny little green seedlings. . . even some brave little blossoms.  They had found enough grains of dirt to take root and even blossom, clinging to that solid rock.  The little bugs there didn’t even bother me . . . they were busy with their own tiny lives.    

I began to realize how very, very safe I felt within that great rock, which was the exposed top of a mountain covered by green pastures.  I knew that no danger could come to me as I sat in that safe crevice.  I was protected within the cleft of my rock.

My vision also narrowed.  All I could see was “my rock”, and only what lay directly ahead of me.  As I sat there looking at the narrowed view before me, I began to realize that there were other parts of my mountaintop in front of me, which also had the same crevices in line with mine.  It was like a great wound on that mountain top.  The breaks were perfectly aligned.  

Something earth-shakingly powerful must have happened long, long ago to create the “wound” in which I sat.  Only a God-sized power could create such an earth-shaking split.  The God-sized Scar was clear. 

Then it struck me that Jesus is called “the Rock of my Salvation” . . . and that He was willingly wounded for my sake, for the world’s sake.   

The ‘cleft of the rock’ which was becoming my dear Safe Place had been formed by some powerful, earth-changing Event ages ago.  I was reminded that when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the earth itself shook.  And His wounds made it possible for me to find my own safety within His scars of Love.  I was surrounded by this great rock.  I was safe.  He was there.  Nothing could touch me without first going through the cleft open before me.     

My Rock was beginning to feel like my Salvation.  My safety was in that cleft-wound. It was becoming the sweetest, dearest place on earth.  I wanted to stay there and memorize the safe place it had become.  But it was time to go. 

The sweetest thing was that I didn’t have to leave my beloved Rock on that mountain top.  He is with me wherever I go.  

Hospitality . . . Through the Roof

“…they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles

with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus.”   Luke 5:19

Hospitality in the Middle East / North Africa is a very big deal.  Peter’s family was a perfect example of that.  Peter’s mother-in-law’s house had not only become Peter’s family’s home, but it had become the home-base for Jesus as well.  I can imagine how much her life was disrupted by all the new friends her son-in-law kept bringing home, especially his friend Jesus.  These years of what should have been quieter times for her had become very busy with all the growing attention coming to Peter’s  friend, Jesus.  Her quiet, senior years weren’t quiet any more.

I remember arriving in the desert Saharawi refugee camps, middle of the night, in a truck filled with about a dozen team members to the tent of an obviously sleepy woman,  a total stranger.  We dragged our duffle bags of supplies and luggage into her tent, quickly finding spots on the floor where our weary team could fall asleep. But soon, our exhausted sleep was interrupted with a freshly cooked “spaghetti” feast prepared by our host mother for her weary visitors.

We continued to be well-fed and cared for by our sweet hostess for the next 2 days.   Then, another truck arrived, spoke with our hostess (who began crying), as we were informed that we must pack up and go to the “right home” for the rest of our time. We had been dropped off at the wrong place!   She had loved and cared for her unexpected guests so well that no one wanted to leave.  She had shown us a picture of “hospitality” we would never forget.  It had nothing to do with the quality of accommodations nor being ‘entertained.’   It had everything to do with her heart of welcoming the strangers, no questions asked.  

I can imagine Peter’s mother-in-law like that.  Always an open door, always a space to rest, and a meal to share.  

Then there was “that day”. . . when the house was jammed with strangers listening to Jesus, standing room only.   Suddenly, chunks of dried mud, stones, sticks and heavy tiles began falling through the ceiling. . . right above where Jesus was speaking.   How embarrassing for the busy hostess!

Soon daylight came shining down . . the hole grew bigger, making such a mess that no one could ignore what was happening.  And then, a badly sagging old pallet with a very sick man lying on it was precariously lowered through the hole, creating a downpour of more dirt, stones and sticks.  Right where Jesus was teaching.  There was no avoiding the crazy disruption!  The sick, suffering stranger – in very rough shape – was being slowly lowered through the roof right down in front of everybody, practically on Jesus’ head!   This was no Divine Appearance of a glowing angel descending into the room, hovering over Jesus’ head.   This was some seriously ill man on a pallet about to collide with the top of His head….along with all the dried mud, stones, and dirty mess!  Oh! And don’t forget the new skylight and the beam of sunlight illuminating the entire event.   

When Jesus comes into our lives, we must expect Divine Disruptions to our “normal” life.  There will likely be no forewarning.  Everything may seem like a mess at first.  Your ‘plan’ may look like someone just smashed it to bits.

But, is Jesus ‘at home’ in you?  Have you learned to accept the Disruptions that He has brought to your life? Is a “new normal” result of His Presence something you are learning to embrace?  Is He welcome, no matter what comes along with His Presence in your heart? 

Is He welcome in you. . . whatever changes that brings?   No matter what kinds of people seem to become part of that new life?  No matter how much “mess” may enter the picture in the process of His Work in and through you?  

Do His Words, His Presence, (often disruptive) have a welcome place in your heart and life?  When that becomes true, others will begin to come into your personal world, drawn to hear about – to meet – This One Who has taken up residence in you.

In the Waiting Space

After forty years had passed, 

An angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush

In the desert near Mount Sinai. . . 

Then the Lord to him,  

“I have indeed seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. 

I have heard their groaning 

And have come down to set them free.

Now come, 

I will send you back to Egypt.” 

Acts 7:30, 33-34

He’d been born a slave, but all of his early memories were of living as a son in the palace of Pharoah.  Having run for his life from all that he had known, he had spent the last 40 years out in the desert with sheep. It had never been Moses’ desire nor plan. 

I’ve had dramatic changes in my life, but nothing as extreme as Moses lived.  Yet there are those times when I look around, thinking, “How did I get here?!  This isn’t the way I’d ever imagined it!”

Then, comes the “WHY?!” question. That answer will never fully come while I’m on this earth.. 

Little did Moses know what was ahead for him.  Dramatically going from the palace, living like a king, to decades in an unfamiliar desert with no survival skills must have worked in every aspect of Moses’ mind and heart.  The desert does that to you, especially when you’ve never lived in one before.   

When God Called me to the Sahara Desert in 1999, I had NO experience in desert life.  Having lived my life in Wisconsin, the dramatic (traumatic) experience of going unprepared into the Desert, I had no clue of how to handle life there.  But being there for extended times for decades changed my life.  It changed me.

I can only imagine what the desert years did to Moses.  From a palace to a shepherd’s tent . . . from royal banquet meals to goats’ milk, fire-grilled flatbread, meat of camels or sheep/goats, and water.  From servants at his beck and call, to being alone with  animals for months at a time in a vast desert.  The contrast was probably traumatic.  He must have had a million questions with lots of time to ponder.

His Royal training in national leadership was now the preparation  for leading, protecting, and feeding shaggy, wayward four-legged’s.  Little did he know that the four-legged’s would become a million 2-legged’s.  His birth-nation awaited.

When God intervenes in our lives in ways that shock us . . . scare us . . . nearly destroy us, we are forced to look UP.  When everything else is gone, we are compelled to grab on to Him as we never had to before.  We cannot re-create “what was.”  It is the time to focus on Who He Is, and begin the long journey of walking through each day with Him.  Grieving  “what was” slowly becomes “what is,” and a new step in a new journey begins.  Perhaps these are the hardest steps you’ve ever taken, with the least sense of clarity you’ve ever felt.  

Clasp tightly to His Hand.  Step with Him  (often carried by Him…) and learn the lessons all along the way. There is a Reason.  It took a 40-year “waiting space” for Moses to learn his desert lessons, with no knowledge of why.  

We are able to see many of the “Aha Moments” Moses may have never seen about his own life. “Huh???” may have been his theme.   From our vantage point in history, we can see how God used all those seasons in Moses’ life to prepare and shape him for what God had planned.  The Plan, unbeknownst to Moses, was historic.

He is doing the same in each of our lives.  We don’t have the Timeline He is following.  There is often more “Waiting Space” than “Aha’s!”   But they will come, in the end.  The Waiting Space will begin to unfold like the petals of your favorite flower.  Hold tightly to Him throughout the unknowns…the waiting.

You will come to love Him even more.

Following His Tracks

“ I can’t find Him because He knows the road I take. When He tests me, I’ll come out as pure as gold. I have followed His footsteps closely. I have stayed on His path and did not turn from it.”        

Job 23:10-11

In the Sahara Desert, following someone’s tracks is not easy!   When the imprint of the footsteps or tire tracks of the one you are trying to follow is in shifting sands, it can be impossible at times.  Driving between the Saharawi refugee camps can be quite the adventure.  There is no “road”… just that incredible sea of sand.  Often the driver is literally leaning out of his open door (while the vehicle is moving!) to find tracks of those who have gone before us.  The landscape is largely all the same, so there are not trees or buildings or road signs (or roads for that matter) to identify the way ahead.  Actually arriving at our destination is a reward in itself.

God doesn’t make it easy for us to find Him.   There is often a great struggle or pain or failure before the Path becomes clear.  He doesn’t make it easy, but after all, the Path along which He will walk with us is not easy, either.  So it is no surprise that the Path to meet Him is also difficult.  

Job (the writer here) had incredible hardship on the Path he walked with God.  He literally lost everything.  His wealth, security, family, friends, . . . everything was gone.  And he had been a very good man.  But through all of that, he continued to pursue God.   At his lowest point, all he had to cling to was that belief in God Himself.  Job found God to be worth the pursuit.  He had not waited until disaster hit to know Him. . . follow Him . . . prioritize Him in his life.  Job didn’t blame God for the disasters he had been through, because He knew Who God Is.  So when everything fell apart in his life, he already knew the One to Whom he would have to cling.

I have tasted some of what Job lost.  Many times, I wondered if I would ever be able to “breathe” again after losing my husband.  Would I survive it? . . . did I even want to survive it.   But there was never a question in my mind of Who I must hold on to. Hanging out of the old battered truck that had been my life, I had to focus on the shifting sand around me, searching for His Footprint.  And I would always, always spot it.  Just enough to assure me that He was there.  I was not lost.  I was not hopeless.  I just had to spot the next Footprint and follow it.  Step at a time.  Moment at a time.  

In those times, turning back is not an option.  Stopping and settling there is not an option.  Life depends on watching for His Print, and moving forward as it sets the direction, step-by-step.  There is just enough evidence of His Presence that I know He is going ahead of me.

And I can follow that.

Do you love Me?

“Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’”

John 21:17

Have you ever asked someone this question, or been asked?   Can you recall what the circumstances were?  Was it truly a question at face value, . . . because the one asking wasn’t sure of your love?  Or were they reminding you of your own words?

Jesus asked one of His dearest friends this question, three times.  And Jesus, being Who He was, of course knew the answer.  He knew Peter’s heart.  He knew that Peter loved Him.  The question was a reminder for Peter himself . . . a heart-check of what Peter needed to think about.  

I can almost picture Jesus, getting Peter’s attention, and asking the first question, “Do you love Me?”   For Peter, it was a “no-brainer.”  Peter’s quick response, “You know that I love You.”  They’d just eaten a literal boat-load of fish, and it must have felt like ‘old times’ again.  The horror of the crucifixion was over.  Jesus was alive. . . they were back on the seashore again.  Jesus responded back to Peter, “Feed My lambs.”

But Jesus asked again, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”   “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”  Jesus told him, “Take care of my sheep.”    Peter, the fisherman, was being asked by Jesus to do something he was not trained to do.  He knew fish.  He didn’t know lambs.  Lambs are cute little things, and their mothers take care of them.  Easy enough.

For a third time, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him.    Following Peter’s strong affirmative response, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.”  He continued on with an ominous note of the shadows and danger that lay ahead for Peter.  This wasn’t going to be easy.  Fishing days were over.  Peter would walk a very difficult, painful road in the years to come, and Jesus would not be physically with him.  

When God calls a person into full-out commitment in following Him, He does not offer promises that it will be easy, rewarded on this earth, nor even acknowledged along that path.  It will be difficult.  It will be painful.  The people with whom you began your journey will probably not even be with you.  As all of those changes and losses unfold, all that is left is the reverberating echo of His Words, “Do you love Me?   . . .  Follow Me.”   

That becomes the sole Foundation of His Call.  The sole reason for each step on that Path.  And, often, the sole reward for all it has cost you.

My Safe Rock

I love you, O Lord, my Strength. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Savior, my God, my Rock in whom I take refuge, my Shield, and the strength of my Salvation, my Stronghold.

Psalm 18:1-2

Many years ago, while on a mountain top overlooking the Sea of Galilee, it was easy to imagine David there with his sheep.  Still quite “untouched,” carved-out rock troughs from ages past, rain-catchers for thirsty sheep remain on that grassy, high pasture.  

I noted a boulder that had a wide crevice, and decided to wedge myself into it, having always been curious about Bible passages that David sang of, being “hidden in the cleft of the rock.”    I wanted to know how that would feel.  It took some courage, as I don’t like bugs, and imagined there would surely be some hiding in that “cleft.”  

As I settled into my little ‘cleft of the rock’, I noted how  much more narrow my vision became, defined by the rock around me.  Then, I began to notice this rock that surrounded me, seeing tiny little green seedlings. . . even some brave little blossoms.  They had found enough grains of dirt to take root and even blossom, clinging to that solid rock.  The little bugs there didn’t even bother me . . . they were busy with their own tiny lives.   

I began to realize how very, very safe I felt within that great rock, which was the exposed top of a mountain covered by green pasture.  I knew that no danger could come to me as I sat in that safe crevice.  I was protected within the cleft of my rock.

My vision also narrowed.  All I could see was “my rock”, and only what lay directly ahead of me.  As I sat there looking at the narrowed view before me, I began to realize that there were other parts of my mountaintop in front of me, which also had the same crevices in line with mine.  It was like a great wound on that mountaintop.  They were perfectly aligned.  

Something earth-shakingly powerful must have happened long, long ago to create the “wound” in which I sat.  Only a God-sized power could create such an earth-shaking split.  The God-sized Scar was clear.

Then it struck me that Jesus is called “the Rock of my Salvation” . . . and that He was willingly wounded for my sake, for the world’s sake.  

The ‘cleft of the rock’ which had become my dear Safe Place had been formed by some powerful, earth-changing Event ages ago.  I was reminded that when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the earth itself shook.  And His wounds made it possible for me to find my own safety within His scars of Love.  

I was surrounded.  I was safe.  He was there.  Nothing could touch me without first going through the cleft open before me.    

My Rock was beginning to feel like my Salvation.  My safety was in that cleft-wound. It was becoming the sweetest, dearest place on earth.  I wanted to stay there and memorize the safe place it had become.  But it was time to go.

The sweetest thing was that I didn’t have to leave my beloved Rock on that mountain top.  He is with me wherever I go.

Being Watched

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.  Then you will be blameless and innocent. You will be God’s children without any faults among people who are crooked and corrupt.  You will shine like stars among them in the world as you hold firmly to the Word of Life. Then I can brag on the day of Christ that my effort was not wasted and that my work produced results.”

Philippians 2:14-16

Growing up in a pastor’s family, one of the consistent dynamics was that of “being watched.”  I hated that!   But it was a reality.  And tied to that was the “What would people think?!” theme.  UGH!  As a child, that awareness seemed like a curse.

But it is a reality.   Being watched was a reality in the days of Jesus, and in the lives of all of His Followers.  

Paul compares it to the global experience of seeing stars in the sky.  Every sighted person on earth, throughout time, looks at the stars in the night skies.   They show up in the darkness.  It’s a natural occurrence from catching the reflection of the Sun.

I remember, especially in my early times in the desert, total strangers commenting to me that they “see Light” in me.   Often it was followed with a remark of “darkness” being their common experience.   This was curious to me, as there was nothing intentional on my part to look like “light.”  I didn’t see it.  But they did.

Paul gives us some super practical suggestions on how it looks to “glow” in the darkness of our world:

“Do everything without complaining…

“….. or arguing.”

“…be God’s children without faults among people who are crooked and corrupt.”

“…hold firmly to the Word of Life.”

God gives us a tangible picture of how this looks:   Children.   Watch them.  Learn from them.  Children who are well loved, as we are by our Father, are notable in their responses to their parents and others who love them.  

As we walk through our days, the surrounding “darkness” is easy to see.  But there’s something wonderful that can only be seen in that darkness:   Stars.  Points of Light  become clear, bringing Light in the darkness, beauty that causes us to look UP, and a sense of Presence, Order, and Power that is far above anything this old earth could create.  They don’t have to work hard to generate their Light and Beauty in the darkness.

They simply reflect the Source.