Little Black Lamb – IX

“Certainly goodness and mercy will stay close to me all the days of my life, 

And I will remain in the Lord’s house for days without end.”

This “little lamb” has seen and done a lot in my lifetime.  More than I would have ever imagined.  At the age of 3, I had known that Jesus was the only way to have my heart made clean.  And I really wanted to have a clean heart.  I wanted to see Jesus someday in Heaven, and live there with Him forever.  I stepped into “the Lord’s house” where I have remained throughout my life.

Looking back at over 6 decades on this earth, this “little lamb” has experienced a lot:

  • A lot of love
  • A lot of sadness
  • Being a “preacher’s kid” from 3 years old on
  • Mother of 3 sons, grandmother of 12 “lambs”
  • Being a pastor’s wife throughout adulthood
  • Death of my husband
  • Loss of the work we’d pioneered and led for 36 years together
  • Interpreter for the Deaf career
  • Musician
  • Outreach work in North Africa spanning 20+ years
  • World traveler
  • Writer

Through all of it, the good, the bad, the joys and tragedies, I can truly say that “Goodness and mercy has stayed close to me all the days of my life.”

And when my days on this earth end, this lamb will fully step into and remain in the House of the Lord, forever!

Little Black Lamb – VIII

“My cup overflows.”

How do I view my life?   Is the “cup” of my life half full or half empty?  Is it broken?  Chipped?  In need of a good washing?  

Looking back at my life, it’s been a very unique one, with a wide array of experiences I would have never imagined.  Most of it I would have never believed would be part of my story.  But when I see the Path my Good Shepherd has led me along, His Hand holding mine, I am grateful . . . most of all that His Hand has been holding mine.  My cup has held many experiences, from incredible times of blessing to devastating times of loss.  But it’s been a life that has been very full.  Over-full.  Overflowing.  And it’s not over yet.

The one Constant in my life has been God’s Presence through all of it.  And the single most significant passage from Scripture, woven in and out of the years of my life, has been Psalm 23.  I’ve studied it, taught about it, memorized it as a child, and returned to it often.  

But I never imagined that I would be able to literally step into this life-long favorite passage in a real-life sort of way.  And yet I find that I am experiencing the real-life day-to-day of the stars of Psalm 23 . . . Sheep, lambs, and the Shepherd.

Frosting on the cake!

Little Black Lamb – VII

“You anoint my head with oil.”

Sheep can do very little in caring for themselves.  And they’re not the smartest animals on the block.  Our ewes came to us at the end of winter.  Their thick wool coats were good insulation for them, but were filthy from a winter of muddy ground, and no way to clean themselves.  As Springtime arrived, the warming days seemed to highlight the thickness of their wool, and the dirt that clung to it.   Their wool was matted, and held the sand and dirt of last summer deep in their matted coats.  Sheerers were in high demand in the Spring, and we finally decided to try sheering the poor ladies  ourselves,  even though it was not anything any of us had ever done before.  You-Tube videos of sheering and an Amazon sheep-sheering tool in hand, we headed out to the field,  hopeful but very hesitant.  As well we should have been.

The shepherd referred to in this Psalm would pour oil over the head of a sheep to keep the nose flies (lovely thought) from crawling into the sheep’s brain (very painful!)  We needed the oil for something else….

As my son, Nate, zeroed-in on the target for our first victim, I (being the nice mother that I am) agreed to help him hold the sheep while he used his new super-sized electric sheering razor.  I was well aware of how terrible the woolen coats of these sheep looked, but had never gotten a very up-close-and-personal view.  That ended abruptly.  As Nate struggled with his first victim, getting her down on her side, I immediately realized that I was going to have to lay on top of the freaking out ewe while he ran the clippers holding her down as much as he could while trying to find his way through the thick, filthy wool to her skin.  I knew that once sheep are down and on their sides/back, they’re somewhat immobilized.  (“Why are you cast down, Oh my Soul?”….’cast down’ is an immobilizing situation for a sheep.)  Well….our sheep hadn’t read that verse, apparently.

While I laid most of my body on the Ewe, pulling one of her front legs up so she couldn’t flail it at us, I became intimately aware of how much dirt, sand, and old pooh was embedded into all that wool.  About 6 inches from my face.  Not to mention the question of what kinds of ticks or other crawly things had taken up residence in there.  I tried to cover her eyes, thinking that it might help her not be so freaked out.  It didn’t help that her two lambs were there waiting for their lunch.  As Nate tried to cut away the gross wool, I talked to her as one mother to another.  All the while, pulling off the filthy wool being cut away from her white skin.  Most of the orphan lambs were gathered around to see what we were doing, baa-ing at the whole crazy scene.  The ewe put up an incredible struggle.  But in the end, she walked…then ran away…. Looking like an entirely different creature.  Her skin and fur were white.  She was unrecognizable!  As she walked away, we realized that there was one clump of white fur We’d missed, sticking up right in the middle of her back.  She looked like a very short, stout camel with a tiny hump.  Comical.  I secretly thought that she deserved that for all her fighting of the good thing we were doing for her.

But then, a wonderful looooong shower and clean clothes later, I kept contemplating the desperate fight she put up against having her gross, filthy coat of wool removed from her skin.  Her skin could finally breathe again.  Cool air could touch her again.  The layers of past life could truly become part of the past, with a fresh, new future ahead.

How do I do that in my own life?  Wny do I do that?  When my Good Shepherd pulls me aside, takes out His Sheers, and begins removing the cruddy, matted old stuff from my life,  I fight every minute of it.  Why do we humans freak out when the build-up of years of dirt, old wool, bugs, and crap come into our Good Shepherd’s hands to remove it for us.  The ewe could not remove it for herself.  It required the strong Hands of her Shepherd to cut it away and pull it off.  Yet she was desperate to keep it around her, though it had only bad effects on her daily life.

Little Black Lamb – VI

“You prepare a banquet for me while my enemies watch.”

The first night of the initial flock’s presence in our field, the ewes were being settled into their simple shelter.  Suddenly, from the edges of the field, the howling of a dozen coyotes began.  Out of the darkness the spine-chilling sound came.  They had detected the sheep, and were watching for their opportunity for a banquet.  We had never seen any coyotes, but their chilling howls were clear.  And near. My son, Nate, could see the eyes that were beginning to line the perimeter of the field.  

Thankfully, the preparations of a good fence and a solid shelter were effective in keeping those watching enemies at bay.  The ewes were able to settle into the clean hay, where clean water had been prepared for them.  They were safe.  They could rest.

All those who follow The Good Shepherd can be confident that His Care will be safe and sure.  The Bible says that He never sleeps . . . not even for a minute.  Though the Enemy of our Souls is always on the prowl with his eye on us, we can be sure that our Shepherd hasn’t missed a thing in the preparations for our care, protection, and all that helps us thrive in our world.

He doesn’t just throw us the scraps.  He goes above and beyond the basic survival mode when we belong to Him.  Without the Shepherd, the sheep are a hopeless lot.  His care extends far beyond mere survival.  He brings us to a banquet . . . celebrating each one who comes into His flock . . . His forever family.  

Little Black Lamb – V

“Your rod and Your staff give me courage.”

Our little lambs are SO sweet, but definitely a skittish bunch.  They do everything as a group.  They take off running as a group.  They randomly hop as a group….for no apparent reason.  Just happy.  At the same spot, at the same time.  

They need a lot of watching. . . for their own sake.

The ewes came to us in a pretty sad state, and little did we know, they were all carrying lambs.  Two to 3 each.  That’s how we unexpectedly ended up with 16 lambs.  Being there as each new lamb entered the flock definitely endeared them to us, and I think their early exposure to us, endeared us to them.  Six orphan lambs were bottle fed for the first six weeks of their lives.  They, especially, came to know us well.  When they saw us coming with our pail of lamb bottles, their baa-ing began.  Loudly!  (I’m convinced they are saying in English, “MA!”)

We did not come to them with the ancient tools of a shepherd – a rod and staff – but we came to them with a bucket and bottles, into the safe shelter we had prepared for them.  Our presence with them became something they could trust.  Something that represented safety, shelter, and food.  

It has become an absolute delight to walk toward their pasture and hear Easter’s voice ring out with her “Maaa-aa”, alerting the other orphan lambs that their food was coming.  As we move their pasture areas (they are like little lawnmowers with our grassy fields), at times they are quite near to our house.  I have stood at the living room window and heard Easter maa-aa to me from behind her fence.   She’s been watching . . . waiting . . . and then making her announcement of a “shepherd’s” presence.  Soon her little group of orphans/rejected lambs are all lining up at the fence in hopes of another feeding.  And often, it’s simply for a petting session.

If a shepherd’s presence gives the lambs and sheep courage, the shepherd’s own heart is warmed by their simple affection and desire to be near.

Little Black Lamb – IV

“Even though I walk through the dark valley of death,

Because You are with me, I fear no harm.”

We have all tasted of “the dark valley of death,”  whether it is physical death of someone dear, or something in our own life experience that felt like a death, it seems impossible that anyone on this planet has escaped that dark valley.  

Our little lambs were born in the night.  We had not yet realized that all of the ewes were carrying lambs, which appeared as an on-going surprise for us.  The first we knew there was something happening, my son heard a chorus of coyotes in the night.  We had never seen any coyotes, but they had obviously heard the baa-ing of the tiny new lambs, and had encircled our field, anticipating a midnight feast.  Their chilling howls made it clear that about a dozen of them had joined the midnight watch of lambs being born.  Nate had heard them, and had gone out to the pen to find the new lambs as well as to make his presence known to the coyotes.  THankfully, they left our field when the shepherd made his presence known.  It was a chilling reminder of how the Enemy of our Souls lurks in the darkness, salivating in anticipation of devouring another of God’s lambs who have not come under the care and protection of the Good Shepherd.  

When the winter’s cold began to soften, and the earth’s warmth began to bring with it the bugs that seem to love the wool of our lambs, we could see some irritations for the sheep.  Tiny bugs and mites began to find refuge in their tight, nubby wool.  It was a reminder of how vulnerable our sheep were to hidden irritants that find refuge in their wool.  We had to curtail the amount of petting and touching we could do with the affectionate lambs.  

I was reminded of the very practical information in the Bible of how shepherds divided up their flocks.  People in the Middle East / North Africa have an ancient rule of thumb:  RIght hand is used for clean touch, left hand for dirty.  The shepherd used his right hand for contact with the sheep whose wool was healthy, but his left hand was used only for those sheep with the irritating mites or anything gross in their fur.  Without this care, the mites and other irritants could spread to anything or anyone who touched them.  I would only let myself rub the head of an affectionate lamb with my left hand, not touching anything else until I’d washed that hand.  We did not want to spread anything from the lambs to other sheep or to people.  This ancient rule of sanitary touch still holds today in many parts of the world, including the desert where my Saharawi refugee nation shepherd their camels, goats and sheep.  

At the age of 15, I experienced a very dark night of my soul.   I now believe it was depression.  I told no one what I was going through, and no one asked.  But I would spend most of my non-school time alone in my room.  I became isolated, pulling away from friends, believing they didn’t really want me with them, and feeling that I was doing them a favor by turning down any invitations to spend time together.  It was a dark, spiraling time, but naming it “depression” was not even in my vocabulary nor frame of reference.  I just knew that I was in a very bad place, and needed to get out of the black hole that was drawing me downward.  

In desperation, I cried out to God (silently), knowing that if He didn’t intervene in what was going on in my mind, I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I asked Him to speak something…anything to my heart to save me from the deep despair I felt.  I let my Bible fall open on my lap, and my eye was caught by these ancient words of Isaiah, 

            “A broken reed He will not break, and a smoldering flame He will not snuff out.”

As I read the ancient words….words I had no memory of hearing before, I knew immediately that I was that broken reed, hanging by a thread from being completely broken, and I was that smoldering flame, barely still lit, and ready to become a brief puff of smoke…and gone.  

In that moment, I knew that God saw me, He knew my hopelessness, and the reasons behind it. 

knew He was there with me, and with no hint of condemnation, was giving me a sense of hope.  Although I had no thought of what life would unfold for me, God’s intention was to give me life.  And that was what I had needed to know….between Him and me.  Personally.  No further details were needed.  It was enough to know that He saw me, knew what was going on in my mind and heart, and was intervening on my behalf, assuring me that He was with me.

Little Black Lamb – III

“He guides me along the 

Path of Righteousness for the sake of His Name.” 

Our little motley crew of orphaned and rejected lambs had not been anticipated nor planned for. . . at least not for the on-going surprises of newborn lambs joining our newly-acquired flock of sheep.  Each new lamb was often discovered in the morning, when bringing the food and water to the ma-ma’s.  The new additions continued arriving for several months after we bought them.  Some of the ewe-mama’s were good mothers and cared well for their lambs.  But some were not; sometimes accepting one lamb but rejecting the other,  Thankfully, no lambs died.  But one mother of two lambs died giving birth.   In the end, we had 13 lambs from five ewes,  Six of the lambs were orphans.

The visible condition of the ewes we purchased was poor.  Matted, dirty wool was very thick from the winter’s harshness.  It took a lot of patience and tenacity to help the ewes become somewhat comfortable with us.  They were very skittish, and ran from our approach.  They needed a lot of basic healthy care, but shied away from us for a long, long time.  Each new surprise birth brought new challenges to our desire to care for them well. 

But we loved the sheep.  That was the bottom-line reason for buying them.  Why?  For me, I grew up hearing of The Good Shepherd and frequently heard the Bible stories filled with sheep, shepherds, pastures, and the familiar imagery throughout the Bible that reflected on God’s perspective of how He views and cares for us as “sheep.”  

Spending time in Israel had brought more color to the pages as I walked through the landscape of the ancient Bible stories I had loved throughout my life.  

Then, there were the 20+ year season of spending time with true, real-life shepherds in the Sahara Desert of North Africa, coming to respect and love the people and their culture and heritage had further colored the stories and imagery of shepherds, sheep, goats, camels, and desert places that I had so often encountered through Bible stories my whole life.  I had become a student of Psalm 23, pouring over the rich details of a Shepherd, sheep, and God’s imagery through them.

But I had never imagined “living with sheep,” nor actively participating in the day-to-day realities of caring for sheep.  Nor had I ever imagined having my own “shepherd’s heart” captured by a little black, rejected lamb. . . to whom I unexpectedly related as somehow sharing my own personal story.  

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.