So there I was, not in the best of physical health myself, with my new sheep, who in her way, kind of mirrored my own situation. Since I didn’t know how to hold a sheep properly for real he-man shearing, and probably couldn’t have anyway, I did what I was able to do. I sat down on the barn floor, took the front pair of Gracie’s legs in my left hand, and the back pair in my right hand, and pulled them toward me so she was forced to lay down. Then I pulled her 80 pound body up on my lap. Using a combination of my skills gained from playing Twister, and my Mom-experience of having changed diapers on my own wriggly babies, I managed to hold the sheep down, and get the shears running.
This was the very beginning of my experience of what it feels and smells like to be a shepherd, and to see what it looks and smells like to be a sheep. It smells like dirt and lanolin (the oil or waxy stuff that sheep’s skin makes that causes their wool to repel water), with an occasional hint of ammonia. The first thing I noticed though, was the barn floor I had shamelessly plopped myself down on. It was covered in hay and dirt, and guess what our goats and sheep always did on the barn floor? You guessed it. But in the eagerness of my commitment to help Gracie, I was so focused on her need, I did not care nor flinch for a second about the dirt and poop I was sitting on and surrounded by. My compassion for her needs so outweighed any price of personal grossness or contamination, it was insignificant to me. Dirt and poop I can wash off. But if I didn’t get that sheep sheared, she was going to die under the stress the extra weight and heat all that heavy matted wool was causing, literally compromising her immune system. (Have you ever felt so compromised my stress it made your body physically ill? Sheep are the same.)
Shepherding is messy business, because sheep are messy.
While keeping a firm hold on Gracie with my legs and free hand, I turned on the clipping machine in my other hand. (I tell you this was nothing like the “right” way to do it, I was just trying to get the job done any way I could.) Gracie struggled a little bit, but she was so weak she didn’t have the strength to struggle much. Very soon, she gave up even trying to resist me, and she just laid her head down on the barn floor, and let me go to work. It occurred to me, the greater one’s need for a Shepherd, the less the ability and inclination to resist Him.
As I dug the clippers deep into Gracie’s horrendously overgrown fleece, I followed what I had learned and got the business end of the shears as close to her skin as possible, and tried to make long, overlapping passes over her body, much as one does when mowing the lawn with a lawn mower. As I worked, I was fascinated to see long, pretty white wool exposed between the dirty ends, and Gracie’s pink skin. Various specimens of nature that had been hung in her wool for who knows how long, became exposed as I worked, testifying to the nature of some of the places she had spent time, and some of the things she experienced. For example, the kernels of corn I found hung in her wool, were left from when her previous shepherd fed the sheep by dumping corn out of a bucket, and the hungry sheep were so eager to eat it, they got between the falling corn and the feed bucket before the corn could land in it. A few bright pink flower petals told me Grace had spent some time under a Crepe Myrtle tree. Particles of crushed, old, dry leaves gave evidence that she had missed a Spring shearing, and gone all the way thru a Fall and Winter without losing her coat. The many dung tags in her wool, (wool matted with poop), told me her coat was so long, she couldn’t even tell or care where or what she was laying in. (This can also happen with sheep who are sheared regularly, but not to the degree this was). Her long, matted wool testified to neglect she had suffered. The weakness in her wool fibers, (they break apart unlike healthy wool), testified to the physical stress and nutritional deficiency she had suffered. Gracie was a sheep who, like me, had been thru a lot, who had more than one problem.
As the weight of the matted, dirty, heavy fleece came away from Grace, the whitest fleece I had ever seen, with pink skin peeking beneath it, was exposed. And so was the whole truth of her situation. She was skinny. Not just a smaller sheep having lost the girth of about 8 pounds of wool, when the average weight of a Gulf Coast fleece is only 3-4 pounds. I mean she was so skinny, her ribs and back bone were prominent, her sides were sunken in.
Now that she wasn’t fighting me, now that the truth the whole truth of her situation was revealed, I was able to help her, and she was able to let me. The nutritional products I had bought to restore her health, and the tall, green grass of Grace’s new pasture did indeed restore her very well in the following weeks.
After I got up off the yucky barn floor, tended to Grace’s needs, and released her back to graze (eat grass) in the pasture, I disposed of the nasty, burdensome fleece I had relieved her of and collected my tools. I kept thinking about the experience of saving Gracie. What hung with me the very most, was being able to experience that particular act of “sheep redemption” from a shepherd’s point of view: the sight, sound, feel, smell of it. But even more, there was one thing I didn’t expect: the Emotion of it. I had moved toward Gracie with compassion. I acted on her behalf because I felt for her. I cared what happened to her. I cared about how she felt. I’ll never forget what a poignant moment it was for me when I realized in the midst of shearing, my own, very profound sense of relief Increasing, the more I was able to relieve Gracie of her burden!
In all those years I’d spent in my life hearing about the Good Shepherd, it never once occurred to me that God Himself has a point of view. If I, created in God’s image, even in the ineptness and imperfection of my novice attempts to shepherd a real sheep, could feel my own relief increase as I witnessed Grace’s burden eased, could it be possible that in spite of all my fears, doubts and complaints about God, I might actually have a Shepherd, too, Who cares even more about my needs? Is it possible God Himself feels a sense of personal relief to see me unburdened from my troubles? -Not just unburdened from sin for the sake of eternal salvation, but also from the really painful, day to day stuff and struggles that always made me feel weighed down? If the experience with Grace was like that for imperfect me, how much more might it be so for perfect, infinite, “Loving” God? Was it possible God really loves me so much, in spite of whatever “grossness” of my personal situations I’d want to hide from others, that He longed to see me healed, relieved of whatever in my life burdens me?
As I walked back to the house to put away my new tools, my heart was open for the first time in years, to considering the possibility.
If you connect with the issue of a wounded spirit, here is an excellent sermon on the topic, by Tim Keller