While we were going through our transition to Anabaptism, we attempted several interesting occupations including buying, renovating, and then selling houses; new online shoe sales (our office had stacks of shoes to the ceiling); cabinet installation; cabinet drawer manufacturing; organic farming; and my favorite, shepherding. Just the mention of the word brings a smile to my face.
We purchased a little farm on six acres in a rural area near our church, bought a few chickens and sheep, and began our pilgrimage into shepherding. It was glorious.
I remember one day when a friend brought her sister over to see the crazy family who was renovating a barn to live in (us). I loved having company and I loved my little farm. I called my sheep and they came running. I always had a little pail of sweet feed for them. They were afraid of everyone but me. I loved them. The sister looked at me with a strange glare in her eye. “They’re pets,” she replied stolidly.
“Uh-oh,” I thought. “This isn’t good. She’s thinking that I’m not going to make money off them like it’s not my business enterprise. I better recover quickly.”
“Oh no,” I retorted. “They aren’t pets. I sell their wool,” which was true. I did shear my sheep every spring before lambing season and sell their fleeces. She still gave me a strange look and I don’t think I convinced her one bit. But, the truth be told, she was right. They were my pets.
We ended up with over forty of them, about all our six acres could handle. I learned how to shear by hand, use garlic dewormer, unclog hoof oil glands, and how to deliver all kinds of breach lambs. I could give penicillin shots, fix fences, and find lost lambs. I used the wool for pin cushions, pillow stuffing, and my daughter and I learned how to card wool. I loved just about every minute of it.
On spring mornings (and often during the night) I would check to see if we had any new lambs. In the afternoons I would walk with them and let them nibble sweet feed from my hand. In the evenings I would walk out to the back chicken coops and lock up the chickens with my sheep following me as I gazed at the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the distance.
In the spring I mucked out the stable, sheared, got dames into lambing pens, helped deliver triplets and made sure they were all healthy. In the summer I rotated the grazing pastures and made sure the worms didn’t take over. In the fall I watched them jump in the air on the first cold day, and race each other to eat the leaves and tasty seed pods that fell from the trees. In the winter I led them across the field to graze on our neighbor’s land which had more winter grass.
Jobs changed, businesses closed, and my husband and I decided to go back into the field of education. We had learned a lot those years. We at first sold some of the chickens, rented our place out and planned to return. Then we had to sell the sheep when our renters moved, and then two years later, realizing we would probably never return, we sold our beautiful, renovated barn and acreage. I was quite sad about it, even though I do love what we are doing and where we are now.
My new sheep are different. They are certainly not as skittish as real sheep. They smell much better. I do not have to shear them, unclog their oil glands, or help them lamb. I do have to occasionally bring them back inside the fence, or gently point out how to think of others sometimes.
In the mornings my students bring me interesting things they have found from God’s creation. During the day they write funny notes for me to read while I’m grading their papers. At lunch they share yummy papoosas or chocolate from their lunches. At the end of the day they tell me good-bye, or stay after to help pass out papers, clean the white board, or anything else I ask them to do.
In the fall they arrive eager to learn and tell me how glad they are that school is beginning again. In the winter they roller skate and laugh. In the spring they beg me to play kick ball even though they know I hate to run. (Of course I go play. Who could resist after getting a huge card begging me to play with 468 “please”s written on it? [Yes, they counted them.]) In the summer they find me on Sundays and tell me that they miss school.
My real sheep never gave me pictures they had drawn or colored. They never smiled at me the way my students do, and they never made me really proud of them when they answered a question correctly, worked hard to made a good grade, or passed a test. But my students do. And that is so much more important.
So, my fellow teachers, parents, or grandparents, who are your sheep? Do you value them more than some hobby or pastime? Do they know it by what you say to them, how you act towards them, and most importantly how much time you spend with them? Children are so important to God; they should also be so to us. He has entrusted them to us, the parents and teachers, for such a short period of time. Are we teaching them all that we should be?
To our previous students-- our previous flocks; we miss you all dearly. We love to get your letters, see your pictures, and get cards from you. We love to hear how you are doing. Your handwriting brings back fond memories and even makes me cry sometimes. We love visiting your churches, families, and homes when we travel. We enjoy hearing what you are doing now, and what your future plans hold. We wouldn’t miss your weddings for anything, and please keep sending us pictures of your babies. And for those of you who are still interested, we are still hoping to start schools in other countries some day. Keep in touch!
Follow the Good Shepherd.