Sheep farming can be peaceful and refreshing. Green pastures. Cute little lambs. Fresh air.
It’s also a madcap sprint down the driveway, hair flying every which way, sweat streaming down your face. You’re trying to head off the escape route of a sick ewe before she runs onto the road and gets struck by a car.
Although, at this point, you’re wishing her harm anyway because she’s already led you on a merry chase all over the farm. You just want to help her get better. Ungrateful beast. (The above, including wishing for the ewe’s demise, is all based on true events.)
Farming is a balancing act. Sometimes, you win. Sometimes, you lose. As long as the losses don’t outweigh the wins, you’re doing all right.
That’s where Miss Piggy comes in (pictured above). She’s a 10-month-old Dorset-cross ewe lamb. She likes chin rubs and a good belly scratch, preferably while she leans on you. And in January, she almost died.
When you’re running a farm with more than 350 sheep, sometimes you can’t save every sick animal. But when you do, you take that little victory. I suspect Miss Piggy was saved by the sheer stubbornness of the humans in her life. My mom and I spent days nursing her back to health. There was really no reason for it. We had more than 215 lambs and their mothers to care for at the time.
It should be no surprise then that I convinced Mom to keep Miss Piggy — she’s a symbol of our triumphs, I said. I didn’t realize that she would also be a reminder of the things I enjoy about sheep farming, and something greater.
The Bible is full of imagery of us as sheep and God as the Shepherd, John 10 in particular.
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. – John 10:2-4
The symbolism is apt in a lot of ways. Miss Piggy reminds me of this though: Throughout her recovery, she became familiar with us — she knew who we were and she trusted us. She relied on us for food, comfort and shelter. After she recovered from her illness and was living with a group of ewes and lambs, she would glue herself to my side whenever possible. Even now, nine months later, whenever I’m near the pasture where she and the other young ewe lambs live, I’ll hear her distinctive baaaa.
It’s uncanny. She knows when I’m near. After she recovered from her illness and was living with a group of ewes and lambs, she would glue herself to my side whenever possible. If I go into her pasture now, within minutes, she finds me. I’m not sure there’s anything I could do that would shake her trust.
Is it weird to say I wish I was more like Miss Piggy? When I began this journey as a missionary storyteller more than five years ago, I had no idea I would spend more time waiting to go, than going. That’s where the trust comes in. The faith. Sometimes, I’m not great at it. In fact, sometimes, I stink at being a Christian. Let alone the missionary variety.
I know. Miss Piggy is a sheep. How many life lessons is she really going to teach me?
You’d be surprised. Perhaps she is teaching me to pray this prayer more often:
Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
You have brought us to the valley of vision,
where we live in the depths but see you in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin we behold your glory.
Let us learn by paradox
That the way down is the way up
That to be low is to be high
That the broken heart is the healed heart
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul
That to have nothing is to possess all
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown
That to give to the receive
That the valley is the place of vision. (excerpted from The Valley of Vision)
I think the sheep imagery in the Bible is no mistake. If more of us spent time with them, we’d understand a lot more about God’s relationship with us and our relationship with other people.
But I might be a bit biased.