Our Good Shepherd

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sharing with a handful of women a story about our Good Shepherd, Jehovah Rohi. Initially, I was asked to share my testimony or a lesson the Lord had taught me. As I prepared, the Lord completely changed my focus. I took Psalm 23 and fleshed it out in a story. It's not strictly allegorical but much like King David's poetry, it is an illustration of how the shepherd tends for his flock. I know there are several people who missed the breakfast and others have asked to read what a wrote. For ease, I'm posting the story here. I'm not a shepherd. Creative license was used. However, I tried to take what I have learned about shepherding (ancient and modern) to weave a story that would leave the reader with a sense of calm and peace that their Shepherd is caring for them. I hope you enjoy.

High in the hills, where the clouds kiss the thin grass and the scrub brushes the sky, lives a flock of Herdwick sheep. These white-faced, grey-wooled sheep are hefted to their land. The practice of hefting is unique to this place. Year after year, generation after generation, these Herdwicks graze on the land of their mothers and grandmothers. Each new lamb is taught by the older ewes about the rich, rugged, and varied terrain on the mountain. Through bleats and baas the sheep instruct the lambs where to hide from the wind and which pastures belong to their shepherd. In this way, the sheep are rooted and grounded in their surroundings. Today the leader of this flock, a shepherdess, is a girl on the brink of womanhood. Her name Solace. 

Solace is as hefted to this land as her sheep. Her family has grazed sheep on this mountaintop for nearly 300 years. As a toddler she learned to roam the high fields following after her grandfather or chasing the newly born lambs. Now as she tends the sheep her trusty four-legged companions, the sheepdogs Goodness and Mercy, assist her by charging hard after the flock, nipping at the heels of those ewes who’d like to stray, and creating boundaries on this boundless land for the protection of the flock. Solace is always mindful of where her flock is even with the sheep’s preference for a small portion of moorland. As their shepherdess, it is her role to move the sheep continually to fresh pasture and have a thorough knowledge of where to find clean water. 

Being so far removed from village life, her knowledge and care of her sheep is paramount when a physician is needed. A sick sheep is often a dead sheep. Solace is well versed in keeping her flock fed on high quality grass and uncontaminated water and is ever watchful for early signs of illness. Sheep are finicky animals. Their stubbornness often quickly carries them from strong-willed selfishness to self-endangerment. Susceptibility to illness stems from not just physical injury or poor judgement but often includes emotional attitudes. In the Spring, Solace was faced with a heart-broken ewe who had delivered a stillborn lamb. The ewe kept trying to make other lambs her own and Solace, as shepherdess, set out to mend her heart. Without a young one to tend, Solace knew it was possible for the ewe to slip into deep melancholy. When a set of twins were born, with one weaker than its sibling, Solace quickly placed the hide of the dead lamb on it and rested it next to the heart-sick ewe. To her great pleasure, Solace delighted as the ewe sniffed the lamb and then nudged it to suckle.

Being the leader is a responsibility in which Solace takes deep joy. Despite their extreme stubbornness and absent minded ways, she delights in the dependence of the flock on her. If the early spring snow has too much ice, it is Solace’s job to chip it away so the animals can find nourishment; otherwise they’ll starve. Due to their body composition and heavy wool coat, Solace also must be wary that her sheep remain upright. Should a sheep get stuck in the swift current while crossing a stream, it can hastily be thrown off balance and drown. If they get too comfortable while ruminating the weight of their wool can roll the sheep on its back, casting it down, and rendering it utterly helpless, hooves pointed to the clouds. This ever present danger requires Solace to count her sheep daily. She has bred, even designed, her sheep to have fleeces which reflect the qualities specific to her breed. Keeping the health, character traits, safety and provision of her flock at its best all the time is long-suffering work. However, her ever present understanding of the terrain and available resources is what makes her family’s livelihood come market time.

When the fall gatherings take place and portions of the flock are sold for meat or breeding, Solace knows her reputation and that of her family’s will be as much a part of the price as the sheep. The care put into the sheep, and the sheep’s submission to that care, are not for the sheep’s glory but the shepherd’s. In order to groom sheep worthy of a shepherd’s namesake, Solace knows they need to be well-disciplined. A sheep’s job is relatively simple: it needs to eat of the pasture provided, remain close to the flock by knowing and obeying the shepherd’s voice and rest in the cool shade which Solace sustains. When shearing time comes, a well-disciplined sheep will trust the shepherdess’ skilled hands and be content with the process of clipping away the old weight of wool without injury to themselves or Solace. Their life is not their own and Solace diligently works to show them devotion so they understand and faithfully submit to her.

With the approach of winter and the icy air already licking the land, Solace, Goodness, and Mercy are ready to bring the sheep off the mountain and into the valley. The descent is steep and the sheep are always timid to go over the crest of the mountain, for despite walking this path twice a year they do not remember what lies on the other side. Last year, as Solace led and the sheepdogs corralled behind, the flock panicked. racing for a severe and craggy cleft when a dark cloud’s shadow moved over the mountain. It wasn’t the first time Solace found herself grateful to her grandfather for carving her the birch and sheep horn handled staff. She deftly pulled the most wayward sheep back into the fold and Goodness and Mercy instantly closed in on the panicked sheep to restore calm. While the danger was just a cloud, in the half mist, half sky of the fells greater danger can lurk just beyond one’s sight. Foxes take particular delight in preying on the defenseless animals. They skulk into the pasture and nothing but force will prevent them from striking several dozen sheep within moments. What makes Solace burn with anger is that the foxes generally don’t kill for food. No, they kill for the taste of blood on their jowls. Once they have killed, the sheep are left to die alone while the foxes, red tongues lolling, race off into the thicket wild with amusement.

Banishing these thoughts of dark and menacing enemies, Solace knows that, once safely off the mountain, a great homecoming awaits her flock. They will spend the worst of the winter months on lower, greener land. Some shepherds allow their sheep to graze on the scrub of the mountain but these animals never fare well in such harsh conditions. Well-loved and cared for sheep are the pleasure of a good shepherd. Oh, and what joy Solace takes in her sweet, innocent eyed friends! When they return to the small dry rock pastures of farmland, Solace will dote on her sheep. Each one will have the mud and detritus clipped, washed and groomed from their coats. Comfy pens of straw laid thick await the sheep’s bandy legs. Salt cakes, turnip buns, hay smelling of summer sun, and abundant water, crisp and refreshing, will be placed in the barn’s troughs within easy reach of all. Every ewe will have her portion counted out just for her. 

The sheep do not deserve these sweet treats or extra care, but their happiness, their contentedness at having everything laid before them makes her heart smile. Goodness and Mercy, having pursued their charges down the mountain, will lay quietly at the barn’s doors ever observant and faithful to their mistress. Solace too will stay near her flock. The farm house holds her bed, but it rarely contains her. She prefers to bed with her sheep. This closeness affords her to rise with the flock before dawn to ensure they feed on the moist, tender pasture. Despite her early rising, Solace’s shadow will extend long against the barn walls as glowing lanterns enable her to tend the ever present needs of her flock. Neighboring farmers will witness her devotion. Some will shake their heads in misunderstanding, floating rumors that her beloved animals are weak from over indulgence. Other neighbors will come knocking, seeking Solace and eager to understand her ways. Generously she shares her time with those who genuinely desire to know her. For Solace, there are no secrets, no proprietary information. She is a simple shepherdess and hostess to this unlikely party. Yet here, in the presence of her flock, who yearn to show devotion to their good shepherdess, she will dwell.

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