Last Saturday night, after a long day of frustration and worry and work, just before midnight, I posted a status update on Facebook. It was really just a little quip, a squeak into the great late-night void to vent some of my exhaustion: “Home on the 9:25 ferry. Unloaded almost two tons of hay, put up the sheep, fed the dog. Now going to sleep so I can get up at 4:50 to feed sheep and go in to church. Remind me again why I keep sheep?”
Every once and a while, and often inadvertently, I put something on FaceBook that ends up feeding my soul.
That long day had begun with me loading my truck and trailer full of hay and feed down near Cottage Grove, Oregon. Even though my sheep have lived on Whidbey Island for twelve years now, I still get most of my hay from a little feed store in Creswell, Oregon. I got my hay at that store when I lived in Oregon, and I just kept getting it there once I moved up to Clinton. After all, I do go down there often to visit my sister and her family, and there is a lot to be said for any farmer having a good relationship with a good feed store. Plus, the hay is good quality, and costs about 30 percent less than hay on the island. There you go.
Of course, getting my hay from Oregon and driving it up to Washington means that often I am hauling hay in the rain. At the feed store we actually joke about this. “You know how you can tell how much rain we’re going to get?” “By how much hay Catherine is hauling.” I hate hauling hay in the rain.
I have now had more than a decade to work out how to keep it dry, and I have tried a wide variety of methods, but I have not yet perfected my technique. And Saturday was the first time I had hay on the trailer in the rain. Usually I just load all that my truck can hold and call it good. But now that I have a Prius, I prefer to make the 300 mile drive in the car. Much cheaper, much better for the planet. So when I ran low on hay this time I decided to take the truck and trailer down for one last big load of hay to get me through the winter. The story is a long one and includes a break down in Portland and bad bearings and too much effort and expense, but at last I got the truck and trailer loaded, wrapped, and pointed north.
You might remember that last Saturday was quite stormy. All the way from Eugene to Seattle, the rain fell. The wind blew. The hay, in spite of its plastic wrapping, got wet. The hay on the trailer got extra wet. And all the way from Eugene to Seattle, I worried about the rain, and the wet hay, and which ferry I would catch. To save time, I didn’t even stop to eat. I figured I could do that when I got home.
Once I made the ferry and pulled up my driveway, I decided to do my chores before I heated the leftover soup in my refirgerator that would be dinner, so I moved the sheep into the barn and fed the dog. Then I thought I should unload the hay before it got any wetter, so I began that chore too. It took longer than I expected because I had to stack it carefully, putting the wettest hay where I could feed it first. And because half way through my unloading, the power went out, and I had no lights in the barn.
By the time I finished up, it was almost midnight. I had had no dinner. I was wet and tired and cold. The house was dark. I just posted my FB update and went to bed.
The next morning the power was still out. I got up, dressed in the dark, did my chores, and headed for the ferry, passing a power company repair crew working on power lines downed by a large tree that had fallen halfway across the road. “It’s going to be a while,” I thought. Then, on the boat, I checked my FB page to see if anyone had responded to my flippant post.
And there was a note from my colleague Amy, who had also apparently been up at midnight. She sent a picture of Benjamin on the farm when he was much smaller, with the note, “To remind you of better times.” In the picture, the sun is shinning, the grass is green, and Benjamin is clearly enjoying himself. I smiled as I looked at it. It did, indeed, remind me of that wonderful connection between my two flocks.
My sister posted later, saying “To have something to do in your spare time.” Hmmm. Then a friend posted, “They give you lots of stories to tell.” Yes. And not just stories to tell, but ways to stay grounded in all of the sacredness of creation.
Another friend said, “Because you love it.” Thank you. And one long-time friend who knows my history said, “Because you started off with a sheep dog!”
One by one, my friends and family, my congregation and my community were reminding me of what I needed to remember. “Otherwise, what would you do for fun?” said someone I have known since I was in junior high school. And when an old grade-school friend, who herself keeps horses, “liked’ the comment, I knew she understood. One congregant compared my two flocks. “Because they’re easier to deal with than people?” “Lambwatch,” said another friend, reminding me of the absolute joys of new life that comes every spring. I even got a comment from Wales. My friend Jane, whose husband Eifion shears my sheep each spring, posted, “Because you like Welsh sheep shearers?” and then added, “Eifion told me to write that, by the way . . . ”
Perhaps the most moving comments came from folks who took my question much more seriously than I ever did. “It’s your calling,” said one person from my congregation. Another friend posted, “You are a pastoral shepherd, they are pastoral sheep. They go together . . . ”
The whole thing was summed up succinctly and wonderfully by my new friend Brian, who is helping me train my sheepdog Mac. He has not known me long at all. But because he has seen me at my most vulnerable, falling down as sheep run over me and Mac ignores me, I think he knows me pretty well. He is not a part of my congregation. He is a sheep guy, and a sheep dog guy, through and through. And he posted, “Because you are a Shepherd.” He even capitalized the “S.”
Thank you Brian, and everyone, for reminding me not only why I do what I do, but for reminding me who I am. Don’t we all need those moments of remembering, when we are exhausted, or discouraged, or overwhelmed, or even only just a little annoyed at life’s inconveniences?
On Monday I was in Arizona at a pastor’s conference. In the opening worship, after a sermon that brought tears to my eyes, we were all invited to reaffirm our baptism. As a pastor, that is usually something I do for others. But this time, I was the one coming forward. As I got to the front of the line, a colleague and friend put water on my forehead, and said my name. Then she hugged me and added: “Remember who you are: a beloved and precious child of God.”
Every now and then, even shepherds need to be reminded.