“Baa! Baa!” the weak cries of a newborn lamb floated up to our bedroom above the kitchen. It was early morning and our father had returned from his chores with another lamb in need of warmth. Maybe the mother had twins and had neglected one, or maybe this little one was just too small to survive without the help of the shepherd. Whatever the reason, the sound of a lamb in the house always sent us scurrying to see.
Our father had a soft heart for his sheep. It was not unusual to find a lamb placed in a warming box in front of the open oven, its little body shivering with cold, desperately absorbing the needed heat. The cushion of hay in the barn was little insulation against the bitter cold of the lambing season. Upstate New York is an inhospitable place for God’s creatures, great and small, in the month of March.
My sister and I had a deal. The white lambs were hers, the black lambs mine. We loved to feed them with the glass bottles and large black nipples our father purchased at the feed store. We learned the importance of warm milk replacer, mixed carefully and fed at the appropriate times. We delighted in holding the bottle firmly while the little lambs pushed so hard we sometimes thought we would not be able to keep the bottle in our grasp. We snuggled our lambs closely when, after filling their bellies, they were ready to sleep, wrapped in our arms. We were God’s helpers and we couldn’t be happier.
Watching our father care for his sheep taught us many things. He rose early in the morning to feed them and no matter how long the day, they must be fed at night. Soon after birth, rubber bands were placed on their tails to dock them, which helped them to stay cleaner and improved their health. When spring came, the new lambs and the ewes were sent out to pasture, often escaping the fence in ingenious ways. This was an ongoing frustration for my father. We still remember the day he picked up a full grown sheep and put it over his knee for a good spanking! He was a patient shepherd, but even the best of sheep profits from correction.
The cold winters of New York are far away now, replaced by the warmth of the desert. My sister and I live different lives, far from each other, sending pictures or messages to keep in touch. But we will never be far from the blessed memories of newborn lambs lovingly placed in the arms of little girls by a loving shepherd.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11