We the Sheep

It is no small thing to be touched by the love of Jesus.

There are always things in our past (or present), big uglies, that we somehow feel can never be forgiven us.

It is, however, miraculous to see the seed of of earnest prayer finally fruit as we began to see ourselves or our loved ones as sheep of the Good Shepherd.

Wholly, recklessly, perfectly loved.

Washed clean.

New men.

Free.

As His sheep, we are buoyed by this promise:

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice  (John 10: 2-4).

They know His voice.

I had the opportunity the other day to visit some friends who had just bought a farm.

Corralled in a back pasture were 80 or so sheep, lazing under the shade of some distant trees. My farmer-friend, wanting to both check on their welfare and show us the animals up close, knew the way into the pen was by stepping over the electric fence, and this is what he did.

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Curious, the sheep turned their soft eyes toward him.

Kindly, he called to them, “Hey sheep,” and, one by wooly one, they stood up and began to munch their way over to him.

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They came to him with such trust and unworried-hurried expectation it broke my heart.

They knew his voice.

I want to be like that.

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As we watched, my farmer-friend petted and fussed over each one, calling them by name and telling us of all their needs.

Little lambs that needed to be weaned, to have their childish ways put behind them.

Exhausted ewes that needed rest and nourishment.

Bossy rams that needed to learn some manners.

The sheep trust my friend with a relaxing ease. He, in turn, is forever vigilant, scanning their pasture for nettles, filling their water trough, trimming their coats, checking for parasites, chasing the coyotes away.

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They delight in him, as he delights in them. They can rest in his presence, because he is trust-worthy.

Trust rests .

Sadly, there is a villain to every story, and the one in this tale is called the enemy of our souls. Jesus calls him a thief.

Once Jesus was teaching, and he told the Pharisees, “Very truly I say to you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;  [but] I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:1,10).

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So often, we allow the thief to rob us of all that the Shepherd came to protect us from. We take our eyes off of Him and think somehow that the grass over there is somehow better – tastier, sweeter, richer than the grass we have been given. We even think that the Shepherd Himself is responsible for withholding that good good grass from us.

But that currented fence in between is not so much a barrier to keep us in, but a fortified wall to keep the evil out.

How many times do we open the gate ourselves, invite the destroyer in, through our own stubbornness, pride, or dissatisfaction? Too late, we discover that the enemy is not our friend at all, but a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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Sometimes, we are unrecognizable as the sheep we are. I am saddened by this, but forever hopeful, as well.

Watching the farmer interact with his sheep, I was encouraged by Jesus’s promise to lay down His life for the sheep (v.15). 

We should not worry, because He declares that His sheep will follow Him, that He gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of His hand (v. 28). 

He is the Shepherd who will leave the 99 to go after the one. Matthew 18

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I want to delight, to be a good sheep, to think contented fuzzy-sheep thoughts, graze good grass, and follow the Shepherd wherever He leads. To restfully trust and trustfully rest. To have life to the full. 

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I confess that this is a daily fail.

There are many wolves out there.

Our side of the fence is sometimes desperately hard, but it’s a pasture safe.

We are only truly free if we remain inside.

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On the Legal Limit

A sheriff came to my door the other day.

I watched, dust cloth in hand, as he casually pulled down the narrow street, slowed, and maneuvered his vehicle into my crowded driveway.

In those halting moments I watched, incredulous, while my heart took inventory of where my children were.

One, on the train to a Red Sox game.

The second, visiting relatives in another state.

The third, getting hours for drivers ed.

 

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Safe? 

I watched, frozen, as he got out of the cruiser and adjusted his sunglasses, prayingprayingpraying Jesus let them be okay, let them be okay, let them be okay.

By the time I forced my feet to the front door, my eyes had filled and I stood trembling, waiting to hear if (again) the future I thought I knew would be exchanged for one that I had never asked for, never expected, never wanted.

The trooper’s puzzled expression softened as I blurted out the explanation, that last time, a year and an eternity ago, when police showed up at my door.

What is the legal limit on grief?

How much is too much, how long too long, how deep too deep?

Because the thing about grief is you never know what might trigger. When opening the wrong drawer can cause collapse or a credit card offer addressed to your lost boy, despair.

How do you not frighten the youngest when he finally arrives home, whole, and you rush to embrace him, sobbing?

I was just driving, Mom, forthelove.

No. Such. Thing.

Because he was there, that other day, mowing the lawn when the police came and everything changed forever.

He knows.

Sometimes – most of the time – always – all you can do is grab hold of the hem of Jesus’s robe and whisper truth over yourself.

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He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 

Be strong and very courageous for I am with you.

Be still and know that I am God.

Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Grace.

These promises fortify when our collective hearts hurt and give us strength for the moments that catch us off guard.

Because the thing is – and here is something I can barely admit – it could have been – the accident – it could have been so much worse.

You see, when my son crashed his car into a tree, he was beyond the legal limit.

There is nothing I can say that will change this sad truth, but not saying it when maybe, just maybe, it might keep you or your son or your friend or your brother from similar tragedy seems the height of irresponsibility.

How I wish I could go back to that day and remind him of all the times I told him Iwillcomegetyounoquestionsasked just pleasepleasepleaseplease don’t get behind the wheel when you’ve had too much to drink.

When the police came to the house to tell me there had been an accident, they weren’t sure at first who the driver was, and for a fleeting moment I thought, perhaps, it wasn’t him.

Imagine, though (speaking of wishes) wanting the dead driver to be somebody else’s son.

How could I – ?

I could not. I can not.

Instead, the one miraculous thing about that day is that even when it turns out he had driven close to 40 miles at speeds too terrible to contemplate, not one other person was harmed. He had been alone in his folly, and God protected the other motorists from his reckless choice.

I am thankful for that.

What my son did is irrevocable. I cannot change it, though it forever changed me.

We cannot control how other people hurt themselves, or us, or those that we love.

As I struggle to find the grace to live within these new boundaries that God has placed around me, I wonder how many people I have hurt with my own carelessness or intent.

All I can do, all any of us can do, is approach His throne, sometimes running, sometimes just barely crawling, confident that there is mercy and grace there for all of this messy broken, these jagged edges.

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My son did not wake up that fateful day and think today I am going to die. 

But because he knew Jesus, because, from a young age, he had grabbed hold of that merciful hem, those of us left behind can be free from the kind of crushing grief that is, in itself, a kind of living death.

It’s the kind of freedom that covers and enables and empowers us – to forgive and ask for forgiveness, to live focused on the next world while still having stumbly feet in this one, to have the kind of longsuffering love that is forgetful and patient and kind.

To caution others, for the time is always shorter than we think, but it’s never too late to celebrate your independence day.

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Luckily, the sheriff that came to my door this past week was simply looking for the previous owner, some other legal matter.

There is the robe. 

Hang on.

Grace.