I live and work on a Dairy farm in Montana. Consequently, I am surrounded and immersed in images and experiences that are raw, thrilling, mundane, gut-wrenching, simple, exhilarating, glorious, tragic, life and death stuff. And, if I remember to notice, transforming.
So, here’s a story:
While feeding yearling Holstein heifers on a windy Sunday morning complete with rain, snow and biting cold, I discovered an unrecognizable lump barely worth a second glance. I did glance, and discovered a 350 lb heifer laying on her right side submerged in manure liquefied by the stormy water runoff. All that was visible was half her head and one front leg that pawed pathetically to prevent drowning. I lifted her head and saw an unsettling white cloudiness in her once submerged eye. Her pathetic groans were barely audible.
Cut to Psalm 69 (1-3):
Save me, O God, for the waters are come into my soul.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing. I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried, mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.
I needed equipment to drag her from her soon to be grave. To be honest, I have worked with livestock much of my life because I love to, but this sight and this task was appalling. I wished I hadn’t made that second glance and nature would have taken its course with me intact, not torn up inside. With help from Shelly, my co-worker and bosses daughter, we placed the calf in a hay sled and moved her into the barn. Shelly took over and expertly submerged the calf in very warm water to clean yet mostly to reverse the serious hypothermia. She also drenched her with electrolytes to aid in chemical imbalance and to relieve thirst. I had been up since 2 AM, so I caught a short nap while Shelly milked cows and kept the water temperature constant. This calf was a good candidate for a sure, eventual death.
When I awoke from my nap, the sudden shocking realization of my own state passed through me like a startle:
Desperate for salvation
Unworthy of redemption
Fit for death
The Psalm shifts prophetically to Another suffering servant. Or, as C.H. Spurgeon describes: To the “lily of the valley” or “lily among thorns.”
Listen to Psalm 69 (19-21)
Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor: mine adversaries are all before thee.
Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Who is this man-god using this same language? Taking my place in the mire? Gall and vinegar are not exactly electrolytes.
Why does he allow the floods to overwhelm him – this same One who could calm a raging wind-whipped stormy sea?
Is this what redemption looks like? To accept the violence of being hammered to a tree – fit for death – for me?
Then comes another shift in the Psalm; Words that I can make my own because a Redeemer appeared on the scene of my tragedy.
Psalm 69 (29-34):
But I am poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high.
I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
The humble shall see this and be glad; and your heart shall live that seek God.
Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas and every thing that moveth therein.
Two days have passed for the poor calf who lives on – still with serious deficits, great challenges, faltering, yet progressing under care.
Today is warmed by sunshine as the calf lays on an island of green grass beneath a pine tree for shade, propped up with a straw bale and periodically hoisted to allow blood to flow to her limbs. She now eats and drinks, but is completely dependent upon those who can exercise shepherd-like care.
As for me, one considered by my Redeemer to be better than an ox, I now can have my thirst quenched and taste the sweetness of such words as:
Join me along with the heaven, the earth, the seas and everything that moves therein with praise for Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer!