“Back from the Brink” or “Big Mama meets Marshawn Lynch”

Things got messy.

Big Mama, near death from a condition called milk fever, needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. She’s sprawled out on her side but needs to be on her sternum, no easy feat. Even the pigeon’s, roosting in the barn rafters, silenced their cooing.

I sat in the near-frozen slurry of muck beside her with my back against hers, my feet in a tucked position ready to give a heave to set her upright. Her warmth radiated through my layers of coats and shirts to give a momentary respite to my shivering. Screwing up my courage for the task, I launched backward with every muscle, bone and sinew of my frame against her 1200-pound slumped mass.

My legs churned. Picture a combination of Marshawn Lynch leg-strength and Road Runner leg-speed. In reverse. My raucous grunts and Big Mama’s mournful moans echoed through the cavernous cowshed.

It worked.

Big Mama was now in position for remedy. The pigeon’s resumed their soft cry.

I pulled the remedy, a bottle with calcium and other minerals dissolved in liquid, from the bucket of warm water I’d brought along. It served as an incubator and took the chill off the tonic. Next, I plunged a large IV needle into Big Mama’s jugular vein protruding, like a garden hose, along the furrow running between the muscles in her neck. The solution slowly dripped through rubber tubing to replenish the calcium devoid in her bloodstream and craved by her brain.

Thirty minutes after I removed the IV needle, Big Mama stood!

She cast a glance my way wondering, “Why all the fuss?”

Back from the brink, she spun to get a mouthful of silage hay from the feed bunk, eyed an obstacle, then,

Big Mama kicked the bucket!

She did it with an attitude of, “Where, O death, is your sting!?”

I retrieved the dented pail, felt God’s profound pleasure, and turned my attention to other duties, including a clean pair of Wrangler’s.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. Is the barnyard crammed with heaven? Can I see Christ in this story? Is there a gospel parallel hidden in the events of my ordinary life?

Ponder with me:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4, NIV)

Prayer: Glorious Heavenly Father, I am but dust and will return to dust. But, that’s not the end of the story. Just as You raised Your son Jesus from the dead, You deliver me from the brink of eternal death. You raise me, too, from death to a new and glorious eternal life with You. Thank you for revealing this glimpse of Your glory as I participate in caring for Your creation. It comforts me as I tread this broken world waiting for the return of my King. Amen.

Photo: Ron Silflow, Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, MT

Big Mama Asks, “Who’ll Get in the Muck with Me?”

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

Location? Muck.

Even at the Barnyard of Heaven, life’s messy. Big Mama collapsed from milk fever, slid a few yards in the muck, and bloodied herself in a futile effort to regain footing. Her bloodstream, her brain, devoid of calcium needed for nerve and muscle function, left her helpless, half dead.

I pictured the man Jesus described in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) attacked by robbers, stripped naked, beaten and left half dead. Big Mama needed a neighbor.

You know the story, but indulge me with the liberty to modernize it. I imagined a priest passing by on his way to Jericho to teach a leadership seminar. “Sorry about the muck you’re in, good sir, but I’m running late and can’t afford to soil my suit. Looks like you could benefit from the principles I’m teaching. Stop by if you can, I’m in town all week.”

Next came a Levite noting the man’s struggle to breathe. “Looks like it’s time to give up those cigarettes, my friend. Stop by and see me for a helpful 5-step program I’m presenting at the synagogue. I’m in town all week.”

Finally, a Samaritan saw the urgency of the stranger’s situation, had pity on him, and got down in the muck with him.

I’m a cowherd. I tag along behind cows I don’t own. I take care of their needs. I know Big Mama needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. But, she’s sprawled out on her side. I first need to reposition her on her sternum, no easy feat. So, I got down in the muck beside her.

Why? Because numerous times, I’ve been the half-dead man in the muck. I’ve had friends, family, pastoral caregivers, even strangers have mercy on me, get down in the muck with me. They prop me up, attend to my thirst, bandage me up and care for me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. I hope you’ve experienced this neighborly care, too. I hope you’ve gotten down in the muck with the broken ones in your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, lover of my soul. Thank you for having mercy on me, for pitying my broken, wretched condition, and for joining me in the muck to quench my soul thirst. I gaze on your thorn-crowned head, your body pierced with nails and spear, beaten, abandoned to die. You died for me. And I live. Amen.

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, Daniel Borup, Sculptor

Big Mama Staggers, Collapses

I could see it in her eyes. No glint. Her ears drooped. No perk.

Big Mama staggered a few steps, muscles twitching, brain reeling, struggling to make sense of it and then, stumbling forward, collapsed. “What’s happening!?” Yesterday’s furious dash through cattle loafing-shed alleyways pursuing me and her newborn calf Blossom, dissolved into a life-threatening tragedy. The fight to regain control, to stand and defend her young, to simply be a fruitful milk cow now seemed futile.

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

We’ve all had tragedy strike abruptly. Acute pain. Debilitating emotional, physical or relational pain. Perhaps even worse, chronic pain.

You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ (Jeremiah 45:3, NIV)

Our questions, our accusations, roll out from deep places in our soul, like those expressed by our spiritual forefathers:

“What’s wrong with me, God?”

“What’s wrong with you, God?

“What’s wrong with your people, God?”

 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
(Psalms 88:3-5, NIV)

Then comes that sacred moment, that Deep Breath of Remember. Smack in the middle of our asking, “Why won’t you fix me, God?” comes that reply, “I have suffered for you, died for you, your sins are forgiven.”

“What!?” In that instant, we recognize that beneath the severity of our pain or unbearable circumstances lies a worse condition. Our sin. Our daily sin.

Our eyes lift to Jesus. We make the great exchange. We join Him in a daily rhythm of repentance. We roll our sins onto our only remedy, pierced with nails. We listen to His promise of forgiveness. We hear Him call our name, Beloved. We discover it’s our suffering and our sin that brings us back to Him, reminds us of our constant need for Him, the One who suffers with us. 

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (KJV)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6 (NIV)

Prayer: Jesus my savior, I lovingly gaze on You. O suffering servant, look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Amen.

Photo Credit: http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/163/19.cover-expansion

Asaph and Miriam Got Rhythm

Sparrows look alike. I can distinguish male from female due to distinctive markings, but not individuals amongst dozens lining the rafters of a milking parlor.

There are two exceptions. Sparrows are creatures of habit. In this case, the habit is the location where they roost inside the parlor structure. Stretching across the milking parlor pit, about six inches below the ceiling, is a small cable along which slides a tarp used to keep warmth from escaping between twice-daily milking shifts. Slide the tarp open. Wait patiently with occasional glances over the next 20 minutes. There he is. Asaph.

I don’t know where he’s been, but he always shows up, day or night.

If there’s milking going on, Asaph shows. Doesn’t matter who’s milking that shift, he shows. Asaph’s got rhythm.

I call him Asaph because, during a six-hour milking shift, he chirps out birdsong praise that pierces heaven. Yes, I know. Sparrows are worthless (except in the eyes of God). But to me, sparrows are sacred precisely because, to most, they go unnoticed. Yet they splendidly declare the glory of God as individual’s part of something grander like a choir or a symphony. I could think of no one besides David, a name too common for this occasion, more skilled in uttering praise than David’s co-psalter, Asaph.

I started my own little rhythm, a little liturgy. I catch a shadowy movement out of the corner of my eye. Asaph silently glides past to ascend to his roosting/praising perch. I grab the tattered, iodine-stained church bulletin from Sunday’s service out of my back pocket, greet Asaph a good and fine morning, and ask him to join me in reading the Psalm printed in the God Calls Us section. Asaph always nods approvingly, rearranges a few feathers on the black napkin which garbs his upper chest, and interprets my English phrases into bird-praise.

I mentioned there were two exceptions to my sparrow ID limits. After a month of noticing Asaph’s methodical visits to the cable perch, I spotted a female companion joining him. Sparks sizzled between them. I feared this new acquaintance might whisk Asaph away to her perch in another part of the barn, but Asaph remained resolute. His little rhythm of “showing up” was undeterred.

Joining him, with grace and devotion, was this new little tweeter I call Miriam.

Moses’s sister Miriam, you recall, led the women in song and praise with tambourines as the sea closed over Pharaoh’s chariots. Now Miriam, arrayed in a traditional feathered gown, sings forth praises in the same tradition.

Beneath the cable perch is a silver-dollar-sized hole in a rusted tin structure enclosing pipes near the ceiling. Voilà, the perfect entrance for a nest. For over 2 years, during “special sparrow seasons” in both Spring and Fall, I’ve watched Miriam and Asaph’s relationship blossom. Asaph and Miriam got rhythm.

Their procreation instincts make this cowboy blush.

Next, their duel-effort nest construction begins. They masterfully weave wheat straw, abundant in a barn, tiny twigs, and curiously, shreds of royal blue baling-twine strands into a shell. Finally comes the lining of soft, fluffy down plucked from deep places hidden beneath shielding feathers.

Miriam disappears for 12 days to incubate the 4 eggs stashed in the hidden refuge. Sometimes, I see her quickly pop out of the nesting hole and wing-bump Asaph, her tag-team partner. Asaph wriggles his way into the hole to warm the eggs while Miriam quenches her thirst. Once the small, dull-white and brown, mottled eggs hatch, the two of them begin a steady convoy of worm delivery to the triangular beaks eagerly protruding from the hole in the tin.

Let the flourishing begin!

Take a Deep Breath of Remember: We need a rhythm inventory. What rhythms, what habits of remembering can we weave into our schedule to enable us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Our rhythms reveal our loves. They shape us. Sometimes unknowingly. Are there rival habits or rhythms competing for our supreme love?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I feel the strong pull toward loves that promise fulfillment but leave me empty. Forgive my wayward heart. Turn me toward You, my supreme love. By your grace, become so beautiful to me that my highest desires burn for You. Amen.

 

 

Blossom Gets Colostrum

2:30 A.M. Calving Stall. Nonchalantly I squat beside Big Mama, push my forehead into her warm flank to offer reassurance, dodge a few tail swats, and fend off a hind-leg kick, then squeeze a two-liter bottleful of colostrum from a tight udder.

Blossom needs her first critical nourishment present in that first-milk from a freshened cow. Amazing design comes in play during her first 48 hours. During that period the cells of a calf’s gut, typically held together in tight junctions, are loose enough to allow large proteins to squeeze between them and enter the bloodstream.  Colostrum is loaded with just such large protein molecules – antibodies – crafted to protect Blossom from microbes she will encounter until she can produce her own. Germs that can put a quick end to any hope for her flourishing. Blossom’s gut is vulnerable. Colostrum-antibodies are like military Special Forces stealthily patrolling her bloodstream for invaders. They also act as gatekeepers, little TSA agents that coat the cells of her gut to arrest bad-guy’s germs bearing guns, knives and bombs.

I cap the bottle with a big red nursing nipple. Awestruck, I watch Blossom orchestrate her tongue and jaw perfectly to draw in the rich liquid nutrients.

Let the flourishing begin.

I’m lost in wonder. But the wonder stirs up a longing. I wish I had someone that would patrol my deep places and rescue me. Save me. Keep on saving me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember:

(Hebrew 7:25, KJV) Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

 There He is. My advocate. My resurrected, ascended-to-heaven Jesus pleading for my salvation, having begun, to keep working in me through eternity.

Prayer: Jesus, lover of our souls, fill our veins with Your ever-saving presence. Amen.

Author’s aside:

Some of you are asking yourself if I used the KJV to preserve the word “uttermost” because it sounds like udder-most. Why yes, of course.

Also, I hadn’t traveled by air for 10+ years until two weeks ago. Had to de-board the plane for a second TSA screening before leaving Bozeman airport when a man remembered his loaded gun in his wheelchair. But, hey, I live in Montana.

A Picture of “To Cling” Or “Watch Out For That Creek!”

Let me share a word picture illustrating the act of clinging.  Clinging like there’s no tomorrow.  Clinging to something bigger than yourself.

In my early twenties I was insecure and shy.  I had few female relationships and I blame it on the “party-line” phone system ensuring any attempt of asking a girl on a date would be heard (and repeated) by at least 3 housewives and by my Uncle Harold, guaranteed.   To overcome this intimidation I did the manly thing.  I waited for a girl to ask me out.  Any girl.

But this time, it was not just any girl.

I’d made it to the early phase of a dating relationship with a blonde beauty who’d recently whooped me in a game of tether-ball.  Ever encounter a professional tether-ball player?  Turns out, in her youth, she’d work her way to the pole during middle-school recesses and never relinquish the victor’s position until the bell rang.  I hit the ball once.  Kinda gentle like, as if you were playing against a girl.  When it reached her side of the pole, she interlocked her fingers making a two-fisted sort of club and launched the ball into orbit above my head.  I just watched the ball twirl into tight loops at the top of the pole.  No use even jumping.

I picked my cowboy hat out of the dust and asked her to join me in the Fall cattle roundup.  She joined me and my family as we sought to fetch the cattle from dry pastures and haul them back home for winter care.  We warmed ourselves on the cold day around the campfire, watching our breath mingle with the steam from cowboy coffee my dad perked over the coals, and listened to tall tales told by Uncle Harold.  He was a great story-teller.  Some parts were true.  At least as true as truth can be stretched.  Some parts may have been gleaned from overheard party-line conversations.

We mounted our horses, gave out the traditional cattle call, “Come Bos!” and discovered there was little work to do but open the corral gate and watch eager cattle stream in.

It was over too quick.  So, the pony-tailed gorgeous blonde and I went for a leisurely ride to absorb the scenery of the North Idaho mountains and meadows.  Here I was, in my cowboy shyness, swapping stories with not just any girl while we meandered on gentle horses back towards the corrals.  I’m thinking, “Gosh, if she enjoys this, perhaps I’ll step up into cowboy confidence and ask her out again someday.  Don’t blow this one, buddy.”

“Hey, wanna gallop these ol’ cayuses?”  I asked, glancing at the corrals down over a few hillsides about a mile away.

She said, “Sure.”  It may have been the last word she ever uttered if she’d been just any girl.

I’d expected the horses to hit a gentle loping stride as we nudged them with our heels.  Instead, the horse interpretation for seeing corrals in the distance equates to, “Whaaa Hoooo!  Let’s fly!  Last one to the corral’s an ol’nag!”

In a flash, our horses were tearing down a steep hillside like an avalanche.  Blondie’s ponytail bobbed and fluttered, marking each hurtling stride.  From a few paces behind her, too far behind to rescue her, I shuddered as the sudden startle caused her feet to come out of the stirrups.  Worse, she dropped the reins.

My memory now shifts into slow motion.  The next moments unfold frame by frame as if dreamed.  It wasn’t a dream.  With panic in my voice I screamed, “Watch out for that Creek!”  The Creek was about 6 feet across by 3 feet deep.  It held no water this time of year, but any horseman knows the paralyzing dilemma it presented.  The mad dashing steeds allowed themselves two options.  Maintain full blinding speed and leap to clear the obstacle.  Or, apply horse brakes, sliding to the edge of the Creek in rapid deceleration effectively launching any saddle occupant without their feet in the stirrups like a catapult.

Meanwhile, facing the inevitable onrushing catastrophe, I thought, “Either way the horse chooses, Blondie’s dead.”  “I killed her and she wasn’t just any girl.”  I imagined sitting in the dirt holding her head on my lap, stroking her hair to comfort her toward her last breath.

But Blondie assessed her predicament and noticed the saddle horn.  Two tether-ball-honed hands interlocked their fingers around that stout piece of leather-covered metal, and clung.  Clung for dear life.  That’s the picture I want you to put in your mind.  What brash option did the horse choose?  The “lickity-split-and leap” option.  Up. Up as if it were a cow jumping over the moon.  The horse descended toward earth.

I could see the sunset twixt the saddle and Blondie’s jeans.

But oh she did cling.  The landing was rough, but she stayed in the saddle.  She clung. There will be a tomorrow.

In a most welcome moment of relief, I absorbed the glorious outcome and made note of a deep inner voice whispering, “She stayed in the saddle.  I’ve got to marry that girl.”  She gave me a picture of clinging that’s lasted nearly 37 years.  She also gave me a ring that’s now the same age.

I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalms 63:8, NIV)

Pursued

During the traverse between the snowdrift she was born in and the calving stall she should have been born in, Blossom and I weren’t alone.  Twelve hundred pounds of Holstein protective fury pursued us. Big Mama!

I felt her hot breath come in snorts. She wanted to climb into my back pocket. My anxiety about whether she aimed to trample me sprang from times when it had happened. Didn’t matter whether I wanted to stop and catch my breath, or get a tighter grip on Blossom, Big Mama’s pursuit compelled me forward.

Big Mama blurted out a series of intimidating guttural bellows. Blossom chimed in with her own high-pitched distress bawl. Adrenaline surged through our veins. Big Mama was up for a fight. I favored flight.

I survived the stumbling scamper to the calving stall. Blossom lies safe in pile of fresh straw. Big Mama diverts her attention from kill-the-cowherd mode to that of an EMT first-responder and begins to energetically lick and nudge her shivering, steaming calf to rev up her circulation.

This maternity drama resolved positively. Not all do. A deep sense of satisfaction percolated through me. I participated in a ritual as the rescuer, reminded of my perpetual need to be rescued.

I envied Blossom. Big Mama passionately pursued her. Something in me longed to feel valuable, longed to be pursued.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: Do you long to catch a glimpse of a loving Father eagerly pursuing you, zealous to bend your heart toward Him? Or, do you ever come stumbling toward home tarnished from the pigsty , staring at the dust rising from your bare plodding feet, rehearsing your excuses? Your best hope is to be counted among the hired hands. Then you glance up and see him. Without need for dignity, he comes running toward you, both hands clutching his robe, hiking it up so he can sprint. It’s your Father. He’s been waiting for you. He throws his arms around you and lifts you off your feet. He kisses you and orders his best robe to cover you. Cover you from your nakedness, poverty and rags. He means to do you good. (Adapted from the parable of the prodigal, Luke 5:11-32)

Prayer: Father, we are valuable because we are yours. Thank you for pursuing us through your son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Let your goodness and mercy pursue us today.