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

Half Marlboro Man, Half Monk

I am half Marlboro man, half Monk. That may seem like a paradox, a mixture of oil and water. But I’ve come to know both these guys pretty well over the years. Mostly, Marlboro and Monk get along inside me without much scuffle, though sometimes they question each other’s validity. Here’s a story about these two characters.

Marlboro man was shaped in the crucible of the farm/ranch. The tractor and the saddle toughened him. Baling-twine blisters, dirt, sweat, blood and manure are his badges of glory. He sets the plow deep to rip open the soil and violently turns it upside down. He loves the power he harnesses from the tractor and takes pride in accomplishment. He does his best first, then trusts God for what he can’t control.

Monk man smooths the soil and tends to the plants. He loves the feel of dirt and knows there’s life and power in a seed. He trusts God first, then does his best.

Marlboro man fusses and frets over every calving event and uses chains and a jack to assist if necessary. Marlboro man and Monk man team up to rescue a newborn calf struggling for survival after a downhill slide from the birth canal into the creek. They carry the shivering, muddy, slimy calf to a safe straw-strewn shelter and watch in amazement as the mother-cow instincts kick in gear to lick and warm and feed this dependent critter. They’re amazed every time a newborn calf finds his legs and searches for a nozzle. They laugh every time at the hilarity of it, and are astonished because it always seems to work.

Marlboro man sways in the saddle while Monk man sings “I love to tell the story of unseen things above” just like his dad used to. Marlboro man is a loner. Monk man likes solitude. Marlboro man hates rules and needs wide-open spaces with few boundaries. Monk man hates legalism but finds comfort within structure. Marlboro man is a man of the world with his feet on the ground. Monk man feels set apart to something bigger and beyond what he sees today.

On a tractor or in a saddle, there’s plenty of time to pass. Marlboro man is a thinker and a planner. But, Monk man is a dreamer. In fact, he’s been known to look at a cloud from below, and then take a journey to the backside of the cloud to see what it might look like. Once he even traveled to the farthest star he could see just to look up in the sky and see what the rest of the stars looked like from there.

Marlboro man will work for weeks to fill a barn with hay. Then he joins Monk man, both with their chin held in their hands staring in wonder at the newborn batch of kittens taking refuge in the haystack.

Marlboro man wakes up at 1:30 AM to start the morning milking shift. Monk man rouses a few minutes later and joins the sparrows in the parlor singing praises. A pretty decent choir, actually. He comes to understand the meaning of “give us this day our daily bread,” as he sees the sparrows descend from the rafters to feast on spilled barley.

It hasn’t always been easy for Marlboro and Monk to live with each other, but they’ve learned to get along by appreciating each other’s differences and strengths, even covering for each other’s weaknesses.

I read a quote by a Celtic Monk from the 12th century:

I can hear Marlboro man speaking as he says “Get in your boat, cast off and seek Christ.”

Then I hear Monk man chime in, “But don’t expect to find Him if He doesn’t accompany you on the way.”