“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 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

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.

Gaspeth

Psalm 143:6   I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul gaspeth unto thee as a thirsty land.

(From the Translation of the great English Bible, set forth and used in the time of King Henry the Eighth, and Edward the Sixth, in The Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

Gaspeth!  There it is! There’s the word I’ve been looking for.  In a snapshot, a word picture of what my relationship with God often looks and feels like.  It’s like a Deep Breath of Remember, only quicker.  More paralyzing.  Desperate.  Maybe without exhale.  What any good trusting relationship with God should look like.

We all have dreams about our good life.  Hopefully we get glimpses of the good life smack in the middle of hardship and suffering.  Paul did:

2 Corinthians 4:8-11  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

Here’s part of a story, still unfolding, to illustrate my new found appreciation for an obscure word that gives voice to my soul.

My soul gaspeth

It’s what I do when the criminal investigators invite my son to join them in their unmarked police car for a ride to the station.  They have a few questions.  It’s what I do when, out of curiosity, I pull up the online local newspaper and see a posting, “Police ask for help identifying suspected arson,” accompanied by a surveillance video.  I click >.  And there he is.  My beloved youngest son carrying a gas can down the hallway of the Christian School he’d attended.  The school my wife worked at for nine years as secretary.

It’s what I do when my pastor sits in my living room with a shocked mom and dad, listening to us groan.  Listening to our deep ache gushing forth in tears, questions, fears.  Stunned at our crumbling world.  He prays for us.  Prays for our son.  Reminds us of something I hadn’t thought about much.  Our core identity.  In God.  Beloved son – beloved daughter of God.

It’s what I do when the officers return and my son struggles out of the backseat in leg shackles.  A thick leather belt around his waist with one-foot long chains connected to his handcuffs.  He stands, quivering, trying to find a way to make it all go away with his final drags on his final cigarette that, because of the chains, he has to stoop forward in order to reach to his lips.  He had the guts to confess to the early morning crime.  And for good measure, also confessed to setting the same school gym on fire two years previous.  Now, no longer an unsolved mystery.

It’s what I do.  It’s what my son does when I speak redemptive words gracefully prompted by my pastor.  “My son, there’s nothing you can do to diminish the love God has for you.  There’s nothing you can do to diminish your mom’s and my love for you.”  I call these redemptive words because they bought us, delivered us, out of the grip of despair, hopelessness, shame.

My wife and I hug him.  Hug him hard because it feels like it might be the last time.  There’s a price to be paid, you know.  Hearings.  Pleas.  The slammer.

It’s what I do when, having bled a father’s grief watching television news flashes and front-page headlines, I sit staring in numbness out the window.  I witness the strangeness of black storm clouds roiling in the eastern sky suddenly burst into a blood redness as the sun sets.  Not red on black, or black on red.  But, red in black.  Like liquids mixing.  Suddenly redemption bursts into the story.  Blood redemption weaved into the same tapestry as life’s darkness.  Redemption’s bloody.  There was a price to pay, you know.  Hearings, beatings, nails, thorny crown, curse, death.

That very blood redemption story was carried by ministers of the gospel into the heart of the prison.  Straight into the heart of my son.  Along with a message from an entire Christian School, students, teachers, faculty, “We forgive you!”  More redemptive words.

Especially during times locked alone in his cell, throughout his years of incarceration, my son learned to hear and rely on that Redeemer’s voice that speaks, “My beloved son.”  His soul learned to gaspeth.

It’s what we do, years later now.  Time served.  Prison navigated, survived.  Mom, dad, son after a church service.  Gospel preached.  Redeemer worshipped.  My son turns toward us and says, “I need a hug.”  We hug hard.