My friend John is a gentle human.
Beneath his calm serenity, however, lies a fierce protector of the land and its creatures. He’s a shepherd, literally, of a flock of well-tended sheep, four donkeys, one Alpaca, two peacocks, guinea fowl, exceptionally well-trained border collies, and a host of other creatures.
If that weren’t enough, he’s also a shepherd of the earth, his farm a beacon of interdependence and harmony. John simply lives as we surely were meant to live. He, his animals, and the land coexist and sustain one another in such a natural, balanced way. He – and they – are simply “enough.”
I met him probably 20 years ago when I worked for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. His approach to farming back then was as sustainable as it is today. He had returned a heavily over-grazed and poorly maintained farm to amazing health through his fervor for farming in harmony with the land and those who coexisted with it. I was impressed back then. I am truly awed and humbled today.
I had the privilege this past spring of visiting his farm and meeting an orphan lamb he was bottle feeding. Oh, she may have had no mother, but she definitely had a shepherd, and that she knew him was abundantly clear.
While the ewes and lambs scattered at his approach, John peered intently into the flock in search of her. And when she finally raised her head from the grass and from behind her own kind – none of whom had been willing to adopt her as their own, to protect and watch over her — she didn’t scatter with them. Instead, she bleated with excitement and ran, gangly legs beating as direct a path as possible toward him. He was hers, and she knew him well. Once fed (yes, my sister and I got to hold the bottle as she nursed hungrily from it), she contentedly gamboled about, happily leaving her own kind to flock to him. She wove in and out between his legs, wandering up to her two canine protectors who remained so very puzzled at her non-sheep-like behavior.
That day I saw John smile and ruffle his hand through her woolly coat as he scooped her up into his arms. As we headed back toward the house and barn she stuck right with us, her own kind forgotten. She WAS where she wanted to be. She was home. She was safe. She was with her shepherd.
That day I saw a living reminder of the promise of Advent, and for that I am grateful.