THE CAST SHEEP
Asweet friend and fellow Christian writer recently posed a question about what items bring comfort to you. After a moment of contemplation, I quickly honed in on a small figurine given to me by a friend. While the figurine is small enough to hold in the palm of my hand, the significance of it is as large as Buckingham Palace! The figurine is that of a sheep but not just any sheep – a sheep in a cast position lying on its back with its feet in the air.
When sheep find themselves in a cast position, unusual as it may seem, the sheep cannot right itself. The center of gravity gets off-kilter when its feet are no longer on the ground. How does a sheep become cast? Maybe it is pregnant or its fleece has gotten too full causing it to lose balance. Perhaps it has fallen while climbing on the side of a mountain. At any rate, the cast sheep becomes isolated from the flock and thereby, easy prey. Even though the sheep may hear the voice of the shepherd, it cannot follow him. Frantic flailing and bleating are the sheep’s best hope to get the shepherd’s attention to come and rescue it. Bad things begin to happen if the sheep is not rescued. Gasses begin to build in the stomach causing the blood flow to slow – a pitiful site indeed as the sheep’s abdomen grows bigger and bigger. If the sheep is not set upright within a matter of hours, it will die. Every minute counts. Therefore, the shepherd must always be on alert accounting for the presence of each sheep and that each one is upright. He must also watch for enemies waiting to pounce, look for good pasture, search for still water, and inspect the sheep for testy flies and abrasions. It’s a never-ending and daunting task. Plus the shepherd must be in hearing range to detect cries for help so that he may respond in haste.
Soon after my diagnosis of cancer, I revealed my newly discovered analogy of sheep to my friend Sharon. I told her about how comforting it was to me to be like a sheep and to have my own personal shepherd. (The name of Ewe R Blessed Ministries is based on this analogy.) While shopping one day, Sharon found the sheep figurine mentioned earlier and presented it to me. She confessed there were only a few sheep from which to choose and she was sorry the one she got was lying down and not standing up. Immediately, my eyes filled with tears as I told her what I had learned about cast sheep. How perfect her gift was! The symbolism moved me beyond words. Even the content look on the cast sheep’s face seemed to portray confidence that the shepherd was on its way to rescue it.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I held that sheep in my hands throughout my cancer journey, clutching it in utter despair, crying out for help when my hope was fading. Please come and rescue me. I felt the sheep’s little feet press into my palm reminding me that my Shepherd could hear my cries and see my useless flailing. I wanted desperately to be back into the fold, to not be left behind, or worse, forgotten. Oh God, please come rescue me from my fallen state. Please set me upright again so that I might see things from a different perspective. As any good shepherd would do, my Shepherd did exactly that. He did rescue me; He did set me upright again; He did soothe my cries of anguish. No wonder Jesus is referred to time and time again as a Good Shepherd.
Each of us has available that Good Shepherd to tend to us with compassion, lovingkindness, and an ever-watchful eye. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:1, 4a). At some point in our lives, we need to be rescued from our cast position else we will continue to wallow in our dire state getting worse and worse.
For a few years after my cancer treatment, I placed the sheep figurine in my car cup holder. I wanted it near me as a reminder everywhere I went. Periodically, I would hold it in my hands when I felt the need to be rescued. Now the sheep has found a place beside my prayer chair. When I look at it, I remember how blessed I was to have a Good Shepherd to let me follow and call upon Him through my journey, to rescue me when I needed it, to listen to my cries, to speak in His familiar voice, and to comfort me and protect me whenever I was afraid. “I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b). I still have that Good Shepherd who hears me every time I call.
Funny, that silly little inexpensive sheep figurine will always be one of my most prized possessions.