I had a lamb once when I was a kid. Notice I said once… One year of raising a lamb was enough for my dad, who is an expert at raising show steers not sheep. Sheep? We didn’t know anything about raising sheep. The only reason we bought a lamb for me to show was that I was little, and the show steer my dad had bought me turned out to be wild. I was 9 years old, which is how old you have to be in order to compete at the county fair. Me vs. a 1000 pound animal, my dad decided, was not a great match. So, he suggested showing a pig.
My dad was a high school ag teacher in addition to being a cattle rancher, and his teaching partner was the pig expert. I, being more of an expert in Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, the latest Jordache fashions, and 80’s pop music, turned up my dainty little nose at this suggestion. “You want me to show a pig? Ew! A nasty, stinky hog?” I scoffed. Thus, entered the little lamb.
I named him Hungry Jack. Seem strange? Not if you know two things. I loved Hungry Jack biscuits, and my lamb ate the wooden fence he was corralled in like it was a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats. He ate the fence… He whittled wooden boards down to almost nothing in certain spots. It wasn’t like we weren’t feeding the thing either. He had plenty of food, water, and a nice, big pasture full of luscious green grass, but apparently, the fence was an appetizing treat. Who knew?
I had heard that sheep had a reputation for not being the sharpest tools in the animal shed, and the state of the wooden fence was further evidence that this was the truth.
This lamb was…well…stupid.
Even if you’ve never been to church, you have likely heard the Bible verse Isaiah 53:6 quoted, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned-every one- to his own way.” In the Bible, Jesus is the “good shepherd” tending to his “sheep.” You’re no dummy. You can see exactly where I’m going with this can’t you?
Do you remember the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson? I grew up from the nursery through graduation in a Baptist church, and whenever I cracked open a worn, maroon covered, gold cover scripted Hymnal to that hymn and sang the lines, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love…” I could feel the truth of those words resonate in my spirit.
I so wanted to be good. I longed to be close to God, and I spent a lot of time in church, at church camps, going to Bible studies, serving on ministry teams in college and spending every spring break on mission trips instead of at the beach trying to fix what I thought was broken in me that caused me to be so “prone to wander.” I had daily quiet times, had a stack of devotionals, read my Bible, listened to Christian music, but no matter how hard I tried, I never felt good enough.
I hadn’t learned how to accept myself, and so in my limited understanding in my youth, I concluded that God must not love or accept me either.
What I realize now is that this experience of wandering off is part of being human.
We wander off sometimes. We need someone to lead us in the right direction. Sometimes we need protection from danger. Sometimes that danger is our own ego or pride. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Sometimes we simply do stupid things. Maybe we eat a fence when right in front of us is something way better, like a filet mignon or…bacon… Well, I probably shouldn’t insult you, so I will speak for myself. In the past, I made some really poor choices.
Let me affirm the fact that while I am intelligent and well educated, and while I think of myself as spiritually minded, there have been times when all of that went out of the window. I can just imagine my guardian angels shaking their heads, like, “Do you see her? Where is she going now? Where in the worl- oh now she’s lost. She’s lost. Get back here young lady!”
There have been times I have closed my ears and chanted a spiritual “lalalalalala! I can’t HEAR you” to God. I am thankful that in spite of my stubborn nature and my misguided self-will, God still loves me.
I will say the silver lining of making bad decisions is the acquisition of humility. Humility and mercy. I no longer see myself as better or worse than anyone else. I see myself as a person who tried her very best but on her own fell short of perfection.
The truth is, no one is perfect. We are all flawed and in need of grace, which should only serve to make us try our best to love others instead of judge them. Judging others is simply not our job. My new mantra has become, “Judge none. Love all.” This includes myself because as many mistakes as we may make, not forgiving yourself or someone who has hurt you may be the biggest mistake of all.
When I was young, I believed God could only love me if I was “good,” and now that I’m older, I realize it’s so much simpler. God loves me. Period. When my own children are on my last nerve and I’m shaking my own head like, “What in the worl-” I realize how much I love them simply because I love them. Period.
I used to envision my imagination’s version of God sitting up in the clouds with a ball point pen and a clip board taking notes on how we were doing down here. I don’t think he is looking for evidence of perfection or failure. I think he is looking for a humble heart, a seeking heart, and an honest heart. Perhaps, he is really hoping we’ll have a loving heart because that is by definition who God is. He is love, and while I may never be a model of Christian perfection, I hope I can make Him proud with how well I reflect His love.
I hope God is looking for a teachable heart as well because at this point in my life, I know there is simply so much I don’t know. I think God knows that sometimes, we’re even going to be so ignorant we’ll try to eat the very fences meant to keep us safe, just like old Hungry Jack.
Whatever happened to Hungry Jack? Honestly, I don’t even know. I have a sneaking suspension his final resting place was on a piece of flatware accompanied by two sides. I do know when I stepped into the dusty show ring back in 1984, that lamb stepped on my lavender Keds tennis shoe. I spent the entire time in the ring trying to hold Hungry Jack, lead him around the show ring, and keep my shoe from falling off my foot. Why I made the terrible decision to wear purple tennis shoes instead of my brown Justin boots into the show ring at the Montgomery Country Fair that day, I don’t really remember. I’m guessing it likely had something to do with color coordinating my footwear with my embarrassingly puffy sleeved plaid shirt. Whatever it was, all I remember is that I came in last place, and I never showed another lamb. The Fife family retired from the brief sheep experiment of 1984 and went back to doing what they did best- cattle ranching!
So Hungry Jack , wherever you are, please known that yes, even as stupid as you were, if you had been lost, I would totally have come after you, lavender shoe trailing, to bring you back to your half eaten pen, splintered lamb lips and all.