It was mid-day Tuesday and I was in the middle of a meeting when I got the text from my Whidbey Island neighbor. Although I am still two months from lambs at my place, lambs have begun to be born on farms across the Pacific Northwest. My neighbor down the road is two weeks into it. She wanted to know if I could come help with a problem. I texted back that I was in Seattle, and could be of no use until later that evening. In lambing emergencies “later” is almost always too late.
The emergency this time was that a ewe had given birth to twin lambs, and was rejecting one. It is heartbreaking to watch a little lamb try to nurse while her mother butts her away. Sometimes the solution is simply holding the ewe while the baby nurses. After a few sessions the mom will accept that this little lamb is indeed hers and both will carry on as if the earlier rejection never happened. Other times, though, the ewe stubbornly persists in her rejection and has to be restrained in a more solid way. Thus my neighbor’s ewe needed to be put in a headgate. The strong gate would hold her in place and the lamb could nurse without risk.
Putting a large, stubborn ewe in a headgate is not a one person job. My neighbor needed help and I could not make it. Fortunately, she is a smart shepherd and has a list of helpers for lambing season. When I couldn’t get there, she reached out to another neighbor who could. By the time I checked in again from the evening ferry, all was secure at my neighbor’s farm.
This morning my neighbor called again. The ewe had managed to get her head out of the gate, and was still rejecting the lamb. This time I was able to help. I went over to her farm and waded through the rain and mud to the lambing shed. We wrestled the ewe back into the head gate and resecured her. After she was back where she belonged, the rejected little lamb nursed hungrily.
My neighbor will have a time of it with this ewe and her lambs. The outcome is still a bit uncertain, but that is the nature of lambing season. Those who are in the midst of it do well to have a long list of folks willing to come to their aid.
In the bigger picture arena, this has been a full week. The impeachment trial of Donald Trump has come to an end, and without calling any witnesses, the senate has voted not to remove him from office. Trump’s Tuesday night speech included the honoring of a man who has spent a career inflaming racism, misogyny, and division. On the world stage, the spread of coronavirus has heightened fear and xenophobia around the world. And in the midst of the chaos of all of this, the life-threatening issues of climate change are continuing unaddressed.
These days it can be easy to lose heart.
As I reflect on all that has been a part of my week- the intimate details of the life of one lamb, and the immense global issues we must address- I am reminded of something someone told me just a few days ago about music and community. A group of musicians can play beautifully long and sustained notes by staggering their playing or singing. That is, at different times one of the instruments or voices will drop out briefly to catch a breath or reposition a bow, while others play on. As a whole, they are able to keep going in a way they could not on their own.
The work we have to do as people of faith has always required that kind of community. No one of us can do this alone. It is not only ok, but necessary, to take time to breathe. It is good sometimes to pause in the bigger work so we can be renewed. We can look around and see others in the work. We can call on our list of helpers. Then, after catching our breath, we can rejoin the song.
Lambs are being born. Work is being done. We are in this together, and God is with us. Despite all that would discourage me, I still do believe that together we can sing the beautiful, sustained, and never-ending note of love.