Nickeled & Dimed

“Dime” Photo by Claire, the Shepherd

We ushered in the arrival of Claire’s newborn lambs two weeks ago. They appeared early on a Tuesday morning. Claire stopped me in my backwards tracks, in the driveway, while shuttling the oldest to school. Her eyes big and wide, voice shaky and infused with nerves relaying the news that Penny was pushing.

The first healthy baby girl slithered out at 7:30. A second girl within minutes, a perfect stillborn. Penny’s attention remained glued to the first, her instincts evidenced by clucks and chatters and copious licking. To our great surprise, a third body spilled out – larger than the first, shattering our expectations and experience. Two little girls, alive and well, Nickel and Dime.

Our hearts opened, our stomachs churned, this sudden responsibility of lamb infancy a burden I was not prepared or equipped to carry. We introduced the youngsters to teats, the process more difficult than I assumed. Tiny bodies chilled and shocked by the cruel introduction to winter, with sharp, pungent odors of birth and barn. Dime’s leg was double jointed, her prospects of nursing limited by an inability to stand secure without the leg failing her. The sharp jut of her hipbones offered a solid handle for me to pinch between thumb and forefinger to elevate her rear end, to prevent tipping.

Our brilliant neighbor girl, a precious resource. She offered her expertise for the morning’s duration, providing advice and supplies to counter our novice insecurity. From the cleaning of wooly pelts to the sucking of noses, her partnership and offering, priceless in our overwhelmed state.

Learning curves offer a harsh reality, a revelation of the most intense vulnerability. New jobs, babies, fresh relationships, marriage, goals and dreams, school, new adventures – at the outset, all hold a level of risk that hides from view. The initial stages are filled with wonder and dreams and excitement. The fantasy holds beauty and power, the knowledge that a remarkable story will be told someday. The romance, the giddy excitement of new carries us forward. Yet, as we move along the path, intensive effort and unclear work is required to inch toward the goal. Questions arise, seeds of doubt are planted, yearning for the old and familiar, the presumed safe and easy.

And in the low moments, we forget. We forget the call, the desire that spurred us forward in the first place. The risk and uncertainty, too great a burden to bear. The temptation to return to the known, regardless of the suffering. The story of God’s own people remind us of the power of the familiar. The Israelites after wandering around in the desert desired the familiarity and certainty of their life in Egypt, a life filled with the horrors of slavery and exploitation. At least life was predictable. They knew what to expect. The relief of the promised land, the promised unknown can seem too distant, too impossible.

And here is where the best stories arise – if we hang on, if we surrender in trust, clinging to the smallest tendril of hope, a microscopic seed of faith.

After three touch-and-go days, mom’s milk filled in abundant. Our fear and worry alleviated, a cheer rose in my heart. “Thank you, Lord.” I did not know the angst I was carrying for these lives. The lambs now abound, chasing chickens, enjoying the freedom of the fenced yard expanse. Their bony, saggy bodies an afterthought, daily weight gain measured in pounds. Our grateful hearts full of mirth, a multitude of visitors share in the therapy of a lamb snuggle. The fear of failure a distant memory as we watch their solid little bodies gulp with gusto and greed. Mama’s close eye remains, their plaintive cries echo when they skitter too far from her watchful gaze. Her bleating call piercing the yard, connecting mother with baby.

We can choose vulnerability or we can choose safety, the two cannot coexist. The call to living a wholehearted life is never easy. Guaranteed moments of doubt and failure will plague our efforts, but the reward goes to the person in the arena. In the words of the fabulous Brene Brown, from Daring Greatly:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.