Ever since my Primary teacher gave each of us a picture of the Good Shepherd, I’ve wanted to be a real shepherd with a lamb of my own.
I tacked my picture on the wall by my bed in the loft so that I could look at it by lamplight and think about how it would be and remember to mention it in my prayers.
With leftover chicken wire, I built a sheep pen that I could move from grass spot to grass spot by myself. And I found an old baby bottle that I could use to feed my future lamb until it learned to eat grass. But being all ready to be a shepherd made the waiting to get one that much harder.
The day I sighted the dust drifting across the flat brushland below our farm, I figured that my prayers were going to be answered. I threw a saddle on Old Blue and grabbed the two grain sacks that I’d been saving.
“Mama, Woody is moving his sheep!” I yelled.
Lambing time was over, and Woody Morehouse was moving his sheep herd to the mountains, as he did every spring. He always moved them across the flat and up a nearby canyon to feed during the summer. Sometimes a newborn lamb would be too weak to keep up with the ewes and would be left behind in the brush. Woody usually gave these orphan lambs to the first one there to speak for them. This year I was going to be the first.
Mama came to the door with flour on her hands. But even the thought of warm biscuits couldn’t hold me back any. I slapped the stirrups against Old Blue and leaned over his neck. We went flying through our open gate, with the grain sacks flapping in my face and happiness singing inside me. I hollered at my dog. “Come on, Blackie!”
Blackie could sniff out any lambs left behind. He yipped and barked alongside Old Blue.
Even before I saw Woody, I saw Tim. I felt as if a cow had kicked me in the chest. I just stared at Tim, dumbfounded. Finally I said, “I guess you’ve already spoken for any abandoned lambs.”
He just grinned at me.
Woody rode up, knowing why I had come. “Maybe next year, Amos,” he told me.
Swallowing against the tightness in my throat, I whirled Old Blue toward the farm before I started crying right in front of them. When I heard Tim pounding up behind me on his brown mare, I swiped quickly at my eyes.
“Hey, Amos! Can I use your grain sacks? I didn’t stop to get anything to carry the lambs home in.”
I glared at Tim. “How do you know you’ll find any?” I asked. And I secretly hoped that there wouldn’t be any.
“Oh, I followed Woody’s herd clear from the lambing sheds,” he bragged. “I’ve spotted two.”
I wanted to kick Old Blue and ride away from the sight of Tim’s grinning. But Tim was my friend, and he didn’t know how much I longed for a lamb. I held out my grain sacks.
“Be sure you cut a hole big enough so that their heads can poke out, or else they’ll smother,” I warned. “And tie the two openings together so that a sacked-up lamb can hang down each side of the saddle.”
“I know how to do it,” Tim said. Then he whooped and whirled his horse and galloped back toward the sheep trail.
I could smell the warm biscuits when I rode into our yard, but I hoped Mama hadn’t noticed me ride up. I just wanted to slip up the outside stairs to my loft bedroom.
The picture of the Good Shepherd looked down at me as I lay on my bed. The lamb in the Shepherd’s arms looked soft and woolly and contented. My lamb would have been like that, I thought. And it would have nuzzled my face and followed me, just like Blackie. I turned over and buried my face in the pillow, wondering how Tim could have prayed any harder than I had.
The next morning Woody came down off the mountain and stopped at our farm. The first thing he mentioned was the pen that I had made. Then he said, “Amos, a cougar killed one of my ewes last night. She must have slipped away from the herd yesterday as we hazed the sheep up the canyon. I found her carcass near the trail this morning.”
Before I could open my mouth to say how sorry I was, he went on. “She had a lamb with her.” He paused and looked at me closely. “The cougar may have gotten the lamb too. You may want to hunt around in the bush and rocks along the trail. If it’s still alive, the lamb’s yours.”
My eyes widened, and my heart leaped, and the singing inside me began all over again. “If it’s alive, my dog, Blackie, can find it!” I declared. I was almost to the corral before I remembered to tell Ma.
I had ridden Old Blue halfway up the canyon with Blackie at his heels when I saw the cougar tracks. Right where the trail crisscrossed the little canyon stream, the cougar had left tracks in the wet sand!
Old Blue sensed that a cougar was near. He didn’t much like going up the trail, especially when it narrowed and sheer cliff walls hemmed it in. After Old Blue settled down, I sent Blackie on ahead to sniff out any danger. Blackie found the ewe’s carcass, and when I rode up, I saw that that old cougar had torn off a whole hind quarter and packed it away. Little chills crept along my neck. I had to think about the picture back in my bedroom to keep from hightailing it back down the canyon. I didn’t want to meet up with any old cougar!
“Find the lamb, Blackie,” I said softly. And Blackie set off through the rocks and brush.
I rode Old Blue slowly along behind Blackie. And I prayed. I never wanted anything so much as I wanted that little lamb to still be alive.
Just as the trail left the cliff walls and opened out onto an old rockslide, I heard Blackie bark. I got a glimpse of something woolly and cream-colored breaking out of the brush and running toward the rocks.
I slid out of the saddle, yelling, “Catch it, Blackie!” And I started climbing the rocks and boulders after them. “Don’t hurt it, Blackie. Don’t hurt it!”
I could have hugged that old dog when I saw that he’d driven the lamb into a niche between two big rocks and was just standing there, blocking its escape and wagging his tail. Right then I loved that dog more than I ever had before.
The lamb struggled and began to bleat. Its little sides heaved in and out, and there was wild fear in its eyes. I reached into the niche and pulled it out. It struggled to get out of my arms, and I wondered, What did Jesus do when He found His lost lamb? How did He calm His lost lamb’s pounding heart?
I walked Old Blue to a big rock so that I could hang on to my lamb and still climb into the saddle. Blackie ran ahead on the trail, stopping to sniff at the carcass of the dead ewe. It choked me some when I passed it, thinking about how my lamb had stayed close by, fearing to move yet fearing to stay.
Old Blue seemed anxious to get down out of the canyon, so I let him lope past the sheer cliff walls, past the tracks in the wet sand. And all the time I had my arm tightly about the little woolly body, hoping that it could tell how I meant to care for it. And how I meant to be a real shepherd.