Carrie’s older brother tugged one of her thick blond braids. “Hey, Freckles, you ought to have the sheepshearers cut your hair, too.”
“Yeah,” chimed in her twin brother, “you have more wool than old Tim Buck.”
Nine-year-old Carrie made a face at her brothers. All three children were sitting on top of the strawstack at the far end of the sheep shed. Sheep, waiting to be sheared, moved about below them, bleating nervously. The shearing clippers buzzed, and men shouted orders as they threw the fleeces up into the wool bag.
Tim Buck, the huge lead ram, seemed to be the only calm one amid the confusion. He was penned apart and was munching on hay. Whenever he shook off flies, the large bell around his neck jingled.
“Carrie Helen!” shouted her dad. “Carrie Helen Shultz, please come here.”
Always anxious to please her father, she called back, “Coming!” Scooting off the strawstack, she ran to meet her dad.
“Carrie, I need you to go with Tim Buck to lead the sheep we’ve already sheared over to the south pasture. There are about a hundred ewes or so, plus the lambs. We have to make room for the next ones.”
“Yes, sir,” she answered, grinning up at her brothers and throwing her shoulders back proudly.
Dad fastened one end of a stout rope to the lead sheep’s collar and handed the other end to Carrie. “OK, Carrie, Tim Buck’s ready. Remember what his job is.”
Without hesitating, Tim Buck started out of the holding pen. He showed no fear of Carrie and looked up at her with soft brown eyes, eyes filled with warmth and wisdom.
Confident of her own importance and of Tim Buck’s love, Carrie stepped out in front of the old sheep. She walked through the noisy ewes, who responded immediately to the sound of the lead sheep’s bell. As they followed Carrie and Tim Buck out of the corral gate, she felt their excitement as they rushed forward. They seemed to know that they were free now to go to the south pasture. Sensing their anticipation, and sure of her responsibility, Carrie tugged at the rope fastened to the sheep’s collar, pulling him toward the narrow bridge and her favorite shortcut to the south pasture.
But Tim Buck resisted Carrie’s tugging and headed toward the hill and the longer, usual route. Again Carrie pulled at the rope, trying to head the old sheep toward the bridge. Again Tim Buck resisted.
“Oh, why can’t you do it my way!” Carrie stamped her foot impatiently as Tim Buck stopped and refused to move. Though she pulled hard, her twenty-seven kilograms were no match against the weight of the huge sheep. When her arms began to tire, Carrie glared at Timi Buck and grumbled, “All right! I’ll do it your way this time. Come on. Let’s go up that long hill. At least we can cut across the hayfield and not have to take the long road around it.”
The ewes, confused at the delay, had begun to push forward, bleating worriedly. As Tim Buck moved forward, his bell started jingling, and the sheep quieted. When Carrie, walking a couple feet in front, quickened her step, Tim Buck quickened his. The hungry ewes also increased their pace. Out of breath, Carrie rushed to the top of the hill. “Now’s my chance,” she said, pulling tightly on Tim Buck’s rope, forcing his head toward the hayfield.
Tim Buck butted Carrie gently, loosening her grip. Then he moved toward the well-used road.
“Why, you ornery critter! Can’t you see how much easier it would be to cut across that field instead of going around it!” She yanked at the rope, trying to drag Tim Buck toward the hayfield. He looked at her, then shook his head forcefully. The bell jangled, and the ewes pressed forward as Tim Buck pulled away from the hayfield and moved quickly onto the familiar road. The rope started to slip through Carrie’s hands, but she held on tightly.
Half running, Carrie tried to get ahead of Tim Buck. But he only walked faster. The more she tried, the faster he went, and the faster he went, the faster came the ewes and lambs. Soon Carrie was caught between Tim Buck and the rushing sheep, and the rope was slipping out of her grasp. She clutched it desperately, even though it was burning her fingers.
Familiar with the road and quickened by hunger, the sheep hurried toward the open gate to the south pasture, where Tim Buck saw his own shortcut! He swerved suddenly from the road and down a steep slope. The sudden movement sent Carrie sprawling, and the rope was jerked out of her hands. The sheep quickly moved away from her and down the slope, following Tim Buck through the open pasture gate.
Carrie lay bewildered, hurt, and defeated. Sobbing, she struggled to her feet. With skinned knees and stinging hands, she stumbled back toward the sheep shed. With each step, she imagined her brothers’ teasing and her father’s disappointment.
Her dad met her in his truck before Carrie reached the shed. Stopping his truck, he got out and hurried over to her. Then, tilting her tear-stained face up for him to see, and putting one hand on her shoulder, he said, “It looks like you’ve had some troubles, honey.” He looked at her intently, but his voice was gentle and matter-of-fact. Seeing Carrie’s rope-burned hands, he dampened his handkerchief in some clean water and gently patted them while she told her story.
“So you wanted the sheep to take the shorter path across the bridge?” her father said when she had finished.
“It would have been much faster.”
“Do you think that all those sheep could have safely crossed that narrow bridge together?”
“Well,” Carrie hesitated. “I—I guess not. But they would have had plenty of room to cross the hayfield.”
“But, Carrie, do you remember how sick the sheep get when they eat too much hay? Do you know that most sheep can’t stop eating fresh hay once they get started?”
“Oh, Dad, I’m sorry,” Carrie sobbed.
“You’re lucky, Carrie, that Tim Buck wouldn’t allow the sheep to take a dangerous path.”
“Yeah, he’s really stubborn,” Carrie said.
“Perhaps he’s not as stubborn as he is committed to doing what he knows is right. Remember, Carrie, that he’s the lead sheep. He guides the others in the paths that will get them safely to where they want to go, just as Mom and I try to lead you along the right pathways so that you can return to live with Heavenly Father.”
Dad and Carrie got into the truck and he looked at her hands again to make sure that they weren’t seriously hurt. Then he drove toward the south pasture and stopped. Carrie was surprised when he got out of the truck and lifted her out too.
“All right, Carrie Helen. Now that you know why Tim Buck behaves as he does, do you think that you can take him back to get another bunch of sheep?”
“Yes, Dad. And this time I’ll let him lead the way.”