Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sheep Tails

In case you were wondering properly manicured sheep don't have tails. They get docked as a baby so they appear clean and neat when they grow into show lambs. I remember my dad actually docking the lambs' tails with a knife but now they use tiny tight bands of rubber that are strategically placed as close to the tail bone as possible. A special applicator stretches out the band so it can be slipped over the tail, then pinch, the applicator leaves the band in place on the tail. Many weeks later the tail dies and falls off.

Another personal fact about show sheep is that they wear clothes. When the lambs are sheared and finely trimmed with surgical blades the shepherd wants to keep the lambs clean. So they are dressed in body forming spandex jackets that have five holes - one for each leg and one for the head. Then to protect the jackets they get coats of canvas-type material that have one hole for the head and then tie under their bellies. You'll see sheep in these at fairs and shows, not on a typical sheep farm. The spandex layers get pretty creative on some sheep. John refuses to use the tie-died colorful ones for some reason. Instead he prefers to color code the jackets by size. All the smalls are red and the larger ones are blue. Yes, the coats come in small, medium, large and extra large also.

After a week at the county fair it was time to do the sheep laundry. Heaping mounds of dirty sheep laundry. I finished it up and the jackets and coats are now neatly folded and ready for the next time.

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:14-18 NIV).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sending Hugs

Sometimes words don't go far enough. They make the statement but they don't express the emotion. It's kind of like writing a sentence with a period instead of an explanation mark. Sometimes you just need a hug to go with the words.

I'm a hugging kind of person. Not everyone is. There is nothing better than a good hug between friends. Long hugs are expressions of comfort and understanding. Brief hugs are short and filled with sweetness. Hugs say, "I love you" and "I care about you."

Sometimes I need a God hug. I need to spend more time with my Lord and Savior and feel His loving presence encircle and enfold me. That's the best kind of hug. The kind that leaves a permanent, lasting impression. It's the only kind of hug that can fill the holes of loneliness and grief. God's hugs are so good.

"(Jesus) took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me" (Mark 9:36-37 NIV).

If you're having one of those days when you really need a hug, consider yourself hugged, and seek God's comfort as if you were still a child.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

County Fair Week

It's county fair week for the Stewart family. Calvin and Paige show at the Boone County Fair today and Payton shows sheep for 4-H at the Polk County Fair on Sunday. Calvin is showing sheep for FFA and Paige is showing horses for 4-H. It's the culmination of hours of working with their animals, getting them ready to show.

It is where the hard work pays off in performance and hopefully the judge notices all the right things, too. I am thankful for the value of 4-H and FFA for our children and grandchildren. The experiences they have are invaluable in giving them confidence and training, often before quite a crowd. I'm so proud of the work the children have done to prepare for the county shows and of how professionally they present themselves in the show ring. Paige and Calvin have been showing in open shows for more than 10 years.

When they started out they had so much to learn and now they are the experts, mentoring younger 4-H-ers and FFA-ers, as well as their cousins. This year Calvin has been shearing his own sheep and knows the drill for all the preparation processes. Yet he still listens to his grandfather and father.

The sheep show and horse show are scheduled at the same time so I want to be in both places at once. Instead I'll try to catch some of both shows to snap photos and times of pride as well. I'm so proud of their character and personalities. Their time with animals has made their character blossom.

"Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life." (Proverbs 4:10-13 NIV).

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Houseboat Vacation

I'm sure everyone has had vacations that didn't turn out quite right or left you disappointed. We had one year's vacation that wins the prize for disappointing-the year we rented a houseboat for a week on a large Minnesota lake. Besides the long drive to get there and back we chose a week in July that was cool and cloudy.

Unlike the pictures, the houseboat was well used but the accommodations were adequate for our family of four. Brent opted not to join us so instead we had our Japanese exchange student who was willing to go along. We loaded up our supplies and luggage and took off on the huge lake with plans to meet a fishing guide for one day and restock supplies midweek.

The professional fishing guide helped John find one relatively small fish for his day's work. We caught nothing the rest of the week. That affected our meal plans as we anticipated eating lots of fish. On the first night we discovered that instead of fish inhabiting the lake it was mosquitoes that had control. Big healthy mosquitoes. We had the lights on for playing cards and suddenly there was a loud buzzing and our houseboat was a swarm of mosquitoes. We quickly turned off the lights and laid in our beds listening to the buzzing around our heads. It was unbelievable. We swatted and sprayed and learned our lesson to have no lights after dark.

On Wednesday we waited for the supplies but no one came. In fact, we didn't see another boat all the time we were on the lake. That should tell you something. John had to take the fishing boat back to the lodge and purchase supplies. We were afraid we would run out of fuel as well. The folks told us they couldn't find us. It was because they had given us an old map that included some inlets that were supposed to be closed. It was an experience we will never forget.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

Thursday, July 16, 2015

We Need a Purpose

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28 NIV).

One week ago we took a trailer load of ewes to Minnesota to begin the breeding process. Our guard dog Bella wasn't happy. We took away her sheep, her job. She has been barking more this week and for no visible reason - no rabbits, deer, or people. But also no sheep. She chooses to lay outside the sheep barn when it is shady there or she comes up to the house and lays under the bushes along the foundation of our house. It is cool there. She is lost without her sheep.

We can get lost also when we don't have a purpose in our life. Sometimes, like in retirement, we lose our purpose and have to seek another one to replace it. God has given each of us a purpose for our life. Sometimes we have to pause and determine what that purpose is.

"In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:11-12 NIV).

Bella's sheep will return to her keeping in another week. She will be happy to fulfill her purpose in life once again. As for you and me, we need to keep searching until we find the answer God gives us.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Life's Journey

"These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff--no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic" (Mark 6:8-9 NIV).

Jesus' instructions for his disciples were clear and concise. Take nothing with you. They were to be the tool that was used and nothing else would be needed. I should remember this myself, as one of Jesus' followers. God will use me no matter where the journey leads.

Sometimes I wonder about my life journey, where it has taken me, what I have done, how I have touched others' lives. I feel so unworthy of this life and feel I have let God down in many ways. I reflected on my journey a lot this past week as I hit a milestone birthday. This one ended in a zero, again.

But if Jesus was also speaking to us as he talked to his disciples, He also meant that God had given them all that they would need. God would provide for them. My life journey has been laden with challenges and low times, yet God has seen me through them all. I ultimately had what I needed, mostly I had God. It has taken all these decades to truly understand that God is really all I need.

Perhaps the rest of my journey will be uneventful and calm. Or maybe it will be complicated and challenging. Either way I'm glad I can be an instrument that God will use. I want to be a willing participant in whatever He has planned.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In God We Trust

"Trust in God; trust also in me" (John 14:1 NIV).

It seems our country has moved a long way from where it was when it first chose to use "In God We Trust" as a theme. At least no one has successfully pushed to have it removed, yet. God must be so saddened by the direction the USA has taken. The loss of prayer in schools and their drive toward secularism is also sad to watch. But there is still hope if we are still willing to keep the faith.

After 9-11 researchers say there was a rush of people who returned to churches, seeking comfort and direction. But, it was only a brief return for what they found in the churches wasn't what they were looking for. It's been evaluated that the church wasn't ready to help the hurting, the bewildered, the lost. That's a sad commentary on our religious institutions. Hopefully not on all churches.

What can we do to start making a difference? As individuals it is time to turn up our investment in our faith and reach out to those who are broken and bring them into the church again. Or keep doing the work of the church, one on one. Keep our trust in God wholeheartedly and share that belief with others so they too can know Christ and trust in Him.

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things that these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." (John 14: 12-14 NIV).

Monday, July 6, 2015

Dialing in Time

Two and a half weeks to go till County Fair time for Calvin's sheep. Most of them have been frequenting shows all summer long but the county and state fairs are what really count. So it is dialing in time...time for precision feeding and watering, noting the changes each day and working toward the goal weight for each lamb. It's worse than Weight Watchers for sheep.

I have chore duty tonight and tomorrow and the list for feeding the lambs reads like an instructional manual. There are eight separate pens of show lambs who get precise morsels of feed according to what they need to do; gain weight, lose weight, maintain weight, maximize their muscles and more. One lamb is even fitted with a muzzle when not eating because he has a bad habit of chewing on his leg wool.

Although it sounds like show lambs require a lot of work to prepare for the shows, it is nothing compared to the preparation that God has done for us since before time began. Only the Holy Spirit understands the scope of God's plans that will be revealed to us one day.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV).

Thursday, July 2, 2015


"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV).

When hurtful things are said to someone you love it is often harder to forgive than when it is a personal attack. I want to defend and correct the things that were said in error and make the person understand how wrong he/she is. Words can cut like a knife and often people don't realize how badly a person can be hurt by things that are said.

Forgiveness sometimes takes time for healing to happen and so the hurt can be let go. But God calls us to forgive so that our own sins can be forgiven. The longer we hold anger and unforgiveness the worse we feel. Once the hurt is released there is a peace that comes to fill the hole where unforgiveness lived and burdened you.

Lord, heal my broken heart and repair it so forgiveness and peace can move in and bring healing to my emotions and my soul. Amen.