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Remember the Sheep

This week we have spent a great number of hours at the local county fair. For the last eight years the girls have shown sheep. Now I realize that if you do not live in the country or are around farm animals much, that may sound like I’m speaking Greek. Up until eight years ago, I had no idea what that meant either.

So here is what happens… Each Spring the girls bring several young sheep home to our small “barn” and a makeshift pasture to raise until the 4-H Fair in June. At first the sheep are scared and run away from the girls, so they have to start by putting a halter on them (sort of like a leash) that will keep the sheep close to them. The girls then spend some initial time talking to the sheep and petting them so they get familiar to their new surroundings. I call Chloe the Sheep Whisperer.

Next the girls begin walking the sheep with the halter around our field until they are eventually able to walk them without the halter, simply guiding the sheep with their hands.

Finally, the girls have to teach the sheep how to get “set” or how to stand in a certain way. The ewes (females) have to stand in such a way as to show off the features that would be desirable in a breeding sheep so that future generations of that flock would continue to improve with those characteristics. The wethers (non-breeding males) have to stand in such a way as to show off the features that make them good commercial lambs for the market, such as being lean and muscular and not fatty.

This takes work and patience, something neither of my daughters always want to practice. But by the time fair rolls around, they’d better be ready because the judge is going to be paying attention to everything they and their sheep do as they walk around the show ring and set up.

Now to be honest, sometimes you just happen to raise a sheep that ends up not being one that is the quality a judge is looking for. But there HAVE been times over these past eight years when I’ve watched an inferior quality sheep place higher simply because the 4-H student did a fantastic job of showing it off. And that shows how much time and energy the student has put into working with that sheep. And for me, that is the point of 4-H, teaching kids how to work hard, set goals, follow through, learn from mistakes and be a good sport. It almost ALWAYS happens each year that whichever daughter who has spent the most time working the sheep places higher at competition. And of course it’s always fun to point that out to them after the fair. Not that it makes any difference the next year, but it’s a mom’s prerogative to grab a teaching moment when possible.

Unfortunately, this year I started noticing more how several of the families were pushing the boundaries of the rules. Their sheep were not to the level they wanted them to be by fair time, so they took shortcuts to make them appear that way. They did things to the sheep that were at best questionable in ethics and at worst cruel to the animals—all in the hopes of receiving the prize of first place.

To be honest, it really started to get me mad as the week went on, but then I had the thought, “Don’t we do the same thing to ourselves in our own lives?” Sometimes we don’t want to receive the true consequences of our efforts, so we do things that alter the look of how or who we really are. Yet deep down we know it’s fake. Or we simply don’t want to go through all that is required to reach a certain goal, so we take shortcuts hoping to get there faster somehow. But any victory we might receive this way is hollow, just like the victories of those families who altered their sheep.

Like it or not, there is much needed learning and growing that comes from our times of struggle and failure. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4 NIV) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)

There is no question that this is my hope and prayer for my daughters—that they become women of character, mature and complete, full of hope and lacking nothing. I guess I wouldn’t mind that too much for myself as well. So when things get too hard and I want to skip the yucky stuff and find a shortcut, whether that be in marriage, work, parenting, friendships, goals, etc., I will remember the sheep and “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV)

#growth #parenting

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