It was early spring and a wet, heavy snow was falling. I spent the night with my best friend out on her parent’s ranch, five miles from town. Staying with her always meant early morning feedings for the animals and egg gathering duty. In the winter and spring, it also meant calf checking. I’ve never understood why, but in Wyoming calving season runs the middle of winter and into spring.
We had done the feedings and egg collecting and it was time to go check on the calves and their mommas. Everyone in the barns were doing fine - warm and dry. Then it was time to ride horses to the back pasture and check the cows there. Some of them were soon to be mammas and they always tried to keep an eye on them and move them to the barn for the birthing.
We bundled up, saddled the horses, who were not super thrilled to be going out in the spring snow, and rode down the two-track road toward the back field.
It was incredible - beautiful huge flakes, fell as if in slow motion and we became part of the silence around us. The river to our right and the red / brown hills to our left. The sound of the horses breathing, their hooves pushing snow and the sound of the leather saddle / bridle moving in time with their bodies.
It remains one of the most memorable rides I have had in my life. But it wasn’t because of the snow and silence. It was because of what happened next.
By the time we made the mile ride, the snow was coming in a little faster and harder. We got to the cows and for the most part they had gathered up near the corner of the fence where a couple trees provided some shelter and their body heat kept each other warm.
Then we saw her. Number 257 - one of the soon to be mamma cows out in the middle of the pasture all alone. She was facing away from the other cows as if looking across the field. She bellowed a couple times but never turned around.
As we approached we soon discovered why. She had given birth out in the pasture! I held Anita’s horse while she dismounted and checked the cow, making sure she was o.k. She was fine, but there was no calf. It appeared she had been trying to get to the other cows but the calf couldn’t make it, or she had to leave it. We weren’t sure.
About that time, Rick, Anita’s dad, came riding through the snow. He saw the snow getting heavier and faster and wanted to make sure we were o.k. He obviously saw what we saw and now the search was on for the baby calf. I don't know how big this particular pasture was but they own 600+ acres and this was one of the larger fields along the river.
We led the horses in a wide circle around the mamma. No calf. We headed out in the direction momma was facing, and rode the fence line. No calf. Rick rode up through the herd huddled by the trees. No calf. We came back and much like a search and rescue team does, we rode 3 across in a straight line and started going back and forth across the field. No calf.
I don’t see a lot of cattle ranches in Indiana but I have come to know and care about some corn, soybean, and winter wheat farmers who if they lose a crop, they lose a lot more than just a crop. Even one field lost can be a big loss. So it was for Anita and her family. One calf lost, even though they ran hundreds of cattle, was still a big loss.
I don’t know how long we looked, but it was long enough that the storm settled in good, the wind picked up, and visibility was bad. Not to mention my hands, feet, face, and the tops of my legs were wet and cold. The horses kept trying to turn their heads toward the barn.
We made another pass through the field and I had to skirt a drainage ditch area. That’s when I heard a noise - the faintest little cry for help you can imagine. I rode up to the lip of drainage area and there he was. A little black dot against the falling snow. I hollered, “I found it! I found it!” And forgot all about being cold and wet.
Rick jumped off his horse, slid down the bank, scooped up that calf, opened up his coat, tucked him in against his chest and clammored back up to his horse. I still don’t know how he hung on to the calf, grabbed the reins and slung himself back up on his horse but he did and we were off.
We went back to the mamma and Rick let her sniff and nuzzle her baby inside his coat and she knew to follow us back up to the barn, which is exactly what she did - bellowing, mooing and telling anyone who would listen, two legged or four, that her baby was found. Even before we got to the barn the other mammas and babies were joining her celebration.
And I must admit, all three of the humans were smiling, laughing, and cooing over that silly calf. Even Anita’s mom came down to the barn with blankets out of the dryer and a bottle of warm milk for the baby.
If I can feel that way about a cow, I can only imagine how God must feel about finding one of us!
That is the message Jesus illustrates in Luke 15:1-10. Two stories of God yelling out, “found it” and the reminder to believers everywhere that God’s love reaches far beyond any law or tradition. Two stories that reveal the very nature of God.
May we hear again and find security in how incredible God’s love is and how we need to join the celebration rather than fear, judge, or squelch to Spirit.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine