Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Unexpected Shepherd

While I know some of my readers have different belief systems, I am about to go all "churchy" on you...indulge me, would you?  I was struck deeply by the Scripture passage this Sunday and what it said to me, and wondered if others might view it the same way.  I am quoting it below, from The Message Bible:

John 10:11-18

The Message (MSG)
 11-13"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He's only in it for the money. The sheep don't matter to him.

 14-18"I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They'll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father."

There are layers upon layers here, but my experiences led me straight to thinking of adoption after reading this.  Let me share why...

A hired man is not a real shepherd:  Foster care where parents get paid is NOT the same thing as a permanent, loving parent.  Neither is orphanage care.  Why?  Because they will leave their sheep to be ravaged, they are often only in it for the money, they sheep don't really matter much to them other than as a commodity...and sadly, children are often those sheep who matter little and are nothing more than a means to an end...a paycheck...a commodity.  Note I am making blanket statements here, and you don't need to feel obligated to point out that there are many terrific foster parents and orphanage workers.  I know there are.   I also know that there are at least as many, if not more, who are not.

I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. :  For those who have not had to search for their children, this one makes little sense.  How can you know your own children when you have never met them?  How can you even call them your own when you didn't create them?  

And yet...we do...we do know our children, and they do know us, even if we have never met.  The overwhelming sense that I mercifully had with each and every one of our adoptions was not like "picking a kid", it was recognizing the child that was supposed to journey through life with us, whose soul was already known to us.  The truth is, if we were left to our own devices to "pick" our own kids, I know for certain we would not have the family we have now, and not for the obvious reasons that they would be different kids.  If we were in charge of our destiny and had not listened carefully to God's nudging toward Matthew...Joshua...Kenny...Olesya...Angela...our family plain old wouldn't work.  There is something special here, others may never see it or feel it, but we all do and grow more aware with each passing day of the gift we have been given in being a family together.  Along the way we met and had presented in photos and videos many wonderful, healthy children.  It is my fondest hope that they all found their forever family.  However, we were not it...for we didn't "know" them, and it was easily clear to see.

You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They'll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.:  OK, or two shepherds because it is Dominick and I together in charge of our little flock.  We knew, we knew each time that there were other sheep...other children...who were ours and were waiting.  I don't know how we knew, but when the girls came home, we also knew we could finally close the pen gate and rest easy, knowing that finally, all our sheep were present and accounted for.  No, we do not have any sense at all that we will ever add to our family again.  We are finished.  Of course, we have learned to never say never :-) but neither of us has any sort of inkling that we are anything but done herding.  However, we could not rest until our flock was one, until we found each and every child who recognized our voice and claimed us as theirs, just as we claimed them as ours.

...I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.:  The difference between a hired man and a truly committed shepherd is this very statement, "I freely lay down my life."  A committed parent, be it adoptive, the really good foster parents who would do it without the paycheck attached, or biological parent would willingly lay down their lives for their children, either metaphorically or literally.  How many parents have lost their lives trying to save their drowning children, how many have raced back into a burning home to try and rescue their beloved ones?  How many would give up a kidney for their ill child?  "I freely lay down my life."...I don't think many orphanage workers would willingly give up their own life for an anonymous abandoned child.  Are there some?  Sure, once in awhile you would find one, but most orphanage workers would be thinking of their own children awaiting their return at the end of the work day, and would think long and hard before rushing into a burning building to save an orphan.  It is natural that they should, for those are not their sheep.

To make this more personal and closer to home for our family, I freely decided to "give up my life" in a sense when deciding to homeschool.  It wasn't an easy decision to make, and there were more than a few very selfish thoughts running through my head, just to disabuse you of any notions that I am somehow Super Virtuous.  Ultimately, my better self won.  I have, hopefully, years and years ahead of me of nurturing our kids into wholeness, of educating them as best I can, of helping them discover who they really are.  This means, in all reality, that my own life gets put aside.  That's not to make a big deal out of it, it is simply fact.  And yet, surprisingly, in some other way I have exercised the right to "take it up again" as I discover new truths about who I really am and what I assign value to in this world...and much to my astonishment, in laying down my life I have found a new life I never would have expected to find that is rich with depth and meaning.  No, it is not the life I ever would have imagined for myself, but then often the lives we lead that are self-created are not nearly as varied, textured, and lovely as the ones God arranges for us, when we allow it.

I never really envisioned a "flock" as our family.  I never pictured us gathering them in our pen, keeping the wolves at bay.  It is a quite appropriate way to view ourselves though.  The truly remarkable thing is that the concept grows exponentially if one then takes it outward a few steps and sees each church as a sheep that needs Shepherding, or each denomination as in need of that Shepherd as well.  Every congregation is, of course, a flock.  There are big sheep and small sheep, and the occasional black sheep thrown in for good measure.  But our Great Shepherd knows us and steers us, just as we recognize the voice of our Shepherd and decide to follow. We have a choice, we can run bleating the other direction.  But we sheep do much, much better in community with one another, looking out for one another.

We always need to remember though, that in a family we eventually send our sheep out to join a larger flock, one that consists of the entire world!  One day, those little sheep of ours find that they have a new role themselves, one of shepherd for their own family.  Will they have learned well from us?

I hope so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is beautiful!
Teresa F