Finding Free

I love watching our sheep discover green grass again after the long winter in the barn.

The momma ewes get right to the hunt for their favorite leaves: clover, alfalfa, dandelions, and tender grasses. They’re barreling out of the barn at race pace, pushing and shoving to get to the feast. They’ve done this before and they know the good stuff will go fast, so they waste no time sniffing it out. Head down, move fast.

The protective instincts that normally lead mother sheep to keep close tabs on their lambs get chucked out the window as self-gratification takes over.

Kid … you’re on your own. 

That’s what I imagine they’d say if they took the time to leave their offspring with any parting words of wisdom, which they don’t.

Not that the lambs mind at all. These wide-eyed first-timers are consumed with a fresh world of adventure before them … but they’re usually not quite sure what to do first. They step tentatively out of the barn more slowly than their moms: curious, hesitant, taking it all in.

Then they realize mom is gone and baaaas erupt all around as they scurry to regain her familiar smell of safety. The enclosure becomes a noisy circus of disoriented children, distracted mothers, and giggling farmers looking on.

Yep, we’re always close by on this special day because we know the best part of the show is just ahead.

Soon the crowd settles down and lambs start to follow their mothers’ example, nibbling here and tasting there and finding their courage again in the meantime. After a few more minutes, a group of lambs starts to form, and we know the big performance is about to begin.

We’re fixated on the wooly shapes like stargazers waiting for a shooting star on a warm, summer night. Do you remember those nights as a kid? Lying on your back in the grass with your friends or family, whispering and giggling and pointing up at the shapes you invent, silently anticipating that sudden streak across the sky and afraid you’re going to miss it.

This only happens once a year we don’t want to miss it.

And then it starts. One lamb darts out from the group, streaking toward the other side of the pasture as fast as he can go. Another lamb follows, and then the whole group is running with their ears back, toward the corner post. When they get there, they screech to a stop, turn around, and discuss their next move.

Go again, of course! The leader takes off and the pack is back at top speed in a second, back toward where they started. Stop, pick a new direction, go again! They follow each other in spastic bursts of speed, like middle school sprinters of various shapes and talents running the 70 meter dash on the track. Lanky and chubby, graceful and bobble-headed, steely-eyed and bug-eyed—they all run together. Some are fast and some are better suited for the field events, but all are eager and loving life.

After a few of these warm-up rounds, they’re ready to kick it up a notch. Bound, bound, bound across the grass they go, hopping on all four legs together in successive leaps. One will take off with jerky, spasmodic bounces like a bucking bronco. Another impresses with long, graceful jumps like a gazelle.

Whoever invented the verb “frolic” must have surely been observing young lambs like these when they first spoke the word. They bob, skip, buck, lurch, jerk, hop, and finish it off with a wild donkey kick.

And our family leans on the fence and laughs, wide-eyed, taking it all in like the fresh air that it is, and that we need. On these days, we’re loving life as much as our lambs.

These are the good days of life that I want to savor forever, in all their simplicity.

This year, as the newness wore off and I watched the sheep antics slowly taper from behind my office window, I found myself almost wanting to be out in the field running with them. .

Don’t stop. Keep running. And take me with you.

I was drawn to their abandonment, their zeal, their ability to be fully present in the moment. I remembered what that youthful joy and energy felt like, when all the world was open to me and I had no fear of what might or might not happen.

I remembered what I once was. I remembered what I had lost along the way.

There’s a picture sitting next to my window on the corner of my office desk. It’s actually a greeting card that a family friend gave me when I graduated from high school. I liked it so much that I framed it and still have it 25 years later. The picture features a little girl sitting in a child-sized toy airplane—the kind you sit in and power around your backyard with your feet.

She’s perched in her flying machine with arms wide, head back, and eyes closed. On her shirt is written the word “YES” in bold red letters.

That girl was me 25 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. But somewhere between 18 and 40-something, I lost it. Or rather, it faded, was forgotten, got buried by the cares of life.

Perhaps you can relate.

It’s still in there, that YES—God wove it into the fabric of my being. This spring, our frolicking lambs reminded me of what has been there from the beginning, and I realized I’m willing (desperate?) to risk finding it again.

Despite all that’s not, all that’s behind, and what might be ahead.

And perhaps, like I dusted off my framed “YES” greeting card to take a picture for this post, I can dust the layers of grief, disappointment, and weariness off of my true self and see life around me with hopeful eyes again. Wiser with the lenses of seasoning and maturity (not all of the last 25 years is loss, after all), but open and present to what is—and what is possible. 

Like a month-old lamb discovering green pasture for the first time.

That’s my prayer, anyway. And I’ll pray it for you too.

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