A blustery north wind crooned a haunting melody as it blew relentlessly across the open field. Shivering, Ruth pulled her coarse woolen cloak tautly about her slight frame in an effort to ward off the chill. She wished she'd been blessed with an ample body like her mother; the cold never seemed to trouble her. Dark ominous clouds threatened on the horizon obliterating the light from the harvest moon and casting a pall over the desolate countryside. It was the perfect backdrop for the drama playing itself out on the stage of her broken heart. In the distance she could hear the pitiful bleating of the small lamb and knew the deed had been done. "Oh, God," she wept wiping furiously at the tears on her cheeks, "Will you also break the leg of my wayward son?"
She would forever remember the day last spring when the wee lamb had come to join their burgeoning flock. Life was hard, and the entrance of this tiny ball of fluff into her life brought unexpected joy to her days. She pressed his playful antics to her heart, delighting in each one. In one short week the lamb had transformed the normally docile chief shepherd into a veritable bundle of nerves. After only three days he had dutifully dubbed his new charge, Mischief. That one needs a shepherd of her own he had complained to Josiah, Ruth's husband.
The memory brought a gentle smile to her lips. She'd heard the expression "dumb as a wooly lamb" many times - had seen it evidenced repeatedly in their own herd. Chief Shepherd was especially diligent with the flock knowing that if a lamb wandered away, it would never find its way back home on its own. He made certain to lead them beside still waters for they would surely drown in a swiftly moving stream.
Mischief was the exception. rather than being daft, she seemed endowed with genius. Such a clever one she was, often waiting until the shepherd's back was turned, before quietly disappearing. Now you see her, now you don't, Chief Shepherd could be heard to mumble before turning on his heel in search of the wayward lamb. The other sheep came when he called, this one feigned deafness.
Mischief Gets in Trouble
Last week Mischief had coyly waited until the shepherd stopped to tend a wounded ewe. The moment his back was turned, she vanished. When he found her hours later, her foot was firmly lodged in a crevice between two rocks. She was shivering with cold and desperately hungry from her impromptu fast. Chief Shepherd had chastised himself severely for his carelessness. Tired and angry, he'd flung her firmly over his shoulder, and pled for a truce all the way to the fold, C'mon, Mischief, give me a break. You're not the only lamb in my care.
Yesterday she'd narrowly escaped a ravenous lioness scavenging victuals for her hungry, young brood. He didn't want to lose Mischief. If his plan worked, she would increase the value of the masters flock seven-fold with her own young one day. They had paid a premium price for her, all of which meant nothing if he could not keep her from an untimely death.
Ruth had inadvertently overheard Chief Shepherd's conversation with Josiah, "I hate to trouble you, sir, knowing the stress you've been under what with your boy leaving and all. But, we've got a serious problem." Josiah had listened with customary patience, and then had instructed the kindly shepherd, "You'll have to break Mischief's leg, and then while she heals, carry her under your robe where it is warm. Carry her where she can hear the beating of your heart. Tenderly nurse her, and when the leg has healed, she will have learned to love you. She will never wander again."
The Decision Is Made
Later, when confronting her husband, Ruth had been furious. Josiah had defended his decision with a gentle reminder, better pain at the hands of a loving shepherd, then pain in the jaws of a hungry predator. She guessed, as she stood looking out into the darkness, that her grief for the little lamb was intensified because Mischief reminded her of her own son - restless, cunning, rebellious. Did her own dear lamb lie, even now, alone, broken and bruised? Anxious lest she wake her sleeping husband, Ruth stifled the sob in her soul. "Come home, my son. Marcus, please come home."
Why does it hurt so much to love? I birthed this child. I rocked him, and sang to him, fed him, and bathed him. I will never forget him; I will never let him go! If she had asked once, she had asked a hundred times, "God, have you forgotten me? Why are you taking so long?" She'd prayed, faithfully beseeching the Almighty on behalf of her youngest son, "Answer me, O Lord, answer me so that Marcus will know that you are God, and that you are turning his heart back again!"
She wept for the lamb. She wept for her son. She wept for herself and for Josiah. Her face burned with shame at the memory of her angry words spoken only moments before. Something had died inside her when Marcus left. Not even the presence of her other son, Samuel, brought comfort to her heart. He was faithful, compliant, caring, and she appreciated the good he brought to her life. But, her love for him could never erase her love for her Marcus. She hardly knew herself anymore. Her gentle spirit had been consumed by a seething rage. Once she relished the closeness of Josiah, snuggling readily with him beneath the covers on cold nights like this one. Now, she preferred distant coolness to intimacy with her beloved. With a decided act of her will, she had closed him out of her life. They‘d spoken little, and had not touched until tonight.
You seek me for comfort after sending our son away?Earlier in the evening, thinking her to be asleep, Josiah had pulled her gently to him seeking the warmth and comfort of her body. In moments, he was fast asleep. His touch had ignited the smoldering flame of anger within her. "How dare you?" she'd flung at him, springing from the bed, and pulling her robe firmly against her trembling body. "Don‘t touch me! You seek me for comfort after sending our son away? Every morning you leave before the sun comes up, and I don't see you again until it's going down. Maybe life just goes on for you like it always has, but for me nothing is the same. You go about your business as though nothing has happened! You could have told him no. You could have made him wait. But, no, you just handed him his share of the inheritance, and bid him farewell. What kind of a father are you?"
A Mother's Grief
She'd been unfair, and hadn't cared. In truth, Marcus had chosen to leave. In the weeks since, she had fueled her seething emotions, resolutely blaming Josiah until they had become a bubbling caldron. She wondered if he had taken leave of his senses. Where was the wisdom in allowing Marcus to leave home in search of fame and fortune?
Their youngest son had become increasingly restless with the passing weeks - constantly quizzing them about the world out there. He had been so brazen as to ask what his share of the inheritance would be when his father died. She'd hoped it a passing whim, but knew in her mother-heart that a tempest was brewing. She had braced herself for an all out assault; instead, it had come as the eye of a tornado, quiet and deadly. With resolute calm, Marcus, had requested a private meeting, "Can we speak, Father? Alone."
Father and son had walked to the far end of the pasture, and when they returned she knew from the look in his eye that Marcus had won. He had done the unthinkable, bringing shame upon his father by demanding, "Give me my share of the estate now before you die." Josiah had relented, and within days, their son was gone.
Finding his room empty, and his belongings gone she'd felt as if her heart had been ripped out of her breast, and shattered on the floor. "God, let me die," she'd pled. "I cannot bear it. " Her sorrow had quickly turned to anger - she was furious with Marcus for dishonoring his father, enraged at Josiah for allowing him to do so. She had refused to be comforted. Josiah, unable to penetrate the wall she had built around her heart, had retreated, leaving her to grieve alone. She inwardly seethed as he left home each morning.
Her anger spent, she had waited for Josiah's own angry words, bracing herself for the onslaught sure to come. He allowed her to vent, but he would have his say. Every man had his limit, and she had pushed him to it. The silence between them was pungent with meaning. When he made no attempt to speak, she had turned toward him. As if seeing him for the first time, she was shocked at the intense sorrow in his eyes, accentuated by deep lines of exhaustion etched on his dark, handsome face.
"Is that what you think, Ruth?" Josiah had softly asked, "That I don‘t care?"
Her stony heart had melted within her at the tone of his voice. He began to weep, with deep wrenching sobs. "Each day I wake wondering, where is he today? Is he well? Is he cold? Has he eaten? Did I make the right decision? Going about my business? Ruth, my business is my son! I rise in the morning before the sun, and walk to the hilltop beyond the bend in the road. Until the sun sets once more, I watch for my son to come home.
I watch and I pray. I pray that one day he will come to his senses, and he will remember that here he is loved. But, until he does, I will continue my daily journey. When he comes, I will be the first to see him. I will run to him. I will welcome him. I will say to my servants, ‘bring forth the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. Bring forth the fatted calf, kill it, eat and be merry: For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
She'd gone to him then, and wrapped in the safety of his embrace they had wept - for each other, and for their son. Their sorrow spent, Josiah had asked, a tender smile upon his lips, "Now, may I go to sleep?"
In moments, he was deep in slumber, but sleep had not come easily for her. She had slipped from beneath the covers, and now stood leaning her head against the coolness of the stone wall. The tears began to fall once more as she lifted her heart in petition to Father God. This one who was flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, had walked away from all she held dear, "Oh, Father, only you know where my boy is. Please bring him to me once more. As long as there is breath in his body, I know that he is reachable. Be as gentle with him as you can, but as hard as you need to be to get his attention. If you must, God, break his leg as the shepherd broke the leg of Mischief. Then hold him close until he heals."
A Mother Finds Peace
Her anger spent, her tears of rebellion replaced by tears of surrender she gave her beloved son to the Almighty, "I prayed for this child, and You granted me what I asked of You, now I give him back to you. You have seen his ways. I ask that You heal him, guide him and restore comfort to him."
Crawling once more beneath the covers, she curled her body next to Josiah's reassured by his warmth and steady breathing. She would claim a promise from the books of the law for her wandering son,
"But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath." (Deuteronomy 4:29, 30)
She didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but she had peace. The good shepherd would care for her lamb, and when He was ready, He would bring him home again.