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To Save a Life


I gave the goat a hot bath in my guest bathroom. What else could I do? I couldn’t leave her to die in the cold if I could help it.

She was new but already fluffy black when I’d found her, along with a small brown sister, standing inside a dog Igloo in a stall in the barn. I’d just comfortably settled another couple of mothers and their babies in an adjacent enclosure and was walking out of the barn when I heard the wee baas from the inside of that small hut. I entered the stall to investigate and found the two huddled together, impressed with their resourcefulness in finding shelter so soon after arrival.

I pulled them out and stood them next to their mother, now obvious to me, standing close by. I knew they’d need to get eating right away but given the way they looked, I assumed this had already been happening. I had a million things to do so I headed back to the house.

Here’s where I mention, for the dozenth time, I hadn’t planned on any of this going down. I had stopped allowing any “connecting” on this farm two years ago. I was done with this sort of work. I hadn’t signed up for it in the first place!

Well, maybe I had. When I was younger. And ignorant.

So much for having members of the opposite sex on the property. So much for two fenced pastures and dozens of acres separation.

So much for no more babies.

Suffice it to say, where there is a will, there is always a way.

I feel a little sheepish, or goatish, as the case may be, because I was taken by surprise last year too and this is more than a little déjà vu. Each morning I feel like my alarm goes off playing Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” The latest Jeep commercial with Bill Murry aired during the Super Bowl allows a new generation understanding. It’s been my own perfect analogy for years.

So here I am again, adding more farm chores onto an already overflowing plate of multiple tasks that roll, uncontrolled, like gigantic meatballs off a mountainous plate of spaghetti most days.

I should never have served my plate so high to begin with.

When we returned to the barn, Grace and I found the little black and white goat down in the hay, chilled and close to death, no mom in sight. We couldn’t let her suffer, so I wrapped her in a towel and headed back to the house and a warm tub. I knew from a great many past experiences—too many—that very warm water would bring her body temperature up—enough to give her possibility. She could be brought back around with warmth and electrolytes. I had some frozen goat’s milk, colostrum even, in my deep freeze (an elixir one simply cannot part with on a farm with livestock) that could do the trick after that.

It would take some time. I didn’t have. But would surely find. I didn’t need one more goat on this property, not one more, but life is life and suffering, suffering is…intolerable.

And Grace, the youngest of our kids and the only one still living at home, is here to step in where others before her have trod, to pick up the To Save a Life gauntlet—the one her older sister Rachel did before she left for school. The one Emily and Connor had carried before that.

The one that symbolizes a commitment to protecting breath in lungs, no matter how small and insignificant. The one that means physical and mental investing in the possibility of it, regardless of the emotional cost and sleepless nights. The one that seems to have no end in sight but comes in quick sight anyway.

The one with cost. The one where help is hope.

And hope is hurt. Because sometimes, hope is futile.

Grace heartily agreed to take the first overnight duty. I was to be up for work at 4 the next morning so Grace gladly took two little abandoned goats, because I’d returned to the barn to remove her sister from the shaft of light she’d been standing in, all folded into herself, to feed and care for her overnight too.

And I wondered, was I doing right as a mom myself? For I knew what awaited my daughter and sleeplessness was the least of it. I knew what such had already cost me, and her sisters, on other occasions. I still believed in the possible, but pragmatism made me not want to try. It made me want to protect my daughter more than any little goat.

But sometimes, you have to give it a shot anyway. It’s all you can do.

The little black goat died right away, after I’d already gone to bed. Grace had that to deal with on her own. The brown goat survived the night, I found when I checked in with Grace via text from work the next morning. I was feeling guilty, truth be told, my heart sore for the situation. For Grace mostly.

When my early morning barista shift was over, I met up with the family at church. Sitting next to Grace, I leaned over to ask her if Dad was aware of the zoo in her room. “Yes,” she replied, laughing.

The fact that her father was aware she had both a puppy in a crate and a goat in a box IN HER BEDROOM was enough to send me into a fit of giggles during the sermon.

I suppose I shouldn’t be publicly admitting this.

Not sure her siblings would find this amusing, or fair. Dad’s really lifted the bedroom rules for the last one at home!

We are such a mess! Here we are in the middle of winter on a farm with baby goats popping like popcorn in a theater where our reality show is playing, reels of our own stupidity and vulnerability witnessed across the big screen for all we know to see, our tears raw and authentic. And embarrassing. Pointless really. It all seems so ridiculous.

And yet, as Grace worked last night and it was my turn to care for the little brown goat, when I knew she hadn’t much time left, more came.

We are never truly all cried out, are we?

I could water this land green with the tears I’ve shed and yet, I am always able to produce more. As I watched that little goat’s breathing change to short inhales and gasps, I wept. Long and hard. I sat on the floor of my daughter’s room holding that little goat wrapped in towels, hoping, praying death would come soon, oh God, much sooner than I was witnessing, and I thought again, for the zillionth time, why? Why God, can’t you stop this suffering?

Why have my family and I born such witness to it, time and time and time again? Why this time, did this little creature you breathed life into have to die in my arms, in my daughter’s room at a point we were ready to move on from it here?

What is the point to all of this?

I cried over that little goat in a way that surprised me. Until my face was wet and dripping and until my eyes were so full, I couldn’t see. I thought I’d learned to be tough. I thought I’d been strengthened here, seen so much of this, held so many animals as they had died in my arms that I would be better than this, that I’d not need to resort to such sentimentalism. Such weakness.

But when you carry the love of the Creator in your heart, you can’t help but feel his love for all he created. Each little sparrow, every little beating heart, all wings and hooves and numbered hairs. He knows them all intimately. Every created thing matters to him, the ones he made in his image most of all.

I guess that’s why we feel. And cry.

Until such time as we won’t have to.

I guess, then, I can’t make any apologies for it. It’s part of being human. And being a human who knows and follows God, I will also look for the next message from above as part of it. I also know in my wait, it’s already on the way to me.

I don’t have all the answers, but I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Even when I can only feel.

 

Kansas City, Kansas l jm@jmhuxley.com

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