|One of the calves...|
|The taunting look of one of the heifers...|
|Branding calves at a roundup a few weeks ago...perhaps their elusiveness today was payback.|
|Desert Cattle Ranching|
|Emma with Abby|
|Jeremiah on Abby along the dirt road to the ranch.|
|Jeremiah and Emma are both becoming quite proficient with horseback riding.|
Two nights ago, while anxiously cloistered in our bedroom studying (yet again) for my upcoming orthopedic board exams, my father-in-law, Steve, came to me with a favor to ask. “The cows got out,” he said, “and I was wondering if you had some time to help me rustle them back in.” A little background…Heather’s parents own a ranch called “Coon Creek” in the high desert of Arizona which is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest. A small, spring-fed creek runs directly through the middle of the ranch, supplying precious water, and with it, the ability to grow fruit and nut trees, and have cattle and horses. My father-in-law received word that some of the cattle which reside on the ranch busted out of the fence, and were grazing in the national forest. I’m sure I had a bewildered look on my face as I thought to myself, “I know absolutely nothing about herding cattle.” But thinking I might need a break from intense studying and that an interesting diversion might be fun, I agreed to go.
This morning, Jeremiah, Levi, Steve, Marko (my nephew) and I left at the crack of dawn for the ranch, a beautiful two hour drive through the desert mountains. As I watched the sun rise over the Superstition Mountains, sipping a fresh cup of Guatemalan Organic, and sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned pick-up truck cab, I had no clue how painful it would be to rustle a mere 5 head of cattle back on the property, inside the fence. As we drove the last 10 km on the dirt road to the ranch, there was absolutely no sign of the cattle, aside from a smattering of cow patties in varying degrees of age. We started our search by driving around the 80 acre property on quads looking intently, but with no luck. We finally surmised that they must have traveled south, along the lush creek bed, in search of fresh water and grass. I began tracking them along the creek, following a subtle trail of flattened grass. As I followed the creek bank, the patties appeared (and smelled) more and more fresh, and I began to be tormented by the accompanying flies, signaling that I must be near. Finally, a few hundred yards up the creek, I spotted a grey cow, quietly chewing her cud. I doubled back, calling out to Steve and Jeremiah loudly that I had found them.
By the time they made their way to where I was, the stealthy cattle had somehow disappeared. So we spent the next hour or so looking again. I kept saying to Steve and Jeremiah (who, I am sure, were wondering if the heat was affecting my brain), “I promise you, they were just here.” Finally, we discovered that the cows (spooked by my loud calling to Steve and Jeremiah) drove themselves up the steep creek bank, onto the dirt road, and back to the main entrance. They would have just gone in themselves had we left the gate open. After re-grouping, our brilliant plan was to flank them on either side while funneling them through the gate. I took the high ground on a steep slope above the gate, determined to let nothing past. However, two yearling calves ran fast and sure-footed directly past me, up the mountainside. I ran after them, hooting and hollering, thinking that perhaps all this noise would help. Rather, the more I yelled, the faster and further up they ran, periodically stopping to tauntingly look back at me, as if to say, “you will NEVER catch us.” And I never did. I lost them at the top of the ridge, panting, lightheaded and parched in the 100+ degree heat.
I made my way back through the maze of cacti and brush to the main gate. Thankfully, at least Jeremiah and Steve were able to get the three other cows through the breach in the fence back onto the property. I broke the bad news that I had failed to corral the other two calves. So after taking a short break, eating a few apples and drinking some cold water, we headed back out on the quads to continue our search. As we drove along the property edge, we spotted the three cows that had just been driven back inside the fence. Amazingly, along with them, was one of the calves! The other calf was about a hundred yards beyond, but still outside the fence. I thought I would redeem myself by trying to drive him, by foot, along the fence line back to the main gate. However, I lost sight of him (again), and made the hot, rocky, prickly trek back (a second time) to the main gate. Now firmly worn and overheated, we gave up, and decided to head back to the ranch house for a cool rest. However, along the way, we again spotted the herd of newly-rustled cattle, and somehow, the other calf had joined them too (I am certain he was looking, smugly, directly at me). So now, after all that striving, the cattle were safely accounted for.
When we arrived back in Phoenix later this afternoon, I was exhausted and laid down, intending to take a short (few-minute) nap. I must have been out for some time, as Heather woke me from a deep sleep, in which I was having some intense (but not remembered) dreams. The kids wanted to watch Les Miserables, and needed help in setting up the sound. Still in a fog from the nap, I thought I would sit down and watch with them for a few minutes. However, I was quickly engulfed in this incredibly beautiful and tragic story of law vs. grace that is portrayed in the two main characters. By the end, I was deeply touched (perhaps primed by the cattle wrangling, subsequent mild heat stroke, and deep, interrupted sleep) and struggling to hold back tears that seemed like they just needed to flow.
After the movie was finished, I went on a walk, and poured out my heart to God, asking Him what all this was about. What he showed me was surprising: I have recently been trying to live my life much like I tried to “round up” those two calves earlier today; by my own strength, and without God’s help and grace. And this has left me frustrated, and incredibly dry. I have been trying to “round up” managing my family, being a missionary, running an orthopedic department, garnering equipment and supplies, managing a team of people, planning a symposium, studying and passing an upcoming exam, buying furniture, packing a container, and having a new baby, ALL on my own strength, without grace. And it’s no wonder I am feeling so worn! God has not made any of us to live by our own strength, or to say “I got this…I can do it on my own…I don’t need help.” But the truth is that none of us can “do life” on our own. We may be able to for a time, some longer than others; but eventually, we will crash and burn. The danger in this type of independence is that we can miss grace, much like the dutiful and law-keeping Inspector Javier (who actually thought he was doing God's work). Our only hope is God’s incredible grace, embodied in His Son who died for us on the cross! We all need Jesus, and He is what our hearts are longing for. The "calves" will take care of themselves (like they did today despite all my striving)...we just need to place our trust in Him and receive His grace!