The gift of the Shepherd

The Lord is My ShepherdTired and drained, she stood by the fire inside in her father’s house, trying to get warm, and trying not to look at her father’s empty chair.  The shepherd’s staff leaned in the corner near the chair, unnoticed. 

In the land of the Kingdom, she wearily trudged through the Valley of the Shadow of death, stopping at her father’s house for the sad task of sorting out his belongings.  “One of you girls can take that,” Sally his widow said, suddenly noticing the staff. She recognised it.

“That’s my old crook” she remarked.

“It was down in his workshop,” Sally said, “He’d made it down there the other day, but he was too weak to walk back up the path.  I found him leaning on it, unable to move. It’s yours, please take it.”

Her sisters gave her his car.  As she got the engine running, a thin stream of water shot out of the radiator, landing in an arc on the concrete in front of her sisters.  Sighing, she cracked an egg into the radiator water, praying it would hold until she could get the leak fixed.

Obviously her father had been too ill to maintain the car.  It still had all his stuff in it, the paperback he’d been reading was face down on the seat where he’d left it. Putting the crook in the back of the car with the rest of his stuff, she concentrated on getting the car back to Wanganui.

At home she put the crook in the corner of the room and cried.  It was more than she could cope with. The endless winter days felt like a long, dark valley where she did not laugh and she did not smile.  Again the humble crook stayed unnoticed until finally, the God of all comfort came.

Her tear filled eyes were drawn to the staff.  She noticed it had been varnished.  Mindful of the care taken in its preservation, she asked “Does this crook have some significance?”

The Shepherd replied, giving her some dates, and a number.  “From the day you left Napier on the 4th day of August 1971, to the day of your Father’s death on the 4th day of August 1994, 23 years were written in my book. When your father leaned on the staff, I was there.  Now the time for your father has ended, and you will go on. Read Psalm 23. It will be familiar to you.”

   The Lord is my shepherd,
   I shall not want;
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

   He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness

   for His name’s sake.

  Even though I walk through the valley
   of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil;
   for you are with me;
   Your rod and Your staff comfort me.  Psalm 23

Carried back to the place where she had first encountered the Shepherd in the valley, she smiled at him through her tears.  She could see the hills, the sheep, the creek and the quiet pool by the willows. “This is the place where we first met” she said, wiping away her tears as her eyes lingered on the crook, the shepherd’s staff.

Taking the staff in her hands she ran her fingers over the smooth wood, remembering.  The staff had come back to her as a great gift from the Shepherd, and it comforted her.   She wiped her eyes and said “It’s true. Your rod and your staff … comfort me.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” the Lord replied. (Matthew 5:4)

Encounter in the valley

The road leading to the farm was a narrow gravel road that few bothered with unless they had a reason to travel it. 

The farm

‘Mount Zion,’ a neighbouring farm lay further up the road.  In the Kingdom of God, Mount Zion is both the city of David and the city of God, “the Jerusalem above that is free.”  Galatians 4:26

The farm lay in a lovely valley.  It was hard hill country, a land of rugged slopes crowned with flat topped hills.

Joanna’s favourite place on her farm was a field named ‘Swamp.’  It lay at the bottom of the hill, over the fence from the wool shed and the farm cottage they called the ‘Whare’.  Swamp was bordered by a willow lined creek on one boundary, and a narrow poplar lined gravel road on the other.

Kapok and elm trees grew by the bridge.  The Kaukatea creek ran into a silent pool which the sun drew pictures on with its fingers.

She liked it there because it was very green, even in summer, and the voice of the water was easy on her ears.  The shadows and rustle of leaves through the Kapok trees made it a quiet, soothing place.  Purple Pukeka birds with their bright orange beaks liked it there too, making their homes in the rushes.

The King chose that quiet place by the creek for their first real meeting.

Joanna was at work helping her father move some sheep, positioned to head them off by the gate.  It took a long time for the sheep to move her way.  Waiting, she stood idle in the sun.  Lulled by the birds and the gurgle of the creek, she leaned on her crook and thought about nothing, until He came.

His warm presence added to the peace and felt like sunlight, filling the pleasant and soothing place where she stood.  She felt totally safe with him.

Afterwards she recalled the words having a feeling attached to them, although she could not remember exactly what was said.  He talked about growing up – she remembered that, and he talked about women.  It was almost like having a talk with a really loving mother, except this was a ‘He’.  She didn’t know who it was.

By the time she heard the dogs and the sheep coming, she had begged him to stay.  She never told her parents – they would have scoffed at her and her ‘big imagination’, but she did tell my younger brother and sisters about it.

They didn’t know who he was either.  “Perhaps it was Mother Mary?” one of her sisters said.  They weren’t Catholic; it was just that the song “Let It Be” by the Beatles was popular at that time.  “No, He just spoke like I imagine a loving mother would” she replied.  Who was He?  It would be years before she found out.