My good friend, Lee, once gave me a sheep with blue socks on its feet and arms folded. “May the love of Jesus knock your woolly socks off,” it says. That’s a smile maker. Then there’s one that looks like a quilt, another on a spring as if it’s ready to fly over the moon. My smallest sheep came from a boy who noticed all the sheep in my house when he and his parents came for supper one night. That sheep, I’ve named Joey (after the giver), is just an inch long.
The sheep that my grandson likes the most is one that you press down and the word “Baa” comes out the top of it. There’s a shaggy sheep, made with real wool, a sheep on wheels and some other sheep are hanging over a house. I have a small jewelry box in the shape of a sheep. Two sheep stand on either side of the manger guarding the baby Jesus. Oh, yes, I have three paper-mâché sheep, and porcelain sheep and crocheted sheep and cuddly sheep……
Those are the ones on the top of my piano. I have bigger ones—a sheep pillow for example, and two sheep that stand almost a foot high. One has a bell and one has a flower wreath.
Another favorite is a painting in my dining room given to me by my sisters when I was awarded an honorary doctorate at Davis College. The Bible verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures,” is engraved at the bottom. I’ve painted a scene of sheep grazing, mountains and a sunset in the background.
All this is unexpected information and you’re asking, “How did you get started with sheep collecting?” I didn’t expect to have all these sheep, but once I started, people noticed and started giving them to me. I think it really started when I was growing up and my parents had that famous painting of a shepherd leaning down in a torturous position to reach a sheep fallen over a cliff. I was always intrigued by that picture as a child. It spoke of the great love of Jesus and the lengths he would go to in order to rescue his sheep. My father also raised sheep for a while, and I witnessed first hand the care he gave them. It was also pretty obvious that they were absolutely helpless without his watchful eye.
Then in 1960 I went to live among the Huixteco language group in southern Mexico. It was my first missionary-translation project. The brilliant, incredible Marion Cowan was my co-worker. She preceded me and already spoke the language fluently. I learned the Huixteco language from a shepherdess, x’Antona. She had only a half dozen sheep and grass was sparse so we wandered with the sheep on the mountainside. When they found a nice patch of grass we would sit down on a rock and do serious language study. X’Antona always kept her eye on those sheep and as soon as they wandered off, she and I would circle around again and again. And that’s the way I learned the Huixteco language. I also grew in my understanding of the sheep-shepherd relationship. So when I left Mexico I bought my first sheep knickknack to remind me of what I had learned. Now I probably have more than a 100 of them. It just seemed to happen.
I have often felt vulnerable and in need of a caring Shepherd. I’m glad I was found by Him, and that was not an accident. It didn’t “just happen”. My sheep collection is a constant reminder to me that I have the best caretaker ever, that He knows my whereabouts, that His watchful eye doesn’t miss anything. He has my best interests at heart.
Recently I re-memorized Psalm 1 and was comforted by the last verse, “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous…” Put that alongside Psalm 23 and John 10 and you will have the answer to why I enjoy my sheep collection.