One drizzly mid-summer’s evening, after nine months of waiting, our family’s cow Big Linda went into labor. When my ever-watchful pastor farmer husband announced the big news, we jumped in the truck and drove down to see our cow bring her baby into the world.
Normally, cows don’t give birth at convenient times, like in the early evening when you’re at home. Usually, cows deliver in the wee hours or when you are completely unavailable. It is a rare occasion when a mama cow practically invites you into the process, but that’s what Big Linda did.
Down in the barnyard, she separated herself from the herd and went through labor’s movements. Big Linda stood, sat, stood and sat. Her water broke; she stood and sat some more. Then, another gush, and little hooves appeared out her backend. We were so excited! New life was on its way!
But labor stalled. Big Linda worked hard, but nothing happened. The clock ticked with impending disaster until my pastor farmer husband went into overdrive.
“Help me get her in the barn!” he called. Christianna and I, wearing flipflops, ran through the barnyard’s mushy gush and waved sticks to get Big Linda headed the right direction. “We’ve got to hurry!” Kelly yelled.
Big Linda eventually obliged us, running into her stall. Kelly grabbed grass string, the wonderful multi-purpose stuff left over from hay bales. “Tosha, I need your help! Come in here!” he called.
I gulped hard, because, as mucky as the barnyard was, the stall was worse. Life was at stake, though, and there was nothing to do but commit. So, I leaped into the stall after him.
“Here, tie this string while I hold the hooves!” I gulped even harder, because blood, goo, poo and all was oozing out Big Linda’s backside. There was no time to find gloves; my hands had to be all in.
I grabbed the strings and tied, then Kelly and I started pulling and praying, even as we urged Big Linda to push. The baby didn’t come out any further, though. My pastor farmer husband notched it up to the next level.
“Here, hold the strings while I get the come-along!” he said. Ah, the come-along: another one of those amazing multi-purpose farm tools. Kelly attached the come-along to the grass string that was attached to the hooves, and the two of us started cranking and kept praying. “Push, Linda, push!” I begged, hoping against hope that the calf was still alive.
Finally, finally, the baby’s head then body came out, plopping like dead weight on the ground. There was no heaving of the lungs, no movement to show life. Human babies get a swat on the butt to make them gasp for that first breath; calves not so much. Kelly picked up the calf, swung him around and smacked his lungs. Every second felt like eternity as we watched and waited. Kelly repeated the process again and again, as we all begged God for life.
Finally, miraculously, the calf breathed in, lungs expanding with that first precious gulp of air. Then he breathed again and again, and we knew that life had survived delivery.
The calf was huge, over 100 pounds – – – no wonder Big Linda had a hard time getting him out! But, as hard as his first minutes were, our calf was standing and nursing within thirty minutes. We named our little answered prayer “Big Buford,” partly because that name makes us laugh, partly because he is such little monster.
I left the barn, proud of being able to add “cow mid-wife” to my resume. Reflecting back, Kelly asked me if I could help deliver next time without him if I had to. “Yup, I think I could,” I smiled. The grass string and come-along are now familiar calf-midwifery tools, if need be.
My mind fast-forwarded to church and ministry, because, somehow, everything I do goes back to this calling for me. No, I don’t work with people in the barnyard, at least, not normally! But, we do get down into the blood, goo and poo of life when we endeavor to be lifegivers.
Just like helping Big Linda deliver was hard and messy, so it is with helping people do what God has called them do. There are those moments, as ministers, when we have to gulp hard then just commit to letting the muck gooze through our flipflops and mire get on our hands. And there are those times when we have to pull out the grass string and the come-alongs as we minister, spiritually pulling people to “follow me as I follow Christ.” There are even times when we have to completely fight for another’s life, like Kelly did when he was smacking that calf. All along, we have to pray, pray, pray that the Giver of life would give life.
The work is often crazy difficult, isn’t it? And, sometimes, we women in ministry look at our lives and wonder how we ever got here in the first place. I certainly never envisioned cow-midwifery as part of my glorious future when I started out! I was a good city girl; having my hands up a cow’s butt just didn’t register on my list of “things I want to do when I grow up.” I was just as clueless about ministry.
But, oh the joys of seeing new life! When that calf walks, when that new believer toddles, when that child comes to Christ or that woman begins to know Jesus, it is pure joy and pure answer to prayer.
And, as messy and as challenging as it is, we know that we women in ministry will do whatever it takes, again and again and again, for the sake of all the lives God has entrusted to us.