The Procession

On February 4th, God reminded me of a truth that touches every farmer and rancher in the world; “If you ain’t, you’re fixin’ to.” What does this adage refer to? Death, grief, and loss. Whether it’s livestock on a farm or a family member, we will all experience these things while on this earth. On this morning, in the pre-dawn hours, God called a premature little heifer calf home. I call them “angel calves”; as I prefer to think God adds them to His majestic herd immediately.

Just the evening before, we celebrated as “Frances”, the little calf’s grandmother, gave birth to a healthy little gal we joyfully named “Carolina”; in honor of Ms. Diane’s little sister. I mused the day before how “Uno” and her mama (“Frances”) were locked in a turtle race, as it seemed both had been showing signs for weeks. “Frances” won and “Uno” lost; in many ways.

As I entered the west pasture to feed the mama cows, I noticed that “Uno” wasn’t joining the rest of the herd. Thinking she might be in labor as she stood atop the bed of hay stubble, I went to check after feeding the others. As I approached, I spotted the little calf (maybe 30 lbs.); prone and eternally resting. In what looks like a birth that was a month premature, the little calf just hadn’t developed enough to survive life outside the womb.

I confirmed its condition, closed her eyes, placed my hands on her, and prayed. “Father, welcome this little angel into your herd. Help her grow strong and vibrant in Your eternal care. Please bring Your comfort to the mama she left behind.”

Loading her onto the floor of my UTV, hearing her mama cry out behind me broke my heart. Animals grieve; and I’ll debate with anyone but God whether they have souls. Do animals have an eternal spirit; one transported to heaven by the Holy Spirit, like those of us who die in Christ? I don’t think so. But do animals have a soul—capable of emotions and feelings? Absolutely. The inspired words Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 are part of the basis for my beliefs.

“I said in my heart, ‘Concerning the condition of the
sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that
they themselves are like animals.’ For what happens to
the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing
befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they
all have one breath; man has no advantage over
animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from
the dust, and all return to dust. Who knows the spirit
of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit
of the animal, which goes down to the earth?”

(Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, NKJV)

Yes, man is superior—made in God’s image, with dominion over all the animals—yet, animals live, die, fear, hunger, feel joy, and grieve loss just like we do. In my mind, that dominion comes with a price. When God places an animal into my care, I work extra hard to treat His living blessing with dignity and respect. Proverbs 12:10, Isaiah 40:11, and Proverbs 27:23 guide me in my care. I pray it shows in the way they’re watched over, cared for, and yes, disposed of when that time comes. With a dead calf or cow, this means burial to ensure it can return to dust in peace without desecration by scavengers and predators.

As I went about the job of burying the “angel calf”, my lesson in extending grace arrived. During the process, I noticed how all the other cows and calves in the herd walked over to be with “Uno.” As I was heading back from the pasture, the herd surrounded “Uno” and walked over to the spot where the calf died. I stopped and shut off my tractor; watching. Each cow lowed out something the rest of the herd seemed to understand. Then, one by one, they turned and formed a procession (see photo above) that led into an adjoining pasture; leaving the grieving mama alone.

As mama resumed her cries for her calf (much like the sounds at weaning, when we take their six-month-old away), I restarted the lonely journey back to the barn. I knew the grieving process, mostly unanswered cries for her missing calf, would continue for several days. What I didn’t realize was that her grief was only just beginning.

Emerging from the house a few hours later to check on the other expectant cows, I wasn’t surprised to see “Uno” still standing atop that hay stubble. She was calling out to me as my cows sometimes do, so I stopped to pay her a visit. As I began walking toward her, she became agitated and took a defensive stance. Approaching with caution, I soon understood why. At her feet was another “angel calf.” Twins! The second set to be born on our ranch so far this year. Watching mama closely, I walked over and kneeled down to examine the tiny little calf. With similar markings, I noted this was a bull calf, which is typical of twins (80% of twin births are one of each gender).

“Oh, mama; I am so sorry honey.” I reached to console my grieving cow, but she couldn’t allow it; knowing what I had to do next. As I loaded her second lost calf of the day into the back of the UTV, the herd replayed the earlier process. This time, I couldn’t hold back my own tears of grief. There was a time when I would lash out in a mixture of pain, anguish, and frustration. As I spend more time with these animals, God is teaching me how my energy is much better spent understanding the cause (when I can) and learning from it. The most difficult ones are the instances like this where we may never understand.

We can’t always understand why God allows things to happen; we can accept that He does. Click To Tweet

The lesson I took away from this hard day is that even though we can’t understand why God allows what He does, we must accept His will. As much as I would like, I can’t know how He will use this as our future unfolds. What I can do is accept that He is God, and I’m not. My end of this deal is thanking Him for His mercy, comfort, and grace, and continuing to praise Him in all things. For this is the exercising of our faith.

God’s blessings,

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Please join me each Thursday evening at 9:30 Eastern as host Coach Mark Prasek and I take a trip Around the Cross-Dubya on PJNET TV. We discuss this week’s blog post, offer insight about the lessons learned, and enjoy the fellowship of friends in the live chat room.

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42 thoughts on “The Procession

  1. J,D., your ranch stories sometimes bring tears but always good lessons. Thank you for the beautiful description of “exercising our faith” at the end of the post. There are many occurrences in our lives we can’t understand, but knowing God does gives us peace.

    1. Knowing God gives us great peace indeed Ms. Jeannie. I sometimes wonder how folks who remain lost/separated from God can get through this life. I pray each day God help me to show Him through a word or deed to someone who needs Him in their life too. Thank you for your kind words ma’am.

  2. Having also lost 2 babies in between the 3 I was blessed with my heart breaks for that mama cow. And I have no doubt they have souls and feelings my friend. God bless you for how you care for them.

    1. I sometimes wonder what they remember Ms. Ann. Last year, Uno’s mama (“Frances”) lost a calf during birth. This year, she’s been keeping her calf “Carolina” even closer than she did “Uno”, who was her first calf; and the first born here on the Cross-Dubya.

    1. I too am amazed at the wonderful lessons God is providing me here Ms. Karen. I have come to think of the Cross-Dubya ranch as God’s classroom for me; as it seems I’ve grown closer to, more dependent upon, and learned more from Him here than the rest of my life. Glad you enjoyed ma’am.

  3. J.D., I am so sorry! It is so hard to lose one of our baby animals. Job 1:21, “…The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I feel so bad for the mama cow. I have seen the grief of animals…it breaks my heart. Thank you for your tender heart.

    1. Thank you Ms. Stephanie. It breaks mine too sometimes. I know it’s a part of farming and ranching, but it never gets easier. Truth is, I pray it never does. God’s blessings sweet friend.

  4. Oh, J. D., what a heartbreaking loss for you and the mama! Yes, animals do have emotions and they can feel grief, just as we can and do. When we had to put our dog down, our cat sensed what had happened and just wasn’t herself for at least two weeks. She missed her best friend.
    May God continue to comfort you and all those facing the loss of someone they love.

  5. Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching experience with us. Beautifully told, author. I’m amazed at what seem to be ritual-type behaviors that your cattle do. Grief is universal for now, but one day…

    1. Indeed! One day Ms. Dottie. Oh, won’t it be an amazing and wonderful experience to know that we will never again be separated from our Lord. All the loss, grieving, and pain we may have known in this life will be washed away in the glory and joy of being in God’s eternal presence. 🙂 What a wonderful thought indeed! And thank you so much for your kind words ma’am.

  6. You’re a master storyteller, my friend, and this is such a moving story. It brought tears to my eyes.
    I so love how you’re so attentive and gentle with your animals. They’re blessed to have you as their Papa.
    Thank you for this blessing.

    1. Awww shucks. Thank you Ms. Connie. I’m not sure “masterful” is the right word, but I sure appreciate your kindness and sincerity ma’am. As you know better than most, I call myself the “Caretaker” of the Cross-Dubya as I consider the land, animals, and people to be blessings on loan from God. My job is to steward these blessings and care for them in as much the same way as God does until the day He decides He wants them back. If you will, I want to return the blessings God gives me in better shape then they were upon the gifting. Sort of like when Shannon would borrow your car and then bring it back washed, waxed, and full of gas when he was in high school. He did that right? 😀

    1. Aww… thank you Ms. Tammy. Such a kind heart you have ma’am. Uno and I have become a bit closer perhaps (if Braford cows ever get close to their humans). I think she somehow sensed my sorrow for her. I’m certain our animals understand the caring we provide.

  7. Oh I love that tender image of you out there tending your animals, share your grief over the double loss of these twins, momma left behind …

    The same verse in Ecclesiastes was shared with me by a friend last October after I made the excruciating decision to put our family pet, Dottie, to sleep. Our cherished 15 1/2 year old smooth fox terrier offered the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to the unconditional love of the Lord. I still tear up over the loss and pray thanksgiving to God for her life, his promise he’s taken care of her heart. You are the hands and feet of Jesus when you care for his creatures.

    1. I had to put another calf down recently that I just couldn’t watch as it suffered. Sometimes euthanasia is the most difficult act of kindness we can extend to one of God’s creatures. It’s never easy, but if you show them compassion and love, that’s what I believe they focus on at the end; not the pain and suffering they were enduring. God’s blessings Ms. Mary. Suffering loss is difficult in any form my friend. I pray Christ’s return so we no longer have to experience that sense of loss and grief.

  8. I’m so sorry! Thank you for your love and care of these precious calves. I’m with you. Animals do grieve. I had a backyard puppy who made friends with the dog next door through the chainlink fence that separated them. The hung out and frolicked and even napped beside each other. Then the other dog died. For a while, my little guy paced up and down the fence line every day with a puzzled and sad face, whining all the while.

    1. What a sweet story Ms. Candyce. As you can tell, I’m certain the animals I care for feel love, loss, and in some manner, friendship. I pray each day that God give me the insight, knowledge, and skill to care for them to the best of my ability. Thank you so much for adding to our conversation ma’am.

  9. When I read your stuff, J.D., I’m reminded that at least some of the compassion that once characterized this nation was not developed in urban ghettos. It was formed in the hearts and souls of people who lived agrarian lives. Their days, and sometimes their nights, were spent in close proximity to the animals who shared their land, their resources, and sometimes their houses. They may not have used the term, but farmers had a symbiotic relationship with the animals they raised and who helped them work in ways that fed them both. Loving and appreciating them was natural. Extending compassion to them was an extension of that that love. Caring for them when they were sick or injured and grieving over them when they were lost was an exercise in practical godliness–one that reinforced the godliness that found its way into heart of America and formed the character of a nation. God bless you, J.D. for reminding us of the kind of heart and attitude we’re fighting to re-kindle.

    1. Thank you so much Mr. Ron. And yes sir; you are so very right. Much of the compassion and caring we once held proudly for the world to see came from our more agrarian society. Today, so many folks never experience what it is to see a foal or calf born. They never experience firsthand the care that goes into the land, crops, and animals that feed our world. They’ve never prayed for rain one week, then begged God to dry the ground the next so they can harvest the crop. It seems too much of society has become “takers” and “users” rather than “givers” and “providers.” Perhaps if every child spent their summers on their grandparents’ farm or ranch, or spent their days doing chores rather than watching mind-numbing television or playing video games, our nation and world would be a much different place. Well said sir. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth!

  10. Oh, J.D. I had all the “feels” and emotions reading this story of these lost twin angel calves. I felt sorry for mama cow and you grieving this great lost. Your such a great caregiver for these animals the Lord has allowed into your loving care.

  11. My heart goes out to that mama cow. How heart wrenching! You are right, sometimes we do not understand why God allows certain things, but we can trust that He knows what we don’t.

    1. Thank you Ms. Joanna. Sometimes I wonder how animals communicate with God. How do they find His comfort in times of grieving or loss? Perhaps the answer is that they do through those of us who are fortunate enough to be entrusted with their care.

  12. Oh this brought tears to my eyes. We do get attached to our animals as God gave them to us for animal friendly fellowship and it hurts to lose them. I hope Uno’s next motherly session will be successful. I’m glad she had the rest of the herd to comfort her and that she has you as an owner.

    1. Never meant to invoke tears my gentle friend; but I do appreciate the gentleness of your heart and your willingness to sympathize with those who are suffering. I think it’s one way we share God’s love.

  13. Such a sad story, J.D. Poor Uno! I pray she will have a live calf next time. Thank you for sharing this story and your loving care for your animals!

    1. Thank you Ms. Kathy. I do the best I can; asking God each day for guidance and direction ma’am. They’re His blessings; I’m just trying to return them to Him in the best shape I can. 🙂

  14. What a sad, touching story! I love cows, too, and I grieve along with Uno for her precious twins. You are a wonderful, compassionate caretaker to your animals, and they are blessed to belong to you, J.D. Wishing you a blessed week.

  15. Awful! Poor Uno. This brought tears to my eyes.
    When we euthanized one of our dogs (due to old age and kidney failure), our other dog kept sitting by the front door and waiting for her.
    I personally believe that animals can be in heaven or perhaps their form of heaven…based on Luke 12:6, Job 12:7-10, Isaiah 55:9, and other verses. They don’t exactly sin and fail Him like we do, so perhaps God does not require them to be saved through Christ. But that is just my belief. In general, Isaiah 55:9 makes me think about what you wrote in the last paragraph of this post.

    1. Agreed Ms. Robin. Our animals are most definitely God’s creatures; and I believe some of them show God’s character and traits better than many of us do. Will they be in heaven? I don’t know, but it sure is comforting to think they’re up there waiting for us to arrive. I’m so pleased you read and commented ma’am. You made my day! 🙂

  16. Your message certainly hit home for me this week. Not only because I’m still reeling from the loss of my loved one, but because I’ve lost so many animals over the years. I’ve often mourned that the lives of dogs are so short. And horses, although they live longer, they are still gone too quickly. But as you point out, it is all part of God’s planning. He has the Master plan. I don’t understand it, at times it is very painful, but through it all, He loves us with an unfailing love.

    1. I was certain you could relate Ms. Katherine. To know that all of God’s creations grief, each in our own way, helps me to accept the relationship I have with the rest of creation. In a way, this lesson brought me closer to God because it made me realize that as His greatest creation, I am bound to help those whom I have dominion over.

  17. As I held my hand over my mouth and felt my eyes water more than once, I read with sorrow and amazement. Truly God’s mysterious ways extend well into the animal kingdom. And why not? They are His creation just as we are. I’m so sorry for Uno’s loss X 2 and for your loss as well. How touching for the procession to commemorate her loss. Your story left me feeling just a little bit closer to God somehow even through the heartache (or maybe because of the heartache.)
    By the way, I’m sorry not to have been able to reconnect with the PJNET TV group again. It is difficult for me on Thursdays as I am returning from visiting with my Mom out of town, preparing supper, and then spending time with my hubby. But I want to keep trying. I really enjoyed the fellowship. I’m wondering if you had anything to do with my interview . . . I’m betting you did! That was such a blessing. I am “feeling the writing groove” again.

    1. Yes; I too felt a closer connection to God as I witnessed this. As for PJNET TV? You can catch guests four nights a week (Mon-Thurs) and Mr. Steve Hazard on Friday nights at 10:00 EST. You’re always welcome; and we hope you’ll come back as a guest and share more with us ma’am. As for you writing again? About time young lady. God needs you to proclaim His glory through your voice. Keep writing my friend!

    1. I believe she is. She grieved for a bit; and it was tough for her with everyone else having calves to care for, but I believe she’s pregnant again and she seems to be getting along fine.

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