It’s Christmas time in our small, mountain town. The trees are flocked and you can see the breath of our horses as you drive by, their coats warm and thick against the cold. Just last night our little town performed a Christmas pageant celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. My Mom and I were the directors, she in charge of the narration and I the music. It was a chaotic event with Mary, Joseph, angels and of course the beloved shepherds. They, along with their woolly counterparts brought back memories of a Christmas not too many years past. A Christmas that I will never forget, not because of the presents or the lights or the caroling, but a Christmas remembered because of a simple story.
It was a Sunday, and like all Sundays we attended church in our little town. My friend had been asked to speak this Sunday, and she shared a personal story by Sheralee Bills Hardy. Sheralee told of taking her four young sons to watch the dress rehearsal of the area production of “Savior of the World: His Birth.” Her husband was playing the important role of Joseph, and he had spent months preparing for the performance. The weeks leading up to Christmas had been intensely involved for her husband, and the family had felt the absence of their husband and father. Sheralee told how, as she watched her husband perform, she felt envious of his important role. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” she thought, “to be in the spotlight rather than the designated behind-the-scenes babysitter?”
Not proud of her feelings, Sheralee had prayed for strength to overcome her self-pity and the desire for a more glamorous and visible role. The play continued, the shepherds hastening to meet The Messiah. The shepherds had waited all their lives, dreaming of the day when The Savior would appear. Now the Angel of The Lord had come, hastening them to Bethlehem to behold the wondrous event. The shepherds hurried from the stage, all but one, an old man remained motionless. A young boy, his grandson, returned to the stage and asked, “Grandfather, aren’t you coming?” In his reply, was the answer to Sheralee’s prayer, and a great lesson to us all: “I’ll stay with the sheep.”
Sheralee felt the love of the Savior at that moment, and she now understood. Her role as mother had seemed menial, but now it took on a greater significance. She would care for the spirits entrusted her. While bedtime stories didn’t end with an applause, she knew her role was important. She would “stay with the sheep” so others could see the babe in Bethlehem.
This story has stayed with me and I have thought of it often since. At the time of hearing the story, I had a three-week-old baby, and Dustin and I were newly-elected as our state’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Commitee chair. Although the position is filled as a couple, only one serves on the board of directors. So, often times I would stay home and take care of our five daughters and the ranch while he was traveling for board meetings. Dustin and I are partners in every sense of the word. We ranch together, we run our hay business together. Dustin is the best dish-doer in the business! He really does more than his share of housework. The Utah Farm Bureau Board of Directors was really the first time in our married life that we were, in a sense, going our separate ways. Ashamed, I admit, there were times I was envious of his “spotlight.”
Being involved in Farm Bureau, I often get the opportunity to attend various conferences. More than once, when a keynote speaker has been addressing the audience, have I wondered, “Who stays with their sheep?”
I have looked at the past and present national YF&R Committee chairs. The current chair, Zach Hunnicutt, has an amazing wife. Just recently, he attended the National FFA Convention with the rest of the committee while his wife, Anna, stayed home with their three children, one of them a new baby. She stayed with the sheep. Past YF&R Chairwoman Chris Chinn has really taken ag advocacy to a new level. She has children and a hog farm at home. Is her husband the sheep tender? What about AFBF President Bob Stallman, who tends his sheep while he is away? Our state Farm Bureau president is very good to recognize his brother and partner as the reason he is able to serve in that capacity. I have never met his brother and wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the street, but my hat goes off to him.
All of us have people we need to thank – husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, men and women – who stay with the sheep so we have the opportunity to be in the spotlight from time to time. We know that having good agricultural people in positions of leadership is important, but crops don’t water themselves and livestock need daily care. Make sure this Christmas you remember to thank the one who stays with your sheep.
As we say in the West: From our Outfit to Yours, Merry Christmas and may you have a prosperous New Year!