When You Need Something to Count On … In a World of Uncertainty

July 29, 2012 | 23 comments

Goodbyes can feel like a fist to the chest. Where is the “good” in goodbye anyway?

That’s what I think at first, when I turn to find her, with tears streaming, padding into my office.

What comes spilling out of my daughter’s mouth was inevitable. Only a matter of time:

“I don’t want to get rid of Sherbert and Daisy, Mom,” she quietly sobs. “I can’t imagine saying goodbye. Please, Mom, can we keep them?”

She’s talking about her calves, a county fair project. But they’ve become more than mere “projects.” They’ve become part of the family. These 200-pound animals have stolen bits of our hearts. We bottle-fed them for weeks, weaned them, bathed and combed them. We took them for walks, rubbed their backs and talked to them with sing-songy voices — like moms do with human babies.

We’re farmers, and we know that calves aren’t meant to be pets. But sometimes you don’t realize you’ve fallen in love until your tear-streaked face makes you know you had your first heartbreak.

In my office, my daughter has herself wrapped up in one of those tie-blankets, like she might be able to edge out the sorrow with something soft. I hold out my arms. Because if the good-bye can’t be good,  I can at least offer a safe place for tears to land land.

I deliver the news she already knows: We can’t keep the calves. And even if we could keep them a while longer, we can’t keep them forever. Even the best things come to an end: books, movies, the last of the raspberry pie.

And life. Even life on earth ends.

I try to find a soft, easy way to tell her, but there’s no good way. These are things that must be learned, but can’t always be adequately taught.

Her sorrow soaks into my shoulder, and I watch out the office window as tiny twinkles pin-prick an inky sky.

I rub my daughter’s back, in tiny circles. Then, I let my own damp grief fall onto her hair. And we stand there wordless, wrapped around each other, like a bulwark against all that sadness creeping in.

Outside, Daisy moos, a cry that pierces me through. Even animals know the searing pain of loss. Daisy misses her friend, Sherbert. Daisy is alone in the pen. Days earlier, we hauled Sherbert to the county fair, while Daisy stayed home on the farm. Daisy cried out for hours — a palpable grieving of a calf. And there was no way to tell the two calves that they would reunite a few days later, when the fair ended.

You can’t explain to a calf, what you can’t even explain to a small human being shuddering in your arms.

Here in the office, I tell my daughter that the calves will have a good life. They will soon be taken to another farm, where they will grow up to become heifers — mothers bearing future generations of cattle. I tell her all of that, while trying to choke back my own tears.

It’s not just the calves. It’s everything.

It’s this: It’s knowing that we cannot hold onto life with clenched fists. It all goes. Every bit. Every house will fall, every tree will wither, every creature will die. All the things we’ve come to love about our life on planet Earth will be gone; it is a vapor. The life of every human soul will end, including people we love, and some will die too soon. 

Our very souls cry out the obvious: Well then, where are the sure things? Where are the forever things? Is there anything we can hold onto?

Deep within every mortal, we ache for a sure thing. We crave tangible love that cannot be wrenched away.  God set eternity in the hearts of men, and we can’t bear life without knowing that there’s a forever out there for us.

It’s so elemental, so simple to say it like that, but it’s the sort of gripping, simple truth that gives people the only Hope they’ll ever really have.

It’s true: There is only one Constant, and He hovers over us in this office, two weak mortals huddled together by the glow of a computer screen. And he hovers over you.


We do believe in one Constant–

in the startling power of Christ, over and in all things.

that He was crucified, died and was buried.

that on the third day He rose again,

And that He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father,

And that He is coming again.

We do believe that there really can be good in goodbye. Because in Christ, we have an actual “see you later” … which is real and true.

We believe in a greater joy that awaits us, a room being prepared for us, and a breathtaking setting-everything-right that puts creation in static anticipation.

I squeeze my daughter one last time, and we remind each other what we believe about all things, and then we let go. And even her … I must let her go.


Two days later, the trailer-door opens and a grand reunion unfolds. Daisy and Sherbert meet at the door of the barn, a nuzzling warm welcome.

And then, the phone rings. The farmer next door says he’ll take the calves next week. They’ll live in his barn. And the girls can visit anytime they’d like.

And I watch it all unfold, like I’m getting a sneak-peek into the grand reunions and the setting-things-to-rights that really will happen someday. And there really is a forever. And I believe it enough to raise unclenched hands to one very real and enduring Constant, our Savior, Christ Jesus.


Writing in community with Michelle DeRusha…

by | July 29, 2012 | 23 comments


  1. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    Eternity is definitely set in our hearts. It’s the only explanation for all this grieving we do over partings and losses. We’re experiencing a good bit of that at our house as we prepare for Wyatt to start kindergarten in a couple weeks. The bittersweet transition isn’t quite here yet, and the grieving has already begun.

    • dukeslee

      Oh yes … I feel those words, Jennifer. My heart ached when I put the girls on the bus for kindergarten. The transition was perhaps a little easier here, because our kindergarten was every other day, but still … I ached. I hope you’re enjoying your summer. Knowing you, I’m sure you are!

  2. Brandee Shafer

    Hooray for the kind-hearted farmer next door! And hooray for female calves who become mommies instead of male calves who so often become, well…

    No, but seriously. Goodbye IS easier when we open our hands. And I’m 38 but haven’t figured out how to open mine, yet.

    • dukeslee

      Ah Brandee! LOL! You are such a wise one. 🙂 … This is EXACTLY why we got females instead of males. Scott absolutely knew that we wouldn’t be able to handle sending our “friends” to the … um … well … you know.

      Love you.

  3. Shaunie Friday

    Jennifer, you get me every time!! Tears and a basketball-sized lump in my throat . . . and hands raised with you to the God who completely gets why little girls and big girls alike cry over saying goodbye to their calves!! I think back to an old Gaither song on one of their kids albums about listing “won’t-be’s in heaven.” My favorite won’t-be in heaven is goodbyes!! Love you girl!!

    • dukeslee

      Oh Shaunie! That song! I had that on a little record when I was a child. I haven’t thought of it in years. Thank you for bringing back a special memory of listening to the old Gaither songs in our den.

  4. emily wierenga

    the way you rubbed her back in tiny circles? grace, friend. truly grace. and this is what helps us through the hard times…

    • dukeslee

      Touch is in a grace category all its own, I think. Little circles are my default.

      Hope you’re doing well, Emily. I’m guessing you’re doing a lot of back rubbing these days. Love you, friend.

  5. Elizabeth, wynnegraceappears

    Oh Jennifer I am so grateful for your gifts. And that you share them here for His glory. You are an amazing steward of the gifts He has given you. And I am grateful my eyes and heart were here today. Beautiful,just beautiful.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m glad you were here, too. Much love and gratitude for you.

  6. Megan Willome

    Have you noticed that since you started this God Bumps thing that more of them are happening to you? It’s unreal.

  7. ro.ellott

    just let me say…i think this could be a precious children’s story…what beautiful lessons you are helping your daughter learn…and I love the sweet kiss from God…just next door.blessings~

  8. SimplyDarlene

    at least they are going to be heifers and not hamburgers – yikes!

    (of course as the vegan granddaughter of cattle ranchers I am the black sheep of the family) 😉

    on a more serious note, what a God-grande piece you’ve shared here today, miss JDL


  9. happygirl

    God bless you. Teaching children the hard parts of life are so challenging. Enveloping them in love while you teach. Grace. 🙂

  10. Kathie

    Excellent word! Thanks for sharing with us.

  11. Dolly@Soulstops

    oh, the hard lessons of life…grateful your girls have a loving mom to help them…God-incidence here because yesterday I wrote about saying good-bye to our beloved dog, Jubi…so happy to know that D & S will be next door 🙂

  12. Leah Adams

    Life is hard and those lessons we all must learn do not come any easier as you grow older. Holding the things of this earth and life loosely is one of the greatest and most painful lessons we must learn. This was beautiful,Jennifer. You had me near tears as I felt the pain of your sweet girlie.

  13. floyd

    Great story of real life… It is sad this plot… but the twist at the end is truly the happy ever after with Him that He built into us.

    Awesome picture of your little one. Life isn’t so bad is it?

  14. Sandra Heska King

    I’ve been so worried–no, just wondering because I know you are the mom of the tiny circles–what the post-fair outcome would be. This letting go, of all things–of even loved ones–knowing that He hovers–sigh, I’m just getting all choked up.

    I love that neighbor farmer. And you.

  15. Connie@raise your eyes

    Reading Tozer’s Knowledge of The Holy (yet…still…)where I see this:

    “He hath set eternity in their heart…To be made for eternity and forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions… a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.”

  16. Daniel Farrow


    Your neighbor farmer is a true gentleman and a real neighbor! Don’t the real neighbors go easily friend. 😀

    • Daniel Farrow

      Oops missed a word! I meant to say ‘Don’t let the real neighbors go easily.’ lol


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