When You Wonder if Love is Worth the Risk

June 8, 2012 | 34 comments

There’s no such thing as risk-free love.

I know that this is absolutely true when I watch my daughter, with her chin resting on the farm gate. She’s got this one long worry-crease above her brow. Inside the calf pen, a veterinarian puts a stethoscope to the heart of a sick baby calf.

Her baby calf.

sick bucket calf

He’s listening for beats per second. But me? I’m trying to get a fix on how that young girl’s heart might be thumping right about now. I’m watching the way she wears her heart on the outside of her body — a mother’s heart, I think.

She winces when the veterinarian gives the calf a shot with a long needle. Her hands grip the gate. Yes, she winces — the way I winced when I took her in for her first immunizations as an infant ten years ago. And now, my grown-up girl looks down the gate at me, eyes wide and pooling as her baby calf fights and kicks and groans.

Love stings. 

“Is she going to be ok, Mom?” she whispers. “She isn’t going to die, is she?”

Lydia was the one who knew first that her calf was sick. She had told me earlier that day, as we bottle-fed, that something wasn’t right. Sherbert the Calf backed away from a half-full bottle of milk.

“Come on, Sherbs,” she cajoled, waving that gigantic bottle in front of a young calf’s face. “Come on. Drink!”

“See?” she turned to me, with wild eyes. “It’s just not right!”

Moms know these things about their babies — even 10-year-old surrogate mothers of calves.

Hours later, the vet pulled onto the yard in a pickup. Lydia shot out the back door with determination in every step.

The vet carried a stethoscope, a thermometer and a portable pharmacy.

And Lydia — carrying her worry — ran down that hill alongside him. Ran hard after love.

Here at the pen, I watch her from a distance. I try hard not to stand between her and this calamitous love that needs to have its way with her heart.

I  hold back advice. I let Lydia answer the vet’s questions. I watch her stand tall, shoulders back, looking that vet straight in the eye when he confirms her fears: both calves are sick. Probably pneumonia.

I see it, how she feels the need to muster up the strength to carry a burden, because that’s part of love. Love can be erratic, like it might drop straight out of the bottom of her heart. You’re laughing one day, and worried sick the next.

For a moment, I sense something Edenic about what I see across the gate.

I remember the story in Genesis, when the Lord formed all the animals. He gave them feathers and fur and sharp claws and tentacles. He fashioned cows with wet noses and long eyelashes. Then, God asked man to care for them … and to give them names.

Lydia named her calves. They are Sherbert and Daisy. And you know, if

you give something a name, you approach it a whole new way — with a tenderness that changes you on the inside. They aren’t merely 357 and 358. They aren’t Things One and Two. They have distinct hair-lines, and personalities, and names. And you can’t NOT love something you’ve named.

But now they’re sick.

Love is risky like that.

As mothers and daughters and uncles and cousins, we love anyway. We love … even when we know love might fade or might break out heart. Or might get a fever — or cancer. We love, even if love stays out past curfew. We know that love might break the rules, or break the glass, or spill the milk (or spill the beans). But we love anyway. Because that’s what we were made for: love.

We know that love might run out the door … but if it does, we pray that love  comes running back again).

Because we also know that Love





In the end, love prevails. And we know that Love died for messy, erratic us. And in some unfathomable mystery, we must have been worth every calamitous risk. Or it simply wouldn’t have happened.  

I watch my daughter here, on this side of the gate, knowing that love hurts. But she decides that love is worth the risk. I know it, because instead of turning her back and walking away, she reaches a hand through the gate to run fingers along the body of someone she named. Someone she loves. Someone who’s worth the risk.

by | June 8, 2012 | 34 comments


  1. Nancy

    Wow…Just wow! I needed to read this one today… Love and risk do go hand-in-hand, don’t they. These words really do have an impact on each other, as they have the ability to deepen the meaning of the other. Thank you, Jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      Yes, Nancy … They do. And I think any mother of teenagers surely knows that one best. I haven’t reached those years, but I do know what we kids put our mothers through. And somehow, she still loves us. God’s grace …

  2. Lore Ferguson

    When I was fifteen my horse colicked. This can be deadly for a horse and for mine it was. Within 20 hours he had to be put down.

    We had competed in a state championship show just three days before, took a second place and a third place. All that day, the day he died, I walked him up and down hills, around and around the barn, while he sweated and coughed. It was the first time in my life I was that close to real suffering, because even if I had experienced death before age 15, it had always been sterile, from the funeral parlor or the church pew. This was real. He, my friend and partner in all of life, was dying up close.

    When the vet needed a final permission and she looked at me, the legal owner, for it, I knew that as heartbreaking as it would be to lose him, it was the only way to love him in that moment.

    Because sometimes a love that perseveres, is a love that perseveres through the mourning too.

    Thank you for this post. It was the best thing for me to read today. Truly.

    • dukeslee


      This comment makes me a bit weepy. You touch on such truth here. Love that perseveres through the mourning. Yes, so true.

      I’ve never been much of an animal person. I was a town kid, but had a cat for only a few months. I had to bury Gilligan the cat in a shoe-box in the fifth grade. I had two rats — Socrates and Counselor — my senior year of college. But had to give them up to the pet store because I was traveling cross-country for an internship at The Sacramento Bee. I begged him not to feed my rats to a pet python. … I had a long stretch of no pets, but now I’m completely taken with these calves. Lydia, too. And I think, for me, that is a big part of this swooning: watching my daughter learn what love is.

      Really glad you’re here in the comment box, Lore.

  3. r.ellott

    Jennifer…oh love how you shared this sweet story and gave us such a picture of love…love is love no matter where and who it is being poured out on. The picture of you sweet daughter with her head pressed against the gate…all the ache in her heart comes through that picture. Oh may her little momma’s heart find comfort. blessings and have a great weekend:)

    • dukeslee

      Love is love is love. Indeed. Thank you for the blessings, friend.

  4. SimplyDarlene

    Oh. I hope everything turns out okay for your calf and your kiddo. God uses these critters to teach us so much…

    A good AND kind country ranks pretty high in my vet. Hope this feller had patience and compassion for both little ones.


    • dukeslee

      Hey Darlene … I almost called you to see if you had any experience in tending to sick calves. I think they are going to be OK now. And yes, the vet was wonderful. He answered all kinds of questions, and was gentle to Sherbert and Daisy.

  5. Rod Bahnson

    Great post but must say the thing that kept going through my mind whilst reading – Granpa looking down with smile. Will always remember Paul and his show animals. Yup, a granddaughter like grandfather.

    • dukeslee

      Oh, Rod… You are so insightful. We’ve thought that many times, too. Paul would have loved this. Scott said that to me when we were bringing the calves up from Sioux County last month. We missed Paul an extra-lot that day.

      Thank you for remembering. You have no idea how much that means. Bless you…

  6. HisFireFly

    Okay… so I cried my way through this. Love is never easy, and more than worth it, but oh, how the pain can cut in.

  7. Linda

    I should know by now to keep a tissue handy when I read these posts.
    I see her sweet face and think of a Savior whose heart must ache endless times over the things I willfully choose to do. He models love; He is love. And, yes, sometimes it hurts more than anything else.
    Praying for your sweet, sweet girl and those two babies.

  8. S. Etole

    These is so wonderfully and tenderly told. And yes, please pass the Kleenex.

  9. Deidra M

    Beautiful. Love is really a risk, isn’t it? “Love died for messy, erratic us.” Love that – He risked it all – I’m trying to be bold and risky in return. Thanks for always sharing your beautiful heart here – love this place!

  10. David Rupert

    One of your best. How can you not love a cow named Sherbert?

    It’s amazing to me to see the love kids have for their pets. Where do they get such a compassion? What Force places love in their hearts and compassion for these soulless beasts.

    How much more so should we love one another.

  11. kelli

    I remember once hearing that “Love never fails” doesn’t mean everything turns out just like we want it to. It isn’t a promise for all the prodigals to come home and all the sick to be well.

    But it is a promise for the one who loves.

    Saves them from all kinds of grief and pain and unbelief. They lay themselves, even in their hurts, in the hands of the One who knows what it is to love through pain . . . and they are saved.

    Love never fails . . . the one who chooses to love.

  12. Dea

    God-bumps. Names. I can remember all the names of my horses and pets from one I was a kid. When you risk loving you know the name—He knows us by name. (BTW, when I mentioned the name thing about J’s trip to Haiti, I had not read this!!)

    • dukeslee

      Your names story still has me just shaking my head in wonder! Way cool.

  13. Kim

    4-H provides so many lessons, doesn’t it? … for both 4-Hers and their parents. Praying that the calves are better after the vet’s visit and that your girl’s heart is also on the mend. The post and the photos took me back to our bucket calf and market steer days. (I don’t miss the record books :0) but maybe some of the rest of it.)

    • dukeslee

      Record books. Yuck. NOT looking forward to that part. I found my old books when my parents recently moved out of their childhood home. Fun to look back on those.

  14. floyd

    The pain is worth the risk… the more we love the more we find ourselves in His will…

    Hope Sherbs is okay… Your little one is adorable.

  15. Danelle

    Always worth the risk. Always. 🙂
    Your heart just brims in this post Jennifer.

  16. Amanda Jones

    Thank you so much for this post. It was beautiful and so incredibly true. I could not have read it at a more appropriate time. One of my boys has been gone almost a week. I pray every day he comes home. Working with street kids in Uganda, I know my heart will be broken. Your post reminded me again as to why it is so worth the risk. I hope your calves get better soon. God bless!

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Amanda. Headed over to read about your journey in Uganda.

  17. Barbara

    what a beautifully written post that tucks at the very core of the heart… so true. Thank you so much, Jennifer.

  18. Lynn Mosher

    Such sweet, tender love and told with such momma compassion. Beautiful, Jennifer!

  19. Tiffany Stuart

    Hi Jennifer,

    I love this post. I love the way your daughter is risking her heart to love.

    Yes, her mother’s heart indeed.

  20. Kari

    Oh, I loved this post. “And you can’t NOT love something you’ve named.” So true!!

  21. Thelma Nienhuis (@lifeastwo)

    Growing up on a farm is invaluable, isn’t it? I remember my mother meeting me in the barn one evening while a I loved cow labored with her first calf. She brought me hot cocoa and a blanket and we sat into the wee hours of the night while my brother and father did what they could to help the young heifer. Though it wasn’t the first birth I witnessed, it was extra special.

    • dukeslee


      What a delightful story. I have not had the pleasure of such an experience. We don’t raise cattle, but have these two bottles calves here for a 4-H project. We’re pig farmers, but I’m sure I could sit a spell with a neighbor and watch the miracle of birth unfold. Where did you grow up, Thelma?

      • Thelma Nienhuis (@lifeastwo)

        I grew up on the Canadian west coast, on the Sumas Prairie of the Fraser Valley. I grew up nestled between snow-capped mountains and the flat expanse of prairie land.

        My father was a teacher by day and hobby farmer by night. I feel privileged to have grown up in a household where the mudroom was lined with gum boots in every size. There is something about raising animals that shapes and molds us.

  22. Diana Trautwein

    Oh, Jennifer. SO lovely…and true. Love IS a risk – but worth it, no matter the cost. That’s the story we believe, that’s the story we live, by the grace and goodness of God. Thank you for this.

  23. Shelly Miller

    You know I didn’t read this the day you posted it because I was so busy, but it was probably because I needed to read it today in light of circumstances that makes this so appropriate. Thank you Jennifer, for caring for people in genuine authenticity. It resonates in all your writing.

    • dukeslee

      Praying for you, right now, for whatever those circumstances might include.


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