• Betsy Singleton Snyder

Who are you shepherding?

I am an avid NPR listener because I love the way the stories are so clearly told, and provide details that one doesn’t hear on regular news. As I was driving home one recent evening, the announcer began to talk about Monarch butterflies. I happen to love Monarch butterflies, so I listened more closely.

Let me share several reasons I love these creatures.

First, they are simply beautiful.

In addition, my oldest brother, also a pastor and one of my mentors, died unexpectedly in 2018. He was known to many as “The Butterfly Man." After he retired from ministry, he worked for Keep Arkansas Beautiful. He visited many local schools, and helped them begin butterfly gardens. Once, he took my oldest, who was about six, to Petit Jean to tag butterflies. He had also been to Mexico to see the migration of the monarchs, an amazing and miraculous spectacle. It was fitting that we sang, Hymn of Promise at his funeral


”...in cocoons a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free…”


We’ve also planted a variety of milkweed plants to attract the Monarchs in our yard. Some of those plants were given to us by my brother, and this year was one of the best years for our milkweed. The milkweed allowed us to pull leaves off where the butterflies lay their tiny eggs. We could put them in a “critter keeper” to feed and protect them, so that we could allow them to form a chrysalis, then allow them to burst forth, and let them go into the world. From tiny eggs into full blown caterpillars to chrysalis to butterfly has been a miracle to behold each and every time.


Finally, while feeding on the milkweed nectar, monarchs pollinate many plants and flowers, and they also provide food for birds. This species is good for us.


So what is going on with Monarch butterflies? The Monarch is considered endangered, and the champions of the Monarch were heartened to hear that the butterflies have made the endangered list. However, the Monarch is way down the list because there are other species in I thought of my brother, his hard work, and his passion for this species. My heart sank.


Five years ago, I went to the Holy Land with my sister on a tour. Our first stop was Bethlehem. That Bethlehem! I looked over the hills, and I imagined it the shepherds keeping their flocks.


The guide confirmed what I knew about shepherds in the ancient world. Their work was hard. They were were nomadic, therefore homeless, and not to be welcomed in polite, clean company. At night when the shepherds put the sheep into the fold, they literally became the gate. Shepherds made themselves the door of the sheep pen to protect their sheep. Shepherding is dangerous work and work done by those on the lower rung of the social ladder.

And yet, the image of The Good Shepherd is one of the most frequently used images of God in scripture.

What if we took our cues from this picture of God? Might it change our ideas about who to watch over? Who needs our protection, our solidarity right now?

We've also planted a variety of milkweed plants to attract the Monarchs in our yard. Some of those plants were given to us by my brother, and this year was one of the best years for our milkweed. The milkweed allowed us to pull leaves off where the butterflies lay their tiny eggs. We could put them in a “critter keeper” to feed and protect them, so that we could allow them to form a chrysalis, then allow them to burst forth, and let them go into the world. From tiny eggs into full blown caterpillars to chrysalis to butterfly has been a miracle to behold each and every time.


In this season of Advent, as we wait and prepare for God to come to us as a tiny vulnerable baby, who are you watching over? Who are you protecting? Who are you standing up for? Who needs our advocacy? Who needs to be fed some milkweed, or some green pastures, or sacks of groceries because their life is endangered?


It’s true that I may feel overwhelmed by the news that the Monarch is endangered, but I am going to keep planting milkweed. My family is going to keep tending the green pastures. Let us always remember that our calling is to work with the Good Shepherd to keep up with the flocks, and this Good Shepherd does not rest until all the sheep, even one lost sheep, is found and returned, safely, to the fold.


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