We have goats. There isn't a super strong reason why but a resounding why not. I mean we are a bunch of city kids who know very little about goats but besides that, why not? We built them a pen that we tested and looked secure. The baby goats were in there for 10 minutes before they broke out and led us on a 45 minute chase through the neighborhood. They were making sounds like real children getting kidnapped. Half of the neighborhood came out to their front porches laughing as they realized they were watching white girls chase goats through the city. It was traumatic for us all.
But over a year later, the goats are alive and well. The scholars love "harvesting" the grass and weeds from the playground yard to feed them. The goats have turned into a pretty helpful lawn maintenance crew, so we've let them free roam on the playground keeping it nice and mowed down. It's worked brilliantly.
Some neighborhood kids have realized we have a pretty sweet playground set up and have been hopping the fence to play. We've asked them to use the gate, but that requires 100 extra steps and they don't have time for that. They've managed to tear up the fence in the process of hopping over. We've used rocks and zip ties to mend it but those squirrelly goats in partnership with the neighborhood kids found a way out again.
The other day, Ariel Jankord, our 2nd grade teacher, sent me a picture of the goats on the other side of the fence munching on the sweet green grass in the neighbor's yard. The hole in the fence was too small for a human and I started to empathize with the neighborhood kids about how inconvenient it is to have to walk around to the gate. I panicked a little. I did NOT want to chase the goats again. I should be more transparent...I have an irrational fear of animals. I didn't personally chase the goats during their fist escape. Rachel and Mer did and I drove around in the van trying to encourage their efforts. Don't judge me.
So it's a stare off...Me Vs. Goats. I told the kids to all move away from the fence and I hollered something like, "Hey, come on!" and within seconds the goats came running back in to the playground, up the steps and into their pen. I tried to convince the kids (and myself) that when I called the goats they listened to my voice and came running back obediently. I got as far as planning a devotion about how I'm like Jesus and the goats are like us and when we hear Jesus' voice we should come running like the goats ran to my voice. Pathetic, I know.
But it really got me thinking about why those goats ran like mad away from us on their first escape and skipped right back home towards us after their second one.
Proverbs 22:6 kept running through my mind, "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."
I was reminded by the goats that training is often invisible. We've never sat down with the goats and talked about the importance of staying behind the locked fence because of the dangers that lurk in the neighborhood. We've never talked about the consequences of the neighborhood stray dogs or the cars in the road. We've never had a conversation about our commitment to feed them and care for them. In fact, we've never talked with the goats at all. And yet because we faithfully show up everyday and feed them and have provided a pen that's been cozy and safe, they just know where home is.
At UCA we will always seek to train each other to know where home is. This will happen with our words, through memorizing scripture, through studying the heart and character of God, through correction and instruction and maybe more importantly by justing showing up. And someday when the UCA scholars inevitably jump the fence to see if the grass tastes better on the other side, we pray that something deep down will beckon them back to home. Not back to UCA, but back to the heart of God.
Some words that have resonated with us frequently say it well, "we're all just walking each other home." I get teary thinking about the privilege it is to be walking home with this crew. And as much as I would like to pretend like I'm the one leading the way, these beautiful hearts are so keenly aware of the direction of home. They have guided my wandering heart and quite frankly carried it when it was weary with the authenticity of their faith in a God who is captivated by them and for them; a God who shows up for them everyday of their lives, a God who is near.