HEAVEN HAS BLUE CARPET: A Sheep Story by a Suburban Housewife
HEAVEN HAS BLUE CARPET is a humorous, scripture-filled look at shepherding and faith by suburban-housewife-turned-shepherdess Sharon Niedzinski. With hundreds of scripture verses about sheep --- and 16 years of personal shepherding experience --- she has plenty of material to mine.
Niedzinski is an engaging narrator for this wild and woolly adventure, with a warm, invitational voice full of humor and enthusiasm. She first thought of sheep as a sort of accessory; a chance to do sheep-themed décor in the family’s recently acquired 100-year-old farmhouse in Freeland, Michigan. Sheep, she decided, seemed more manageable to her than horses (which her husband and kids had), less intimidating and more prosaic.
Little did she know. “Behind every picturesque scene of snow white sheep grazing peacefully on bright green pastures is lots and lots of back-breaking and muscle building work!” writes Niedzinski. The mother of six and now grandmother of 21 seems unflustered by parenting, but shepherding threw some curve balls at her that left her in a tizzy. Soon she’s referring to the whole project as “my scary sheep project,” and for good reason.
When the first ewe trots off the truck (recently shorn and not looking at all like the warm, woolly sheep she had envisioned), it’s the beginning of sleepless nights, battles with ugly diseases, heartbreaking trips to the slaughterhouse and a realization that sheep are mainly an ungrateful lot who only care about their next meal. Sheep, she discovered, are stubborn, fearful and totally dependent on their shepherd. They also had amazing capacities to escape when she tried to care for them. One sheep jumped over a four-foot fence from a standing position when she was trying to vaccinate it, others ran from her whenever she approached.
But it’s not all baaaaad. Realizing she knew almost nothing about the sheep she had purchased, Niedzinski began a study of her charges. She fell in love with “bummer” lambs (orphans). She learned sheep health, sheep nutrition and sheep reproduction habits. She immersed herself in sheep genetics and learned how to cook, market and sell lamb. Her new favorite stores became the Farm and Fleet and the grain elevator. But “It would take years of applying what I had learned and a changed heart before I could call myself a ‘shepherd of sheep.’”
Of course, there are many opportunities for Niedzinski, the founder of three Christian ministries, to unpack the many scripture references to sheep, including the best-loved Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” Readers familiar with scripture will see many of her contemporary stories as Biblical allegory. A beloved family pet led to the slaughterhouse is a chance to talk about “the lamb of God”; docking the lamb’s tails and deliberately inflicting pain provides an opportunity to reflect on why God allows suffering; an invasion of foot rot in the pasture is a lesson on what happened when sin and evil entered the world.
As Niedzinski suggests, her book is best read in small doses, and because of the tremendous amount of scripture, it also might be used as a devotional. Niedzinski has a great sense of humor, and her love of God, family and farm come through clearly on every page. Occasionally, the charming storyline seems overshadowed by too many scripture verses (some of which feel like a stretch to make her point) when the stories Niedzinski tell already get her spiritual points across. However, her experiences in HEAVEN HAS BLUE CARPET make for entertaining reading and will enrich your understanding of the many sheep/shepherd references found in the Bible.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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