You Never Know What’s ‘Round the Corner

James Herriot, a British veterinarian of the last century, tells a story about a cow that had ingested some wire, which would have to be removed.  The vet performing the operation was on a big kick about cleanliness and presentation, so he arrives at the farm in new, sharp clothes and then dons a “brilliantly white smock.”  He has his assistants lay out all the polished tools of surgery on brand new metal trays.  The farmer asks if he can watch, and the vet is only too glad to show off for an audience.

He cuts through skin and muscle and arrives at the cow’s first stomach (they have four).  Before he can cut open the stomach, it bulges out through the opening in the skin.  He presses it back in, but it comes out again, bigger!  The vet suspects gas is causing the stomach to expand.  They go back and forth several times, with more stomach coming out each time, until finally it is so large outside the cow that he can barely hold it with both arms wrapped around it, and it’s at his eye level!  It takes two men to wrestle the thing down, at which point the vet quickly makes his cut.

Herriot then says, “I was glad I had moved away because through the incision shot a high-pressure jet of semi-liquid stomach contents – a greenish-brown, foul-smelling cascade which erupted from the depths of the cow as from an invisible pump.”  This hits the vet’s face first, then continues pouring into his hair, down his neck, all over that brilliant white smock.

To prevent this spew from contaminating the cow’s interior abdomen, the vet holds on to the stomach, one hand on each side of the incision.  He is directly in the line of fire.  Herriot continues, “Now and then, the steady stream would be varied by a sudden explosion which sent fermenting broth spouting viciously over everything in the immediate vicinity” – new metal trays, gleaming instruments, new clothes.  The vet’s face at this point is too obscured to detect any expressions, but in the white eyes peeking through the now-brown face, Herriot says he sees anguish.  Well, no kidding!

The vet heroically holds on through it all, “paddling about in a reeking swamp which came half way up” his boots.  Finally the flood slows, then stops, and the vet reaches his arm through the first stomach, into the second, finds the wire, and removes it.  They clean some suture materials and close the incision.  At all this, Herriot says, the cow “seemed unperturbed.”

Interesting story Aaron… why in the world are you grossing us all out?!  I think we can see this story as a parable of sorts.  The vet is serving the cow – doing it a great service to make its life better despite some bad circumstances.  And the cow is so appreciative off this wonderful service that… it poops all over him!  And not even nicely processed, ready-to-go poop.  Straight-from-the-first-stomach, so-gross-that-God-gave-cows-three-more-stomachs-to-deal-with-it, putrid crap.  

Despite the crap, the vet hangs in there and takes it all, for the sake of the cow.  For the cow’s benefit, he takes all the crap on himself, and when the cow has done its very worst, still he fulfills his service to it.  

You see, the vet didn’t serve the cow because it perfectly followed his well-thought-out plan.  He didn’t serve because the cow might give him something in return.  He didn’t serve because it would be glamorous or because the cow would tell all its friends what a great service he gave.  He served the cow because the cow needed to be served.  And that’s why we serve.

Compared to this vet’s experience, spending time with families in Orlando is quite glamorous, and many of them are so appreciative and give us wonderful encouragements because of our service.  That’s all well and good… and it has nothing to do with why we serve.  We serve because these families need to be served.  They need to know the hope that is uniquely and eternally found in God’s love through Jesus Christ.  If things don’t go exactly as planned, or a family doesn’t lavish us with appreciation, it’s okay.  It’s okay!  That in no way undermines the reason we serve.  Even if something goes crappy, which we know it will eventually since death is lurking, we serve each and every family with God’s very best.

Herriot says the vet who did this remarkable service had “something indomitable about him.”  I love that word, indomitable!  Indomitable means that even when it gets crappy, you say things like this vet did: “His streaked features broke into a grin… ‘You never know what’s ’round the corner in this game, my boys, but just think of this – that operation was a success!’”  I love that!  “You never know what’s ’round the corner in this game, my boys, but just think of this – that operation was a success!”  From one perspective, or really the many perspectives of all caught in the crap, it was crappy.  But, despite the anguish he truly felt earlier, the vet declares success.  Why?  Because he did what he was called to do.  

What we are called to do is plain enough in Colossians 3:23-24 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance (Inheritance of Hope!) from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  It doesn’t matter if things get crappy, because we are serving Jesus more than anyone or anything else, and serving God is a pretty good definition of success.

So, even if (when!) some things don’t go quite how we planned them, even if (when!) some things get crappy – whether at this Legacy Retreat or as death casts its shadow afterward, we are serving precious families in a way that they deeply need and that no one else is offering, all in Jesus’ name.  The crap-streaked but grinning vet’s line is ours too: You never know what’s ’round the corner in this game, friends, but just think of this – this operation, serving God, is a success! 

Prayer: Dear God, whatever may come today, help us to see how You are at work and to follow Your lead.  Help us to give each person we’re with Your very best, no matter what’s ’round the corner.  May this day be a success for Your kingdom!  Amen!

Aaron is Inheritance of Hope’s COO.  A version of this devotional was first shared with the August 2019 Orlando Legacy Retreat team.  Read more Inheritance of Hope blog posts >>