"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
May 2, 2013
Faith and Works
by Hannah Bird

Several weeks ago, I asked some friends to suggest topics for my columns. Never one to shirk a challenge, my friend Dean immediately suggested faith versus works.

Faith and works are a bit of a sticking point for some observers of the Mormon faith. I have had decent, loving people tell me in all seriousness that I believe that I can do enough good works to secure my own salvation. They say I do not accept that I need a Savior.

I greatly appreciate their confidence in me, but I cannot make polite conversation or Jell-O that actually gels. I don’t remember which day I was married or what I named the children that I love so dearly. I have no chance at any type of blessings or salvation without a dose of grace so massive that my biggest and best work would be absorbed into as an invisible speck.

So why then, works?

Yesterday, my beautiful Rosie cow had her first calf. Please understand that when I say Rosie is beautiful, I am assuming that anyone looking at her is blinded by the same love I have for her. A more objective person may notice that she is skinny, and that the stubs of her horns point in wildly different directions, or that her left eye is clouded by a blinding bloom of white.

She has the symmetry of a Picasso painting. Her coloring is so uneven that she looks more like a graffiti victim than a spotted cow.  But she is sweet and gentle. She solicits loves. She will come and discuss her day in sweet low tones while I rub her neck. She is my beautiful Rosie.

Apparently labor had been very hard for her.  When I checked the bag and placenta, I was a little worried about their condition. Rosie’s tiny bull calf had not liked labor any better than she had. He lay on the ground sprawled out rather than curled up like a healthy sleepy calf. He was tiny and limp.

As I checked his hips and umbilical cord, he quit breathing. I rubbed him vigorously and he regrouped only to quit breathing again a few minutes later. I brought him around again and worked on getting him up. He stumbled, not like a regular wobbly calf. He tipped completely over. I got him up again.

Rosie wasn’t doing much better. She had wandered away to the water bucket. She was more interested in my children than her own little one.  She did not care that I was annoying her baby. She did not care when the bull came over to check things out. She did not warn us away or hurry over to lick him clean of our contamination. She did not look at him at all.

The calf made a few half-hearted attempts to call for a momma. But Rosie didn’t answer him. Finally on his feet, he began wandering around the pasture trying to identify his mother. Having met the bull first, the little calf followed him for quite a while. The bull was shockingly tolerant about it but eventually the calf realized that he was not getting fed and wandered away.

He next approached a trio of cows my son refers to as “the Mafia.” They are beautiful cows, even to objective people. They are also surly and far too good to waste time with human beings. But they are excellent mothers and nursemaids. They have taken in and nursed bum calves for us time and time again.

But for some reason, they greatly objected to the presence of this tiny bull. They ran him off. They pushed him away from their babies.  He would get no help from them.

I was becoming concerned. It was getting dark and cold. Rosie remained uninterested or even completely unaware of her offspring. The calf fell down weakly and began to sleep. I had to do something.

First we isolated the calf and Rosie, but they remained strangers. Rosie stepped not very carefully over her baby’s head to get as far away from him as possible. Finally Rosie lay down to rest. Because she is the most tolerant cow I gently milked some rich yellow colostrum from her bloated udder. I got milk on my hands and Rosie’s udder. Then I let the little calf suck on my fingers. He was excited about my new idea. I milked out more and fed him with a baster. He made happy slurping sounds.

It had started to snow. I sat on the ground holding the little calf, leaning against my cow and willing them to find each other. My daughter made Rosie a bucket of warm water with molasses and bullion. Whenever Rosie let the calf near or let me milk her we rewarded her with a drink.

We got a towel and rubbed the baby down vigorously to stop his shaking. Then I took some remaining afterbirth and a little milk and rubbed in on the calf’s head and hips. I needed his mother to smell that he was her baby but I did not want to make him cold.  Finally fed and warm, the little bull got up and after laborious searching he found a fat milk-filled teat. Rosie tolerated his attempts as we plied her with more drink.

After hours in the snowy field, we came inside. I was soaked and freezing cold. My body hurt. I had done the best I could do. I wanted things to be ok for Rosie and her baby. I hoped that they would make that connection. A better cattleman than I probably could have done more.

Someone may have been able to do less. But I had done what I could do.

We woke up to the sun shining and birds singing. No snow remained. It was as if the night before had never happened. And there in the field were Rosie and her calf. He nursed hungrily. She licked him enough to make him annoyed. Then she got cross and mooed at him when he tried to wander away. When I tried to pet the calf she stepped between us. I am welcome to pet her neck and bring her treats. But that is her baby, thank you very much.

They made it.

I didn’t make that happen. I tried to help. Maybe I did; maybe I didn’t. But I did what I could because that is what I had promised to do when I chose to have animals. When we bought Rosie we were promising to do our best. When we bred Rosie we were promising to sit in the snow and hold her baby.  Whether I can make everything right or not it is my responsibility to try.  

Works matter. Not because I am earning salvation. But because I am keeping my word. If I choose to take upon me the name of Christ, I am promising to do my best to love as he did.

Some may be able to do more. Some may be able to do less.  It will always be imperfect. The salvation that comes is salvation from selfishness or from cowardice or helplessness in those moments. I am saved from a small life that revolves around me.

And then I have faith. I have faith that the little thing that was the very best I can do will be swallowed up in the infinite perfection that is offered me. Faith will bring me redemption. But works help me redeem my days. Because when I sit on the frozen ground, soaked with snow gently trying and trying again, I am a better me.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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