Like almost every morning for the last few years, the shepherd woke up with the state of her sheep on her heart. She had been watching the herd diminish over time, losing energy, losing interest, going through the motions, and gradually dying off. It had been a while since they had been eager to leave the comfortable paddock where they slept, and even the enticement of sweet, new grass hadn't been enough to get them to make the hike to the nearby pasture.
The herd was simply withering away in front of her eyes. Attempts to introduce some new stock, younger sheep, new breeds, only resulted in a lot of head butting and indignant baaa-ing. Sooner or later, all of the new sheep had been ostracized and it was clear that they weren't going to thrive by being added to this existing herd.
"How can I care for my flock," the shepherd wondered, "when they are so resistant to the very things that will give them new life?"
To be honest, though, the shepherd also enjoyed how much easier it was to care for sheep that never left their pen. She didn't have to chase them over the hills, didn't have to try to keep them on good paths instead of wandering off to find their own way. Feeding them was easier, and because they were so sedentary, they didn't even need to eat as much. She was able to save money on feed, fence repair, pasturage, and other expenses related to leading the sheep out for the day, making it easier to keep things going with a shrinking herd. Sometimes she missed the feeling of being in a wide open space under the bright sky with the breeze fresh on her face and the smell of growing things in the air, but she didn't miss the rainy days or the dreadfully hot days or dealing with predators and other hazards.
One day, she had an idea that came like a flash of light. "This flock I'm caring for is so easy, they hardly need anything from me. What if I left this flock for part of each day and went out in search of other sheep? Instead of just watching my beloved friends dwindle down to the last sheep standing and doing nothing about it, maybe it's time to leave the one and go searching for the 99."
So she gave it a try. Early in the morning, she fed and watered her faithful flock, cleaned their pen and made sure that everything was as comfortable as possible. Then she screwed up her courage and walked out towards the pastures and the fields, the hills and the valleys. That first day she didn't make it very far; she had lost stamina during her own sedentary years with her sheep, and she had forgotten some of the ways to make unfamiliar sheep comfortable with her presence. Most of the sheep she approached shied away from her, and she was pretty sore by the time she made it back home.
In fact, that first day was pretty discouraging. When she woke up the following morning, she wondered if she was just crazy to try something like this. But the possibilities nagged at her, she thought about the wandering sheep she had seen, and she realized that her heart was yearning to follow this new path.
Day in and day out, she got up, cared for the sheep in the pen, then went out in search of sheep without a shepherd. She didn't know if she'd ever be able to bring them home, or at least maybe not to the same place her aging flock lived, but maybe her renewed energy and enthusiasm would begin to make a difference to the sheep that were left. Maybe, when she did start bringing a new flock by for water and care, there would be sheep in the old flock that would perk up their ears and wonder. Maybe it wouldn't happen, but she knew she couldn't wait for the old flock to change before going out in search of a new flock. She knew she had to start now, risk the changes and uncertainties, and follow where her heart was asking her to go. Out of the paddock gate, away from the comfortable routine, and in search of the 99 who had no shepherd at all.