Rein Management

On the drive to school or church, my stepson and I often talk of horses. The other day I mentioned how I thought Knockout would be really good at Western Reining, with his cow sense, athleticism, and cutting horse breeding.  Dawson responded skeptically, “Well, I’m not going to ride him!”

“Why not?” I asked, “Knockout’s no problem.  He’s very attentive and responds well to light cues.  Just don’t try to hold him.  He doesn’t like to be held and will sometimes panic…which can lead to bolting or bucking.”

“Then how do you get him to stop or slow down?” Dawson queried.

I explained Knockout and I have an understanding on the use of bit pressure. I always first give him an opportunity to respond to seat cues.  If he doesn’t take me up on the light stopping cue of sitting deep in the saddle, I will quickly firm up with rein pressure.  However, I never hold the rein pressure.  Once Knockout has responded as asked, I immediately release the pressure.

The pressure release lets Knockout know he gave the right response. It also gives him a reason to respond.  He escapes the bit pressure by responding with his feet…and responding with his feet always results in release of pressure.

Knockout and I both have our responsibilities. He responds to my cues.  I respond to his response by releasing pressure.  That way, Knockout always has a way out from pressure and never needs to feel claustrophobic or panicked.

Later that evening, I showed Dawson a short segment of a Carson James video in which Carson demonstrates rein management. In the video, Carson is backing a horse and shows how to hold the reins with slack (drooping slightly with no tension) but with very little travel (no excess slack).  Managing the reins in this manner allows the rider to keep slack in the reins while staying only an inch away from light pressure and only two inches away from heavy pressure.  So the rider can quickly and smoothly transition between varying amounts of pressure and instantly return to slack reins upon proper response.

Rein management is all about good timing in giving the right amount of pressure for the occasion, then instantly returning to slack reins with zero pressure.

A few days later, we were walking back to the trailer at the end of a high school rodeo when I pointed out Dawson’s tight reins, “Your horse would appreciate some slack in those reins so he can relax.”

“If I do that, he’ll trot off,” Dawson responded, dropping his reins to demonstrate.

“Stop him and back him up,” I replied. “Good!  Now drop your reins.”

So, we had a short little mini-training session right there in the fairgrounds parking lot. I showed Dawson how to catch the horse starting to walk forward, stop him, back him one step, then drop the reins.  After about four times, the horse stood relaxed on a loose rein.

“Now, lift the reins about a half an inch and lean forward slightly. When the horse starts to move, just move with him.”

We walked back to the trailer at a slow walk on loose reins.

Next weekend, we took an eight mile horseback ride together, paying close attention to slack reins at different gaits and working toward good response to light cues.

It was pretty awesome! 🙂

I’m still fairly new to this horsemanship stuff. My experience is pretty limited and I have a lot yet to learn.

I’m learning, though, that there are a lot of parallels between horsemanship and parenting ADHD teens.

Much like horses, teens don’t respond well to being held tightly. They need a little freedom to move and make some of their own decisions.

Much like horses, teens need relationship and understanding. Rules without relationship don’t work well for horses or teens.

Much like horses, teens need consistency. They need to be able to rely on encountering pressure when they fail to respond to light cues.

Much like horses, ADHD teens live very much in the moment. So pressure and release need to be well-timed to be effective.

Much like horses, teens need to feel the comfort of smooth relationship with minimal pressure when they’re doing the right thing. If all they feel is pressure no matter what they do, they’ll soon quit trying or blow up in exasperation.

This means…much as in horsemanship, I need to get really good at rein management in parenting, with alertness, balance, feel, and good timing.

I’m still learning…and so is he. Maybe we can figure this out together…with help from a couple of horses.  😉

Simple Answers

She graciously steered the conversation toward a topic she knew I like, “So, how do you make a horse go?”

I paused, pondering the question and possible responses. Honestly, the question would have been easier to answer a couple of years ago when I knew less about the topic…which meant I was probably overthinking the question.  Should I start with explaining I don’t make a horse do anything, I ask him?  No, she’d think I was just being nit-picky.  Should I talk about differentiating cues for different speeds?  No, she almost certainly meant moving from a standstill to walking and continuing to walk.  Should I start with explaining it depends on the horse’s level of training?  No, she was clearly referring to a well-trained horse.  It was asked as a simple direct question with expectation of a simple direct answer.

Unsure of my reason for hesitating, she reframed the question, “When you’re riding your horse, how do you get him to go?”

I latched onto the specificity of the reframed question, “Well…with my horse I usually just shift my weight slightly forward and maybe lift the reins a little. That’s usually all he needs.  If that doesn’t get a response, then I might nudge him a little with my legs or smooch him.”

It was a simple direct question expecting a simple direct response. My response was as simple and direct as I knew how to make it.  Yet I knew it likely had more qualifiers than she expected.  I also knew was a very incomplete answer…and not very useful.

It was a very incomplete answer...and not very useful. Click To Tweet

I knew the situation she was referring to. I’ve experienced it myself a few times.  A novice rider on a rented or borrowed horse starts out with a group of riders on a trail ride.  The borrowed horse falls behind the group and slows to a gradual halt.  The novice rider clicks, kicks, swats, or in some other way tries to prod the horse to move out.  The horse responds by picking up to a trot for a few strides then drops right back to a slow walk before stopping to browse on grass or leaves.

The answer I gave was a truthful answer, but of absolutely no use to a rider in such a situation. A horse that did not respond to clicks, kicks or swats was unlikely to respond to a shift of weight or a lift of reins.

To inspire a horse to go in such a situation, one must first understand why the horse stopped. Most likely, the horse stopped walking because the rider stopped riding…or maybe never started riding.  However, that answer requires explanation of what riding entails.

Riding a horse is more than being a passenger. Riding is active.  Riding is movement.  Riding is communication.  I don’t just ask my horse to go.  I also ask him to continue going.  I move in rhythm with his movement, then ask him to move with my movement.  If I stop moving, I expect him to also stop moving.

But it’s not just movement.  It’s communication through movement.  It’s relationship, balance, timing, and movement with meaning…where horse and rider have worked out a system of communication where both know the meaning of different cues and the expected response.  And it’s not one way communication.  The rider isn’t just telling the horse what to do, he’s also listening to the horse, feeling what the horse is thinking and noting where his attention is directed.  Ray Hunt described it as, “First you move with your horse.  Then your horse moves with you.  Then you both move together.”

“How do you make a horse go?” Such a simple direct question…deserving of a simple direct answer.  Yet master horsemen have written volumes trying to answer that question, and will tell you they fall short in the telling.

Why is the answer so complicated? Because the answer involves relationship and communication…because a useful answer must first bring the questioner into a paradigm of beginning to understand a little of that relationship…and because every horse and every rider are different.

Pondering these things I am reminded of the many questions we ask about godliness, expecting simple direct answers. Why would we assume simple direct answers could possibly be either complete or useful?  Human relationships are exponentially more complex than horse relationships.  Human communication is much more nuanced and prone to misunderstanding than horse-human communication.  The Bible tells us God’s ways are much higher than our ways and are beyond our understanding.

Yet, we stubbornly persist in asking simple direct questions from incomplete paradigms in expectation of simple direct answers.

Ask ten different theologians, “When is divorce permissible?” and you will likely receive ten different answers.

But that’s not the puzzling part.

The puzzling part is that nine of those ten theologians will likely respond with a simple direct answer…confident they have provided an answer that is both complete and useful…the sum total of what God has to say on the topic.

Human relations are extremely complex. Marital relations are even more complex than most.  Marital relations in a marriage having gone so badly wrong for one or both to be asking about divorce are likely full of complex contradictory emotions and many years of trying and failing to effectively communicate or effect change.

A person asking the question, “When is divorce permissible?” is clearly interested in pleasing God. Otherwise, there would be no need to even ask the question.  Discerning God’s plans and intentions for any person’s life in any given situation is difficult, requiring listening to the Holy Spirit and understanding His cues.  Yet, many pastors and theologians seem to believe they can speak godly wisdom into people’s lives through trite prescribed wooden answers assumed to fit every situation.

And a person asking such a question is likely in very real need of wise godly input. They don’t need a trite rhetorical response.  They need help and understanding.  They need useful input and prayerful suggestions.  An answer that is incomplete and unhelpful is worse than no response at all.  A simple “I don’t know” would be much better than a misleading answer to such a question.

I am a beginner horseman. Yet I know enough to realize there is no simple, direct, useful answer to the question, “How do you make a horse go?”

How could any experienced pastor believe a useful simplistic answer could be given to a question so fraught with complexities and potential pitfalls as “When is divorce permissible?”

Anyone who believes such a question can be usefully answered with a trite canned response is lacking in wisdom and discernment.

It’s just not that simple.

Miraculous Evidence

I recently read a Facebook comment lamenting the lack of objective proof of God’s existence. The guy seemed very sincere.  He mentioned his own personal crisis of faith and feeling disillusioned with his religious heritage.

I wrote a few words intended to encourage. I meant to come back to the post, but it was lost in my newsfeed.

It’s not the first time I’ve read or heard such thoughts…nor am I immune to such thinking myself from time to time. When faced with such questions, I mostly feel inadequate to meet the need.  I usually say much less than I would like to say, because I don’t want to come across as trite.  My head and my heart are full of potentially appropriate responses, but I struggle with how to express myself in a meaningful way…in a way that might be meaningful to the questioner.

The question reminded me of some of the ‘atheist challenges’ I’ve seen on the internet. One I read a few years ago challenged Christians to demonstrate just one objectively verifiable miracle.  I didn’t respond to the challenge…I did ponder the perspective of the author.

What, exactly, is a verifiable miracle? I assume ‘verifiable’ as used in the challenge means eyewitness testimony doesn’t count.  I assume it also means video evidence and photographic evidence don’t count.  Which drastically narrows the number of potential qualifying events.

On the one hand, I understand the reasoning. People have been known to falsify claims of miraculous events.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.  Videos and photographs can be modified to show things that didn’t happen…or can be misconstrued to seem to show things differently from what actually occurred.  Someone feeling disillusioned is likely to feel very untrusting of such things and ask for more objective evidence of the miraculous.

Here’s where it gets tricky though. When we think of miraculous events, we’re usually talking about something extraordinary and transitory in nature, that cannot be reasonably explained or understood through natural laws or scientific explanation.  By definition, any transitory or temporary event we could name is already in the past…it has already occurred…which means the telling of the event now relies to some extent on circumstantial evidence.

Let’s say, for example, we’re talking about a miraculous healing. We could probably present the healed person for investigation to verify they are no longer afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, the reported health issue no longer exists and now relies on circumstantial evidence.  One could produce health records, scans, x-rays, test results and eyewitness testimony that the person had, indeed, previously been afflicted with the reported health issue.  However, all of these could be dismissed as not objectively verifiable.  Records can be altered.  X-rays, scans, and test results can have names and dates edited.  Eyewitnesses can lie or be misled.

This sort of evidence would likely be admissible in a court of law where the bar is “beyond a reasonable doubt” but would likely be insufficient for the person demanding absolute objectively verifiable scientific proof.

For the person requiring objectively verifiable evidence of a miracle before they will believe, no transitory miracle will suffice…because transitory miraculous events rely on circumstantial evidence for context and verification of facts prior to the altered state.

So, if legal proof is insufficient, what about scientific proof? Scientific investigation begins with hypotheses and theories that must be tested and verified.  The usual standard for scientific evidence is experimental verification that can be replicated by other scientists.

This is where we start getting into questions of the definition of a miracle.

Fire touched to dry gunpowder instantaneously initiates extremely rapid oxidation resulting in a highly explosive release of stored energy. I would call that miraculous.  It is also objectively verifiable and consistently repeatable.

However, I doubt the questioner would accept this as an objectively verifiable miracle. Why not?  It is certainly objectively verifiable…as well as extraordinary.  However, because it meets the scientific criteria for objectively verifiable evidence, he would likely not consider the explosive nature of gunpowder to be miraculous.  We can replicate the explosion at will and provide some level of explanation as to how it works.  Therefore, it is considered a natural phenomenon explained by science rather than a miracle.

sunrise through fog

Sunrise through Fog

Do you see the problem? We have no lack of evidence of the miraculous.  As I type these words I am looking out the window at a brilliant sunrise.  What a stunning miracle!

Yesterday, I visited my son and held my 4-month old grandson in my arms. I watched his sweet smile.  I heard his laugh and consoled his tears.  So much personality and life wrapped in such a tiny fragile package of humanity.  What a wondrous miracle!

Daily I am overwhelmed, awed and humbled by the miraculous. Most of these miraculous events are objectively verifiable by any scientific standard.  Yet, because they are objectively verifiable, they are dismissed as not miraculous enough.  The issue is neither a lack of scientific evidence nor a lack of miracles.  The issue is of a more philosophical nature…as soon as we are able to provide objectively verifiable proof we stop considering the event to be of a miraculous nature…because it is scientifically verifiable.

So, what if we could find a miraculous event that was scientifically verifiable but for which we have no scientific explanation…a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding? Would that meet the standard of an objectively verifiable miracle?

If so, I have very good news for you. That miracle exists and is as close as the nearest light switch.

Light is truly extraordinary in nature. Light consistently defies our understanding of the natural laws.  Though not at all uncommon in our natural world, light obstinately behaves as though it belongs to some other realm outside our natural world. Every time we develop a new theory to try to explain the behavior of light, we make a new discovery that confounds the latest theories.

In trying to explain what light is, we may describe it as rays, or as waves, or as particles. Scientific evidence shows it is all three…and none of the above.  In some ways light behaves as rays…yet it also contradicts ray theory.  In some ways light behaves as waves…yet it also contradicts wave theory.  In some ways light behaves as particles…yet it also contradicts particle theory.

It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do. – Albert Einstein

In an effort to explain light’s stubborn refusal to conform to the normal scientific laws of relativity, Albert Einstein developed his generalized theory of relativity. The speed of light has been verifiably proven to be constant no matter the relative speeds of the viewer and the light source.  Einstein theorized that time and distance must, therefore, vary as a function of velocity.  Einstein’s theory nicely provides the required mathematics.  Yet, he clearly demonstrates that rather than learning how light fits into our understanding of the natural laws, we must instead adjust our understanding of the natural laws to conform to the behavior of light.

In more recent years, a whole new branch of physics called Quantum Physics has emerged to study another property of light. Even when light is carefully released one photon particle at a time, it still behaves in a wave interference manner, as though it were being continuously released as waves.  This behavior is objectively verifiable and repeatable, but virtually unexplainable.

Even more inexplicable, the behavior changes if an observer records the photon paths in real time…the observer influences the outcome of the experiment by simply observing.  Without an observer, the carefully controlled experiment results in wave-interference patterns.  With an observer recording the path of each photon, the exact same carefully controlled experiment results in random patterns as predicted by particle theory.

In an attempt to explain this behavior, quantum physicists have developed theories involving alternate parallel universes interconnected by probabilistic timelines.

space time continuum with duplicate earths

Alternate Reality – pic by Victor Habbick

Again, we find we cannot explain the behavior of light through our understanding of natural laws. We must, instead, adjust our understanding of the natural laws, including relying on hypothetical alternate realities we have no way of directly investigating or verifying.  We must rely, instead, on indirect observations based on the properties of light within our own observable universe.

I have heard a saying among quantum physicists, “If you think you understand quantum physics, you don’t.” So, here we have a scientifically verifiable phenomenon which the leading specialized scientists admit they do not understand, cannot explain, and must resort to hypothetical propositions of unverifiable alternate universes in an attempt to explain.

Surely, light qualifies as a verifiable phenomenon so outside our understanding of the natural universe that leading scientists are forced to admit it is beyond their understanding!

Light is, indeed, an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis.

Light is an objectively verifiable miracle which we encounter on a daily basis! Click To Tweet

No wonder Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world”! (John 8:12)

Jesus was in this world but was not of this world. Jesus did not conform to the natural laws of this world…the natural laws conformed to Him.

Born of a virgin…turned water into wine…walked on water…calmed a storm with a verbal rebuke…healed the sick…raised the dead…died and was resurrected. All verified by multiple eyewitnesses…carefully recorded for posterity…

Unbelievable? Not sufficiently objectively verifiable?

Surely no more unbelievable than the hypothetical alternate universes relied on in attempting to explain the miraculously supernatural nature of light…which is scientifically established as consistently objectively verifiable…

Relative Comfort

I’m not an expert horse trainer. I am, at best, a novice horseman…maybe more of a wannabe horseman…which is okay, too.  My only horse experience has been working with our own horses.  So, take my observations with a grain of salt…I have a fairly narrow experience spectrum in regard to horse behavior.

However, the more I work with horses the more I find myself thinking of them as natural comfort magnets. Horses naturally move toward what feels comfortable and they naturally move away from what feels uncomfortable.  Their level of comfort or discomfort can be either physical or emotional…it often seems largely intuitive…which makes sense for prey animals.  It’s important to avoid anything intuitively perceived as uncomfortable…potentially dangerous.  It is equally important to gravitate toward comfort…food, water, shelter, safety.

I have begun to think of horsemanship as largely a matter of managing a horse’s comfort levels and comfort zones. Horsemen talk a lot about pressure and release.  Pressure is basically mild discomfort applied to solicit a response.  The release is basically comfort applied as positive reinforcement of desired behavior.  So, pressure and release are basically just using comfort and discomfort as training aids.

Horsemen also talk a lot about desensitizing…training a horse to be comfortable with something that has previously made him anxious. Basically this is a matter of incrementally expanding the horse’s comfort zone.  To desensitize my horse to an object, I expose him to it in small doses, letting him become comfortable with it first at a distance, then close up, then very close, then touching, then rubbing all over his body.  I incrementally step him from terrified to comfortable by gradually expanding his comfort zone to include the object of concern.

The tricky part comes in knowing when to apply comfort, when to apply discomfort, and to what degree.

For example, let’s say a horse has been taught to load in a trailer and normally has no issue loading. But one day I go to load that horse and he balks.  He backs away from the trailer door and doesn’t want anything to do with it.  Now, a lot of horse owners at this point will say, “I hate when a horse knows what to do and refuses.  He’s just being stubborn and defiant.”  Acting on that basis, they will then firm up and apply increasing pressure (discomfort) outside the trailer with the intent of getting the horse to load in the trailer.

Sometimes that works. Sometimes that is exactly what the horse needs in order to find the confidence to go ahead and load in the trailer.

But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes the horse will respond by more actively avoiding the trailer door.  And here is where it gets tricky…

If I respond to my horse’s reluctance to load by firming up and assuming he is being defiant, my natural response to increased resistance will likely be to become even firmer and more aggressive. That can quickly escalate into a contest of wills which I cannot win…the horse is too much bigger and stronger than I.  More significantly, by battling out a contest of wills right at the trailer door, I am turning the trailer door into a high pressure zone…a place of discomfort and suspicion…which is the opposite of what I want.  A horse who loads easily is a horse who feels comfortable and confident both around the trailer door and inside the trailer.

Now, here’s where the comfort management comes in.

For whatever reason, the horse was initially uncomfortable with the trailer door on this particular day. My escalation of pressure didn’t work and resulted, instead in making him even more suspicious of the trailer door.  I’m increasing pressure outside the trailer with the intent of getting him to move through the trailer door to escape the discomfort I’m creating.  However, the situation is rapidly devolving to trap the horse between two escalating sources of discomfort.  Most likely, the horse will attempt to escape both sources of discomfort by moving completely out of the area.  He will probably try to flee the area, even if he has to buck or rear to do it.

At that point it’s probably best to walk away and try a different approach…maybe one that focuses more on comfort and less on discomfort. Successful trailer loading begins with the horse feeling very comfortable in and around the trailer.

Where the comfort management gets really fun is in realizing the horse is also sensitive to different levels of comfort and will tend to gravitate toward the more comfortable. If I’m going down the road and want my horse to move toward the left side, one way to cue that is to press with my right leg so my horse will move left, away from the pressure.  I haven’t really caused any discomfort.  I’ve just set up a situation of relative discomfort.  I’ve made the right side feel a little less comfortable than the left side so the horse will move left, away from the less comfortable.

Once I started experimenting with relative comfort I wanted to see how light a cue my horse would respond to. Before long, I could get him to step left with just a light brush of my right leg.  Then I decided to take it one step further.  What if, instead of creating relative discomfort I created relative comfort.  Rather than pressing with my right leg, I lifted my left stirrup away and my horse stepped left.  The lifted stirrup created a lower pressure zone of increased relative comfort which the horse gravitated toward.

Rather than using mild leg pressure to push the horse the desired direction, the lifted stirrup sets up a mild comfort differential to invite the horse to step the desired direction. It’s the difference between leading versus pushing…the difference between inviting versus compelling.  The really cool thing about this approach is I never did anything to cause discomfort under saddle.  Instead, I invited him from a place of comfort to a place of greater comfort.

Comfort under saddle is important because my long-term goal for my horse is for me to be his greatest source of comfort.  I want the place beneath my saddle and between my legs to be his greatest comfort zone.  When we’re riding and encounter something he views as scary, I want him looking to me for direction, confidence and comfort rather than running scared.

Disclaimer: Lest I give the impression I’m a better horseman than I am, let me clarify that not every ride is as smooth and light as I have described here.  Some rides are a bit rougher.  Even most good rides require a couple of times using enough pressure to “give the horse a reason to respond to the light cue” as Carson James likes to say.  However, some rides really are that light and smooth…and with practice those light rides are becoming more frequent.

Reflecting on the response of these horses to varying levels of comfort, I realize I’m not so different from a horse. I too am drawn toward comfort and repelled by discomfort.  I also tend to gravitate toward the more comfortable.  In tense or fearful situations, I too look for a source of comfort.

No wonder Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter!

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

Like my horse, in stressful situations I tend to flee to a place of comfort. There may be any number of comfort sources I may turn to…and there may be nothing wrong with many of them.  However, sin can be addicting for the very reason that it provides temporary comfort…and any comfort source (other than Christ) raised to a high level of priority can become sinful.

Much like my goals for my horse, God’s goal for me is for the Holy Spirit to be my greatest source of comfort. My greatest comfort zone should be abiding in Him.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When I’m scared or stressed, I need to learn to run to Father for comfort and direction.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

What a wonderful Savior, who leads us from comfort to comfort with light gentle cues!

Your thoughts?

 

A Light Ask

Sonny and KnockoutHalter in hand, I walk through the pasture gate and approach my horse. He looks up from grazing, facing me, expectantly.  As I approach, I walk toward his shoulder rather than his face…horses sometimes seem intimidated by a direct face-to-face approach…and I want my approach to be welcomed.  They’re prey animals…programmed by the Creator to be sensitive to such things.

I extend my hand in greeting for him to sniff and catch his eye. It’s always polite to say hello before asking favors from others.  Once welcomed into his sphere, I gently pet his shoulder and neck.  Then I step back to pet his face and show him the halter, “May I put a halter on you?”

After slipping the halter on and fastening it, I take up the lead line and start to lead off, “Would you please follow me?”

I lead slightly to the side. Horses tend to be naturally less resistant to a side-tug than to a head-on tug.  It has to do with directional strength and balance.

He may follow right away. Often, though, he’ll hesitate.  He’s not being stubborn.  He just feels the pull of the pasture’s comfort, knowing I may ask him to work.

As I feel the lead line straighten and resistance start to build, I pause without looking back. I’m not yet pulling.  There’s just enough tension in the rope for him to feel it, but not anything to brace against.  I am asking him to follow.  I am not demanding that he follow.

I feel a little slack as he shifts his weight forward, “Okay, I’m coming,” and respond by giving more slack back, “Thank you.” Then more slack is added as he steps toward me.

I take a step, feel the rope lift, then feel it go slack again as he steps with me…and I give slack back, “Thank you!”

Now, we’re moving together in synchronized step. He times his steps to match mine…as we both feel our connection through the lead line.

This is it! 🙂

This is the start of a good ride.

It starts right here, with a light ask…a soft response…a well-timed release…leading to synchronized movement.

Isn’t that how God leads us?

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. (Psalm 23: 1-3)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; (John 10:27)

As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So You led Your people, To make for Yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah 63:14)

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

Shouldn’t this be how we interact with other people?

What would happen if, rather than demanding our rights or trying to force others to see things our way, we, instead, gave a light ask, then responded to the slightest change by dropping all pressure? Might that work better?  Might that more closely resemble how God approaches us?

What do you think?

Confederate Monuments

I was born and raised in south Arkansas, and am still a proud resident of this beautiful state. I grew up with a sense of pride in my heritage, both as an American and as a Southerner.

My family history includes oral traditions of ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War…of men walking the picket lines at night seeking out a beloved cousin fighting on the opposing side, for the purpose of sharing news of loved ones back home. I was raised with a sense of respect for soldiers on both sides of that horrible war. Participants on both sides of that war were largely made up of decent men fighting to defend their homeland.

From the Union perspective, the Confederate soldiers were rebels fighting against their own country. From the Confederacy perspective, the Union armies were invading their homeland.

I’ve always struggled with discussions on the topic of what causes were represented by each side of that war. The oversimplified version in the history textbooks tended to express the causes as simply slave states versus free states…as abolitionists versus slave owners.  I always felt the need to push back against this view…to defend my Southern heritage.  It’s not that the slave –vs- free narrative is false…it is factually based.  Rather, it is that it fails to adequately express the complexities of the issues at the time.  More importantly, it fails to express so much of what is good about our Southern heritage.

General Robert E. Lee is a good example of what I’m talking about. General Lee was a product of his time and his culture.  Some of his views seem very oppressive by our standards.  Some of his views seem very liberal by the standards of his culture and historical period.  Before the war, Lee argued against the institution of slavery.  He also argued against secession from the Union.  Yet, when his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, Lee chose to fight for his homeland.  There is something to be said for Lee’s sense of loyalty, honor, and duty to his homeland, regardless of the broader issues of his time.

In every earthly heritage (aside from our spiritual heritage in Christ) there is both good and bad. There are things worth honoring and things to be repudiated.  The South is often remembered for slavery, bigotry and racism…things to be repudiated.  However, the South also has a strong sense of hospitality, grace, honor and loyalty…things to be honored and remembered.

This is not true just of the South. America also has a history of slavery, as does Western Civilization in general…as well as World History.  We have many things in our various heritages to be proud of…and many things that should be repudiated.

I grew up with a strong sense of pride in my Southern heritage as well as my American heritage. I also was raised with a strong stance against racism in any form.  For me, these are not conflicting positions.  I find no contradiction in being both proud of my Southern heritage and strongly opposed to racism.

I was in second grade the year the public schools were integrated in my home town. My parents were very outspoken in favor of the integration and in support of Civil Rights.  My mother volunteered my siblings and me to help with cleaning, repainting, and maintaining the public school buildings in preparation for the integration.  Many of my second grade schoolmates informed me they had been instructed not to associate with me, because my family were “n*****-lovers, Jew-lovers, hippies and communists.”  I was forced to learn at an early age to take a stand on an unpopular position in the face of both name calling and physical threats.  I learned to smile at the name calling and respond, “Well, I reckon so…Jesus is a Jew and I love him with all my heart.  I love all His children, too…of all races.”

So, yes, I have very strong opinions in opposition to racism.

I also have pride in my heritage as a Southerner. I have a love of history and enjoy exploring historical sites while visualizing the scenes from long ago.  I am generally in favor of maintaining historical monuments and cultural symbols.

Lately, though, some of the symbols of the historical Confederacy have been confiscated for use by white supremacists as symbols of racist ideology. And lately, I have become more aware that some things that are, to me, simply symbols of a history and by-gone era are, to others, symbols of oppression, slavery, and racism.

In hindsight, I can understand why.

The Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America for the explicit purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery, as well as all the institutional racism that accompanied the institution of slavery. Yes, this is an over-simplification.  Yes, there were other issues involved…issues of a constitutional crisis…of state’s rights…of economy…of fear of a slave uprising…of violence perpetrated by abolitionists.  Yet, all of these to one extent or another were brought to fruition as a by-product of the slavery issue.  Slavery was the central issue at the time, and even a brief summary of the various constitutions of the states making up the Confederacy make this abundantly clear.

So, despite my personal view of embracing the good while repudiating the bad, it really was quite predictable that symbols of the Confederacy would be viewed by some as symbols of racism and white supremacy ideology.

This becomes even clearer as we recognize that the vast majority of Confederate monuments are not historical to the era of the Confederate States of America at all. The vast majority of those monuments were erected 60 to 100 years after the Civil War ended…for the explicit purpose of preserving symbols of a fading ideology.  I don’t know exactly what the erectors of those monuments had in mind at the time.  I would like to think they, like myself, were interested in preserving memories of the good of our heritage while repudiating the bad.  However, since that same era saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the fact is that many of those monuments were, in all likelihood, erected for the specific purpose of instilling a sense of pride in a culture of institutional racism.

So, should the Confederate monuments go?

As sad as I would be to see them gone…and as a proud son of the Southland I would be sad…I would far rather see them removed than to see them used as symbols of hatred and racism…or to see them viewed as symbols of oppression and fear.

So, yes, it is time for them to go.

Some might could stay, such as those explicitly commemorating a battlefield or maybe those truly historic to the era of the Confederate States of America.  Some might could be recontextualized or moved to museums accompanied by explanations of why they were erected and why they were removed.  But any monuments erected during the Jim Crow period for the purpose of validating racism need to go, one way or another.

And all this rhetoric about slippery slopes and where to draw lines…rhetoric about are statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson going to be next…it is just that…empty rhetoric to support an unsupportable position.

Why?

Because, whether we like it or not, the Confederate States of America was founded for the specific purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery. Whether we like it or not, the Confederate symbols have become symbols of racism, bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy ideology.

The same is not true of the United States of America.

Yes, slavery existed in the early days of American history…that is a historical fact. However, the United States was not founded for the explicit purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery, nor are monuments of American Independence viewed as symbols of racism and hatred.

The slippery slope argument is an illogical argument…an attempt to equate two completely different things that simply are not equal…with the intent of shutting down reasonable discussion of the topic.

That’s how this proud Southerner sees it.

Faith thru Fear

horseback riding on gravel roads

Riding Gravel Roads

It finally happened!

That nagging worry at the back of my mind found fulfillment. My worst fear became reality.

…and it was okay…

I’ve been riding Knockout over a year, now. Sometimes I’m able to ride as often as three or four times in one week.  Other times I go as long as three weeks between rides.  I figure I’ve averaged about one ride per week…which means I have about 60 rides on him

We have made amazing progress in 60 rides!

Knockout has matured from a green-broke, frightened, spooky, flighty colt to a pretty reliable young horse.

My progress has been no less remarkable in my own way. I began riding Knockout as I was recovering from cancer treatment and my physical strength has returned as we worked together.  I have learned a lot about horsemanship and relationships.  I have learned a lot about myself.  I have faced a few fears and overcome a few insecurities.

The first time I rode Knockout I was scared. Cancer treatment was quite an ordeal, and to be honest I was feeling pretty fragile.  I didn’t trust my own lack of strength or my ability to recuperate.  But I was determined to ride him.  So, I thoroughly disked the arena to a nice smooth carpet of thick soft dirt, and climbed in the saddle.

That first ride started out pleasant enough. We walked around the arena both directions a few times with no mishaps.  I asked for a trot and Knockout sprang into a gallop.  Startled, I pulled back…and Knockout promptly bucked me off.

I stood up, dusted myself off, realized I wasn’t hurt…smiled…and remounted.

That buck-off was the best thing for my confidence. It showed me I wasn’t as fragile as I’d come to believe.  I could still take a fall from 14 hands into soft arena dirt without doing any damage.

Knockout and I have done around 60 rides since then. We’ve come a long way in learning to relax under saddle.  We’ve done a lot of work on transitions from walking to trotting to loping to stopping to backing…and every combination thereof.  And we’ve developed a relationship based on clear communication, mutual respect, and mutual trust.

There’s a limit to that trust, though. Knockout is still a prey animal and prey animals are prone to flight.  That first ride was not his last time to bolt or buck…nor was it my last time to panic and mishandle a situation.  We’ve had several opportunities to practice the one-rein stop.  We’ve also had plenty of opportunities for me to practice relaxing and going with him when he startles.

The startles are now much less frequent. They’re much more controlled when they do happen.  And I respond much more calmly than I did previously.

Overall, at this stage, I consider Knockout to be a pretty solid young horse…and us to be a pretty solid team.

Yet, I’ve still retained this nagging concern at the back of my consciousness. What if Knockout bolts in thick woods?  How would we deal with an all-out runaway situation through thick trees and low-hanging branches?

It’s not a pretty picture…and no matter how much I tried to plan for it I had trouble envisioning a happy ending to that particular scenario. Out in the open, I have time to respond and room to maneuver.  I have options like turning a big circle or performing a one-reined stop.  On a narrow trail through thick forest, there is neither room nor time for any of that.

So I dealt with it the best I could…by trying to minimize the risk of it happening. Riding the gravel roads, we practiced transitions over and over, going from a walk to a canter…from a canter to a full stop with backing…from backing straight back to a canter.  We practiced over and over, building muscle memory…building confidence…so we were both more comfortable with speed and with sudden application of the bit at speed.

Yet the nagging doubt at the fringe of my consciousness still nagged…because I knew practice while we’re both relaxed and focused is not the same thing as a real life bolt on a terrified horse who believes he is fleeing for his life.

Yesterday morning we had a really nice ride down the gravel roads. Knockout wanted to turn up a trail running through a pine thicket and I decided to go with him.  We rode about a quarter mile or so down the trail and all was good until we came to a place where the trail runs between two large oak trees with low hanging branches covered in dense foliage.

I reached my right hand out to move a branch aside and Knockout startled at the sudden movement of the leaf-laden branch. Normally, this would not be a big deal…normally I would lightly check him and that would be the end of it.  This time, though, Knockout’s startle carried us deeper into the thick foliage, moving and rustling the entire branch.  To Knockout, it must have seemed as if the whole forest had suddenly lunged toward him in an attack.  My light check was ignored and Knockout plunged forward…crashing us both thru the pair of low-hanging heavily-leaved oak branches…with lots of added movement and added rustling.

As Knockout leaped into a run, I thought, “This is it! This is that runaway ride on a terrified horse through dense forest!”

My next thought was, “Keep your seat! Keep your seat, stay calm, and ride it!”  Which was followed by, “We really need to stop!  Now!”

Firmly grasping the reins in both hands, I took a deep seat in the saddle and pulled back to ask for an immediate stop, “Whoa!”

For a split second, Knockout sat back on his hindquarters. For just a split second, he responded to my cue to stop.  But in that split second I felt his energy gathering for another leap forward.  Experience told me that next leap would either be a terrified bolt through the bit or a bucking fit to escape the pressure of the bit from the front combined with that terrifying ‘predator’ chasing from behind.  In that split second, I realized Knockout was trapped between a rock and a hard place with adrenaline-fueled energy that was going to release somewhere.

In that split second, I dropped all pressure from the bit and gave Knockout plenty of slack in the reins.

Knockout leaped forward again…as he landed and brought his hind hooves under himself, I took another deep seat in the saddle, leaned back, and drew the reins in, “Whoa!”

Again, Knockout sat back on his hind quarters. Again I released pressure, putting plenty of slack in the reins.

And we walked off.

That was it. Three leaps…two whoas…and it was over.  The catastrophe was averted and we were once again calmly walking down the path through the pine thicket.

I smiled, leaned forward, petted Knockout’s neck and told him what a brave horse he is for trusting me enough to follow my direction even when he is terrified.

As we continued the ride home, my smile grew as I realized my worst fear had become reality…and together we had handled it just fine.

Yesterday, my confidence grew just a bit. I believe Knockout’s confidence also grew.  We were both scared, yet we both chose to listen to each other and to trust each other…and we learned that together we can handle tense situations just fine.

Sometimes, we have to experience our worst fear becoming reality in order to take the next step in building confidence.

Sometimes, we have to experience our worst fear becoming reality to take the next step in building confidence. Click To Tweet

I’ve had plenty of life experiences that seemed catastrophic at the time. Loss of loved ones…a failed marriage and subsequent divorce…child custody battles…a 20 year employer closing their doors…cancer diagnosis…

And you know what? Through every one of those situations, God has proven Himself faithful.  He has been my constant friend and companion thru every difficulty.  Through those difficulties, my faith in Him has grown and our relationship has deepened.

When our worst fears become reality is when the relationship is given a chance to be tested and proven.

 

How about you? In what areas has your confidence grown through seeing your fears become reality?

 

Impossible Lightness

knockout after riding

Knockout after Saturday’s amazing ride!

Saturday morning dawned clear and cool with a light breeze…a welcome respite from our usual hot, humid, sultry August weather in south Arkansas.

I woke early, had a cup of coffee, and headed out to saddle a horse. I had at least a couple of hours before the rest of the family awoke and intended to fully enjoy the morning.

I wanted to ride the woods trails this morning. I’ve avoided the woods the past couple of months, opting instead for arena or gravel roads.  The woods oppressively confine the suffocating heat and stifling humidity, creating an environment rich in biting insects.  This morning’s low temperatures and light breezes carried hope of an enjoyable woods trail ride.

I brought Knockout (our six year old AQHA gelding) up for grooming. I was pleased to see the scrape on his side has healed.  It was just a minor scrape such as horses acquire while running the pasture with other horses.  However, knowing the rub of a saddle pad can interfere with healing of wounds I had refrained from riding him the past week.

Saddling up, it crossed my mind to wonder if we’d have any issues on this ride. Young horse…cool morning…hasn’t been ridden in over a week…taking him to an area he hasn’t been in a few months…thru trails likely overgrown during the summer…a recipe for disaster?  Just as quickly, I put the concerns aside.  Knockout was calm and my confidence in him has grown as I’ve worked with him the last few months.

I mounted, petted him a couple of times, then barely lifted the reins. Knockout eased forward and I just moved with him as he slow-walked down one side of the arena.

As we passed the pasture gate he turned his head right and acted like he wanted to go out. I lightly twitched the left rein and gently rubbed my left calf against his flank.  His attention returned to me and we continued around the arena.  “Good,” I thought, “he wants to go out in the pasture, which is where I already planned to go.”

I pushed Knockout into a trot. As we circled the arena to approach the pasture gate again I slowed my movement and he dropped to a walk.  When we reached the gate, I leaned back and he stopped.  I untied the gate, grasped it in my right hand, lifted my left stirrup away and pressed my right calf near the girth.  He responded with a left counter-arc step…another ask and another step…then a third.  Now the gate was open enough to walk thru.  I cued a left hindquarter turn and Knockout responded by swinging his hindquarters around 180 degrees so we could pass thru the gate as my right hand slid along the top gate rail.  Once Knockout’s tail cleared the gate post, we side-passed left to close the gate.  Easy-peasy…  😉

As I turned and looked down pasture, Knockout moved with me, walking easy in the direction I faced. Knockout started drifting right a bit, headed toward a different route than I had in mind, “Hey, Joe, let’s go this way.”  I moved my left stirrup away, “I’d rather go left, Knockout,” and he came back to center.

Next step, Knockout eased right again. Again, I brought him to center with a lifted left stirrup.  As he started to step right again, I gently brushed his right shoulder with my right calf, “No, really, Knockout, I want to go left toward that tree I’m facing.”  Knockout proceeded on a straight line toward the tree while facing straight ahead, “Hey, Joe, I changed my mind.  I think this direction feels a little more comfortable.”

As we approached our usual creek crossing I noticed the sandy soil had eroded considerably in recent rains, leaving a fairly deep trench with steep sandy sides. Knockout walked to the creek, stopped, then turned his head to look back at me, “Are you sure this is safe?”

This time I agreed with his concern and looked right downstream, “You’re right, Knockout. That looks a little dangerous.  Why don’t you find a safer crossing for us?”  A few yards downstream we crossed at a wider place with no steep sides or deep trenches.

Coming out of the creek crossing, I looked toward a large oak tree at the back fence line and lightly squeezed my legs. Knockout responded with a long trot on a straight line.  Trotting thru the middle of the cattle herd, we both watched the cattle in our peripheral vision, without breaking stride or turning our heads.  We both stayed focused on each other and our ride.

Not far from the back fence line we turned thru an opening in the tree line to cross into the next pasture. What a surprise awaited there!  A huge flock of Canadian geese were scattered across the pasture.  As we trotted straight toward the middle of the flock, about a hundred geese took flight simultaneously.  It was quite a sight!  Yet we never broke stride or turned our heads.  We continued trotting straight toward the next tree I had picked as a direction marker.

Nearing the start of the woods trail, I slowed my movement and Knockout responded by dropping into a walk as we entered the woods. As expected, the trails had overgrown a bit, but we smoothly navigated between tall brush and overhanging branches with the lift of a stirrup here and a brush of a calf there.  Smooth…light…soft…easy…graceful.

It was truly an amazing ride!

On the one hand, no one thing was particularly spectacular. No one thing stood out as something we hadn’t practiced before.  Yet, it was amazing to experience it all coming together in a continuous flow through the entire ride.

I hardly ever moved my reins. I barely even moved my legs.  Yet we communicated beautifully.

Up until a few years ago, I had no idea it was even possible to steer a horse with anything other than the reins. I thought light horsemanship was neck reining instead of plow reining.  Even when I began to learn a little about the possibility of softer cues, I wasn’t very interested…it all sounded rather mystical.  I certainly never thought I could ride with such lightness!  And the idea of training a horse myself would never have even crossed my mind as a possibility.

Yet, here I am riding this amazing creature with incredible lightness! Yes, I realize the next ride will likely not be quite as smooth.  But I also realize there will be more rides that are as smooth.

So…why am I writing this post about a wonderful ride with my horse? Many of my friends and family who aren’t into horses won’t really understand why I would go on and on about how well my horse handles.  Many friends who are accomplished horsemen may think it’s pretty humorous I’m just now learning things they’ve known their whole life.  A few friends who are pursuing horsemanship may appreciate and relate to my experience.

But here’s the thing. The really crazy part of this whole adventure is that I shouldn’t be doing it to begin with…but I am…and I’m loving it!  🙂

February of 2016, I was at the low point in my cancer treatment. I had been diagnosed with cancer the previous December and undergone two surgeries.  Then spanning January to March, I went thru seven weeks of radiation treatment twice a day and chemo treatment once a week.  The surgery took a major nerve to my right shoulder, leaving me with limited movement of my right arm.

The end of January, during the middle of a chemo treatment, our horse trainer called to tell us the 4-yo colt we’d left with him for 60 days was not going to work out. He said the horse was “training resistant” and recommended selling him and buying a better prospect.

Sherri and I left from the chemo treatment and drove 3 hours to the trainer (without returning home in between) to pick up our colt. We got him home to discover he had been mishandled, was injured, and had become very frightened of men.

A couple of weeks later, I told Sherri, “I’m going to learn to rope. I want to rope with Dawson.  I’m going to learn to rope, and I’m going to rope on Knockout.”

Now, think about that for a second.

I was no horseman by any measure. I was a poor rider with little experience and no skill.  I knew nothing about training horses.  I had never roped.  I had very limited motion in my right arm due to a surgically removed major nerve.  I was undergoing chemo and radiation.  I was very weak.  Most days it was all I could do to keep enough calories and fluids down to make it thru the day.

And here I was saying that not only was I going to learn to rope and learn to train horses, but I was going to start with a horse who had been rejected by a professional trainer, who was afraid of men, and I was not only going to train him to ride, but I was also going to train him to be a roping horse.

That’s pretty audacious! Why on earth would I say such a thing, much less work to follow thru on it?

Has God ever asked you to do something that just didn’t make any sense?

Do you remember the story of Naaman who came to the prophet Elisha asking to be healed of leprosy?  Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be cured of the leprosy.

It made no sense! Why should he wash in the Jordan River?  Wasn’t the water he washed with good enough?  He wasn’t even dirty.  Why should he wash?

Yet, despite the instructions making no sense, Naaman followed God’s direction and washed in the Jordan River seven times…and was healed.

That’s what this was like for me. I was supposed to learn to rope?  I was supposed to learn to train horses?  I was supposed to train a young green-broke, tense, energetic, spooky, flighty young horse to be a roping horse?  It made no sense!

I can’t even explain how I knew I was supposed to do this. No prophet told me to.  God did not speak to me in an audible voice.  Yet, somehow, the Holy Spirit made it clear to me this is what I was supposed to do.

Here I am a year and half later.

I have decent mobility in my arm…which my physical therapist attributes directly to my determination and perseverance in working with that young colt…and to practicing roping.

I’m still not great at roping…but I’m steadily improving.

I’m far from mastering horsemanship…but this young horse I’m working with has sure come along well.

We’re not roping calves or steers yet…but I regularly swing a rope from his back and push calves around the pen.

We’re still working on the fundamentals…but we’re getting pretty close to seeing all the pieces come together to try roping.

Eighteen months ago this looked like an impossible task…right now it’s looking pretty achievable.

God sometimes asks us to do things that sound crazy…because all things are possible with God.

Along the way, I’ve found a lot of healing. The horsemanship and roping have aided both physical and emotional healing…for both Knockout and myself.

And I have learned a lot! I have learned to do things that I didn’t even know were possible to do.  I’ve learned a lot about myself.  I’ve learned a lot about relationships and communication.  I’ve even gained a better understanding of God and of His position toward us.

The master horsemen, Ray Hunt, Bill and Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman, all wrote about horsemanship as a lifestyle that affected every aspect of their lives. They believed it not only improved their relationship with the horse, but also their relationships with people.

I can see why…and am learning from them…

I still don’t know the full reason God asked me to do this. But I’ve already seen a huge return on the investment…and believe there is even more to come.

God still asks His people to do crazy things…and He still does the impossible.

 

Your thoughts?

Closed Womb

I usually restrict my blog topics to areas in which I have some level of personal experience. In this post, I am venturing way outside my comfort zone to a topic on which I have no personal experience…and very limited medical knowledge.

In my last post I talked about closed paths.  I shared a story of my horse, Knockout, searching for alternate paths home because he didn’t realize the opener and closer of paths was right there with him.  Knockout didn’t need to find an alternate path home.  He simply needed to wait on my timing and follow my direction.

I used that story as an analogy to show how we sometimes do the same thing with God. Sometimes, I try to help God out by searching alternate paths to my goals, when what I really need to do is remember the opener and closer of paths is right there with me.  I don’t need to search out alternate paths.  I simply need to follow His direction and wait on His timing.

In that post, I did not give any specific examples (either personal or biblical). The biblical example that came to mind was the story of Abraham and Sarah wanting a child…an heir.  They had gone out from the land of their people on a promise that God would give them numerous descendants and a vast land for their heritage.

Years passed without those promises coming to fruition. They remained childless nomads, wandering homeless in a land populated by foreigners.

So, they decided to help God out by finding an alternate path to their goal. First, Abraham made plans to leave everything to his servant, Eliezer, as his heir.  But God told him Eliezer would not be his heir and promised Abraham a son.

As more years passed with no child, Sarah gave Abraham her maid servant, Hagar, as a concubine…a slave wife…a surrogate mother of sorts. Hagar conceived and bore a son named Ishmael…which led to strife between Sarah and Hagar.

Eventually, the promised child was born to Sarah…long after menopause…long after she had given up hope of ever bearing a child.

And that vast land promised to Abraham and his heirs? Never in their lifetime did they ever own any land other than a plot purchased for use as a family cemetery.  Yet, God’s promises were fulfilled many years later when the descendants of Abraham’s grandson, Israel, were led out of Egypt to conquer the promised land of Canaan.

You and I come into this story as well.

The fullness of God’s promises to Abraham and his seed was realized in Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ.  Through covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, you and I are invited to become heirs of the covenant God cut with Abraham.

God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah were much broader and deeper than they could have imagined. His plans for their lives were much fuller than their own limited vision.  While they were stressed over a child not being born soon enough, God was already working out the redemption of the human race through the faith of Abraham and Sarah.  Although their faith sometimes looks pretty fragile and limited from our perspective, God used it for His glory and to work His purposes through their lives.

This morning, I am reading a book titled, “The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules,” by Carolyn Custis James.  Thus far, it is a very well written book in which Carolyn James does an excellent job of lifting the veneer of theology through which we tend to view this familiar Bible story, to help us see the depth of human tragedy…the grievous loss and sorrow through which God works out His story in the lives of ordinary people.

This morning, I read these words, “Medical charts of barren women in the Bible bore this cryptic notation, ‘The LORD had closed her womb.’”

As the import of those words registered, my mind flashed to my previous post about God being the opener and closer of our paths, and the need to follow His direction and await His timing. Simultaneously, I was reminded of the story of Abraham and Sarah…and the fact that their story of infertility was the beginning of a much broader and deeper purpose than they could have imagined.

I have never personally experienced infertility. I have wept with and prayed for friends who were experiencing this sorrow.  I have seen God perform mighty miracles.  I have watched as children born to couples on the verge of giving up have grown to adulthood as godly men and women.  I have witnessed bureaucratic red tape miraculously resolving for adoptions to go through.  And I have witnessed couples finding contentment in a life with no children of their own.

Every story is deeply personal…and every story is unique.

If you are facing infertility, my message for you, today, is simply that God knows. God knows your pain.  God knows your sorrow and frustration.  God knows your hopes.  God knows the deep desires of your heart…and God knows His plans for bringing the fulfillment of those desires to fruition in your life.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

God knows…

Closed Paths

Knockout greets our grandsons

In my previous blog post, I wrote about working with Knockout’s issue of continually trying to turn around and go home. To address this issue, I let him turn around but put him to working trotting circles at the end of the driveway.

I’m pleased to report this approach seems to have been effective and we have since enjoyed several relaxed rides together on a loose rein with light prompts.

In this post, though, I want to share the story of our first ride after my previous post. Sometimes these animals are truly hilarious, and this was one of those times.

We started out of the driveway, turning right down the gravel road. As we passed the mailbox, Knockout dodged left and I let him turn back toward the driveway, where I pushed him into a trot circling the same pattern as before.

As before, each time we hit the short stretch heading south down the road, I dropped the reins and looked down the road, offering Knockout the good deal of a relaxed ride. And each time he chose, instead, to turn right up the drive, initiating another loop around the small circle.

Unlike the previous ride, Knockout was pretty quick to realize the futility of turning up the driveway. After about five minutes of circling he took me up on the good deal of going straight down the gravel road.

He surprised me, though, by holding a fast trot and crowding the right side of the road. He was literally trotting down the ditch, over small mounds of gravel and pine straw, brushing tree limbs along the way.  I thought he would tire of that pretty quick, but I wound up asking him to move to the left a little.  He complied with a left side-pass, but continued to focus intently on the right side of the road.

When he suddenly turned right I went with him, expecting yet another turn back to the driveway. Instead, he crossed the ditch to stand quietly at a gap gate, looking out into our back pasture.  We sat there for a few minutes while I asked if he liked the view.  Then I backed him across the ditch and we continued our ride.

When our road intersected another gravel road, Knockout pulled right and I decided to let him go. He promptly tried to turn another right into our neighbor’s pasture.  When I blocked his turn, he continued trotting up the road.  At the other end of our neighbor’s pasture, he tried again to turn into another open gate, which I blocked.  Further on, he tried to turn right up a path through a pine thicket leading to the back corner of our pasture…again I blocked him.

After about two miles I turned him around to head home…and he acted reluctant. After a few steps he tried to turn around again, which made me laugh.  “Really?  After all these weeks of you trying to turn around and head home, now you’re acting reluctant to go home?”

As we continued home, the closer we got the slower Knockout walked. Usually, he’s super light heading home.  This ride he got slower and slower.  The last stretch before our driveway, I had to push him just to keep moving.

When we finally got to our driveway, Knockout walked on the far side of the road, looking straight ahead. When I prompted him to turn, he very gingerly turned and walked very precisely up the center of the driveway like he was nervous about making a wrong move.

I literally laughed out loud as I finally realized what he had been thinking that whole ride.

From the time we started up the road, Knockout’s focus had been on finding an alternate route home. Realizing the driveway was somehow blocked to prevent passage, he was diligently seeking another way home.  He had adopted the position of, “Don’t worry, Joe.  I’ll get us home.  I know there’s another way to get there.  Just stick with me and I’ll find another route.”

When he stopped at the first pasture gate, it was in hope I would open the gate for him to pass. Then all those other attempted right turns were an effort to find another way home.  When I turned to go back, he was reluctant to give up his search, because he had already confirmed the driveway was closed.

I give Knockout full credit for logical conclusions based on his understanding. After persistently trying to go up the driveway and failing, he decided the appropriate action was to find another route…and set out to do exactly that.

He failed to understand the driveway was only closed because I intentionally blocked it…and the driveway would be open as soon as I chose to allow it. Getting home was not an issue of needing to find the right path.  Rather it was an issue of needing to wait on my timing.

Knockout made his plans failing to recognize that the opener and closer of paths was right there with him the whole time.

How often have I been right there in Knockout’s shoes?

How many times have I persistently tried to do what I thought was the best thing, just to fail over and over? How many times have I concluded that door was closed and set out to find another path to achieve my goal?  And how many of those times was God simply waiting on me to stop trying so He could direct my path in His timing?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Lord, thank you for your patient good humor as I try to show you where we should go.   Thank you for continuing to teach me to wait on you and follow your direction.

Your thoughts?