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?

 

 

Transformation

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’ve been riding Knockout for about a year now. When we first started, Knockout was an energetic, spooky, young, green-broke horse who seemed to always be looking for an excuse to bolt.

We’ve come a long way across the past year!

Knockout is now much more confident and relaxed under saddle. Just in the last three months I’ve begun viewing Knockout as becoming a pretty solid horse.

Across the last month, I’ve felt the balance start to tip the other direction. Knockout has gone from generally being a little on the spooky end of the scale to generally being a little on the lazy end of the scale.  While going down the road at a fast trot, he is more likely to want to slow to a walk than to want to pick up to a lope.

I feel I have really gained his trust to the point he has begun to feel comfortable expressing his preferences. Considering where we started, this is a welcome phase to work through!

One preference that has surfaced is a preference to stay home rather than going out for a ride down the road. I can’t say I blame him much.  Eating grass in the pasture with the other horses is bound to seem a more enjoyable pastime than carrying me down the road.

It has become an issue, though, because of his persistence. Initially, he would avoid starting down the road, but once started he would do fine.  Then he got to where he would keep trying longer to turn around.  So, for maybe the first quarter mile he would keep looking for an excuse to turn back, before finally settling into the ride.

We would start straight down the road, then Knockout would start to turn right as though hoping I would let him turn around and head home. When I first felt him start to step right, I would interfere with a light touch of either rein or leg to let him know he was to keep going straight.  But Knockout would push through the light cue persistently trying to turn.  So, I would come in with a heavier cue to let him know, “No, I really meant what I said!  Keep going straight.”  Knockout would then respond to the heavier cue with an exaggerated response of going too far left…which would require my correction from the left side…to which he would over-respond back to the right.  So, for the first quarter mile or so we sort of zig-zagged down the road until Knockout finally settled into the ride and responded well to light cues.

That was a little annoying, but not terrible. I figured it was just a phase that would work itself out with a few more rides.  Except it didn’t…in fact it got worse.  Gradually, across a few weeks, that quarter mile of reluctance turned into a half mile…then a mile…then two miles.  It got to the point we were riding further and further from home just because I was determined not to turn around until after he had relaxed into the ride.  I didn’t want Knockout to get the idea that his persistence had paid off.

I finally decided it was time to try a different approach.

Since Knockout seemed determined to head for home, I decided to just let him go…but to make sure it was more work than going on a ride.

Our next ride, as we left the driveway to start up the road, Knockout dodged left and I just went with him. I gave him his head and let him start back for the driveway while pushing him up into a fast trot.  But I never let him go past the gate at the end of the drive.  I just turned him and put him into trotting circles at the end of the driveway.

Initially, we just trotted random circles and figure-eights. Then we settled into an oblong loop with a long side running along the road in the direction I wanted to go.  While in the straight stretch, I dropped all pressure, put plenty of slack in the reins, and looked down the road.  When Knockout turned right to start up the drive, I let him go but came in asking for a fast trot and turning him back into the oblong circle again.

So, once within each loop I offered Knockout the good deal of going on a nice relaxed ride up the road. When he chose to turn for the drive, I put him to back to work trotting circles.

We did that for a while…a long while…like over an hour. I didn’t make it any more difficult, but I also didn’t let it become any easier.  When he tried to shorten the loop by cutting off a corner, I didn’t let him.  When he got sloppy following prompts around the circle, we worked on smooth turns and collected cadence.  I adopted the attitude of, “Hey, I’ve got all day.  We can either go for a ride down the road or we can stay right here trotting circles and working on cadence.  It doesn’t matter to me.  We’ll do whichever you want.”

Finally, Knockout decided to take the good deal and go straight under a loose rein! For about four paces…then he turned back.  So, we fast trotted back to the end of the drive and went right back to trotting circles again.  And we repeated that scenario a few times…

In the end, Knockout decided maybe going for a ride was a pretty good idea after all, and we finished with about a two-mile ride on a loose rein at a relaxed walk on light cues. It was great!  😊

So, why did I change tactics? What caused me to switch from being persistent in my prompts to letting Knockout choose where to go?  That’s a fairly major change of strategy!

Two things, really. Primarily, I changed because my initial approach was no longer working.  It didn’t make sense to keep trying the same approach when that approach wasn’t yielding the desired results.

Secondly, I changed because I realized Knockout was becoming increasingly resentful of our rides. His persistence in trying to turn back was being met by my persistence in directing forward.  So, the rides were becoming a huge contest of wills with me persistently preventing Knockout from doing what he wanted.

I had to reassess my approach because that was not my goal. My goal is not to keep Knockout from doing what he wants.  No, my goal for Knockout goes much deeper.

My goal is to transform Knockout’s thinking so much that what he wants most is to be with me following my cues.

I don’t want to subvert Knockout’s will to obey mine. Rather, I want to transform his will to follow mine.  I want Knockout’s greatest confidence to be in me.  I want his greatest comfort to be abiding in that quiet rest beneath my saddle and between my legs awaiting my next cue.

I don't want to subvert my horse's will to obey mine. Rather, I want to transform his will to follow mine. Click To Tweet

Given a free choice between following my light cue or doing anything else, I want Knockout’s preference to become following my prompt.

Isn’t that similar to how the Bible describes God’s goals for us?

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

Notice how these two passages emphasize the need to present ourselves ready for service…prepared to cooperate with His transforming work in our lives. Also notice the emphasis on our liberty in Christ…superimposed with our being transformed to “prove what the will of God is.”

Much like my goal for Knockout, God’s goal for me is not to subvert my will to obey Him. Rather, His goal for me is to transform my will to follow Him.

God's will for me is not to subvert my will to obey Him. Rather, it is to transform my will to follow Him. Click To Tweet

This is why legalistic religion focused on finding and following ‘biblical’ rules and exceptions can never attain righteousness before God. God’s goal isn’t about us knowing and following rules…it is about our being transformed through spending time with Him.

Just as Knockout does not know from one ride to the next where I may want him to go or what I may ask him to do, in the same way we do not know from one life circumstance to the next where God may lead us or what He may ask us to do.

I don’t hand Knockout a road map and say “Here follow this…over the same route…every ride.” Rather, I go with Knockout and direct each step of his path to go where I want him to go and do what I want him to do on that particular ride.  My goal for Knockout isn’t to get him from point A to point B by a specific route.  Rather it is to have a relationship with him that is characterized by his being so in tune with me that he simply goes wherever I ask.  My focus with Knockout’s training is on developing the relationship such that responding to my prompts is not a burdensome thing but a natural overflow of his confidence in me as his leader.

In much the same way, God’s goals for me focus on developing our relationship such that I can hear His voice and respond to His prompts as a natural overflow of my confidence in Him.

Of course, God’s goals for me go much deeper than my goals for Knockout. I am seeking to transform Knockout’s mind, whereas God has promised to transform my heart, through the power of The Holy Spirit, to be conformed to the image of Christ.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Knowing this, I can face the unknowns of the future, not with fear and trepidation, but rather with joyful anticipation, fully confident of His loving care for me and His promise to transform me.

Knowing this, I should not be focused on trying to define and defend all the rules and exceptions…nor on adding more rules on top of rules to avoid even “the appearance of evil.”  Rather, I should be focused on spending time with God, learning to hear His voice and respond.

Your thoughts?

Softness

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Friday evening I spent a little time working with Archie, our 2-year-old stud colt.

I was asking Archie to yield to tail pressure. If I tugged his tail to the left, I wanted him to step his hindquarters left.  If I tugged his tail to the right, I wanted him to step right.  It sounds simple, but there’s actually a lot going on in this learning exercise.

We had to overcome a horse’s natural instinct to escape entrapment. Natural instinct tells a horse when his tail is tugged left he should move away by stepping right…the opposite of what I was asking.

We had to develop understanding. When I first started tugging on Archie’s tail, he had absolutely no idea what I wanted him to do.  The cue had no meaning to him, so he simply followed his instincts.

We also had to develop discernment. Archie had to learn to distinguish between a tug to the left versus a tug to the right, and the different response expected for each.

So we started working on the left side. I tugged left and Archie stepped right.  As he moved away from me, I increased the pressure.  He took another step right.  I moved with him holding the pressure as he took a couple more steps to the right.  Then he tried moving forward.  I stayed with him, holding pressure until he ran out of room to move forward.  Finally, he took just a little half step to the left and I instantly let go of his tail.

Then we repeated the process over and over as Archie learned to understand a tug to the left meant I wanted a step to the left.

Once we had the left side working halfway decent we started working on the right side. His resistance on the right side was initially much worse than on the left side.  He had just learned that a tail tug meant step left and he was determined to do what he had just learned.  He had no understanding that a tug to the right was a different cue from a tug to the left.  So we practiced the right side until he understood the expectation then went back to the left side…which was now confused by work on the right side.

With patience and consistency we got it sorted out. Archie learned to distinguish between a left tug and a right tug as well as the expected response to each.

At one point in our training session, I would lift his tail while standing on his right, and he would instantly shift his weight left, bracing against the tug he knew was coming. I would give a light tug and he would resist.  I would hold the pressure with a soft firmness and after a few seconds he would relax and step right.

We practiced that a few more times.

Then we finally reached a point where I lifted his tail while standing on his right, and he shifted his weight to the right, ready to respond to the tug he knew was coming. I softly tugged and he just gave to the cue by stepping over…smooth…soft…light…fluid.

There it is! There’s that softness Ray Hunt (and other great horsemen) wrote about!

When we started, it felt like trying to drag a rope tied to a 500 lb weight! Actually…that’s exactly what it was…dragging a 500 lb horse around by the tail.

By the time we finished, it was no more effort than dragging a newspaper across a smooth counter.

Archie was soft to my feel. He was light.  He anticipated my ask by preparing to respond rather than by preparing to resist.

That’s exactly what we’re working toward…a soft response to a soft ask…

But to get there required a lot of firmness…a lot of consistent persistence…a lot of understanding…a lot of trust…and a lot of respect.

Contemplating that softness this morning, I am reminded of the words of the psalmist:

I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. (Psalm 119:34)

This is what it means to be soft-hearted…that when I feel the Holy Spirit’s prompt I relax into His will ready to respond as soon as I understand His ask.

The prophet Zechariah provides a contrast showing what it means to be hard-hearted…to respond to God’s prompt by bracing to resist His will:

They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:12)

And Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the New Covenant which was enacted by Jesus Christ. Rather than laws carved in stone rigidly followed out of fear, the Holy Spirit teaches us softness…a soft response to a soft ask:

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)

What a gentle master! He calls us to a relationship of willing response based on trust and respect as we learn to rely on His goodness and faithfulness.

Early in that training session, we had to work past Archie’s confusion over different prompts.  It took him a little while to discern the difference between a tug to the left and a tug to the right, as well as the proper response to each.  He knew the tug meant something, but his confusion and natural instincts interfered with clear communication.  He stepped wrong as often as right, and always with a good deal of resistance…of first bracing against the tug before eventually giving to it.

I think a lot of Christians reside mostly in that place…sort of stuck early in the training.  They haven’t figured out the soft cues and soft responses of the New Covenant.  They see rigid laws to be fearfully and woodenly obeyed.  Their confusion and natural instincts interfere with clear communication, so they miss the nuances of the Holy Spirit’s prompts.  Seeing a fellow believer being tugged left they scream, “Step right!  Step right!  A tail tug always means step right!”

Blind guides…misapplying rigid laws…while completely missing the Holy Spirit’s soft prompts…

Lord, please continue to be patient with us!  Teach us to respond to you, not out of fear in response to laws carved in stone, but out of trust and respect as we learn to respond softly and fluidly to your soft prompts.

Unplanned Blessings

Last week we learned Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, is refusing to allow graduating senior Maddi Runkles to walk in their commencement ceremony because she is pregnant and unwed.

Washington Post (May 24, 2017) reports, “…Heritage Academy in Hagerstown says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, ‘not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.’”

The referenced article reports that when the school was first informed of her pregnancy, in February, “Initially the school told Runkles that she would be suspended and removed from her role as student council president and would have to finish the rest of the school year at home.” On appeal, they decided she could remain in school, but could not walk with her class in commencement ceremonies.  I expect they see themselves as being very gracious and understanding in having made this concession.

The school’s position is wrong in so many ways, I find it difficult knowing where to start. It’s not just a wrong course of action, it is an action chosen based on a very unchristlike paradigm…a legalistic paradigm all too common among Christian churches.

Let’s start with the principal’s statement that Maddi is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral.” What a load of malarkey!  If principal Hobbs believes his own statement, he is the only person blind enough to be fooled by it.  Hobbs’ statement is both dishonest and disingenuous.

If Maddi were not pregnant the school would never have even learned of her sexual activity and there would have been no disciplinary action.

Let’s imagine for a moment a completely different scenario. Let’s imagine a boy from Maddi’s graduating class had privately approached the principal and confessed in confidence that he had sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old girl who was out of high school and had never attended Heritage Academy.  No pregnancy, STD or other consequence had occurred as a result of the unwed sexual intercourse, but he was very sorry for his misconduct, begged forgiveness, and prayed he would have the strength to resist future temptations.

What action might we expect the principal to take in such a scenario? Would he have threatened to kick the young man out of school?  Would he have forbidden him to walk in commencement ceremonies?  Not likely!

I expect in such a scenario, no official school disciplinary action would have been taken against the penitent young man. In fact, I expect the principal would have had some very encouraging words for the young man.  He likely would have used the boy as an anonymous example of godly behavior at the next school assembly…an example to be followed by any other students with unconfessed sin.

So, yes, make no mistake about it, Maddi Runkles was singled out for ostracizing punishment, not because of her sexual activity, but because of her pregnancy.

Moreover, the nature of the punishment chosen clearly indicates the school was much more concerned about their own embarrassment than about what was best for Maddi. The ostracization was not inspired by a need to ensure Maddi understood the gravity of her mistake…I don’t believe anyone doubts Maddi’s pregnancy more than suffices to ensure she understands sexual intercourse is serious business that should not be approached casually.  Nor was Maddi’s punishment inspired by a perceived need to ensure other students understand the gravity of sexual intercourse…in fact Maddi’s pregnancy in itself provides a compelling example of the serious nature of sexual intercourse.

To the objective observer, it is very clear Principal Hobbs’ decision to keep Maddi out of the school commencement program is motivated by a sense of embarrassment in regard to the school’s reputation. This decision is not about what’s best for Maddi nor what is best for the rest of the student body.  It is about the school’s reputation…about the potential embarrassment of having an unwed pregnant student participating in the graduation ceremony.

And Hobbs’ sense of embarrassment is, itself, based on a false paradigm…a belief that an unwed pregnancy is cause for shame…an undesirable consequence of sinful behavior.

The Bible provides a drastically different perspective:

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-50)

Children are a gift of the Lord…a blessing…a reward…not a source of shame.

Pregnancy is not a sin nor should it be a source of shame. Children are a blessing from the Lord.  Therefore, pregnancy is a blessing from the Lord.

If unwed pregnancy were a sin, Jesus would have been conceived in sin. Let’s be very clear on this point.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, God incarnate, Immanuel, God with us, our Redeemer and Deliverer, was conceived and born of an unwed mother.

Obviously, God considers unwed pregnancy to be neither a cause of shame nor a state of uncleanness, since he chose it as the means of bringing Christ into our world.

We all understand the science of fertility. We understand that in most cases there is a cause and effect relationship between sexual intercourse and pregnancy.  Certainly, not every occurrence of sexual intercourse results in a pregnancy.  Nor is every pregnancy the result of sexual intercourse…the Christian faith celebrates at least one notable exception.  But, yes, in the vast majority of cases pregnancy is preceded by sexual intercourse.  So, it is understandable for people to view an unwed pregnancy as substantive evidence of unwed sexual intercourse.  Fine…in most cases the pregnant woman is unlikely to deny sexual intercourse took place.  That intercourse may or may not have involved sin on her part…date rape is all too common in our society.  So, in many cases a woman may be shamed for something beyond her control that did not involve any sinful behavior on her part.

But…even more important…even in the instances where the unborn child was conceived through unwed consensual sexual intercourse…it would be wrong to view the pregnancy as an undesirable consequence of sin.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Children are always a gift of the Lord…always a blessing. In the biblical context, it is not at all unusual for God to bring great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.  In fact, the biblical narrative is filled with examples of God bringing great blessing out of very imperfect circumstances.

A pregnancy in which the mother wants the child and plans to carry the child full term should always be treated as cause for celebration! That child is a gift of the Lord!  No exceptions.

If any readers of this post are pregnant with a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged in knowing your child is a gift of the Lord. Any readers who are parents or grandparents of a child conceived out of wedlock, be encouraged that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was also conceived out of wedlock.  The single greatest blessing of the Christian faith was a child conceived out of wedlock…and God says all children are a gift from Him…a reward…a cause to not be ashamed.

Maddi Runkles, I don’t expect you’re likely to read this post. But if you do, I want you to know I’m proud of you and rejoice with you in this wonderful gift the Lord has bestowed on you!

Blessings to you and your family!

Ground Hitched

This picture of Knockout was taken several months ago, on the day we first worked on ground hitching. I love this picture because Knockout is so very obviously completely relaxed and at ease while obediently standing still for me.

I first started ground hitching on a whim. At a local cattle drive we participated in last October, I was impressed by a horse who stood ground hitched while a host of people, horses and cattle circulated nearby.  I thought that was a pretty cool trick that might come in handy, sometimes.

A few days later, I was working with Knockout on quick response to light cues to advance and back on a lead line. We were paying special attention to being particular about number of steps.  If I asked for one step forward I wanted one step and one step only.

The exercise requires both horse and rider to pay close attention to each other and work together on timing, like a carefully choreographed dance. The rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…the rider cues…the horse responds…the rider releases…the horse completes the move…

As we practiced this choreographed dance together, it occurred to me that between each move was a tiny rest. Between each step a tiny rest existed in which the horse awaited my next cue, ready to move either forward or back at my request…or to simply stand.  The rest is, in fact, the natural default position…rest is the no pressure moment in which I am neither asking for an advance nor a retreat, but in which the horse stands attentively relaxed ready to do either.

On a whim, I asked for a step back and as Knockout completed the step I dropped the rope and took a step back myself. Knockout shifted his weight forward in anticipation and I held my hand up in a pushing motion, “Whoa! Stay!”  And Knockout complied.  He simply stood at rest…the equestrian equivalent of a soldier standing at ease…relaxed and ready…restful and attentive.

Ground hitching has now become a natural part of our daily interaction. When I bring Knockout up from pasture, he stands ground hitched as I groom him.  I fly-spray, comb tail and mane, pick hooves, and brush his coat as Knockout stands quietly at ease, tethered in place by a lead line dropped on the ground.  Then I step into the tack room and come back out carrying a saddle and saddle pad.  Knockout continues to stand at ease as I throw the pad in place, settle the saddle into position, walk around him to make sure the various pieces are hanging properly, and cinch up the girths.

I step out again, shaking a loop from a coiled rope. I swing the loop a few times and fling it over Knockout’s back, flick it a few times until it drops to the ground, then drag it around his hooves as I neatly recoil and strap it securely to the saddle horn…all while Knockout calmly stands tethered to the ground.

Except he’s not really tethered is he?

The end of the rope is not attached to anything. Knockout could walk away or run off anytime he chose to.

It’s neither a trick nor a deception. I’m not fooling Knockout into thinking he’s securely tied when he’s not.  He and I both know he can walk off anytime he wants.

In fact, he occasionally will walk off. Just yesterday, I stepped out of the tack room with the saddle to glimpse Knockout stepping around the corner.  For a moment I thought he was avoiding saddling.  Then I realized my teenage son was tying his horse and Knockout stepped around the corner to greet his pasture mate.  I simply walked over, picked up the lead line, walked Knockout back to his original position by the tack room door, dropped the lead line, and said “Whoa!” as I resumed saddling up.  No big deal!  No fuss, no bother…just a quiet correction…followed by business as usual.

No, the ground hitch doesn’t fool anybody. Knockout knows the rope is not secured to anything.  He knows he can walk off anytime he wants.  So why doesn’t he?

Why doesn’t he simply ignore the ground hitch and wander at will, wherever he pleases? Why does he stand patiently at ease as I walk around him, grooming and saddling?  If the rope doesn’t hold him in place, what does?

Respect and trust.

Knockout stands still, not because he is unable to move, but because he understands I want him to stand. He trusts my guidance and respects my leadership.  So he stands…calmly relaxed…at ease…relaxed and ready…restfully attentive.

Knockout is tethered in place, not by the rope, but rather by his confidence in me.

A ground hitched horse is tethered in place, not by the rope, but rather by his confidence in the rider. Click To Tweet

I have come to really like ground hitching. To me, ground hitching has come to symbolize much of what I strive for in my pursuit of horsemanship.  Rather than making Knockout stand, I’m asking him to stand.  He complies with my request out of his confidence in me rather than being forced to.  I show Knockout respect by asking rather than forcing.  Knockout shows me respect by voluntarily complying with my request.

We are both more relaxed…both trusting each other. Knockout isn’t bothered by unnecessary restraints and I’m not worried about him breaking any restraints.

While ground hitched, Knockout and I are both abiding in the rest…that default position of being relaxed and attentive between cues. And that’s where I want us to be.  While riding, I want to carry that rest with us.  Between cues, I want Knockout to be relaxed and attentive…at ease and responsive.

While traveling straight at a trot, I want Knockout to hold that sense of rest as he continues trotting in a straight line…not trying to second guess the next move…not worried about what’s going on around us…not tensely anticipating what comes next…just calmly relaxed…confident he will feel my next cue and will know how to respond when asked.

I think this is the sort of rest Jesus was talking about when He said,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This the sort of abiding Jesus spoke of when He said,

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Ground hitching reminds me of the words of the third verse of that beloved old hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;

Seal it for Thy courts above.

Yes, Lord! Bind my wandering heart to you.  Teach me to rest in you…to confidently relax trusting your goodness…at ease and responsive…relaxed and attentive…not worried about the future…just attentively abiding as I await your next prompt.

Confidence

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Last week I spent some time helping our 2-year-old stud colt, Archie, learn to back off a trailer. I taught Archie to trailer load when he was about six months old, so we could trailer him to vet and farrier appointments.  He loads with no issue and seems perfectly relaxed riding in the trailer.

However, he absolutely refused to back off the trailer. That big backwards step off a sheer drop scared him to death and no amount of coaxing would convince him to try it!

Archie is currently small enough, and our 3-horse slant trailer is larger enough, that it has not been a big deal to simply let him turn around and unload forwards. However, at some point he needed to learn to back off.

The issue was lack of confidence.

Stepping off backwards into an unseen abyss is scary business. I feel the same way reaching blindly for a ladder rung to climb off a roof.  Archie lacked confidence in his own ability to back off the trailer…and he lacked confidence in me instructing him to back off the trailer.

So, last week we spent some time doing confidence building exercises.

I started by backing Archie down the pond levy. Once he was able to back down the steep embankment without too much hesitation or dodging sideways, we moved over to a concrete slab where we first backed off a 2 inch drop on one end, then backed off a 5 inch drop on the other end.  Once he was acting fairly confident backing off the slab edge, we moved inside the trailer.

I was so proud of how well he backed off the trailer! He did great!  All he needed was some smaller steps to build his confidence to help prepare him for the big scary trailer edge.

I totally get it! I often struggle with confidence issues, too.

Over this past year I’ve been working a lot with our 5-year-old gelding, Knockout.  When I first started working with Knockout, he was a very frightened young horse who spooked at everything and was ready to bolt at the drop of a hat (literally).  Over time, his confidence improved to where we were doing trail rides together and hauling to different arenas to expose him to more environments.

Then I decided to take Knockout on our Spring Break family vacation for a week of trail riding in the Texas Hill Country. This was a big test!  It would be Knockout’s first exposure to a lot of new things, including group trail rides over steep rocky trails through mountainous terrain.

To prepare Knockout, I had him shod and began riding him on the gravel roads near our house. At every opportunity, I threw a saddle bag with a couple of water bottles behind his saddle and we set off to explore the country roads and trails together.  While riding those trails, we practiced transitions, stops, and departures at walk, trot, and lope.  We practiced side-passing, turns, and laterals.

Through that trail riding training, Knockout and I began to really work as a team. I became more confident in our ability and he became more confident in me as a leader.  As the scheduled vacation approached, I told my wife that although I wasn’t positive we would have no issues, I felt confident we would not encounter any issues we could not overcome together.

Spring Break arrived and Knockout did great! He took to the mountain trails like an old pro, calmly leading through dense forest cover on narrow trails and calmly following over steep rocky grade.  When leading, he stepped out on a long swinging walk on a loose rein, without much trouble.  When following we kept a decent space between himself and the next horse, slowing to match the leading horse on a loose rein.

I was so proud of him!  🙂

But there was this one incident…this one scary incident. It wasn’t Knockout’s fault…it was all on me.  It involved loping my young horse with other horses while he was carrying heavy full saddle bags…and the heavy saddle bags flopped up and down in rhythm with his loping…miscuing him to a faster pace.  It had to do with my totally forgetting the saddlebags were even there.  It had to do with my totally misreading the situation…and subsequently mishandling it.  It had to do with my own fear of out-of-control speed.  Misunderstanding Knockout’s miscue…thinking he was a totally panicked runaway for no reason…responding in fear, myself…I bailed off.   I was wearing a helmet and I wasn’t injured…just a few minor scrapes from the coarse prairie grasses.

But my confidence was shot!  🙁

Logically, I explained to myself how none of this was Knockout’s fault…which I knew to be true. Logically, I reasoned that the same could have happened with any horse.  Logically, I consoled myself that it was a simple error on my part that was perfectly understandable…especially for a novice horseman.

But emotions don’t concern themselves with logic.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to ride. However, all my rides stayed within the constraints of our arena…and stayed at a gait of walking or trotting.  I didn’t ride outside the arena and I didn’t lope.  Each ride I would tell myself this time I was going to lope…and each ride ended for one reason or another without a lope actually occurring.

Eventually, I had to admit to myself that, yes, I was avoiding speed.

And the worst of it was, I know my horse tends to respond to my emotions. When I’m unsure he’s more likely to be unsure…more likely to spook…more likely to bolt…which is exactly what I was scared of to begin with…  Yikes!  Talk about a downward spiral of negativity!

Then I began training Archie, the 2-year-old…and I thought about Archie’s confidence issues and how we overcame them. I continued to work with Archie on things that were new to me.  I continued to work with Knockout on familiar transitions, stops, departures, and laterals at a walk and trot.

Finally, this past Saturday, I was working with Knockout in the arena at a fast trot, when he spontaneously rolled up into a lope…and I resisted my instinct to tug back on the reins…forced myself to keep the reins loose. We loped two or three big circles…and I relaxed a bit.  Then I asked for a stop by sitting deep in the saddle (still with loose reins) and Knockout responded with a big sliding stop and two steps back.  Then I asked for a canter departure…and followed that up with about 20 minutes of practicing transitions at walk, trot and lope.

I was elated! I realized Knockout was still the same horse he was before the saddlebags incident.  I had lost confidence in us…Knockout had not.

What a faithful friend!  🙂

The next day, Knockout and I rode the gravel roads near our house again.

Confidence is a funny thing. It takes time and effort to gain confidence, yet confidence can be lost in an instant.  Lack of confidence can be paralyzing.

So how do we regain confidence? By intentionally testing the relationship in small things.

For Archie, that meant learning to back down slopes and small steps before trying the scary trailer edge again.

For me with Knockout, that meant working with Knockout on smaller things while I rebuilt confidence in my leadership and in his response, before tackling my fear of speed head-on. As Knockout continued to prove himself faithful in small things, my confidence grew.

I’ve faced much worse things in life than an unplanned dismount from a horse. A failed marriage and subsequent divorce…custody battles…a cancer diagnosis…death of close loved ones…the list goes on…

Some of those life events hit me hard, shaking my confidence. Some temporarily shook my confidence in God and His love for me.  Others shook my confidence in my ability to hear God’s voice…or my ability to correctly interpret scripture…or my ability to wisely discern a situation or relationship.

So how do we overcome a loss of confidence in these larger life issues?

The same way. We test the relationship in small things. We spend time with God.  We follow His direction in small things and witness His faithfulness…as we learn to trust Him in the big things.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

What a faithful friend!  🙂

 

Have you ever lost confidence?  How did you regain it?

 

Thou Art Mine!

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

This is a picture of Knockout, my 6-yo AQHA gelding.

Knockout is my horse.

He is my horse because I bought and paid for him.  Just as importantly, he is my horse because he has chosen to trust me and I have committed to train him.

What does it mean to be my horse? It means he is different from other horses.  He behaves very differently from a wild untamed horse, especially when I’m near.

When I approach Knockout in the pasture, he steps toward me rather than fleeing. He lets me halter and lead him wherever I want him to go.  Knockout stands still while I groom and saddle him.  He loves treats, belly rubs, and soothing talk!  He lets me ride on his back and agrees to carry me wherever I ask.  We have worked out a nonverbal system of communication that allows me to tell Knockout what direction I want him to go at what speed…and he responds to my ask.  He has good manners, respects my personal space, backs or advances on a light touch, trailers well, and stands for the farrier.

Knockout and I have developed a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual trust. He is my horse and I am his master.  And I’m pretty proud of him!  🙂

Our relationship wasn’t always as trusting as it is now. He had some previous bad experiences with humans and wasn’t very trusting.  We’ve both had insecurities to overcome.  The first time I rode Knockout, he tried to bolt then bucked me off when I checked him.  We’ve gone through phases where he acted like he didn’t want anything to do with me.  And we’ve gone through phases where I wasn’t sure I could ever learn to trust him or earn his trust.

But even then, he was my horse…because I bought and paid for him…and because he chose to be willing to learn to trust me.

The more time we spend together, the more he acts like my horse. Over time, his behavior has changed to make it obvious he is my partner, not just some wild horse running around our pasture.

Now, those changes have required work…and they are still ongoing. He’s still far from finished out.  But we’ve come a long ways from where we started.  He acts more like he belongs to me today than he did a year ago…and a year from now he’ll act even more like he belongs to me.

This training and learning is hard work for both of us. Knockout consistently shows up ready to work and ready to give me his best effort.  If he wasn’t willing to work so hard, we could not have progressed as well as we have.

However, Knockout is completely incapable of learning to become a saddle horse through his own effort.

Suppose I had told him on the first day, “Knockout I want you to learn to be a saddle horse, and I need you to study and work real hard at it.  Some of those other horses in your pasture are trained saddle horses, and I want you to watch them and do what they do.  Work hard and learn how you must behave to truly be my horse.”

How do you think that would have worked out?  Not too well, right?  No amount of his watching the other horses or running around the pasture trying to learn reining skills would have taken him even one step closer to the goal.  He would never have managed to gain even the foggiest notion of what he was supposed to be doing.

See, Knockout is really only responsible for being willing to learn to trust me. The rest is up to me.

Knockout has absolutely no idea what he needs to learn. It is up to me to teach him in a way he can learn to understand.

I challenge him a lot!  I take him places he has never been.  I ask him to go places he’s uncomfortable going.  I ask him to learn to do new things, then I ask him to do those things better and faster.

I ask a lot of Knockout and he gives me a lot.  But the end result is up to me.  He’s not responsible for learning to become a finished out saddle horse.  That’s my responsibility.  His only responsibility is to be willing to trust me…to learn to pay attention to me…to learn to respond to my cues.  The rest is up to me.

Knockout is a really smart horse, and sometimes he tries to anticipate what he thinks I want him to do before I ask. That generally does not work out well.  I don’t want him to work for me.  I want him to work with me…in response to my cues.  I don’t need him to work hard at becoming the horse I want him to be.  He just needs to be willing to trust me and pay attention to me…the rest is up to me.

As a Christian, it is easy to start thinking my job is to go out and work for Christ…or to wage war against sin…or to study hard to become more Christ-like…to make my calling and election sure by becoming more righteous. And certainly a healthy Christian life does include plenty of hard work, study, effort, and self-discipline.

But the thing is, I am no more capable of making myself a child of God than Knockout is of making himself a finished out saddle horse. No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness…unless that effort is directed by the Holy Spirit.

No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness. Click To Tweet

Jesus already bought and paid for me. I have already chosen to place my trust in HimI am His and He is mine.  Sometimes I don’t act much like I belong to Him…but I act more like His now than I did previously…and I will learn to act more like His than I do now…as I spend time with Him…as I abide in Him…as I rest in Him.

We tend to fall into the trap of dual-phase thinking…of thinking we must choose one of two paths…of choosing between apathy and hard work and believing hard work is the godly choice. Viewed from this perspective, we are concerned about folks we see who claim to be Christians yet show no fruit in their lives…and we wonder do they really belong to Christ?  So, in an effort to ensure we don’t make the same mistake, we resolve to work hard to become more godly.

But the dual-phase paradigm completely misses the reality of being conformed to the image of Christ by simply resting in Him…and this is the only way to become godly.

Resting in Christ is not a passive apathetic rest.  It is an attentive intentional rest.  It is staying focused on Him ready to respond to His cue, while trusting Him completely with the results.

Knockout cannot become a finished out saddle horse by just running around the pasture as though I did not exist. Neither could he make any progress on his own through hard work and determination.  Rather, he must simply trust me…and leave the rest up to me.

Likewise, my job is to simply trust God and spend time with him…to seek His will and learn to know His voice…to learn to respond to His cues. The rest is up to Him.  He has promised to complete the good work He has begun in me.  He has promised to conform me to His image.  He has already redeemed me from sin and He promises to also deliver me from sin.  He has promised to bring about in my life the destiny which He predestined for me before the foundations of the world.

He is faithful! And I can trust Him.

I am His…and He is mine!

 

Your thoughts?

 

Three Days

“The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Matthew 9:31)

This week, Christians around the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has much to say about these events.  Four eyewitness accounts are given of these events in the gospels, and the New Testament epistles provide further elaboration.  These events are the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Yet, we’re told surprisingly little about what happened in Sheol (or Hades…the place of the dead) during the three days Jesus was in the grave.

The four gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony by the apostles and others. Since all the eyewitnesses were living, we have no direct account of what transpired in Sheol.

We are told Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, that He now holds the keys of death and of Hades, and that many of the dead were raised.  Yet we know very little of what actually transpired in Sheol during those three days Jesus was in the grave.

Since I often write on the topic of redemption, it is not surprising I am sometimes asked what I think happened during those three days of silence from the tomb. It is a topic I have somewhat avoided, because the Bible simply does not provide an authoritative answer.  Although I certainly have my own speculations, they’re exactly that…speculations.

But maybe it’s worth speculating…

Although the Bible is largely silent on what transpired during the Great Exodus from Sheol, it provides rich details of what transpired during the Great Exodus from Egypt. Since the Great Exodus from Egypt is clearly a prophetic precursor of Christ’s work in Sheol, let’s see what we can learn from it.

God’s covenant people were enslaved in Egypt, held in bondage by covenant to an abusive ruler. While enslaved in Egypt, they occupied a separate region called Goshen, where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

In much the same way, God’s covenant people were enslaved in Sheol, held in bondage by covenant to Satan. While enslaved in Sheol, they occupied a separate region called Abraham’s Bosom (or Paradise), where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

God told Moses:

Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:5-6)

What transpired afterward is the well-known Exodus story we are all familiar with…the story that is commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast…and which has inspired numerous movie depictions.

What transpired was that God showed up in Egypt…accompanied by ten plagues…each more devastating than the last. Each plague specifically targeted one of the false gods of Egypt, exposing them as frauds.  God countered the false gods, not with empty arguments, but with power and judgment.  The truth of God’s identity rolled over the lies of the false gods like a tidal wave of destruction.

The final plague, the death of the firstborn, targeted Pharaoh himself…the Egyptian sungod…cutting off the inheritance of the Egyptians much as Pharaoh had attempted to cut off the covenant inheritance of the Israelites by murdering their infant sons.

God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh…bringing about their just divorce from Egypt and dissolving all legal ties and all covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

Most redemptions require a payment on behalf of the person being redeemed from slavery.  However, in Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the only payment made to Egypt was the ten plagues…while Israel was paid Egyptian silver and gold.  These were the payments deemed by God as just redemption from Egypt.

In the end, Pharaoh was so desperate for God to leave Egypt that he ordered the Israelites to leave, thereby dissolving their covenant.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

I speculate that Christ’s redemption of His people from Sheol was similar to the redemption from Egypt.

Sheol is described as a place of darkness, despair, and torment. Into that dark kingdom of death strode the Lord of Light and Life.  The lies of Satan were steam-rolled by the power of the living Christ.  The pillars of deception and despair were vaporized by the truth and hope of Christ.  Satan’s stronghold began to crumble and those enslaved found new hope.

And I speculate that Satan was so desperate for Christ to leave that he begged Jesus to take all His chosen ones out with him, thereby dissolving his covenant claim.

“…for under compulsion he will let them go…”

Here is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah’s dual work of judgment and redemption:

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place.

“Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand.  When the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.

“As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means. (Isaiah 28:15-19)

Glory! What a Savior!  Our Redeemer lives!

He joins us in our place of bondage.  He protects us as He judges our oppressor.  He redeems and delivers us into liberty in Him.  He resurrects us to new life.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Narnian Abuse

Although fiction may not always be a reliable source on which to base major decisions, sometimes fiction can help us see things more clearly. Good fiction imitates real life. The simplified versions of real-life relationships depicted in fiction sometimes make it easier to recognize interactions of the various relational roles.

In his children’s fiction series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis illustrates several examples of highly toxic relationships.

The White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, for example, was very abusive toward Edmund as well as all the Narnians, including her most loyal subjects.  In fact, she was very manipulative and deceitful toward Digory and Polly much earlier, in The Magicians Nephew, where it was revealed she had annihilated every living creature in her own world of Charn… one couldn’t get much more abusive than intentional worldwide annihilation of all life…just to satisfy one’s own pride.  Viewing her interactions with others from the perspective of abuser tactics can be somewhat revealing.

The relationship between Shift (the ape) and Puzzle (the donkey) in The Last Battle also illustrates some classic abuser tactics.  It is quite clear that Shift is in the relationship solely for what he can manipulate Puzzle into doing for him, while Puzzle remains out of a misguided sense of loyalty driven by low self-esteem.  Ironically, Shift continually reinforces Puzzle’s low self-esteem, telling him how stupid he is and that he should leave difficult things like thinking to Shift.  Puzzle’s low self-esteem prevents him from finding the strength and courage to leave the relationship, yet the relationship continually lowers his self-esteem.  For Shift, the constant put-downs to Puzzle not only inflate his own already over-sized ego, but also keep Puzzle enslaved to do his bidding through manipulative tactics of guilt and belittlement.

In my latest read through the series, the relationship that most stood out to me as a study of classic abuse was the story of Prince Rilian and the Queen of Underland (aka The Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Green Witch, or the Green Lady) who turned out to be the same green serpent who had killed his mother. Of course we have the obvious maliciousness (obvious to the reader, not obvious to Rilian) of having killed his mother, of holding Rilian captive, and of scheming to use Rilian as a tool to destroy his own home and kill his own family and friends.  But let’s take a closer look at some of the interpersonal tactics she used to accomplish these goals.

When the two children from our world, Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb, together with their Marshwiggle guide, Puddleglum, first met Prince Rilian in Underland, he recognized having met them by the bridge on the border of Ettinsmoor where he was riding with the Queen of Underland. Eustace truthfully said the Green Lady was very mean to have intentionally sent them into a trap intended to kill them.  Rilian quickly jumped to the Green Lady’s defense:

“If you were not so young a warrior, Boy, you and I must have fought to the death on this quarrel. I can hear no words against my Lady’s honor.  But of this you may be assured, that whatever she said to you, she said of good intent.  You do not know her.  She is a nosegay of all virtues, as truth, mercy, constancy, gentleness, courage, and the rest.  I say what I know.  Her kindness to me alone, who can in no way reward her, would make an admirable history.”

See how quickly Rilian jumped to loyally defend his abuser? When a truthful specific charge of attempted murder is brought against his abuser, Rilian defends her intent. He then recites a whole list of virtues she supposedly possesses…yet falls short of providing any specific examples…because she doesn’t actually display any of them.

Later in the conversation, Rilian continues:

“You must understand, friends, that I know nothing of who I was and whence I came into this Dark World. I remember no time when I was not dwelling, as now, at the court of this all but heavenly Queen; but my thought is that she saved me from some evil enchantment and brought me hither of her exceeding bounty…and this seems to me the likelier because even now I am bound by a spell, from which my Lady alone can free me.  Every night there comes an hour when my mind is most horribly changed and, after my mind, my body.  For first I become furious and wild and would rush upon my dearest friends to kill them, if I were not bound.  And soon after that, I turn into the likeness of a great serpent, hungry, fierce, and deadly.”

Do you see how the Green Lady has used a manipulative fog of deceit to enslave Rilian? Underland is a dark and dreary world completely devoid of joy or happiness.  Yet the Queen has manipulated Rilian into forgetting how bright and joyful his life was before meeting her.  Notice how vague he is on any details.  She has convinced him that she has saved him from an evil enchantment and graciously adopted him into her kingdom.  Yet he cannot provide any specifics of exactly what was so horrible about his life before Underland…nor of any good in Underland besides the presence of the Green Lady…a questionable ‘blessing’ to say the least.

And notice how the Queen has manipulatively turned the truth upside-down for Rilian. She has convinced him he is in his right mind when he is under her spell (believing all her lies) and that he is not in his right mind when he see things clearly (recognizes her lies as lies).

She has convinced him that when he is in his right mind (recognizing her lies) he is a danger to his friends…when, in fact, she is making very specific plans to manipulate him into leading a charge against his true friends, the Narnians. In fact, his true friends…those friends from his former life…the life he led before meeting the witch…are his ONLY friends.  One must wonder what friends she was even talking about him being a danger to, as she has so isolated him from all associates other than herself that he no longer has any friends.

Then she delivered the manipulative capstone of deceit:

“And soon after that, I turn into the likeness of a great serpent, hungry, fierce, and deadly.”

What? Wait a minute!  Who turns into a serpent?  Certainly not Prince Rilian!  No, it is the Queen herself who turns into a deadly serpent…the same serpent who killed his mother.  Yet she has convinced Rilian he is the one who transforms into a monster.

This fog of manipulative deception is so typical of abuse! Some of you who have experienced abuse will recognize it.  The bitter clinging to vague imagined slights of friends from life before the abuser…the imagined virtues of the abuser based solely on their statements of intent that never actually come through in reality…the upside-down world of confusing one’s true identity with the abuser’s character and the abuser’s character as one’s true identity…it is a fog of deception much as Lewis has portrayed here.

This common abusive tactic, called gas-lighting, uses manipulative deceit to lead the abuse target to doubt their own senses, suspect their own memories, and question even their own sanity.  The goal is to make the target completely dependent on the abuser for their perception of reality.

Have you ever wondered why an abuse victim stays? This is often part of the reason.  The fog of deception is not easily penetrated.

Later, with the help of his new friends, Prince Rilian is able to pierce the fog of deceit and clearly see the witch’s enslavement for what it was. However, the witch manages to once again draw him into her web of lies, along with his new friends.  Through the use of illogical arguments, she soon has all four accepting her lies and falling under her fog of deception.  She asks questions as though she is interested in understanding…yet all she really wants is to convince them to abandon truth for her lies.  The more they try to convince her of the truth, the more deeply they succumb to her web of deceit.  Before long, she has them believing there is no such thing as a sun, moon, stars, trees, or green grass…that nothing exists outside the dark dismal world she rules in Underland.

Finally, at the last moment, Puddleglum gathered his strength and took a bold stand:

“All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it.  So I won’t deny any of what you said.  But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.  Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right.  But four babies playing a game can make a play world which licks your real world hollow.  That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world.  I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.  I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.  So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland.  Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

To quote Eustace and Jill, “Oh, hurrah! Good old Puddleglum!”

Puddleglum wisely stopped trying to convince the witch. He stopped debating with her.  Debating was playing right into her game plan.  She had no interest in understanding their perspective, nor of seeing the truth, nor even of using logical arguments in debate.  In fact, she already knew what they said was true and what she said was a lie…she was not in need of convincing nor open to being convinced.  But as long as she could draw them into a debate, she could continue to spin her web of lies, making them question their own sanity, their own memories, and the testimony of their own eyes.

Puddleglum chose to stop debating and to simply cling to what truth he could see. He took a stand and stated the truth he could see at the moment…in a manner that shut off all argument or debate.  Trying to convince the witch was futile and completely unnecessary.

It is important to confront lies with the truth. It is futile to try to convince a liar they are lying.  They already know they’re lying…and have already chosen to continue lying.  Debating just gives them more opportunity to spin their lies.

It is important to confront lies with the truth. It is futile to try to convince a liar they are lying. Click To Tweet

So stop debating. Stand firm in the truth and refuse to debate.  This is the best escape from the manipulative fog of deceit.

BUT…if you are in an abusive relationship…make sure you have a safety plan…ask for help from trusted friends…or make new friends who can be trusted.

When Puddleglum exposed the witch’s lies, she finally dropped all pretense and transformed into a deadly serpent, trying to kill them all. The same often happens when an abuser is confronted by a victim escaping their control…they become more dangerous than ever.

Cling to the truth. Take a stand.  Have a safety plan.  Ask for help.  Trust God…because He is trustworthy.

In the story of Prince Rilian, Aslan sent friends to help him in his hour of need. The friends helped free him from the Green Lady’s deceptive enslavement, and defended him when she tried to kill him.

If you are trapped in an abusive relationship, ask God to help you seek out friends who can help. One place to start may be by contacting a shelter near you.

Any abused woman located in central Arkansas can contact The Dorcas House at (501) 374-4022 for help and shelter for herself and her children.

Here is a web page with a list of resources to find help in other regions: https://cryingoutforjustice.com/resources/domestic-violence-agencies-us-and-canada/

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]