Fundamentals

texas sunset

Sunset over Texas Hill Country

The horsemanship clinic began with the clinician asking us to lead our horse around the arena while requiring the horse to remain at the end of the lead line.  If the horse started creeping up on us, we were to prompt him back to the end of the lead line again.

Once that was going well, he asked us to work on stopping and expecting the horse to instantly freeze in his tracks when we stopped.

After that, we spent some time backing the horse to the end of the lead line…then reeling him in…then backing him up…then reeling him in…all while working toward a smoother response on a lighter touch. Then we got even more particular, asking for exactly two steps forward followed by exactly two steps back…then one step forward followed by one step back.

Altogether, we spent over an hour just working on having the horse go forward or back on the lead line, in one form or another. After that, we started working on shoulder turns and hindquarter turns…being very particular about making sure the horse really reached out with his hoof…and very particular about separating front laterals from hind laterals.

We didn’t actually mount and ride until late morning.

If I had known in advance we were going to spend the first few hours of the clinic just doing groundwork, I probably wouldn’t have been very impressed. Frankly, I thought my horse already did fine on the lead line and wasn’t much in need of training in that area.

I was wrong in that assumption.  Like so many areas in life, we don’t know what we don’t know until we learn better.

joe on knockout

By the end of the clinic, Knockout was relaxed while I swung a rope from the saddle

Later that afternoon, I realized my horse was more relaxed and more responsive than he had ever been under saddle.

In the weeks since the clinic, I have been amazed at how much difference those simple lead-line exercises have improved my relationship with each of our horses.

The exercises require both the horse and rider to really pay attention to each other…to really listen to each other’s body language and relative position…and to develop precise timing of response. It requires the horse to walk in sync with the rider, moving as the rider moves.  And it builds confidence.  The horse gains confidence in the rider’s leadership, as well as in his own ability to properly respond to the rider’s cues.  The rider also becomes more confident as a leader and in the horse’s response.

Going forward and back on a lead line sounds a little dull. The idea of making it part of a regular routine sounds a bit stifled and unspontaneous.  Most people acquire horses for the adventure of riding, not to move the horse back and forth on a lead line.  Frankly, it could be dull and not very helpful if approached with a poor attitude.  If the rider treated it as some mindless routine to drudge through, or some requirement to rush past, it would probably yield little benefit.

Done well, though, it is an incredible communication tool! Lead line training provides an opportunity for the rider and horse to work together on really listening to each other, to work on improving timing and balance, and to sync their movements.  The movements are simple enough to allow both horse and rider to remain relaxed…to make it a lighthearted low-pressure game.  It provides a relaxed environment of open communication for building mutual respect and trust…for building muscle memory of cues, responses and timing.  Like a 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…

I think similar tools can be applied to other relationships.

I love engaging my family in humorous banter.  I notice a potential word play on something said in conversation and feign misunderstanding.  Sherri starts to correct then glances up to see my smile and catch the humor.  She, in turn, plays off of my joke to escalate the nonsensical tangent…and we both crack up laughing.

It’s just playful silliness that may appear pointless.  But it requires paying close attention to each other…to really listen to what the other is saying…to watch body language to realize it’s a jest…to catch the double-meaning of the word play…and to respond in kind.  It is lighthearted playfulness that sets the mood for improved communication and building mutual trust and understanding.

I also value my daily quiet time with God for how it helps build relationship.

Similar to the lead line work, a daily quiet time can sound stifled and unspontaneous.  There have been times in my life when the discipline of a daily quiet time became something of a dry, legalistic chore.  I understand why some may struggle with such a commitment.

Like the lead line training, though, it is all a matter of attitude.  I now view Our quiet time as a time of intentional communication, where I practice listening and responding to the Holy Spirit’s cues…a time of getting in sync with His movement…and a time of building my confidence in Him and in my ability to hear His voice.

Good communication requires intentional focused listening…and important relationships are worth investing the time and effort to improve communication.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Over-Trying

The trainer called him training-resistant…said he forgot everything he’d been taught from one day to the next…said he advised selling him and buying a better prospect.

I decided not to sell him.

There was just something about him.

Partly, it was his excellent pedigree.  Largely, it was his sweet nature…his soft eye…the way he acted like he genuinely enjoyed human interaction.  Mostly, it was recalling how when we first brought him home it was obvious he had never been lead-line lunged, yet it took only a few minutes to have him walking and trotting smooth circles around me.

In short, I didn’t believe what the trainer told us, despite his credentials.  The trainer’s professional testimony didn’t match my own personal experience with this particular horse.

So I decided to take on his training, myself.

Now, after six months working with him, I feel I have the right to my own opinions of this horse’s sweet nature.

He’s definitely not resistant to training. In fact, he’s super smart and very eager to please.

In theory, that should make him really easy to train. However, he still manages to challenge my very amateur training skills.  I have no doubt he’s a great horse…I often question whether I can become a good leader.

We occasionally have days where everything seems to click and I find myself riding this wonderfully responsive majestic creature. Those days I truly feel I’m holding his feet in my hands as we smoothly transition from side-passes to counter-arcs and back again with a 2″ slide of my calf forward and back.  Those days, we transition up from a walk to and trot or from a trot to a lope on nothing more than an inhale of breath…then transition back down on an exhale and relaxing into the saddle…all on a loose rein.  Those days, it feels like the sky is the limit…like I’m only one ride away from teaching this horse to do anything I want him to do.  Those days are amazing!

And those days are usually followed by a day that seems a bit disappointing in comparison…where nothing seems to click quite right…where communication is a struggle…where transitions are jerky…where I have to over-cue to get the desired response…where it seems we’ve forgotten everything we learned from the last ride. On those days, the trainer’s words come back to haunt me as seeds of doubt sprig up.

Then I listen to my horse…really pay attention to his responses…and I realize. The issue is neither stubbornness nor stupidity.  The issue is a really smart horse working really hard to please…whose expectations don’t quite match my own.  He wants so much to please that he tries to anticipate what I want before I ever ask.

Yesterday we backed thru turns after stops…so today he follows every stop by immediately starting to pivot inward. When I block the turn, he starts to pivot the other direction.  When I block the outward turn, he tries to back up.  When I block the back, he side-passes to the fence to stop and relax…because yesterday we finished out the ride learning to relax standing parallel to the gate.

He’s not being resistant. On the contrary, his every move is an attempt to do what he thinks I want…before I have a chance to ask for it.

He definitely remembers yesterday’s lesson!

This is not a poor memory issue.  This is an issue of miscommunication and mismatched expectations.  He remembers enjoying the smoothness of yesterday’s ride as well as I do.  And after thinking about it overnight, he has resolved to do even better today, by doing what I want before I even ask for it.  But what I really want is for him to respond promptly and smoothly when I asknot before I ask.

At this point, I have a choice. I can get frustrated at his seemingly erratic behavior, tense up, and try to straighten him out by over-cuing everything.  He, in turn, will likely respond with confusion and frustration of his own.  He will become tense, making learning more difficult, and we’ll wind up finishing the ride on a bad note, both baffled by the other’s behavior.

Or, I can laugh! I can lighten up, recognize his attempts to anticipate for what they are, laugh at the miscommunication, and appreciate this wonderful animal for his good-natured willingness to try to please.  I can set the mood for lightheartedness and joy…and he’ll respond with softness and grace.  The ride may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And that’s a lesson I can carry into other relationships.

When frustration mounts, I can choose, instead, to laugh! I can lighten up, recognize the miscommunications for what they are, and appreciate the other person for who they are.  The moment may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And I suspect my Heavenly Father often laughs at my miscues just as I laugh at my horse’s misguided anticipated moves. How often do I persist in doing what I think will please Him when all He really wants is for us to enjoy time together as I learn to listen and respond to His ask?  How often does He choose to lighten up and laugh at my miscues, while appreciating my willingness to try and my desire to please?

How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
And by Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And by Your favor our horn is exalted. (Psalm 89:15-17)

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Dark Scary Places

Sonny and KnockoutI absolutely love spending time with our horses learning horsemanship!

I’m still not much of a horseman, but am constantly learning. I’m at a stage now where I get a big kick out of small changes.  Sometimes it’s a small improvement in an area we’ve worked on…other times it’s a problem that crops up and is handled using newly learned tools.

Last night, I trailered three of our horses to the farrier for hoof trims and shoeing. All three horses are accustomed to trailers and load very easily…until last night.

For some reason, when loading to leave the farrier, each horse hesitated at the trailer door refusing to go in. I’m not sure why…maybe the unusually bright moonlight made the trailer interior look darker and therefore scarier.  Whatever the reason, each horse balked at the trailer door, and no amount of coaxing could persuade them to step inside.

If this had happened two years ago, I would not have known what to do. Facing the same event two years ago, I would probably have tugged and pulled trying to force the horse into the trailer while asking someone else to apply pressure from the back end.  And who knows…I might fall into that same pattern next week…this horsemanship gig is a tortuous journey full of surprising twists and turns for both me and the horses.  It’s a lot like parenting.

Last night, though, was different. Last night, when the first horse refused to load I realized this was neither about lack of understanding nor lack of willingness.  It wasn’t even about loading or not loading.  In fact, it wasn’t really even about the trailer.

The issue to be addressed was lack of confidence.

For whatever reason, that particular horse on that particular evening was not confident about loading in that dark scary-looking trailer. His confidence had been replaced with fear…and it was up to me to regain his confidence.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.

His fear was rooted in the trailer and his lack of confidence was rooted in self. It had nothing to do with me, really.  He was not afraid of me, nor was he challenging me.  He lacked confidence in himself out of fear of the scary-looking trailer.

The solution, however, had nothing to do with the trailer and everything to do with me. I needed to get his focus off the trailer and onto me.  I needed to boost his confidence in me.  His lack of self-confidence needed to be replaced with confidence in me.

We took a few steps away from the trailer and spent about two minutes doing a few basic exercises: step back, step forward, right shoulder turn, right hind-quarter turn, left shoulder turn, left hind-quarter turn, back two steps, forward two steps, back one step, forward one step.

Then I led him into the trailer. No fuss, no bother, no fear…just confidently following me into the trailer to stand quietly while I closed the stall separator.

Then I did the exact same thing with the other two horses, with the same results.

It was wonderful!  🙂

I love when things work out so well.  More importantly, I love when I am able to read a situation well enough to know the solution.  And I love knowing my horses have enough confidence in me to follow my lead.

This morning I realized there are a few life lessons in last night’s events.

Lesson 1: When I am scared, the issue is whatever I fear combined with lack of confidence.  The solution is to move my focus off what I fear and onto Jesus.  With my focus on Jesus, lack of self-confidence is replaced by confidence in Him.

Lesson 2: Placing my focus and confidence in Jesus is best accomplished by simply obeying Him in small things…by following His lead in little things that have nothing to do with the big scary thing.

How does that play out in real life? Lots of ways, but let’s take one current event.

I think most of us are a little (or a lot) concerned about what’s going on politically in the United States, right now. Whomever any of us may have voted for and whatever outcome we hoped for, right now we have a lot of uncertainty as to how exactly things will pan out post-election.  There are a lot of unknowns, and it is natural to fear the unknown (just as it is natural for a horse to fear a dark trailer interior).

The solution is to move my focus off the uncertainties and onto Jesus. I do that by spending time alone with Him and by following His command to “Love one another.”  I do that in daily little things…by treating others with love, respect, and understanding.

As I follow Christ’s lead in these little daily things, my confidence in Him builds and my fear of uncertainty is replaced by confidence in Him.

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Guardians

As US Highway 82 runs through Greenville, Mississippi, the speed limit drops from 65 mph to 35 mph with a series of traffic lights. The traffic that flowed smoothly through the countryside bunches up and crawls in fits through the city of Greenville.

I was halfway through town, heading west toward the nearby Mississippi River, when I stopped for a traffic light. There was nothing extraordinary about the stop.  As I approached the intersection, the light changed from green to yellow, followed by red.  I began braking the moment it changed to yellow, and the light was red well before I reached the intersection to stop behind the white line painted across the asphalt highway.

The logging truck behind me was less responsive. A glance in the rearview mirror showed him bearing down on me while vigorously plying both brake and horn.  I punched the gas to jump across the spacious cross-walk and stop halfway into the cross-lane, leaving just enough room for cross-traffic to squeeze by.  The trucker took full advantage of the extra stopping footage, grinding to a halt a couple of feet behind my bumper.  Too close for comfort, but no harm done!  I relaxed into my seat, thankful a collision had been avoided.

Seconds later, the truck driver stomped up and slapped my window as though trying to break the glass, then proceeded to cuss me out. “What the h*** do you think you’re doing?  Do you think an eight hundred thousand pound load is easy to get stopped?”

Hoping to defuse the tension, I responded calmly, “The light was red, bud.”

“F*** the light!” he screamed, stalking back to his truck.

As the light changed to green, I pulled ahead of the heavy truck. A few blocks further, I stopped at another red light.  Glancing in my mirror, I saw the road-rage driver two blocks back in the left lane, abreast another logging truck in the right lane.  Both trucks barreled straight through a red light to stop where I was…one to my left and one behind me.

That seemed like a pretty aggressive move, intended to intimidate. I wasn’t really scared, but I was concerned.  Accelerating through the green light, I reached beneath the car seat, retrieved my hand gun, and placed it on the seat beside me, as I breathed a prayer for protection and wisdom.  I wasn’t really expecting an altercation, but wanted to be prepared just in case.

As we neared the edge of town, the car in front of me turned right, and I saw a police officer signaling me to do the same. Something struck me as odd.  Traffic was rolling on down the highway, ahead.  There were no detour signs or flashing lights.  No police cars were in view.  Yet this police officer was looking straight at me, clearly signaling me to turn right, off the four-lane highway, onto a narrow residential street.

As I slowed for the turn I called, “Turn right?” “Yes, turn right,” he responded, then said something else about broken glass.  I’m not certain, but it sounded like he said, “Yes, turn right.  We want you to avoid broken glass.”

I made the right turn, thinking there must be a crew ahead cleaning broken glass off the highway. I glanced in my mirror expecting to see a line of traffic following, with the two logging trucks on my bumper.  Instead, I saw the police officer standing in the middle of the road, facing away from me as he watched the highway traffic roll by.  Nobody else was diverted.

It must be a mistake, I thought. I must have misunderstood something.  I needed to get turned around and back on the highway.  Then I saw another police officer two blocks ahead, waving me on.  “Go straight?” I queried as I eased past her.  “Yes,” she responded, “keep going straight.”

So I kept going straight. Three blocks further on, the road teed into another street at a stop sign.  I had to turn either left or right.  I looked around.  No more police officers to direct me.  Still no detour signs.  The car in front of me had turned right, but he appeared to be headed toward a specific destination within the residential neighborhood.  Right would take me back east…opposite my direction of travel.  I turned left.

Within a couple of blocks, I intersected a four-lane street at an oblique angle. This could be US-82 if it had curved right.  Or it could be another street altogether.  The street sign read Grand Avenue…not much help as I was watching highway numbers not street names.  Left would take me back almost to the point I was diverted, so I turned right.  Within five minutes a sign informed me I was traveling north on State Highway 1.  Knowing the next Mississippi River bridge was miles out of my way, I turned around to head back south toward US-82.

As I approached US-82, I glanced left. There was the street I’d been diverted onto, just a couple of blocks back.  There was no police officer in sight.  No signs, no flashing lights, no accident, no broken glass…just normal traffic flow.  I turned right and headed for the river as I pondered the strange occurrence.

By the time I was crossing the river, I was starting to feel a little peeved. Why did those officers divert me?  They wasted a good fifteen minutes of my time, for no good reason!

About the time I entered Arkansas on the other side of the bridge it occurred to me that those two logging trucks were now fifteen minutes ahead of me…with no idea I was still traveling the same direction.

Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!

Now, I’m pretty quick to see miracles in everyday events such as a pretty sunset or a baby’s laugh. I’m also fairly quick to give God credit for miraculous timing of events…things that come together with too much precision to be reasonably counted as random coincidence.  I am not, however, overly quick to call things supernatural if they can be reasonably explained as natural events.  I give God full credit for both natural events and supernatural events.  However, I don’t generally feel the need to label something as supernatural when it could be divine timing of natural events.

This one has me puzzled, though.

It really would not be reasonable to assume two police officers just decided to coordinate together to play a prank on a random stranger. It would be even less reasonable to assume they decided to single out one random vehicle out of a highway full of vehicles as the subject of a joke.  And it becomes even less credible to assume they would decide to play the joke without using any flashing lights or police cars.

Logic drives me to the conclusion that I was intentionally singled out to be diverted for a specific purpose. The most obvious purpose would be to separate me from the pair of road-rage truck drivers.  However, to accept this means I must also accept this was a divinely inspired plan for my protection…and that those were no ordinary police officers.

In the Bible, angels served two primary roles, as guardians and as messengers. Whether natural or supernatural, those two police officers acted as guardians and messengers on my behalf.  They were my angels.

Which means, I am greatly loved and under divine care.

Glory!  🙂

 

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

A Way Out

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’m still not much of a horseman.

However, in working with our two young horses (a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on the topic of horse training.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface, I am really having a lot of fun learning!

I’ve noticed a common training theme that is frequently repeated in every chapter and/or video. Some call it the principle of pressure-release.  Others call it making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  I just finished reading Ray Hunt’s book, Think Harmony with Horses, in which he calls it putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out.

It is a very simple training principle with a myriad of practical applications. Carson James has a whole library of videos applying this basic principle to different training situations.

In a nutshell, the idea is to set the horse up in a situation where it is easy for him to do what you’re trying to teach (this is the out), but difficult for him to do anything else (this is the bind). Then apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to find the out (do what you are trying to teach).

The instant the horse makes a try (takes a step, shifts weight, turns head, etc.) in the right direction, release the pressure.  Take a moment to encourage and reward the horse (pet him and talk to him) then do it again.  Repeat until the horse responds smoothly with the desired response.

One benefit to this technique is that rather than trying to force the horse to do what the trainer wants, the trainer is letting the horse figure it out for himself. Rather than trying to over-ride the horse’s free will, the horse is learning to voluntarily adjust his will to submit to the trainer’s will.

Another benefit, as explained in Think Harmony with Horses, is the bond created between man and horse.  Using this technique, the horse learns to consider the trainer as a trusted friend, because the trainer always leaves the horse an out.  Over time, the horse gains confidence in the trainer and in his ability to follow the trainer’s prompts.

The concept is amazingly simple. The application, however, is an art requiring lots of practice.

The first trick is knowing the horse’s personality and training level well enough to know where to start and how much pressure to apply. Difficult tasks often require breaking learning down into smaller steps, so the horse can gain confidence and understand expectations before learning the difficult task.

Also, the trainer must apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to search for the out, but not so much pressure as to panic the horse.  As training progresses, the trainer should use less and less pressure, so the horse can learn a quick response to a light touch.

The second trick is timing. Pressure must be applied to encourage desired behavior and instantly released at even a tiny try toward desired behavior.  The release is what lets the horse know where the out is, and the out needs to be as easy to find as possible.  However, as the horse progresses in learning the out, the trainer should hold pressure to insist on a more specific try (such as a full step rather than just a head turn or a weight shift) before releasing pressure.

As I contemplated this concept of putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

God, who intimately knows my personality and training level, sets me up in stressful situations while always leaving me an out. He knows just how much stress to apply to help me find the out without being unduly panicked.  He is my faithful friend throughout…helping me find the right way and helping me learn to follow His prompts.  He never forces me, but helps me learn to voluntarily submit my will to His.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

What a faithful friend and personal trainer!

 

Your thoughts?

 

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

 

Balk Bolt Buck

knockout round

A very relaxed horse at the end of the ride

The last few weeks, I’ve been working with our five-year-old gelding to relax, slow down, and smooth gait transitions. Knockout is a sweet-natured young horse with good confirmation and an excellent pedigree. However, he tends to be tense during rides which can lead to issues.

Last weekend, following a stormy Friday night, our arena was too muddy for riding. So I decided to take Knockout on a trail ride through our back pasture and woods.

In general, Knockout tends to be skittish with woodland trails and water crossings. I assume his west Texas raising didn’t provide much opportunity for either.

Saturday morning we started out. The 8-inch rainstorm left creeks swollen and trees dripping. Needless to say, Knockout had ample opportunity to feel stressed…and I had ample opportunity to ask him to relax.

Knockout tends to respond the same to each stressful obstacle, whether a fast-flowing creek, a low-hanging branch, or a tall vine. First, he balks. He looks for an out…an alternate path. He may try to turn aside, or he may try to turn around. At this stage, his goal is to simply avoid the stressful situation.

As I continue to hold him to the course and nudge him forward, Knockout’s next strategy is to bolt. Basically, he concludes that if the obstacle cannot be avoided, then the next best thing is to get past it as quickly as possible.

Initially, I allow some level of controlled bolting. While I won’t allow him to totally flee the scene, I don’t mind him picking up to a trot past a ‘spook’ then dropping back to a walk. Over time, however, I expect him to take these things in stride without the need to change speed.

Since he was particularly nervous this morning, I decided it was a good time to work past some of his fears.

I picked out one short stretch of trail that he was especially stressed about and looped back over it, working on relaxing and walking calmly. After several cycles, he was calmer, but still had specific trail sections he tried to rush past. So, I began stopping and backing him up each time he broke into a trot. I backed him up to the location he spooked, and dropped the reins. When he tried to step away, I interfered then dropped the reins.

The first time I brought him to a full stop beside a ‘spook’ Knockout responded with an attempted buck. It wasn’t anything malicious, just a natural response to the situation. He was nervous and frustrated, seeking release for pent-up energy, and it came out in a buck. Fortunately, I was ready and caught it quickly. I interrupted the buck then dropped the reins.

Once Knockout relaxed in the full-stop and ceased trying to buck or step away, I prompted him to continue down the path. Before long, he learned what I wanted and relaxed quicker.

By the time we’d circled through the same path about twenty times, Knockout was able to calmly walk the full path. I could literally feel him relax and cease resisting. We continued a very relaxed ride back home and ended on a good note.

As I thought about Knockout’s lesson that day, I realized he saw three possible responses to a tense situation. As he saw it, he could either balk, bolt, or buck…and if the first didn’t work he’d try the next.

My task is to teach him another option…to believe…to simply relax and trust me. That’s not an easy thing. When his fight-or-flight instincts tell him to balk, bolt, or buck, it’s not easy to trust me enough to simply relax.

Now I’m wondering.

How often do I respond to stressful situations with balk, bolt or buck, while God is asking me to believe…to trust? Click To Tweet

How often does the Holy Spirit whisper, “Fear not. Peace, be still. Have faith. Trust in Me,“ as I frantically look for an out or throw a fit?

And how many times do we circle back around to repeat a lesson I haven’t yet internalized?

Lord, please continue to be patient with me. Help me learn to face stressful situations, not with fear, but with confidence in you.

 

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

 

 

Healing Touch

hem of his garmentAnd, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:  For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.  But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. (Matthew 9:20-22, KJV)

The morning of Wednesday, March 2, I completed my final radiation treatment.  What a relief!  Although I know I still have many weeks of healing before me, completing treatment means my body can finally begin to heal.

That evening, I crawled into bed exhausted and hurting.  Conflicting emotions swirled…thankfulness and hopefulness at knowing I am done with cancer treatments…exhaustion from battling pain and struggling to keep my fluid and nutrition intakes up…intimidation at realizing I still have a long road of recovery before me.  I lay there thinking about the healing process…knowing I need more nutrition for substantial improvements…knowing my nutritional intake cannot substantially increase until my mouth and tongue heal enough to allow a broader diet selection.  Wondering how long it will take to heal…I knew it would take several days to see any improvement at all, because recent weekends failed to show any improvement.

I found myself silently praying, “Lord, please heal my poor blistered tongue!  Lord, I need your healing touch!  Jesus, please, let me just touch the hem of your garment!”

As I lay there praying, I remembered the heart-shaped prayer cloth on my night table.  My mother sent it to me weeks earlier, when I first began cancer treatments.  Mama asked the pastor and elders of her church to pray over the cloth, then mailed it to me.  As I prayed, “Let me just touch the hem of your garment,” I realized how similar that is to a prayer cloth.  In neither case is the healing power in the cloth itself, but in our Healer, Jesus Christ…yet He used cloth as a conduit for His healing power.

I fell asleep that night, clutching the little prayer cloth in my hand, praying, “Lord, let me just touch the hem of your garment!  I need your healing touch.”

I awoke Thursday morning, with the blisters gone from my tongue.

My mouth and tongue are still very swollen and sore.  But the raised blisters are gone…along with the sharp pain that accompanied them.

Our Healer lives!

 

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild FlowersRedeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Faith and Cancer

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

I awoke at 3:30 this morning to a dark, quiet, peaceful house.  As I lay in bed, drowsily assessing my condition, I slowly realized that for the first time in over a week I had no pain and no nausea.  I was a little thirsty and knew I should sit up and drink some water…hydration is very important right now…but chose, instead, to simply lie still for another hour.  Sitting, swallowing, even moving could easily lead to pain or nausea, and I wanted just another hour simply enjoying the peaceful pleasure of being free of both, no matter how temporary.  So, I lay peacefully still, thankfully pain free, reflecting on how recently this was my norm.

To put it in proper perspective, you have to understand how healthy I was prior to my cancer diagnosis in December.  I had so few prior health issues the nurses acted skeptical of my correct completion of the various new-patient medical forms.  The entry interview for my first CT-scan was typical.

“Mr. Pote, it looks like you skipped the current medications section.  What all medications do you take each day?”

“None.”

“None?  No blood pressure medicine?  No pain medicine?  No acid reflux medicine?”

“No, Ma’am.  No medicine.”

“You don’t ever take any medicine at all?”

“Well, sometimes I take a Tylenol or ibuprofen if I have a headache, but no daily med’s unless you count the caffeine in my coffee.”

“Hmmm!  Well that’s good.  Now, what about this prior surgery section?  You didn’t list any surgeries.”

“No, ma’am.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never had any surgeries?  Not even a tonsillectomy?”

“Well, in my early twenties I had a wart removed from my little toe, and I’ve had a few other similar outpatient procedures for ingrown toenails and such, but I assumed the form was asking about surgeries requiring general anesthesia and I’ve not had any of those.”

“Well, that’s good!  That’s real good!  Now, what about this section on pain?  Where all are you experiencing pain?”

“No pain.  I feel great!”

“Mr. Pote, if you don’t have any pain or any complaints or medical issues, why are you even here doing a scan?”

“We’re just trying to figure out why this lymph node is swollen,” I responded touching the swollen area on the right side of my neck.

The scan showed a tumor, which led to biopsy surgery, which showed the tumor to be malignant.  A second surgery followed to remove the tumor along with the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.

A couple of weeks later, we began a rigorous seven-week treatment plan of weekly chemo treatments combined with twice-daily radiation treatments.  Having just completed my 3rd week of radiation and my 4th chemo treatment, I’m counting myself as half-way through.

The first two weeks weren’t too bad in terms of side-effects, but this last week has been a lot tougher.  Some days are harder than others.  I keep reminding myself that I’m half done…and I keep counting my many blessings…while praying for strength and wisdom.

Do you realize how much faith it requires to undergo cancer treatment based solely on a doctor’s word? Click To Tweet

Remember, prior to my diagnosis I felt great!  I was active, energetic, and pain free.  I had an excellent immune system and was rarely ill, even when the rest of my family came down with whatever bug was circulating.  Other than the apparently-minor-issue of a swollen lymph node, I was the very picture of good health!

And remember, I have never personally seen or felt the cancer.  Relying solely on the word of medical professionals and the results of medical tests and scans…”the evidence of things not seen”…I submitted to surgery.

And remember, the cancer was surgically removed.  The surgeon reported successfully removing all visible signs of cancer.  The post-surgery CT-scan showed no abnormalities.

However, the biopsy showed this to be a very aggressive cancer, likely to return unless all microscopic traces are eradicated through further treatment.  And this particular cancer is known to be very responsive to the combination of radiation and chemo treatment.  Medically, my prognosis is excellent if I complete the prescribed treatment plan.

I sought a second opinion and was told the exact same thing by an independent expert.  I argued, “You don’t understand how healthy I am.  I am in excellent health.  I have a very robust immune system.  I hardly ever get sick.  Why can’t my immune system eradicate any remaining microscopic cancer cells, if there even are any?”

“It possibly could, but this is a very aggressive cancer, and it may not.  Left untreated, you have a much higher likelihood of the cancer returning.  With the prescribed treatment plan, you have a very low probability of the cancer returning.  Yes, you are young.  You are healthy.  You have a strong immune system.  You have a high expectancy of many more years of active health.  These are the very reasons you need to follow the treatment plan, because you are strong enough to handle it well and young enough to maximize the benefits.”

Logically, that makes perfect sense.  Rationally, I know the cancer treatment plan is the right decision.  Emotionally, I still sometimes struggle with it.  On my worst days battling pain and nausea, I ask myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?  I don’t even know if there is any cancer left to kill.  For all I know, I may already be cancer free.  And until I started this treatment, I felt great!”

Then I click back through the data…the research results…the accumulated histories of patients fighting the exact same cancer I’m fighting…and I know the right decision is to keep going until it’s done.

That requires a lot of faith!  …faith that my doctors have a correct diagnosis…faith in the medical technology…faith in the medical research…faith in medical knowledge and wisdom.  It’s easy to intellectually accept these things based on scientific evidence.  It is much harder to act on that accepted knowledge when the action carries a very burdensome path of lengthy treatment.  It’s still all “evidence of things not seen.”  My only knowledge of the cancer is my doctors’ word.  I am relying completely on the medical community for both the diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

That requires a lot of faith in the medical community!

If I can have that much faith in the medical community, how much more faith can I have in my Heavenly Father?  How much more faith can I have in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who continually displays His faithfulness and lovingkindess?  How much more faith can I have in Jesus Christ, my Savior, Redeemer, and Deliverer, who, for our sake, submitted Himself to be tortured, crucified, and killed?  How much more faith can I have in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, sent by Christ Himself, to comfort, teach, instruct, and bestow wisdom?

By faith, I choose to believe my doctor when he tells me this treatment plan is going to be very tough, but is ultimately for my own good and the best thing for me.  How much more can I believe God when he tells me:

…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

 

If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

Fear not for I have redeemed thee
I have called the by my name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
When thou passest through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.
When thou passest through the fires, thou shall not be burned.
Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…forever! (Psalm 23)

Now faith…

 

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

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  🙂

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  🙂

 

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

 

Life!

I don’t usually make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve never participated in the Word of the Year blogging trend.  New Year’s Day seems like a good time to start a goal with a twelve month cycle, such as reading through the Bible in a year.  However, most resolutions seem to me to be more applicable as daily life-style choices.

This New Year’s Day, however, I find myself very much contemplating lifestyle choices and what changes may be on the horizon.  It’s a matter of timing, really.  During the last two weeks of 2015 I received a cancer diagnosis and underwent two surgeries.  So, I am naturally starting 2016 with a certain level of new resolve.

In 2016…and every year thereafter, I choose life!

It’s not a new resolution…actually it’s been a daily choice for most of my life.  But current circumstances make it a fresher, newer, stronger resolution.

I’ve lived most my life with an awareness of both the brevity and fragility of this life.  Life is full of unknowns and unexpected turns.  We have much less control than we tend to assume.

The cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the unknowns, but it does put them front and center for me, right now.  My prognosis is very good.  I have every reason to expect a long, full active life after completion of treatment.  At the same time, there are numerous unknowns.

Right now, the right side of my lip sags, my right shoulder sags, and my right arm is weak.  No, it’s not a stroke…just post-surgery status.  Most likely, some or all of these symptoms will improve or disappear with time.  But there are no guarantees.  I’ve adopted an attitude of hopeful acceptance…I hope it improves, but see no reason to enjoy life any less if it doesn’t.

I still have radiation treatment coming up.  I don’t yet know exactly how that will play out…how often, how intense, how long, or how uncomfortable…nor what long-term effects may linger.  My intent is to make prayerful informed decisions then leave it in God’s hands.

I also don’t yet know what lifestyle changes may be required.  Advice from family and friends include everything from never drink another glass of wine to never eat another dessert…everything from slow down and taking things easier to throw myself into continual positively energetic activities.

Overall, I think I’ve lived a fairly healthy lifestyle thus far, and can’t see anything to point to as a source of cancer.  Post-diagnosis certainly merits more careful assessment.  I’m certainly willing to make whatever changes are likely to result in improved health.  I am not willing to live in unnecessary fear.

I choose life!

For me, choosing life means choosing Christ.  Jesus said,

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25-26)

Yes, Lord, I believe!  I believe you are life.  I believe choosing you is choosing life.  I believe choosing life means choosing you.

I choose life! I choose Christ! Click To Tweet

I choose faith over fear.

I choose hope over despair.

I choose joy over sorrow.

I choose thankfulness over complaints.

I choose righteousness over sin.

I choose love over selfishness.

I choose forgiveness over bitterness.

I choose health over toxicity.

I choose life over death.

I choose godliness.

I reject Adam’s covenant with sin and death from which Christ has redeemed me.  I embrace the new covenant with God which Christ has enacted on my behalf.

I choose life!

 

Your thoughts?