When Evil Prospers – Part 4

Lessons from Job

This is my fourth and final post in this series addressing the topic When Evil Prospers.  In this post we will discuss some of the lessons I have gleaned from the book of Job.

If you have missed the earlier posts on this topic, you can link to the beginning by clicking here.

Bad Things Sometimes Happen to Good People

The book of Job is an amazing story of faith maturing through overwhelming trials.  One of the difficulties we have with this story is the lack of definitive answers.  We instinctively want to know, what did Job do to cause such tremendous catastrophe in his life?

However, we are told at the very beginning of the book:

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. (Job 1:1)

And:

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8)

I have heard several preachers try to nail down exactly what sin Job committed.  However, their explanations fall short and directly contradict the text.  This is exactly what Job’s friends tried to do… help Job figure out where he sinned, so he could repent.  Job resolutely defended himself and declared he had done no wrong.

In the end, God agreed with Job and rebuked his friends.  So, we must put away any thoughts that Job somehow got what he deserved because of sin.  God said Job was blameless and upright before Him.

I think we find this particularly troubling because the obvious implication is the same thing could happen to any of us.  If Job did nothing wrong yet suffered horribly, what is to keep the same thing from happening to any of us?  In our legalistic mindset, we want to find ways to ensure bad things will not happen to us or our families.

The reality is bad things can and do happen to good people.  Job stands as a testament to the fact that horrible tragedy is not necessarily a sign of sinful lifestyles, nor is it a sign of God’s absence or displeasure.  Job lived a righteous life.  Job loved God.  God loved Job.  Yet, Job suffered catastrophic loss.

Trials Transform Theory into Reality

At the beginning of the book we are told Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  This was Job’s reputation and we have no reason to doubt it.  However, in the first chapter, these are only the words of a character witness with nothing solid to hang them on.  Hearing someone is righteous does not carry the same weight as actually seeing them live their life with integrity.

By the end of the book, we are absolutely certain Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  We can feel Job’s integrity in our bones, along with his sorrow, pain and numerous questions.

Job’s faith was only theory at the beginning of the story, but through trials it became reality.  Faith must be tested before it is real.

In the beginning of the story, Job believed God was faithful, just, and worthy of worship.  Through the trials, God confirmed all of these things to be true.  In the end, Job did not believe God’s faithfulness because of what he had been told, but because of what he had experienced.

From the beginning of the story to the end, we can see Job’s faith transform.  Initially, Job trusted in his own integrity to ensure no harm would come to his family.  By the end of the story, Job learned to trust God’s goodness and faithfulness despite the harm that had come to himself and his family.  Job learned to be honest with God in his frustration and anguish, and God praised Job’s honesty.

Satan asked to test Job.  God used the test to transform Job’s theoretical faith into reality and to deepen Job’s trust in God.  By the end of the story, Job did not trust God because of the physical blessings in his life.  Rather he learned to trust God regardless of circumstances, because he had come to know God’s character.

God is Always in Control

When God finally responded to Job’s questions, it was with a lengthy list of what God can do.  For a full four chapters, God reminds Job of His power, might, and wisdom.

No matter how horrible things may seem, no matter how confusing our circumstances, God is still all-powerful and is still in control.  Although He may not seek our counsel or tell us His plans, He is still in control, and we can trust Him.

Going back to the first chapter of Job, we read:

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:9-12)

God had a hedge of protection around Job.  Satan could not touch Job without God’s permission.  Yes, bad things sometimes happen to God’s children… but not without God’s permission.  God did not bring calamity upon Job… that was Satan’s work.  However, Satan had to ask God’s permission and follow God’s parameters.

I find this realization simultaneously discomfiting and comforting.  I’m not crazy about the realization that calamity could strike all at once for no apparent reason.  However, it is extremely comforting to know God… who loves me deeply and wants nothing but the best for me… is in complete control and sets bounds on what He allows Satan to do.

Trials Teach Us to Depend on God

In the end, Job made this declaration to God:

“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
Therefore I retract,
And I repent in dust and ashes.”

Through his trials, Job gained a fresh perspective on how much he does not know, on how awesome God is, and on how totally reliant we are on God.

Healing Begins with Ministering to Others

When Job was at rock bottom… when he had lost his children, his wealth and his health… when his friends had all accused him of sin he wasn’t guilty of… when God had put Job in his place by reminding him how little he knew of God’s power and might… then God told Job to pray for his friends.  These are the same friends who came to minister to Job in his misery, but wound up lecturing him.  Job was told to pray for them.

The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. (Job 42:10)

As Job began to minister to others out of his poverty, he began to find healing himself.  I have found this to be true in my own life.  Healing often begins with ministering to others.

A Higher Purpose

The book of Job opens with a mysterious scene:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:6-8)

The scene described is some sort of heavenly counsel with God presiding over the angels, and Satan shows up.

What is Satan doing in a heavenly counsel?  Why is he allowed to stay?  Why did God call his attention to Job?  Why did God permit Satan to test Job?

No clear answers are provided.  No doubt, one major reason was for Job’s own benefit.  As previously discussed, the trials transformed Job’s faith and deepened Job’s relationship with God.

Yet, there seems to be something more going on here.  The narrator presents this heavenly scene as though it is a common occurrence… as though Satan often enters God’s presence and frequently converses with God about the hearts of humans.

Although the Bible provides no definitive answers, I think it is worth speculating to see what we can glean.

Revelation gives us a little more insight:

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)

Satan is described as “the accuser of our brethren… who accuses them before our God day and night.”

This sounds like a court room scene… a King’s court where people come for justice and the King dispenses justice in His wisdom.  Satan, the accuser, is there bringing his petitions before God.  Jesus, our advocate is also there:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1)

Note that Satan is our accuser and God is our defender.  That is good news!  Too often, God’s justice is viewed as His raging against our sin.  However, the Bible presents God’s justice as being exercised in our defense against Satan, the accuser.

So, what is Satan accusing us of and why?  Based on the passage in 1 John, Satan is accusing us of sin.  But why should he care if we sin?  Isn’t Satan in the business of tempting us to sin?  Why would our sin be the basis for Satan to file a petition against us?

Besides, as John stated, Jesus, “Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”  So, if our sins have already been dealt with, why is Satan bothering to continually accuse us?  What does he hope to accomplish?

Jesus has already redeemed us from Adam’s covenant with sin and death.  He has already made propitiation for our sins.  He has already cut a new covenant with the Father on our behalf.  All that remains is for each of us to add our yes and amen to the work Jesus has already accomplished, and to walk in that new covenant as children of the living God, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

From Adam to Jesus, Satan had a lawful claim over the souls of mankind, as well as authority over the earth.  Jesus has already defeated Satan and redeemed mankind.  Soon, Jesus will come again to reclaim the earth.

Satan is now playing the only card he has left to play… our free will.

God uses covenant to enrich and bless.  Satan uses covenant to enslave and abuse.  God does not hold us in covenant against our wills.  Satan does.

Satan continually accuses us of sin, before God, to try to make the case that we are rejecting our covenant with God and embracing a covenant with Satan.  Just as he did with Adam and Eve at the beginning, Satan is using our free wills against us to try to entrap us, in order to retain control over our souls as well as over the earth.  For His children, Jesus continually advocates.

So, what is our role in this court?

And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:11)

This verse just amazes me!  I know we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ.  I know our salvation is “by grace, through faith, not of works.”  Yet, this passage adds something.  We get to participate in our own salvation… in Satan’s final defeat.

As that court scene is played out, Satan is defeated not only by the blood of Christ, but also by the word of our testimony and by our faith in action.  We are called to give testimony and our testimony aids in defeating our accuser.

Satan comes before the throne of God with his list of grievances… the rampant evil and wickedness found in his “wandering to and fro upon the earth”… presented as evidence against the human race… proof that our hearts truly belong to him and not to God… proof that we are more his children than God’s… proof that we don’t really want to be in covenant with God at all.

God responds, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

In that moment, Job’s faithfulness is God’s evidence presented to counter Satan’s accusations against the human race.  From this perspective, Job’s suffering serves a higher purpose in the final battle against Satan.

Yes, God is the final judge.  However, as a just judge, He considers all the evidence and allows all arguments to be presented.  In the final judgment, all will know God is just.

Could it be that I have, in some small way, been a part of this epoch court battle?  Could it be that God at some point has called me to the witness stand, “Have you considered my servant Joe?”

I hope so!  I hope my testimony has been found worthy of presenting as evidence.  I hope I am a credible witness.  I hope I have played my small part in defeating Satan, our accuser.

No wonder the apostles rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer for Christ!

When Evil Prospers

I was raised in church by Christian parents.  I grew up with a strong sense of God’s goodness and love.  In addition to the numerous Bible stories, I also heard personal stories of friends and family testifying to God’s goodness… to His love for us… to his caring concern for our well being… and of Christ’s sacrificial love through which we may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

From early childhood, my faith in God’s loving goodness has been as natural as my faith in water being wet and sunlight being warm.

Yet, during the summer of 2000, I reached a point of faith crisis during which I questioned whether God really loved me.

I have learned my question is not unique.  Many believers reach a point of questioning whether God really loves them, or whether God is really good, or whether God truly exists.

For me, the faith crises occurred as an abusive marriage spiraled toward divorce, following many years of praying and believing God would somehow heal that relationship.  The crush of failure… coupled with the sorrow of relational loss… the pain of ongoing emotional abuse… the firm (though incorrect) belief that divorce was never the best choice… and the apparent lack of response to years of fervent prayers spoken from a heart of deep conviction and faith… led to this dark place of concluding God must not really love me.

For me, the faith crisis was short-lived.  The Holy Spirit ministered to me, enabling me to cling to what truths I could latch onto as He continued to recall numerous scriptures to my mind, as well as personal evidence of God’s loving faithfulness.  Over the next few months and years, God gave me a fresh understanding of what it means to rest in Him and trust His grace… as well as fresh insight on the biblical account of God’s interaction with mankind.

Although my story is personal to me, I want to try to share some of what I have learned in the hope it may help someone else with similar questions.  This is a difficult topic for me to write about.  Although it is rooted in the Biblical account, it has been fleshed out through deeply personal experience.  Even as I try to explain, I am deeply aware my current position has less to do with knowing answers than it does with trusting God with my lack of understanding.

I know enough of the pain and sorrow of this world to understand nothing I say here can ever be enough.  My word and my testimony will never be sufficient for explaining why someone else has had to endure the pain and sorrow they have born.  Any scripture I quote is likely to come across as trite and hollow compared to the experiential devastation of one who has seen evil prosper to the very personal detriment of themselves and their loved ones, as they have clung tenaciously to the hope that God would surely sweep in and somehow rescue them.

Knowing that… I ask you to bear with me as I try to piece this together, prayerfully hoping God will somehow use my words as a catalyst in renewing your hope in Him.

You Are Not Alone

Although this may seem obvious, it bears repeating.  That point of faith crisis feels incredibly lonely and isolated.  Yet, it is quite common.  In fact, I have come to view it as an almost crucial step of maturing in Christ.  As the Holy Spirit guides us through, we learn to let go of our many assumptions about God, allowing Him to lead us closer to His heart… into deeper relationship with Himself.

The Biblical record is filled with stories of people clinging tenaciously to faith in God in the midst of evil circumstances.  Most of the stories work out in such a way we are able to clearly see God’s hand from the beginning.  However, it is important to recognize, in the middle of the crisis, they could not see the hope-filled ending.

I remember, during some of those dark years of an abusive marriage and subsequent divorce, several friends encouraged me to read the Psalms.  However, they advised me to stick with the encouraging psalms and avoid the ones with a darker bent, where the psalmist pled with God for answers as to why evil is allowed to flourish.  They especially advised me to avoid reading the book of Job, because it is just too depressing.

I found, however, that reading Job and similar stories of incredible suffering for no obvious reason and with no end in sight were exactly what I needed.  I needed to feel their suffering… to know others have experienced similar circumstances… to acknowledge with Job, David, Solomon, Naomi and the many other biblical characters that even when life makes absolutely no sense to me, God is still in control and He still loves me.

Job suffered devastating sudden loss, yet continued to trust God’s goodness.  Although Job’s friends implored him to search his heart and repent of whatever sin had led to such devastation, God rebuked the friends and confirmed Job as righteous before Him.  Job was in right relationship with God, God loved Job, and God was in control.  Yet Job suffered horrible losses.

Even more puzzling, the biblical record tells us God, Himself, brought Job to the attention of Satan, removed His protection from around Job, and invited Satan to wreak havoc in Job’s life.  Job was left to wonder why.

For the moment, I don’t want to explore the why of Job’s suffering… we will get to that later.  For now, just soak up and absorb Job’s confusion, pain, sorrow and grief… while continuing to cling to faith in God’s goodness.

You are not alone!

Job is just one of many.  Look at the story of Joseph.  How his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery.  Even as a slave, Joseph continued to serve and trust God.  Yet, his integrity landed him in prison, falsely accused of attempted rape.

Consider Joseph sitting in prison wondering why he was there.  His faithfulness to his father, Jacob, was rewarded by slavery.  His faithfulness to his master, Potiphar, was rewarded by prison.  His service to fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s steward and cook, had been fruitless.

Joseph was eventually freed from prison and placed in authority over all Egypt.  Yet while languishing in prison, Joseph did not know that.

Consider Jacob, Joseph’s father.  There were the many years of competing with his brother Esau for his father’s favor.  There were the years of serving his Uncle Laban and being tricked into marrying the wrong girl.  There was the deep sorrow of his beloved wife, Rachel, dying in childbirth.  Yet all the sorrows of his dysfunctional family and marital losses paled in comparison to the loss of his beloved son, Joseph.

Jacob eventually learned Joseph was still alive and reunited with him.  Yet, we must remember Jacob’s many years of grieving Joseph’s death, certain he would never again see Joseph in this life.

We could go on and on.  In fact, I recommend spending time doing exactly that.  It is important.  We need to understand at a deep emotional level that we are not alone in our pain, sorrow, horror, grief, and unanswered questions.

You are not alone!

This is the first of a multi-part series on the topic of “When Evil Prospers.”  Please join my next post as we discuss what it means to live as God’s image bearers in a broken world.

Step by Step

When we first brought Knockout home 3 1/2 years ago, he was a bit hesitant about trailer loading.  So, trailer loading was one of the very first things we worked on.  It did not take long for him to become confident and even eager to load up.  For the last three years, he has been a super easy loader with no issues.

Until lately…

Across this winter, Knockout has become increasingly hesitant about loading.  It started as a small thing…just a slight hesitation at the trailer door on a dark night.  I started going in front of him to lead the way and bolster his confidence, which seemed to help.  However, as time passed, he started hesitating even with me leading…and the hesitation became much more than momentary.  I was always able to get him to load, but it sometimes took several minutes.

Now, I am usually quick to address issues as they arise.  Far better to deal with minor issues than to wait and let them become major issues.  However, with the protracted rain and cold through the winter months that just hasn’t happened.  Most of the winter trailer loading was to visit the farrier, usually in the dark, cold, and wet…usually running behind schedule for our after-work appointment.  So, I would make a mental note that we needed to spend some time addressing the issue within the next few days…but the time never came…because the rain and cold virtually never let up.

So, last week when I unloaded Knockout at a local roping practice, I took the time to work with him a little.

I asked Knockout to back a couple of steps, stop, then come forward a step.  Then back one step, stop, and come forward two steps.  We did several minutes of simply going back and forth, one step at a time, inside the trailer.  Initially, when Knockout backed, he wanted to turn his head to look behind him, but I asked him to face forward and look at me, instead.

Finally, I backed Knockout to the very edge of the trailer and signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He responded by going all the way out of the trailer…which is not what I asked for.  So, I asked him to load back in the trailer.  We went back and forth, one step at a time, a few times, then I again backed him to the very edge of the trailer, where I again signaled him to step his hind hooves down.  He stepped off and I signaled a stop.  Knockout stood still with his hind hooves on the ground and his front hooves in the trailer while I petted and praised him.

Next, I asked Knockout to step his hind hooves back in the trailer.  He did so without moving his front hooves forward, so he was just sort of teetering on the edge.  I praised him then asked him to step his hind hooves off again.

We repeated that a few times, then I asked him to go ahead and back all the way off.  Then we loaded just his front hooves on and backed off again.  Then we loaded him all the way on, walked to the front of the trailer, backed all the way to the edge, unloaded his hind hooves, paused, then unloaded his front hooves, backed out of my way so I could get off the trailer, and called it good for one lesson.  We saddled up and enjoyed the practice.

Later that evening, when we got home, we repeated the same lessons at home before feeding and turning out to pasture.

So…why did I handle the lesson this way?  What was the point of the step-by-step back and forth both on the trailer and at the trailer edge?  Why did I ask him to face forward and not look behind himself while backing?

To understand the reason we have to understand the source of the issue.  Knockout’s refusal to load was not stubbornness or defiance.  He was not being disrespectful or willfully disobedient.  Knockout’s issue was a lack of confidence.  He felt unsure of going inside that dark trailer, and the longer I let his fears go unaddressed the more fearful he became.

The solution to overcoming his fear was to build his confidence in me, in regard to moving inside the trailer.  I asked for the fine control of one step at a time, because that requires Knockout to really focus and pay attention to me.  When he’s paying attention to me, he has more confidence in me, and his fear of circumstances just sort of dissolves.

Likewise, I asked him to face forward and not look back while unloading, because I want him to place his total trust in me and learn he can trust me to direct his feet and to let him know when to step down.  So long as he is looking back, he is relying on his own instincts…including his instinct that the trailer is a scary place.  To move past his fear, we needed him to place his total trust in me and to focus his attention on listening to me one step at a time.

See, the solution to overcoming Knockout’s fear is to replace his fear with faith in me.  And the best way to help him increase his faith in me is to let him practice trusting me and finding me faithful by putting him in a situation where he has to trust me to guide him one step at a time.

Looking at it from Knockout’s perspective, I was asking him to remain in the scary circumstances much longer than necessary.  I could easily have simply let him unload from the trailer and gone about our business.  However, if I had done that we would have missed a really good learning opportunity.  He would have been out of the trailer quicker…but would not have learned to trust me to direct his steps…and the next trailer loading would have been a much more stressful and lengthy process than necessary.

Whether Knockout realizes it or not, staying longer in the trailer and working through his trust and confidence issues was for his own good.  He has become a braver, calmer, more trusting horse through that process.

Isn’t this similar to how our Heavenly Father teaches us to trust Him?

I can think of numerous situations in which I asked God to address a difficult situation.  In nearly every case, God allowed me to remain in that situation much longer than I would have liked.  However, through that situation He was faithful to remain with me and direct my steps.

Most of the major learning experiences of my Christian walk have been things I have learned during these difficult situations.

Walking thru a divorce, single parenting, and child custody battles…walking thru the closing of a company where I had been employed over 20 years…walking thru cancer diagnosis and treatment…

Each of these was a very trying situation and in every one Jesus proved Himself as my faithful friend…not by removing me from the situation…but by walking with me thru the situation…guiding me one step at a time…teaching me to trust him…helping me learn new perspectives…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24 KJV)

God is such a faithful friend!

Trusting thru Concerns

Riding the back fence line at Lazy Colt Ranch

The first Sunday afternoon in November, I loaded Knockout in our 3-horse trailer and carried him to a friend’s ranch.

Since we mostly ride on our own farm or down the gravel roads near our farm, I wanted to carry Knockout somewhere else to expose him to riding in different locations.

I was pleased to see Knockout was calm and relaxed as we unloaded from the trailer and saddled up. I swung into the saddle and set out to follow my friend’s instructions to explore and have fun.

We left the yard at an easy trot, headed toward the back pasture. Passing thru the open gate, Knockout acted a little concerned, but I just asked him to keep going and he did.  He eyed the sorting pens warily as we rode past.  He pushed thru my seat cue to step left and avoid a scary looking mud puddle…so I turned him to ride back thru it.  The third time around, we calmly rode straight thru the puddle.

We passed a big black bull on the left…no different than the bulls in our own pasture. Bulls in other people’s pastures look scarier, apparently.  Knockout tensed a little and kept a wary eye on the bull until we were past.

The first fifteen minutes of the ride went like that. Water troughs, gates, salt blocks, even trees were cause for extra wariness.

Knockout never panicked…never spooked…never balked or bolted. He was just concerned about everything.  Everyday objects no different than what we see every ride somehow looked more ominous when seen in unfamiliar surroundings.  Yet he still trusted me through it all and continued to respect my cues.

When we reached the back fence line, we stopped to do a few exercises intended to help Knockout focus on me. We did some backing on light cues, practiced turns both directions on fore and hind, side-passed and counter-arced.  Then we rode into a strip of woods where we wound a path between trees, circled trees both directions, and backed circles around trees.

By the time we rode out of the woods, Knockout was relaxed and focused. The wariness had all disappeared as he focused on listening to me.

Tuesday, I had a PET-Scan. There was no specific concern other than it had been two years since my last scan.  Although all checkups were going well, my doctors felt it would be prudent to do another scan just to be sure.

I was surprised to realize I was concerned. For over two years I’ve been going to doctors’ appointments every couple of months for checkups and scopes.  I’ve never been concerned by any of it.  It’s just another checkup with expectations of a good report.

For some reason, the upcoming PET-Scan was more concerning to me. It was a break from the usual routine.  It felt less familiar and a little more intimidating.  I didn’t expect any issues…but then that is what the scan is for…to see if there are any issues.

Much like Knockout riding in an unfamiliar pasture, ordinary things are just a little more concerning in unfamiliar circumstances.

Wednesday, a nurse from the ENT doctor’s office called to tell me the PET-Scan showed a small uptake at the base of my tongue and they were going to schedule a CT-Scan to investigate further.

I’ve had CT-Scan’s before…but not recently. And what about that small uptake?  I knew it was quite likely a false positive…but it was enough of a concern for my ENT to order a CT-Scan.

My level of concern was elevated. Much like Knockout, I was still trusting the one who directs my paths.  I was not panicked.  But I was concerned and a little wary.

Friday, I kept my appointment with my Oncologist, who reviewed the PET-Scan, scoped my throat, and performed a thorough examination of my mouth, throat and neck. All looks good!  He believes the small uptake was reflective of a minor throat infection.

I’m still keeping the CT-Scan appointment just to verify. But you know what?  I no longer feel the elevated concern.  I feel relaxed and confident…focused on listening to The One who directs my paths.

Jesus is such a good horseman to me!  He is my friend who will never leave me.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Hot Wire Authority

Knockout and I finished checking cows, then swung around at a lope toward the corner of the pasture to check fences. Slowing to a brisk walk, we entered the woods trail paralleling the back fence line.  At the corner, we turned north, continuing our ride through the woods until we crossed the creek to ride through the gate to the front pasture.

Coming out of the woods, we recrossed the creek, then picked up into a trot along the west fence line. Seeing a small tree branch on the hotwire, I cued a stop and dismounted.  Dropping the reins to ground-tie Knockout, I walked over and tossed the limb into the woods on the other side of the fence.  Knockout stood quietly as I gathered the reins and remounted.  Uncharacteristically, he started moving before I was settled in the saddle.  So, I cued a stop, backed him, and asked him to stand quietly a moment before continuing our ride.

Two fence posts further along, the wire was off an insulator. Again, we stopped and Knockout stood ground-tied as I inspected the fence.  Since the wire was not sparking against the steel post, I knew it was safe to touch the wire…and something was wrong with the charging unit.  I replaced the wire in the insulator and reminded myself to check the battery and connectors.  This time, Knockout stood quietly as I remounted, and he awaited my signal before moving on.

Next we dropped down a steep bank for our third creek crossing. This crossing is my favorite and Knockout’s least favorite.  The creek bottom lies about ten feet below pasture level with steep banks on each side.  A few weeks ago, Knockout avoided this crossing, but now he takes the steep decline in stride.

Just on the other side of the creek, we stopped again to replace the wire on another insulator and to check the charging unit. The battery was dead, which explains the fence condition.  I made a mental note to make sure we replace the battery before dark, then remounted to continue the inspection.

Riding through a pine thicket, I noticed the top wire was sagging low between several posts. So we continued to the end of the electric fence where I again dismounted and left Knockout standing ground-tied.  Walking over to the corner post, I started untwisting the end of the wire as Knockout calmly nibbled a clump of grass pushing through the thick carpet of pine needles.

Once the wire end was free, I started pulling it tight. As there was quite a bit of slack going down several fence posts, it took a bit of tugging to get it pulled tight.  About the time I got the slack out I caught movement from the corner of my eye.  Turning my head, I saw Knockout eyeing the fence as he sidestepped away.  Glancing back, I realized this section of fence had several long strands of bright flagging that were now bouncing and waving wildly around as I tugged and pulled on the wire.

“Whoa, Knockout!” I called as I took a quick turn of the wire to hold it in place.

Knockout turned tail and continued his retreat in his best quarter-horse imitation of a saddle-bred’s quick gaited walk. To his credit, he did not panic and run.  However, he was clearly uncomfortable with that wire bouncing around flapping all the mysterious flagging…and was distancing himself from the source of his discomfort.

I had to move fast to catch up! Fortunately, Knockout stopped and let me scoop up the reins.  I backed him vigorously a few steps just to remind him he wasn’t supposed to walk off while ground-tied.  Then we returned to finish the fence repair.

I stuffed the end of the rein in my hip pocket, leaving both hands free to work while still keeping the rein close in case Knockout walked off again.  This required Knockout to approach closer to the fence than before…which he was pretty hesitant to do.  I just hung in there asking until he stepped close enough for me to work.

I finished securing the fence wire without further incident.

With the fence repair completed I turned back to Knockout. “Now, let’s talk about this wire and flagging that got you so distressed.”  Holding his rein in my left hand, I gave the wire a vigorous shake with my right hand.  Knockout backed to the end of the rein and braced as I continued shaking the wire.  After a couple of seconds, Knockout softened and took one step forward.  I responded by immediately stilling the movement of the wire.  I praised Knockout, then did it again.  We did that a few more times until Knockout would stand calmly before stepping toward the wire while I vigorously shook it.

Then we had a little talk.

“Knockout, you have every reason to fear that wire when I’m not with you. Yes, you know from experience that touching an electric fence results in a very unpleasant sensation.  I’m glad you know that.  I’m glad you know to stay away from the fence when I’m not with you.”

“When I’m with you, though, it’s a completely different deal. That fence won’t hurt you when you’re with me.  I have authority over that wire.  It only carries a charge when I tell it to carry a charge.  When you’re with me, you can trust me to know whether or not the fence is charged.”

I remounted and we rode home.

As we rode, my words to Knockout echoed through my mind…except different…in a still small voice…

“Joe, you don’t need to worry about everything going on in the world. Yes, American politics is going crazy.  Yes, the country is increasingly divided.  Yes, the number of mass shootings is escalating.  Yes, terrorist acts are increasing.  These are all reasonable things to be concerned about.”

“When you’re with Me, though, it’s a completely different deal. I have authority over all these things.  I have authority over sin and death.  Nothing can harm you without My permission.  When you’re with Me, you can trust Me to care for you.”

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)

Yes, Jesus!  You have authority. Thank you, Lord!

In Him

Horses are social creatures. They like being around other horses.  In many ways, they are very dependent on other horses.

In a herd, horses depend on each other to watch and warn of danger. So, when one horse takes off running, the rest of the herd runs too.

It goes beyond flight, though. Horses tend to be very attuned to the emotional state of other horses.  If one horse acts nervous, other horses are likely to pick up on it and start acting anxious themselves.  Likewise, if a horse is unsure about crossing a stream, they will often do better following another horse across.

In working with Knockout (my 7-yo gelding) the last couple of years, we have done a lot of solo riding with no other horses around…and we had to work through minor issues with him not wanting to leave the rest of the herd.

We’ve ridden with other horses…and we have had to work through minor issues with Knockout taking his cues from the other horses rather than from me.

One evening last week, I decided it was time to trim the oak branches hanging low over our driveway.

Rather than climbing up and down a step ladder, moving it a foot at a time, I decided to just do it from horseback…using Knockout as a living scaffold of sorts.

We’ve done basically the same thing trimming our woods trails, so I didn’t expect any issues.

The first tree went pretty much as expected. Knockout let me know it wasn’t his favorite thing to do. But when I insisted he willingly complied.

Knockout stood patiently as I reached, clipped, and tugged at branches. He didn’t complain as twigs fell on his head and hung in his mane and bridle. Even when I shook the reins to free a large twig he stood patiently, apparently understanding that’s what was needed.

Then we moved to the next tree which happens to be adjacent to our horse pasture.

No sooner did we start on the second tree than five of Knockout’s pasture mates ran up to investigate from the other side of the electric fence.

Knockout didn’t even look at the other horses, so I just kept trimming as they milled about, reaching for leaves to eat.

At one point I stood in the stirrups grasping a branch in my left hand to pull it into reach of the clippers in my right hand. Yes…that’s a very vulnerable position…apparently I trust my horse…

At that moment, one of the horses on the other side of the electric fence must have touched the hot-wire. They all spun and dashed off in a panicked flurry of hooves. I tightened my grip on the limb in anticipation of being left hanging.

But Knockout never moved…never flinched…never twitched a muscle or even acted interested.

So I just kept right on clipping branches.

I am so proud of this young horse!

It is sometimes hard to believe this is the same horse as the green-broke, spooky, flighty, prone-to-bolt young colt I started working with a couple of years ago.

In that moment when I was most vulnerable and relying completely on Knockout, Knockout chose to rely on me. He ignored the other horses.  He completely disregarded their drama and panic.  In that moment, Knockout chose to simply rest in my assuring presence.

Isn’t that what Christ calls us to do?

When all around, people are swept up in drama and fear…when angry voices cry out for attention…when arrogant voices ridicule and mock…when self-righteous voices condemn…can I calmly trust in Jesus?

Can I rest in Christ like Knockout rested in the assurance of my presence?

Lord, teach me to abide in you!

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. (John 15:4)

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

 

Your thoughts?

My Mama

Last November, Mama fell and broke her hip. At 90 years old, any injury is a serious concern.  But Mama had recovered well from broken bones before and we expected a full recovery this time.

She started well, with good progress in physical therapy. She had a few setbacks, but seemed to overcome them and start back on track with high hopes.  But the setbacks became more frequent and more severe.  This past six weeks she has been back and forth between rehab and the hospital, with each step forward being followed by two steps back.

She was moved to hospice today. Her 90 year old body is worn out and her systems are starting to shut down.  My sister, Dorcas, explained the situation to her.  Mama responded, “That sounds good.”

Dorcas said, “Mama, you know that means you’re going to go to be with Jesus soon?” And she replied, “Yes. That sounds REALLY good.”

Dorcas told her she would miss her and Mama replied, “Oh, honey but you know where you’ll see me again!”

That’s my Mama!

Today, I’m reflecting on some of my many memories of this amazing woman, and how much impact she has had on my life. I’m thinking of the many things she taught me over the years.

I remember when I was four or five years old Mama taught me how to safely pin a diaper on my baby sister while making sure my fingers stayed between the tip of the diaper pin and my sister’s skin. Thinking back on it now, that seems like a lot to ask of a preschooler.  But what a gift!  While being taught to care for others, I was also entrusted with a huge responsibility.

Papa and Mama both taught me to love reading. But it was Mama who taught me to read.  I remember sitting on her lap with the big phonics book open, going thru the alphabet reciting letters and sounds, “A for apple ah; B for ball buh; C for cat cuh; D for dog duh;…”

Papa and Mama both taught me to love God’s word, but it was Mama who taught me to memorize scripture and learn the books of the Bible.

Mama taught me the joy of singing…to meet adversity by praising God. When the stress of motherhood threatened to get her down, Mama responded by breaking into songs of praise.

And Mama taught me to sing.

In a family of sixteen children I was the only one who couldn’t carry a tune. As a child I never knew the difference, but as a teenager I started to become aware how badly I was off tune.  When Mama realized how much it bothered me she sat down at the piano and walked me through favorite songs, one note at a time.  She would play each note over and over while I searched to find it with my voice.  When I finally hit the right note she would nod her head with a smile, “Good!” then proceed to the next note.  I don’t know how many hours she spent patiently teaching me to listen for the note and listen to my own voice.

Today, I couldn’t win any prizes for singing, but I can generally hit the right notes with a reasonable degree of confidence. And I have Mama to thank for that.

Mama taught me to stand firm in my convictions. From things as minor as making sure pagan-based customs were excluded from our Christian holiday celebrations to major issues such as school integration and standing against racism, we were taught at an early age to stand for what we believed no matter how unpopular our stance might be.

I have so much to thank Mama for!

But she may have saved the very best lesson for last. To live my life in such a way that when the end is near there is nothing left but love and thankfulness…what an amazing lesson!  What a gift!

I am so blessed to have her as my Mama!

Faith thru Fear

horseback riding on gravel roads

Riding Gravel Roads

It finally happened!

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

…and it was okay…

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

We have made amazing progress in 60 rides!

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

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

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

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

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

That buck-off was the best thing for my confidence. It showed me I wasn’t as fragile as I’d come to believe.  I could still take a fall from 15 hands into soft arena dirt without doing any damage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we walked off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Impossible Lightness

knockout after riding

Knockout after Saturday’s amazing ride!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was truly an amazing ride!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, think about that for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am a year and half later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can see why…and am learning from them…

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

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

 

Your thoughts?

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?