Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lessons From Reva: Misjudging

Let's talk about Reva again.  She has some good things to teach us about character judgments.  Have you ever had a first impression about someone that turned out to be completely wrong when you got to know them?  What about a friend you've known for several years who does some things you can't understand, and then they allowed you into some deep places from their past and suddenly it all made sense?

I already talked about the way Reva runs away in the pasture, and how she hangs back when being led out of her comfort zone.  She's somewhat of a loner in the herd too.  While the other horses will often challenge each other and buck the chain of authority, Reva avoids conflict as much as possible.  I rarely find teeth marks on her.

There's another thing Reva does that is hard to understand.  She has something against fence posts.  She doesn't like to walk up to the post and sometimes refuses to step forward.  It's not as bad now, but she used to spook and take fits when tied up to the post.  The smallest things would set her off, and sometimes there didn't appear to be anything that spooked her; it's like something inside her head just snapped.  She would lunge backwards and pull against the post with all her strength.  She still does that every so often.  Our horse trainer has worked with Reva on overcoming this problem, and she would stand tied without a problem for months, and then she'd have another episode.  Because of the tremendous force of her pulling back, she could potentially hurt herself or someone near her or pull a post out of the ground.  So we usually loop her rope over the fence rather than tie.  That way if she feels she needs a sudden getaway, she can go without making it a big deal.  We don't know what is in Reva's past, but there's a good chance that she was injured or abused while tied, and the memory of that trauma is still in her head.  Horses don't forget.  If they are raised with kindness and common sense, never given a reason to be scared of you, they will trust you and will easily trust other people as well.  But do something to break that trust, and you can never erase the memory.  A horse that has been traumatized by a past owner will take much longer to learn to trust a new person.

I think Reva trusts the staff here, because we have worked long and patiently with her and haven't given her reason to distrust us.  But the old pain is still there.  And sometimes the memory of that trauma takes over her brain and her fear instinct kicks in.  In that moment, the fear is greater than the trust relationship that we have built with her.  This makes me want to cherish the trust that someone puts in me and be so very careful not to break it.

From all of Reva's drama, I could conclude that she is timid, nervous, unfriendly, and has too many fear issues to be of use to me.  But I don't know her past.  I don't know what she's been through or come out of.  One of the staff who was here when Reva first came to the ranch remembers what she used to be like.  He said when you went to catch her, she wouldn't run away or come to you; she would just stand there and stare at you with listless eyes, as if she'd been used for so long that she didn't care anymore.  And she was absolutely terrified of the fence posts.  Compared to a few years ago, Reva has come a long way.  And if I could have known her then, I would understand how much she has changed.  Now I realize that when she runs in the pasture, she's expressing her personality, something she didn't do when she first came.  She actually cares about what happens to her.  Sometimes she may just feel really good and is playing catch me if you can!  If she's testing us to see how far we will pursue her, then it shows she is willing to be in relationship, but is a little unsure.  She is thinking and feeling and responding to us, instead of just going through the motions because she's been terrified into submission.  She is truly a sweet and willing horse when you get to know her.  And she responds beautifully to people who handle her with sensitivity and confidence.  You can't judge a book, a horse, or a person by their cover.

"For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  1 Samuel 16:7

Lessons From Reva: Comfort Zones

Reva is a beautiful, dark brown Thouroughbred who was among the first horses to come to His Ranch. Her colt, Noah, was born here four years ago.  Reva is not as easy to get close to as some of our other horses.  She doesn't act out much with the other horses and tends to keep to herself.  But she has quite the inner drama going on when you get to know her.  I've gotten to know Reva quite well over the last year, because, incidently, she and I have a lot in common.  I want to share what Reva has taught me in hopes that someone reading this can relate and find diamonds of truth in the rough of their life also.

You know how it's easy to judge a person by their personality and behavior without knowing their heart?  I've been guilty of doing that to Reva.  Every time we go into the pasture to catch her, she runs away.  It looks like she is afraid of us and doesn't want to be with us.  We have to chase her for awhile until she decides to stop and allow us into her space.  It makes me feel like she is standoffish and unfriendly.  But I wonder how many people have thought the same about me.  I was very socially uncomfortable growing up.  I still struggle with this to some extent, but God has changed me a lot.  Deep down, I wanted to be with people and be liked, but I was afraid.  I didn't have any good reason to fear, but I felt so awkward with people I didn't know well and was afraid that if they really knew me they wouldn't like me.  Pride kept me from being vulnerable.  I was afraid of messing up and looking stupid in front of others.  So I stayed in the background.  I waited for others to come and make me feel safe.  It's taken me a long time to learn to reach out and be more concerned with making the other person feel comfortable.  God has used a lot of things in my life to bring me out of that comfort zone.  He does it every day as I meet and  build relationships with different people on the ranch.  I love what I get to do here, but that doesn't mean it's easy to keep reaching out.  We are naturally such creatures of comfort.  We build comfort zones everywhere we go.  So it's a blessing to me to realize that God puts me in places where I have to continually step out of my zone so that I can grow.  He knows I would stagnate and shrivel up if He left me where I want to be.

When we lead Reva out of her comfort zone, the pasture, she goes reluctantly, putting one foot gingerly in front of the other almost like she's tip-toeing.  She has been taken out of the pasture countless times before.  She is familiar with the places we take her on a daily basis: the round pen, the riding arena, the barn.  Is she afraid?  Is she just timid?  That's what I think sometimes, but when I take a look at myself I begin to understand her better.  This is probably a game that she plays.  Once we get her working in the round pen, or saddled up in the arena, her attitude changes.  She is eager and ready to go.  She doesn't want to walk slowly or stand still.  I don't think Reva is truly afraid; she simply doesn't want to leave her comfort zone.  She doesn't want to step outside of what feels perfectly happy and safe to her.  Just like me.  Just like you.  Once she gets out of that zone and shifts her focus onto the work she's given to do, she is willing and she does it well.  But she is not naturally inclined to do that while resting in her happy place.

When Reva runs from us in the pasture, perhaps she truly does enjoy spending time with people, but she wants to know how badly we want her.  She plays hard to get because she wants us to pursue her.  And because she still believes her comfort zone is better.  We have to show her that stopping is a better idea.  She makes us work to get her, but she's making herself work too.  When she realizes she is wasting energy because we are not going to give up, she is willing to let us in.  I know Reva can't think through all that, but I have definitely played that game with other people throughout my life.  Satan had me believing that a lot of people didn't see me as desirable and worth loving, so I kept my distance until someone would make the effort to pursue me.  It wasn't until I believed the truth that Jesus in me is all about loving rather than being loved, that I began learning to willingly take the risk of opening my heart, being myself, and even pursuing others.

The biggest hurdle that Reva, you, and I must overcome in leaving our comfort zones is to trust our master enough to follow anywhere.  Stepping into things that are unfamiliar, that look like work, or that don't come naturally to us goes against our grain.  We struggle to believe that it's worth the risk and the effort.  I believe we were created to be at peace in every aspect of our lives, and deep inside each one is the desire for rest.  A place of absolute safety and well-being.  Where do we find this rest?  The world cannot offer it.  The prince of this world, Satan, rules through confusion and illusion and discontentment.  "For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there."  James 3:16
The pleasures and comforts in this life are temporary and will soon fade away.  "For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever."  1 John 2:16-17

Here lies our only hope.  Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."  Matthew 11:28-29
Did you catch that?  Yes, Jesus does have work for you to do.  Like the oxen that are yoked together to pull a plow, Jesus is calling us to step into the yoke with Him.  WITH HIM, my friend.  He enables you to do His will.  He provides the strength, the ability, the understanding.  He will never leave you to pull alone; He is in the yoke beside you.  And in that place where He is training you and using you to accomplish His purposes, you will find the rest and  peace that your soul so desires.  Here is another promise that has meant a great deal to me in the last few months.  Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  John 14:27
If you belong to Jesus, you have His peace.  All you have to do is believe that it's yours.

What zone is your Master calling you to step into today?  Where is He leading you that you don't want to go?  Believe Him.  Choose trust.  Go with Him by faith.  He is your rest.  Stay in His zone, and nothing can steal your peace, for He is the Prince of Peace.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flower, Or Weed?

We have several flower beds around the ranch, and the kids will often help us weed the flowers before their riding lessons.  One day several of us were out weeding in the big flower bed by the entrance.  The recent rain had caused lots of little weeds to pop up.  As we discussed what was weed and what was flower, I commented that because there are so many plants concentrated in some spots, it's okay to pull some things that aren't weeds.  They make the garden look messy because they are too crowded.  Even a nice plant can look bad in the wrong spot.

Another staff member pointed out that it's the same in our lives.  There are a lot of good things that we need to weed out because they make life too stressful and steal time from the best things, the ones that really matter.  The crowding plants could be anything: one too many jobs, entertainment, too many activities on the family schedule, a time-consuming hobby, or trying to divide yourself between a lot of friends.  You can probably think of some more in your own life.  Often these things are our attempts to fill a nagging emptiness inside, or to please certain people, or try to provide for our own happiness and security.

God gives us the key to a contented and successful life in His Word.  Matthew 6:31-33 says, "Therefore do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear?  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

God is our Creator.  He knows what we need and what is good for us.  For those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ to save us and make us new, He is also our Father.  He is tender and compassionate towards His children and wants the best for us.  He knows that so many of the things we think we need to have or do will actually choke out our life and make us less effective in being who He made us to be.   A rosebush cannot be a great rosebush if it is being crowded out by ivy.  Likewise, our lives in the King's service cannot amount to great things if we are choked and distracted by too many earthly cares. Have you trusted Him with the safety of your soul?  That is the first thing you must do if you would grow in His garden.  Without Jesus as Lord of your life, you will walk around with a big empty hole in your soul, like a bare spot in the garden where nothing is planted.  Now if you have trusted Him to fill that hole with His life, then are you willing to trust Him with all the stuff of your earthly life as well?

You might want to take some time today to stop and ask the Lord if there are some good plants in your life that are choking out the best plants.  Turn your cares over to Jesus and ask Him what He would have you do to make more space in your life for cultivating your relationship with Him.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."  1Peter 5:6-7

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Going Places?

Some friends brought their kids to the ranch to ride, and Ben took his horse, Cash, in the round pen to give a horsemanship demonstration to the parents.  They have horses of their own and are interested in learning as much as they can.  So Ben was showing them some training work.  After they watched for awhile, I went over to see how it was going, and someone said, "Well, we thought Ben was supposed to be going places with the horse, but as far as I can see they're just going in a bunch of circles!"
We do a lot of circles in the round pen for training purposes, and if you don't understand what it is for, it looks like pointless repetition.  One of the first things you do when training a young horse for riding is to put him in the round pen and make him run circles around you.  This is called lungeing.  We use our body language to drive the horse forward, turn, and stop him.  What does it do?  First of all, it helps to establish you as leader.  Horses communicate with each other through body language, so we work with them in a way they can understand.  As we establish our authority through assertive body language, attitude, and voice, the horse learns to look to us for direction.  Lungeing helps them to focus their attention on the trainer, to learn respect, and to work out some nervous energy.  We look for the horse to give us their attention with the nearest eye and ear.  We also look for signs of submission: dropping the head low, licking and chewing.  These are things the horses do with each other to show submission to the herd leader or to ask to be accepted back into the herd when they've been "kicked out" for bad behavior.  The more your horse is focused on you, the better he will listen when you move on to the next thing, and eventually when you are on his back.

Lungeing is a basic exercise that we repeat throughout the horse's lifetime, no matter how seasoned and well-trained he is.  Riding in circles in the round pen is another exercise to gain the horse's attention and  respect.  It is a much smaller space than a riding arena, so there is less chance of the horse getting distracted or trying to run away with you.  It's quality time to build the relationship between horse and master.  So take Cash, for instance.  He's a well-trained, older horse.  He and Ben have been together nearly a year, and they worked on their relationship almost every day for the first few months.  He knows Ben is the boss.  He is sensitive and responsive to Ben's voice.  He knows what to do and how to do it.  But Ben still makes him do a lot of circles in that round pen.  It's not because Cash doesn't know anything.  It's not punishment for misbehavior.  Ben is taking him back to the basics to strengthen that good training foundation that has already been built.  He does it to help Cash refocus and be the best horse he can be.  And when they go out into the big arena or on the trail, Cash is able to listen and obey Ben so well because they have learned to know each other and to work together while going in circles.

This is an encouraging lesson for me.  I look at my walk with the Lord and see how many times I seem to be going in circles, learning the same things over and over, struggling with trust and obedience even though I claim to believe God's Word.  And sometimes I wonder why God doesn't give up on me.  I wonder how He could not be frustrated and disappointed and angry because I'm just not getting it!  But then I realized that those circles in my life aren't just a mindless repeating of the same lesson.  They are not punishment for disobedience.  It may be part of the process God uses to get me back on track when I sin, but it's not punishment.  Some lessons take a lifetime to learn well.  We have to repeat them over and over in different ways.  But it's that repetition that builds deeper faith, trust, and character.  Just like Cash....he's a great horse, but the repetition of those basics make him even better.  He's never going to be so good that Ben doesn't need to train him anymore.  And that's the way of God with us.  God is using circling in my life to refocus my heart and mind on Him, to help me become more intimate with Him so I will trust Him, to teach me to give Him all my respect and worship, and to gently teach me to submit to His ways.  God is making me more like Him, so that when  He leads me out into the world around me, I can be a better reflection and witness for Him.  And then we will really be "going places"!

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

"A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher."  Luke 6:40

Monday, August 27, 2012

He Knows the Way

The other day, I took Glory out for a ride.  Now she tends to be a scaredy-cat about a lot of things, but she's been out on this trail plenty of times, and although she prefers to be with a group of other horses and it gives her courage, she does alright by herself.  The weather was cooler and gorgeous, and I was looking forward to a relaxing little jaunt.  Glory, however, was not convinced that this was in her best interest.  I saddled her up at the same time that the feed was being put in the stalls, and she knew all her buddies were going into the barn for dinner, while I was taking her away from the barn.  She was not happy.  First she tried to play scared.  She was shying at everything, refusing to go under a bridge that she's walked under dozens of times.  So I had to make the wrong thing hard.  I won't let her run away from everything that she thinks is scary or unpleasant.  She would balk and start backing away, so I made her turn circles.  We'd come back to face the bridge and I would urge her forward.  She'd go a few steps and balk again.  I knew it wouldn't be good for either of us to get too frustrated, so I decided we could play the game a different way.  I dismounted and walked Glory through her obstacle.  Even then, I had to coax her through and make her work (run in circles), until she chose to follow me.

After conquering that hangup, Glory was still fighting me.  We went a bit further and again she stopped and refused to go forward.  At this point, I discerned that Glory was not so much afraid as she was testing me.  She simply wanted her will over mine and she was going to push me to see just how far I'd make her go.  So I had to give her a reason to want to go forward.  I had a lead rope with me, wound around the saddle horn.  It's a handy thing to have in case of emergency, such as broken reins.  So I took the lead rope and smacked her behind with it to encourage her to go.  I didn't beat her with it; that would have accomplished nothing except to make her afraid of me and shut down her spirit.  But I used it as a correction and to convince her that obedience was easier than rebellion.  It worked!  I had to use this method a few more times, but eventually all she needed was to see the rope swinging at her hindquarters in her peripheral vision, and she would go.

Then we came upon another obstacle that I knew she would not deal well with, even if I tried to discipline her.  There was an irrigator in the cornfield, and the end-gun spray was passing back and forth over the path where we were going through.  I knew if I could force Glory to walk past, she might easily spook, especially if we went through the spray.  That could end badly for both of us, so once again I chose to lead her past.  When she could see me right by her head, she was able to trust me more that she would be safe.

After passing the irrigator, we had a clear path in front of us.  Clear, except for some potholes and the occasional pile of junk in the field...these too are things I have to watch out for, either to steer Glory around a potential danger or encourage her to keep going when she's distracted by scary looking stuff along the way.  I let Glory have the freedom to run, and she did for a bit, but she was constantly changing speed.  She never completely relaxed and let go.  Only when we turned around and headed home did she truly become willing and eager, and would have run headlong the whole way if I had allowed it.  But I required her to control herself and wait a little longer for her reward.

There are so many little lessons I can take from Glory's behavior.  I think of how often, when God wants me to leave my comfort zone and take an opportunity to serve or reach out, I resist and balk.  It doesn't have to be something completely new and unfamiliar....just the fact that I have to give up what I want in order to be available to God creates tension in my soul.  Even though I've seen Him work through me before, I get scared.  I try to tell Him it's too hard, I'm too tired, or it's not a convenient time.      Yet even when I go reluctantly and my heart is not in it, God doesn't slam the door and say, "Fine, just go have it your way....I can't use you."  With mercy, gentleness, and firmness, He urges me to go on.  He uses the whole process to shape me.

Sometimes, as I did with Glory, God disciplines me or makes it uncomfortable to stay where I am, until I decide it's better to do what He's asking.  Still, He knows my weakness and fears....He will not allow me to run and hide from those fears, but He knows how to lead me through them.  In those times, He makes His presence stronger to me, like a Shepherd walking beside his lamb and sometimes picking it up and carrying it through the rough places.  This is like me making myself visible to Glory and walking beside her when things get really scary.

Even in those times when I'm going along fairly willing and responsive to the Lord, my heart is frequently distracted by little doubts, by seemingly insignificant choices between the flesh and the Spirit, by physical limitations....the list could go on.  Rarely am I going full speed ahead, trusting Jesus with abandon, and enjoying the adventure of this journey without restraint.  I know God could do more with my life if I were fully yielded to the Spirit's control, just as I would delight in riding Glory at a full-out run, knowing she's giving me her all.  God is working toward that goal of my free surrender.  But it's a process.  He knows it's not going to happen all at once, and He's not giving up on me just because I'm not there yet.  He keeps on teaching and shaping and refining me to make me into something beautiful and fully useful to Him.  And even though I get impatient and want to see instant results in my life and enjoy the rewards now, my Lord gently restrains me and keeps on reminding me that this takes time, but His timing is perfect.  He is able to keep me from falling and present me faultless and complete before the throne of God on That Day when time is no more.  (Jude 1:24)

Be encouraged, my friend.  If you are alive today, the Lord is not finished with you.

"But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Francesville Team

It's a dry summer here in Missouri, but the Lord continues to send showers of blessing on His Ranch in the form of people and resources.  Last week He brought us an eager team of volunteers from a church in Francesville, Indiana.  Most of the team were young people ages 14 to 18, and they tackled everything we gave them to do with enthusiasm.  They finished the work we had planned and then some!  We had great fellowship together, everyone worked in unity, and no one wanted to leave by the end of the week.  On the last work day, we had the team put their handprints and names on an inside wall of the barn that they had replaced.  It's a representation of numerous others who have left their fingerprints around the ranch in some way.  Some things have been done that no one may ever know about or that wouldn't be noticed by most people.  Other fingerprints are more obvious, yet those who have left them never claimed the credit for themselves.  God's hand is so strong in this ministry, and everyone who gives of themselves to play some part in it understands that all the glory belongs to Him, and that is what we desire.

Here are some of the ways the Francesville team left their fingerprints last week.  Our new tack room in the barn has been partially unfinished for a long time.  We were waiting to get insulation put in, and God provided for that to happen a few months ago.  So the team finished the walls and ceiling and put in lighting.  Once we get saddle racks installed, it will be ready to move into!

The front of the barn wall had already been redone on one side on the door, but the other side was still the old metal stuff.  They tore that section out and put up a new wall and painted it to match.

Those were the big projects, but there were so many other jobs done that were just as much appreciated.  A couple new gates hung in the arena.....

Painting and sealing wood on the welcome center.....

New mulch and rock borders around the trees and flower gardens....

And all sorts of cleaning!

Everyone had fun and also got to be part of some of our sessions with the kids and horses.  Those who wanted to also got a chance to ride and to watch horse training demonstrations.

We are always blessed beyond words and humbled when a team comes through and leaves the ranch better and more useful than before.  They always seem to accomplish so much more than we imagined they could!  It just goes to show that God is the force behind it all.  His Word says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine!  When I look at how many visible changes He brought through a work team in a few days, it makes me wonder how much more He is doing beneath the surface of our lives and in the daily ministry with the kids and everyone who steps onto His Ranch.  It was also uplifting to the ranch staff to experience the energy and excitement of these young people as they saw the ministry of the ranch for the first time.  They had a blast watching all the kids, many of them with disabilities, riding the horses.  They jumped in to help give rides or assist a lesson at every opportunity.  They got to see what we see every day, and it made us realize that we get into a routine and sometimes forget why we're doing all this.  It becomes easy to go through the motions and not think about the influence we could be having in the life of a child or a parent.  Every day we are touching lives here, but when you are close to something, you can become dull to it and miss what is right in front of your face.  We are grateful for the opportunity to see God's work here through fresh eyes.  Work team weeks are exciting.  They are also exhausting.  But our spirits have been encouraged and invigorated by their presence here.  Thank you, Francesville!  Your labor of love will continue to bless countless people and will always be remembered by our Father in heaven.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trusting In The One Who Holds You

A lot of our friends who come to His Ranch are living with extra physical and mental challenges.  It's fun to see the variety in their response to the horses.  We're not always sure what people are thinking or feeling, but we can usually tell they are happy and relaxed on the horse's back..

One day recently we welcomed a friend who is both blind and deaf and in a wheelchair.  Paul* has been to the ranch before, but had never been on a horse.  You can only imagine how terrifying anything new and unfamiliar would be for him.  All he knows is feeling.  Paul's caretakers weren't sure he would even let us put him on the horse, but they decided we could try it.  One of our staff guys got on Victor's back, and another one lifted Paul from his wheelchair and onto the saddle.  As soon as he was on the horse, he tensed up, but he didn't put up any protest or fight.  Kyle, who was holding Paul from behind, rubbed his hands from Paul's shoulders down to his hands so he could feel something familiar and reassuring.  He seemed to be okay, so we decided to walk Victor forward a few steps.  They ended up making three trips around the riding arena, and Paul was calm and relaxed the entire time!

As I watched Paul ride, I tried to put myself in his shoes.  Imagine that you can't see, you can't hear, and you have no idea what a horse is.  It's an unfamiliar position, unfamiliar movement, without the safe confines of the wheelchair you are accustomed to.  I think what kept him from falling apart was the feeling of another person holding him, and the familiar sensation of those hands on his.  He was putting incredible trust in Kyle's arms around him, someone he didn't even know.

Could I trust someone that way?  Could you?  What about God?  You can't see Him.  You can't understand Him with your physical senses.  As I go through life, I often find myself relying on my feelings to direct what I do and why.  If I feel like I can handle something, I can "see" the results or I'm confident in what the results will be, that is often my motivation to do it.  On the other hand, if I'm tired, anxious, or out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I don't know what I'm doing and I can't handle this, I will shrink away and try to avoid taking the risk.  When I'm trying to make a decision, I wish God would speak to me, that I could physically hear His voice telling me what to do.  He has many ways of speaking to us, but it's not usually that obvious.  Trusting God is kind a little bit like being blind and deaf.  We cannot rely on what we know and understand with our human minds or what we see around us.  We can't measure our success in God's kingdom by visible results.  Sometimes I don't know where I'm going and I have no clue what God is doing.  What I do know is that He's holding me.  And He's not going to let go.
"Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."  Isaiah 46:4 NIV

There have been times in my journey when I am at the end of myself.  I'm empty and tired.  I can't see God at work in my life.  I can't hear His voice telling me if I'm supposed to stay where I am or go someplace else.  There are no good feelings of excitement, purpose, or joy.  It's in those times that I can either become lost in self-pity and run from the hard things, or I can choose to keep trusting in the One who is holding me, come what may.  Does it feel like complete loss of control?  Yes.  But I was never in control to begin with.  In the realm of God's wisdom and power, I am just as helpless as our friend Paul is physically.  But even more than that, I have no clue what God has prepared for me in our future together.  The Bible says, "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 1 Cor. 2:9
Someday, when Paul leaves this earth, he will open brand new eyes in heaven and see the face of Jesus!  He will hear the angels singing, and yes, I believe he will finally know what a horse is, because the Bible talks about Jesus and his armies riding on horses!  Right now, he cannot even imagine the things we take for granted every day....colors, shapes, faces, sounds.  He doesn't know what it feels like to walk, run, or jump.  He can't speak and tell anyone what he is thinking.  But that day is coming!  There will be so many new physical experiences for Paul in his new body.  Likewise, when we step into the pure presence of God, the spiritual experiences that God is preparing for us will be just as mind-blowing!

And so, once again, my Father has used a horse and a special friend with many limitations to teach me the meaning of faith.  Am I living for the here and now, focusing on a feeling or on what looks logical to me?  Do I freak out when God leads me somewhere that is strange or uncomfortable?  Or will I keep moving forward when life doesn't make sense?  Will I do the hard things to follow God, trusting that I am secure in Christ no matter what happens and looking forward to the unseen glories that he has promised?  To put it simply, God is holding you.  Are you holding onto Him?  It's a choice that you and I have to make every day.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Hebrews 11:1

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sight Unseen

We have two Clydesdales living at His Ranch.  They are a type of draft horse, designed with size and strength for pulling loads.  Ruby is the bigger of the two, and she has been trained to pull a cart.  This is a fun thing for special occasions, such as our fall fundraiser or a parade.  It has been awhile since Ruby has been out with the cart, so Shannon decided to hitch her up and go for a little joyride.  He didn't know that she was going to teach him a valuable lesson as well, but that doesn't surprise Shannon.  He's spent enough time with horses to gain a wealth of wisdom from them and we love it when he shares these insights.  Here is Ruby's lesson, as told by Shannon Haerr.

So every time I hitch Ruby up, I always put the blinders on before the cart.  And I always take the cart off and then take off the blinders.  That's the way I've always done it before, but I forgot this time, and I took the blinders off while the cart was still attached to Ruby.  I realized after the fact that she has never actually seen that scary thing behind her.  When I took the blinders off and she saw what was back there, she freaked out!  All she could think about was getting away from that thing.  The cart is still in running order, but there's some bent bars now!  She was too upset to listen to her master who she trusts, and he got thrown around a bit too.  Up until now, Ruby really had no idea what was behind her.  She couldn't get away from it, but as long as she was wearing the blinders and couldn't see it, she learned to trust her master and listen to his voice, and everything was fine.
Now let's think about our lives.  In a sense, God puts blinders on us spiritually.  We know there is a spiritual battle between good and evil going on over our lives.  The Bible tells us about it.  But if God opened our eyes so we could actually see everything going on around us in the spiritual realm and fully understand the battle for the souls of men, we would freak out.  It would be too much for our human understanding.  So, just like the horse with her master, we need to trust God for the things we can't see and learn to listen to His voice and do what He tells us.

"Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.' whenever you turn to the right hand, or whenever you turn to the left."  Isaiah 30:21

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer 2012

Cowboy up!  We are three weeks into the riding season already and things are in full swing at His Ranch!  Last year we introduced some of our staff members at the beginning of the season, and this summer we are blessed to have some of the same people with us, as well as several new ones.  The Lord is continually blessing us with those who have a heart to serve in this ministry.

Ben Lindberg has joined us again from south Georgia, and plans to work the full summer.  We appreciate his experience with horsemanship and training, his gift of leadership, and his fun-loving attitude.

Kyle Reinhard moved from Indiana to Missouri a few years ago because of a passion for His Ranch.  He has been involved in various capacities as his other jobs allow, but this summer he was able to adjust his schedule so he can work here full time.  We are blessed by his leadership skills, gift of teaching, and encouragement.

Ruth Virkler from Indiana is also with us again.  Her gentle spirit, listening ear, and skill in the office is a plus to the team.  She is the cheerful voice you will most often hear when you call us.

Ariel Libmann is our newest full-time staff member.  She grew up in Quincy, Illinois, our neighboring town.  She became involved with the ranch last summer as a volunteer, and the Lord has led her to move from her job at Best Buy to serve here.  Ariel is also a tremendous help in the office with her wonderful skills in customer service, organization, and electronics.  We enjoy her enthusiastic spirit! She loves to be with the kids and is enjoying the transition from city life to farm life.

Kari Keener wintered at the ranch and is staying for the second summer.  She grew up in Northeast Ohio but is loving it here in the true Midwest!  She was able to spend more time gaining experience with the horses over the closed season and continues to enjoy working with them and passing on what she has learned to the kids.  She also loves writing for the blog and hopes to find many new inspirations to share this year.

We also have been enjoying some new team members who are helping us short-term.  Daniel hails from Georgia and knows horses well.  He has been a great addition these first few weeks, helping to accomplish various projects and spending time with the kids.  He will be returning home for awhile but hopes to join us again later on in the summer.  Amanda from Illinois, Julia from Florida, Simon and Caleb from Indiana, and Michaela from nearby Maywood have been a great help and encouragement to us as they are volunteering their time and energy.  We are excited to see who else God will bring in the next few months to serve along with us!  It is always amazing to hear the stories of how each one has come here and to see God bring together a rainbow of personalities, backgrounds, and gifts to work towards one common passion, being used as the body of Christ to love people and glorify Him!  Sometimes we forget in the hardship of daily life, but it is truly an honor that the Eternal, All-powerful God chooses to do His work through broken vessels like us.  We are so grateful to our friends who pray for us and support us in many ways.  Know that God is also using you to influence hearts and lives in this place, as well as in your own home and surroundings.  To God be the glory!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Is Driving You?

"And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men."  Colossians 3:23

Peyton came to His Ranch last summer.  He is a now almost-three-year-old sorrel quarter horse.  We have been working to train him for riding.  At first impression, Peyton is gentle and easy-going.  Some of us, with our limited experience, have seen him as a slow learner and a plodder with no sense of motivation.  We have struggled with things like getting him to walk forward when being led, or to run when working in the round pen.  But in reality, Peyton is very smart.  You see, horses are excellent at reading people.  They know who is working with them, and they know who can make them do things and who can't.  What I've been learning is that horses will only do as much as they have to.  If you have the authority and energy to drive the horse to work hard, he knows it, and he'll do what you want.  But if you're ho-hum about things and let him get away with being lazy, he'll take that advantage!  Some horses take less encouragement to get them going.  Peyton is one who needs a stronger hand.  It's like children: some kids are super-sensitive to discipline and instruction.  It doesn't take a lot to set them straight.  On the other hand, some kids are strong-willed and independent.  They are going to push the boundaries and test your authority to the limit.  Some do it by acting out; others do it by playing lazy.  That doesn't make them bad kids; they are just wired to need stronger guidance.  When you get that strong will and energy controlled and directed in a positive way, they can grow up to be wonderfully productive.

As I learn to take authority and motivate Peyton to move forward and work, I can then focus on positively directing and controlling his energy.  He has the potential to become a productive horse.  As I worked with Peyton in the round pen recently, I discovered that when I showed him I was serious about moving him forward, he would go for me.  He actually is fast and has nice movement.  Previously, I was acting passive with him and letting him be lazy.  I just assumed he was an airhead.  But the problem was with me, not him.  I wasn't doing what it takes to motivate him.

It has made me think a lot about myself.  I do the same thing; it is my nature to get by with the least amount of work or challenge possible.  If I don't feel like doing something, I won't, unless someone drives me to do it.  I can be motivated by reward.  Or I might make myself do it out of a sense of duty or responsibility or because I know it's the right thing.  But I'm not giving it my whole heart.   And unlike me working with Peyton, God is never passive when He acts in my life and asks me to do things.  There is no problem with my Motivator, but the problem is in my heart.  As Christians, we know that we are created to live for God and His pleasure.  We know that He wants us to put our whole heart into whatever we do.  But in our human nature, this is impossible.  As the above verse indicates, we are prone to perform better for other people who are watching than we are for God, who we cannot see.  And we can fool people into believing we are giving our best when we're not.  We can't fool God.  He sees every motive and hidden agenda in our heart.  "for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

So how do we remedy this?  To be honest, I have no wisdom to share; I've been struggling with a serious lack of motivation lately.  Do any of us ever want to do the hard thing?  Or would we have to admit we are dead-set on our personal comfort and convenience?  I think the heart attitude to step up to the challenges and difficulties God brings our way can only come as we ask God to fill us with His Spirit.  It is going to take a supernatural drive to empower us to exchange our will for God's will.  That is why He sent the Holy Spirit to be His own life dwelling in us!

Philippians 2:12-13 says, "Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
This Scripture implies that we have a part in choosing to obey God and walking out His will in our daily life.  The good news is that God's Spirit within us is the power behind our will and our action.  He gives us the want-to!

In closing, my encouragement to you is this: instead of focusing on your lack of motivation and spiritual power, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit.  Focus on the truth that God delights in taking ordinary men and women who are entangled in self-interest and filling them with His power to do impossible things.  We can read about it in the Bible; we can read about how He's done it throughout history.  He wants to do it again.  Today.  In me and in you.  We have to get serious about asking.  He has promised that those who ask will receive.

"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"  from Luke 11

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Road of Life

Biking is one of my favorite ways to get exercise, although I don't make time to do it regularly.  The other week, I blew the dust off my bike and went out on some of the back roads around the ranch.  It was my first ride this year; needless to say, I am out of shape.  And I inadvertently chose a road with plenty of steep hills!  It proved to be a challenging experience that pushed me to expend a great deal of energy.  Afterwards, I actually felt invigorated from the strenuous exercise; it was exactly what I needed!  But you can be sure that I struggled with some of those uphill climbs.  It got me thinking about the road of life.

Each one of us is on a journey through this life.  It is a short journey....compared to the endless eternity of God, our life on earth is no more than a breath.  " do not know what will happen tomorrow.  For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."  James 4:14
As fleeting as our life is, there are days when it seems to be unending, when we are in the midst of the pain and sorrow and struggle, and it feels as if we will never find rest.  That's what it was like on those hills.  Sometimes I was straining with all my might, only to move a few inches with each turn of the pedals.  Often I had to stand on my pedals in order to pump harder.  My muscles burned and screamed for relief.  I wondered if it was worth the struggle to reach the top.  I could have chosen to quit and turn around at any time.  But when it comes to life, we can't just quit.  This journey is certainly not smooth, flat terrain all the time.  Some days we feel like we can't possibly go on.  Our heart is ready to burst under the emotional, mental, or spiritual strain.  Everything in us screams for relief.  But no matter how much the hill of difficulty slows us down, God calls us to keep going.  He has promised that to cover our weakness with His strength.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9  These are familiar words, and easy to say, but if you're like me, they are not so easy to believe.  I don't claim to understand how this works; all I know is that God said it.  You and I have to keep asking Him to teach us and increase our faith.
We may need to find creative methods of getting to the top, just as I had to stand on the pedals to put all my weight into the effort, or shift through different gears.  A low gear can make the difference between a full stop and the ability to continue upward.  Sometimes we have to switch gears in life.  This could mean choosing to eliminate some things from the schedule, finding ways to lower the stress level, sharing your heart with someone you trust, taking more time out to be still before God and to call on Him for the strength you don't have.
On a particularly long incline, I had to get off my bike and walk the rest of the way.  Don't we need to do that in life sometimes too?  We can get so burned out that it takes something more drastic than switching gears to get us back on track.  If your health is on the line, it may require a major change in diet and lifestyle.  If it's severe mental or emotional stress, that could mean seeking counseling and medical help.  In a spiritual crisis, you may need to drop everything for a season of desperately seeking God.  We have examples of that in Scripture.
As long as we know where our help comes from, and we keep looking and reaching up, there's no shame in breaking from the routine and taking stronger measures to find renewal.  "I will lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2

Now once I crested the top of the hill, the triumph and thrill of the other side outweighed the pain of climbing up!  Flying down the slope with the wind rushing in my face was pure ectasy!  We have days like that in life.  Days when the joy and peace of God are palpable, and the triumph of seeing how His strength brought us through a tough situation makes all the pain worth it.  And we also find that our faith has been strengthened because of the trials.  In the same way, my muscles were strengthened by pedaling uphill, and my entire body was rejuvenated because my heart was pumping harder and sending fresh blood coursing through my veins.  Muscles were never made through coasting.  Jesus didn't promise that life would be easy.  In fact, He told us we surely would have troubles.  But because He overcame the world, all those who have found new life in Him also have the power to overcome!  Suffering is often a close companion in life, and it is so hard for us to comprehend why God allows it.  But take a second look: who knows suffering more than God?  Romans 8:32 refers to God as "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all..."  The Word speaks much of the suffering of Christ.  He was a man of sorrows and familiar with grief.  He bore our sins and carried our sorrows.  Think of it.  The weight of the whole world was truly on one man's shoulders.  He took the world's pain into His own heart.  This God who allows us to experience suffering is the God who chose to suffer for His fallen creation, the ones who rebelled against Him.  And in Philippians 3, we are told that we come to know Christ intimately through sharing in His sufferings.  God knows if we stay safe and comfortable, we'll always be like babies spiritually.  He wants to bring us to full maturity of faith and to make us conquerors whose lives bear much fruit for His glory.  He wants to give us rich rewards in eternity, at the end of life's race.  In that day, the faithful ones will discover that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, [has worked] for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."  from 2 Corinthians 4:17

One day there will be no more hills to climb.  No more pain, no more tears.  Until that glorious day, let us lift up our eyes, for our Redeemer lives, and our final redemption is drawing nearer with every step.  (Luke 21:28)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lessons In Leadership

What is your relational style?  Are you the active, assertive type who is not afraid to make your thoughts and feelings known and to let people know when lines are not to be crossed?  Are you a people-pleaser who tends to be passive about setting boundaries and tries to avoid the displeasure of others at all costs?  Or perhaps you are somewhere in the middle?
Well, I will admit that I fall strongly on the passive end of the scale.  I can be a pushover at times, because I strongly dislike challenging the status quo or disappointing people.  Having the approval of others has always been too important to me, and God is working plenty on this area.  I'm slowly learning to be more decisive and bold.  Noah is helping me with this.

Noah is our three year old thouroughbred/quarter colt.  He has been started under saddle, but he isn't ready to be ridden by kids.  He has plenty of spirit and a goofball personality.  He is very curious and just likes to play around.  This can be perceived as misbehaving, but he's only being a young horse.  He needs firm, consistent training with people he has learned to respect.  Noah and I have not worked a lot together, and he did not have much respect for me at first.  My personality is gentle and soft-spoken, so even when I think I am correcting a horse, it does not always come across strongly enough to get his attention.  This is the problem I was having with Noah.  I had him in the round pen a few times recently, and boy did we get into it!  He quickly figured out that he could "run over me". When I asked him to move around the pen, he would simply turn in towards me.  All the horses know that when we are driving them around the pen and we allow them to stop, they come into the middle where the trainer is and find rest.  So Noah figures he is going to get out of work by coming in to me right away.  But he didn't just come in and stop.  He was coming at me head on, pushing me around with his body, tossing his head and whacking me with it, getting all worked up.  As this went on and I could not get him under control with the correction I was trying, I became exceedingly frustrated.  It felt like having a wrestling match with a three year old!  Which is basically what it was, only this three year old is a ton bigger and stronger than me, and it was getting to the point where I didn't feel safe in there with him.  He knocked me pretty hard in the head several times, and if he had caught me just right, he could have broken my nose or jaw or knocked me unconscious!  Again, Noah was not trying to be mean or hurt me; he was just playing around with me like he does his buddies, the other horses, in the pasture.  He was seeing me as a friend, an equal, rather than a leader to be respected and obeyed.  He doesn't realize that his playing around could easily injure me.  However, to me in my limited experience and skill, it felt like he was being aggressive and bratty.  I was not willing to quit on Noah and end our session with him getting his way.  But I was getting nowhere.  Thankfully, Shannon was willing to come out and give me some excellent coaching to show Noah that he must respect me.  With help, I began to get bolder in my approach and teach Noah to respect my space.  I let him know that I am in charge and he will not get away with pushing me around.  Soon Noah responded by submitting to my leadership and paying attention to what I was asking him to do.  Before this, we were both wasting a lot of time and energy, and Noah could have finished his work and gone back to his friends and his hay much sooner, if he had been cooperating with me.  When I learned to better communicate my authority to him and he yielded to that authority, we were able to wrap up our session, and our relationship was in a better place than when we started!

This has several different applications to life.  Many of you have experienced relationships where another person tries to dominate and manipulate you.  You end up feeling trapped, used, or angry.  You cannot enjoy that kind of relationship and will most likely try to distance yourself from that person.  Both of you end up losing. 

If you are a parent or have spent time in charge of children, you know how often they will test the boundaries of your authority.  I've done my share of babysitting and have been greatly challenged at times in where to set my limits and how to take charge.  It can be fun to just be buddies with the kids and let them do whatever makes them happy, especially if they are not your children!  But when things get out of hand, and you have not established a clear sense of authority that they can respect, you find yourself fighting for sanity and maybe losing control of your own emotions. 

Or you might be a people-pleaser type like me, who easily allows friends and family to manipulate you, although this is not their intention.  We do it by failing to express our beliefs, opinions, and feelings when we think that they will cause people to get upset or think badly of us.  Though we may not be moved on moral issues that we see as black and white, we are willing to compromise in many other situations, because going along with something you don't fully approve of is easier than challenging your friends on what they accept.  For example, I have struggled to be clear with my personal convictions about a topic of conversation in a group, or the music being played, or a movie choice.  And while we understand that it is not right to indiscriminately unload our emotions on others, it is important to be open and honest about our thoughts and feelings; otherwise, people assume you agree with what they are saying or feeling, what they like, or what they want to do.

God calls children to submit to their parents and to those who are in authority over them.  He also calls everyone in the body of Christ to submit to one another in humility.
"Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."  Ephesians 6:1
"Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"
1 Peter 5:5
Don't misunderstand, these are not commands to be a doormat so everyone can walk all over you.  Rather, as each of us submit ourselves to God, we have the grace to lay aside our own will, to put others first, and to be considerate in areas where a brother or sister is weak or takes a different stand.
"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time."
1 Peter 5:6
Children especially need a lot of training and correction to go the right way in life, just like Noah.  It is not only our right as parents or guardians, but our God-given responsibility to teach them what is right and to establish strong boundaries in the relationhip.  We can save ourselves and them a lot of useless struggle by doing this.

In adult relationships, whether you are the one who tends to manipulate, or the one who is easily manipulated, you need to remember that God is your ultimate authority.  If He gives you a personal conviction in some area that is different than your friends' convictions, be lovingly honest with them about it.  This may be hard or scary for you, but pray for the courage to stand alone.  Pray that your fear of God will overcome your fear of man.  If you realize that you are unintentionally manipulating others, humble yourself before God and ask for grace to look after the interests of others before your own.

I'm not claiming to be an authority on the subject.  I need this message more than anybody!  Which is why I'm grateful that God allowed me to have these experiences with Noah, even though it's been more of a challenge than I wanted.  He knows just how to pin me down when I'm working with these horses.  I really enjoy sharing these nuggets of truth with you and hope that they speak to your heart as well.  Most of all, I pray that it gives you something to think about and prompts you to seek the Lord and search deeper for yourself.  May you be hungering after Him today!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Catch Me If You Can!

Last week I had an experience with Tebow that taught me about myself.  Most days here at the ranch, I go out and work with one or two of the horses.  This keeps them from getting too spoiled in their winter vacation and cultivates my relationship with each of them.  I try to get each horse out at least once a week for some time with me.  I like to do something a little different each time, just to keep them interested.  It's also great practice for me. It takes time and creativity to learn what works best with each horse and what my personal training style is.  I usually spend time grooming whoever I've chosen to work with, and then we might go in the round pen for some exercises, or I'll work on desensitizing them with a particular object, or we'll just go for a walk.  Sometimes I also want to ride, to practice my balance, feel, and communication with the horse.

So back to Tebow.  On this day I had chosen to get him out for some bonding time.  Tebow is our oldest horse, but we've only had him since last summer.  He's a generally unruffled "old hand" horse.  He's been around the block and is great to use with kids.  Sometimes he needs motivation to get moving, but he's got plenty of "go" left in him when he decides to use it!  Now, when you go out to catch a horse, there are two kinds of horses: the ones who let you come to them with a halter in your hand, and the ones who see the halter as their signal to leave.  Tebow has fallen in with the second group.  He doesn't usually work very long or hard to evade capture, so I was surprised by his persistence in the game of keep-away on this occasion.  Perhaps he thought that he was going to be ridden again, since he had been ridden in most of the recent times that he was taken out. Horses are smart enough to realize when they are being ridden every time they submit to being caught, and this causes some to be reluctant to go.  I had no intentions of riding him this time, but Tebow didn't know that.  I expected him to move away from me initially, but when he continued to evade me, I realized that he was in a particularly stubborn mood!  Here's where it got sort of funny; Tebow was eating hay from the large round bale feeder when I approached him in the corral.  I was obviously interrupting his snack, but rather than move off from the feeder and put greater distance between us, he simply began to move around the feeder, going in circles.  Now the way you want to approach a horse to catch him is to move in on his side, coming up to his shoulder.  A horse with his backside turned to you is ignoring you, can't see you very well, and if you follow too close behind, you could get hurt if he decides to kick.  Since Tebow was moving around the feeder, keeping close to its sides, I couldn't very well approach him on his side unless I turned in the other direction and went around to meet him. So I ended up chasing him around in circles from behind!  Every time I turned and went to meet him in the other direction, he turned around and began circling the other way.  I knew that once you begin to pursue a horse, you can't give up and let them have their way, so I was going to keep after him as long as it took, but I was getting dizzy!  When a horse runs from me, I try to drive them to keep going by twirling my rope and stepping toward their shoulder, the way I would lunge them around me in the round pen.  I want him to run even more, instead of just going out of reach and then trying to rest. Once he figures out that he is being pushed to work even harder, he will decide he doesn't want to play this game, and when I stop and tell him whoa, he will usually stop running and either let me walk up to him or come in to me.  But I had a hard time getting Tebow to leave the circle he was traveling and run out in the open space where he would have to work harder.  I finally got him to go out there, and I pursued him to drive him on, but every time I tried to encourage him to stop, he kept going and ended up right back at that hay feeder, trying to snatch another mouthful, and back we'd go to circling.  This went on and on for quite a bit longer than it usually takes to catch any of our horses.  I continued to pursue Tebow calmly and with resolve, but I couldn't help thinking how silly he was being, and wishing that he could just understand that I wasn't even going to ask a lot of him today, and he was making so much futile work for himself.

 And then my Lord began to make me realize that I was doing the exact same thing!  There was something He had been prompting me to do that involved reaching outside my comfort zone to bless some other people, and I had been fighting Him about it for weeks.  It was not anything complicated or big or especially threatening, but it was just unnatural enough for me that I allowed fear, pride, and personal comfort to hold sway, and I was resisting the voice of the Holy Spirit.  I kept questioning whether I had really heard Him, or was it just a random idea?  Then I would try to reason it away. Have you ever done this?  I was in danger of quenching the Holy Spirit and holding myself back from greater growth.  Every time I worked with the horses, God would show me, in a little bit different way, how  I was refusing to trust Him, to submit, and to listen.  On this day with Tebow, I saw that I, too, was running in useless circles, causing myself all kinds of spiritual, mental, and emotional stress.  I kept trying to get away from the pressure of God's gentle conviction, but just as I was not going to quit pursuing Tebow, God was not going to quit pursuing me until I chose to submit.  It was pressure from which I couldn't find relief, unless I would stop running, go to my Master, and submit to Him leading me where He wanted me to go.  That is what Tebow finally chose to do.  When he decided to come with me, he found rest.  He found that he could relax while I groomed him.  He found a short and easy walk.  He found that I wasn't pressuring him to do much of anything.  And when I was finished with my purposes, He found release back into the corral with the herd, where he could go back to his hay and enjoy an uninterrupted snack.  What a picture for me!  It is true that I asked Tebow to submit to wearing the halter, being led wherever I wanted to go, and stand patiently in one place.  These are things he may not enjoy, and they certainly weren't his idea, but it was a lot easier than running in circles for twenty minutes!  It is also true that at other times I will ask him to do harder work, like round pen exercises or carrying me on his back.  But this is purposeful work, something that results in a stronger relationship with me or teaches him something to make him more successful as a riding horse.  Running and resisting is vain work for him.  He can run till he wears himself out, and I will still ask him to submit to me.  But how often I have done this with God!  In trying to escape the work He has asked me to do, I wear myself out and become miserable.  And when I finally submit and allow Him to direct my actions, I find such relief and peace, and I wonder why I ever waited so long to obey! 

Tebow showed me how silly I was being to run from God.  In the next few days, I chose to lay down my will about what God was telling me to do, and I obeyed.  Although the thing He asked of me was nothing spectacular, and I may never know His purpose for it, I found that sweet release and rest in my heart when I had done it.  I also found that the pressure I expected to feel while carrying out this mission was much less in reality.  Once I purposed in my heart to obey God, and I stepped out in faith to do it, He gave me what I needed through the promises of His Word, and it was not half as scary as I imagined it to be.  Jesus even talked about this.  Matthew 11:29-30 says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  We think of a yoke as something heavy and burdensome, requiring great strength to bear.  Picture two great oxen yoked together, pulling some heavy piece of equipment.  But Jesus is saying that if we will bear His yoke, following His will, we will find it to be light and easy, because He will be our strength.  He will be yoked with us, and everything we are not, He is!  We are total weakness, but Jesus is total strength!  I don't think He's saying that it will always be easy to live by faith and to submit to Him, but that when we do, we will find all that we need to carry on.  And only with Him can we find rest, because anything we do on our own is empty, useless striving.  It has no purpose and no reward.  In contrast, whatever we do in the life and power of Jesus has eternal purpose and overwhelming rewards in glory!

I can tell you that this is not the first time I have run circles from God's prompting, and it won't be the last.  But if I can be patient and calm enough to keep after Tebow until he stops running, God is infinitely more patient, kind, and merciful with me and you.  I am so grateful for the way He is using these horses, wonderful creations of His, to teach me such profound truths, and these truths are taking deeper root in my life each time I put them into practice.  If you are struggling today against something your Master is asking you to do, I hope that Tebow can also encourage you to stop the pointless game and submit to the only One who is your Rest.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let Go

Recently I was working with Victor in the round pen.  Victor is one of the veterans of the ranch.  He has been here longer than most of the horses we have now.  He is strong, solid, and self-assured.  At ten years of age, he is well matured, as horses go.  He's had good training and knows the routine.  But that doesn't mean he's a finished product.  There are still weaknesses in his character and things he has yet to learn in order to be the best horse he can be.  I think you would agree that our lives as humans, and especially as followers of Jesus, are the same way. 

As I've worked with Victor, I have noticed one particular area in which he resists me.  He may behave differently with a more experienced and confident trainer, as I have only begun learning how to communicate with horses.  They are smart and will quickly learn which humans are in charge and which ones can be somewhat pushed around.  The thing we are dealing with now is trust.  As I have mentioned before on this blog, one important part of developing a relationship wth your horse is in teaching them to lower their head to you.  Not only does this make it much easier to put a bridle on the horse, but it is an indication of their level of trust and respect in you as their leader.  As a prey animal, the horse's instinct is to remain on guard and alert to any possible threat around them.  Before he will lower his head to eat or drink, the horse must be completely relaxed and assured that his surroundings are free from danger.  Lowering his head to the ground is the most vulnerable position for a horse.  It blocks most of his vision and prevents him from being in position to instantly flee or kick if threatened.  So when he willingly lowers his head when asked in a training session, he is showing submission and complete trust to the trainer.  It says that he is accepting you as the leader of his herd and he feels safe enough with you to let go of his defenses.

The way to ask for a lowered head is by holding pressure on the horse's head and bridge of his nose, where the straps of the halter or bridle cross.  You should not be pushing on him, just holding firm pressure.  In training and working, the reward for the horse is all about the release from pressure.  He may resist at first, but he discovers that when he moves away from the pressure, following the suggestion to drop his head, he finds release.  Ideally, with repetition, he should learn to drop his head at the slighest pressure on these points.  Less is always more.  The less pressure required to get your horse to respond, the better he will be. That goes for anything you ask him to do.  This is where Victor and I are having a "discussion".  He will lower his head a little for me, but not all the way, and he is quick to push back up the moment I release the pressure.  Often he is pushing against the pressure even when I have not released it.  He also wants to back away from the situation, rather than work through it.  Consequently, he responds the same way when we try to bridle him.  Raising his head, resisting the bit, pulling away.  Is it fear (lack of trust)?  Stubborness?  Lack of respect?  Probably a mixture of all of these.  And once again it struck me just how much Victor and I are alike.

I say that Jesus is Lord of my life.  I pray for grace to obey.  I tell Him I trust Him.  I sing hymns like I Surrender All.  But when it comes to a moment of decision in practical, everyday life, when He is asking me to let go and surrender all the defenses of my self-will to Him, how often I resist.  Whether out of fear, pride, or fleshly desires, I pull away from the pressure.  I whine, reason, and question God.  My human nature screams against faith.  I want to be able to see what's happening before I step out.  I want to understand things with my human mind.  I want to retain some measure of control in the situation.  It terrifies me to let go of my will and abandon myself to His will.  "Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done."  Matt. 26:39  Jesus prayed this in the agony of His soul before going to the cross, and He meant it.  I must confess that I have prayed this same prayer multiple times.  Maybe you have too.  But I never said it with that kind of abandonment.  I think that "nevertheless" means whatever happens, no matter how I feel about it, even if I don't have a clue what You are doing.  My "nevertheless" is always conditional.  I say I want to go all the way with God, but would I go to the cross?  I have refused to submit in matters far less than that. 

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil."  Prov. 3:5&7
My level of intelligence is far greater than Victor's.  He thinks and acts like a horse because that is what he is.  He has a better excuse than I do, because he is not capable of speaking my language and thinking on my level.  I wish that I could make him understand that he can trust me.  That I know he is safe and I will not hurt him or allow anything else to hurt him.  In my mind it is such a simple request for him to trust and submit to me.  If he would just respond as I desire, I would instantly release the pressure and give him rest.  I don't want to fight with him.  I only want him to be in tune with me, so we can work successfully together as one unit.  I want him to be at peace in his work and to understand how good I am to him as I care for his needs and give him plenty of rest from work.  It must seem as simple as that in God's eyes as He works with me.  Furthermore, He made me in His own image, with the same kind of intelligent mind and free will.  I am capable of choosing relationship with God with an intelligent and spiritual understanding of who He is and what He does and why He wants me to know Him.  He gave me His Word that tells me everything I need to know and made my spirit alive so I can understand His language.  And still, I try to trust Him in part but hold on to some of my own understanding.  There are areas in which I act like I know better than God.  As Victor might "imagine" that there are all kinds of scary things waiting to pounce on him the moment he drops his head, so I imagine that I will not be safe if I let go of my wisdom and lean completely on God. 

My hope is in this: if I, as a very amateur human trainer, choose to continue investing time and energy in teaching a "dumb beast" to trust me, and I can persevere patiently and gently with him, how much more will my heavenly Father lovingly, patiently, faithfully work on my heart to bring me into a relationship of oneness with Him?  How much more does God surely want me to know Him in this way than I want Victor to know me?  We have this promise, among many others: "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Phil. 1:6  His Word also tells us that our God loves us with an everlasting love.  That His mercies are new every morning.  That His faithfulness reaches to the skies!  Join me today in praising Him for who He is, and let's ask Him for grace to trust Him more.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Faith or Freeze?

Peyton, our two year old gelding, is a gentle and sweet horse.  You can do pretty much anything to him and he doesn't care.  He will let me hop on his back and sit or lay on him while he eats in his stall.  Over the summer, one of the ranch staff taught Peyton to put his head down so she could slide down his neck to the ground.  Being laid back is a good quality for a kids' horse.  But sometimes I think Peyton is too laid back.  Either that or he just doesn't understand what we are asking of him.  He needs a lot more work before he will be ready to be independently ridden.  It's not that he isn't gentle enough.  He just doesn't move forward well when being worked or ridden.  Forward motion is an important part of any horse's training.  If the horse won't go, you can't teach them much.  I find myself puzzled and often impatient with Peyton's reticence to move when I am working with him.  Even something as simple as leading him around the ranch becomes frustrating.  Playing tug of war does not get very far with a horse, but that is what I've basically ended up doing with Peyton at times.  I am trying to understand what the issue is.  I know he doesn't like to leave the herd and is very distracted by "worrying" after them when he is separated.  He's also still a baby.  He is curious and easily distracted by whatever catches his attention around him.  He wants to stop and sniff, chew, explore.  When walking in the grass, he will constantly stop and try to eat.  It may be that Peyton is a slow learner.  What works well with a lot of the other horses may not get through to him.  It's going to take creativity to understand him and help him understand and choose to do what we ask.  Sometimes I also wonder if he is afraid.  He generally seems relaxed, but is the consistent freezing up a sign of fear, perhaps along with confusion?  I don't know the answers at this point.  Peyton and I both have a lot to learn.  But he has made me think about some things in my life and how I've acted very much like him.

In the last several months, God has put a dream on my heart to pursue therapeutic riding more in-depth.  I want to learn to effectively use horses to help differently-abled people.  I was excited about beginning study and training towards this goal.  But, as often happens when I move towards a new challenge, I got scared.  I began to second guess myself, wondering if I'm really ready for this, if I have enough experience to start the training now.  I was afraid to commit myself to a process that involves deadlines and specific requirements for success.  Afraid that I would not be able to finish what I started.  And so I put it off.  I froze.  And God convicted me that this is a common theme in my life.  I allow fear to freeze me in a lot of different areas.  For one thing, I struggle with perfectionism. It is so important to me to get things right all the time.  I hate messing up, disappointing people, or looking stupid.  Oftentimes, my perfectionism is manifested in not even trying something out of the fear that these things will happen.  Or I will spend a lot of time and energy rehearsing a step I'm going to take or a conversation I need to have before I ever act on it, trying to make sure I'm doing or saying things just right to avoid failure.  What it really comes down to is pride and a desire for control.  The pride comes in trying to ensure that people will always think highly of me, as long as I don't trip up or fumble or upset someone.  There's an unwillingness to humble myself and let people see my weakness.  And I try to hold onto control by keeping things moderately safe.  I do not easily or often step into anything where I think I might not be able to handle it with my own ability or confidence, where I feel I'm going in over my head.  This pride and control points to a lack of trust in God.  He showed me that my unwillingness to step forward until I feel ready is sinful, because I'm trusting my very limited ability to control and choosing to not trust Him.  This goes for the small things in life as well as the big ones.  When I think of the way Peyton constantly freezes up when I'm simply trying to walk him forward, and the great effort in coaxing and tugging required to move him, I realize what I'm doing to God.  Peyton doesn't understand that everything I'm doing with him is for his good.  I want him to learn.  I want him to be successful in his life on the ranch.  I want him to be the best horse he can be.  And sometimes I'm not even asking much of him, just to walk along with me.  This is a very low pressure situation.  But he makes it a big deal.  God has promised to always be with me, that His plans for me are good, that He wants to make me like His son and bring me into ever deeper fellowship with Himself.  This is the absolute best thing for me; it's what I was made for!  And yet, simply because I can't see where we're going, or I don't know the outcome of a situation, or I just want to stay where I feel safe and comfortable, I freeze up, just like Peyton.  I make even little steps into major fights.  Thank God for His incredible patience and mercy towards me!  He doesn't stop in frustration, and He never has to take a breather to step away and reevaluate the situation.  He's always there, always loving, always ready to lead and reward the smallest step of faith.  And He is not willing to let me stay the way I am.  Because he knows it's only hurting me.  It's keeping me from being who He made me to be, the very best me I can be! 

I've decided to trust my Father for this next step and to keep practicing walking out in faith without freezing.  I'm not responsible for successful results or perfection.  My life and the outcomes of my faith are in God's hands.  I pray this can be an encouragement to someone else who needs to let go of control and live by faith.


Friday, January 13, 2012


While traveling over the holiday season, I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona. 

I was struck by its enormity and the seemingly endless variations of the rock colors and shapes, the effects of the light and shadows, and the canyon walls.  We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Yet despite all the photos I took, I knew that I could never capture the essence of such a grand work of art in a picture.

All we saw was part of one rim of the canyon as we walked around it, and we didn't have all day to linger at each place where we stopped for the view.  But I could have sat in one spot for hours and still not have my fill of this rugged beauty.  It is impossible to drink it all in! 

Every place we stopped, the view was different.  The shape of the rock formations, the slant of the cliff walls, the cracks and crevices of the canyon floor, the shifting shadows as the sun moved through the sky, even the vegetation and snow cover.  Sometimes the change was subtle, other times it was dramatic.  But it was always breathtaking!

As I marveled at all the varying sides and faces of the canyon, I remembered hearing somewhere that God is like a diamond.  A diamond is multi-faceted; when it is cut, it has multiple sides and angles that catch and reflect the light in different ways.  No two sides of a diamond are exactly the same.  So it is, on a much grander scale, with God.  In Isaiah 6:3, we are told that the angels in the throne room of God called out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"  Again, in Revelation 4:8, we see four living creatures who surround God's throne and it says they are "...full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'"  I have heard some commentary on this Scripture; first of all, that the word 'holy' spoken three times in succession means that one 'holy' is not enough.  God is so glorious and pure and enormous that they must repeat the word for emphasis.  Also, He is three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Perhaps 'holy' is repeated once for each person of the Trinity.  Each is a separate identity of God, and yet He is One.  This is only the beginning of mysteries!  The creatures full of eyes show us that there is so much to be seen of God, so many different angles and facets and displays of His character, that even if we should be covered in eyes and every eye be focused on Him day and night, we would not be able to discover all his wonders or take in everything that He is.  The idea presented was that every time the creatures see a new "side" of God, they cry out in adoration of His holiness.  God's holiness means that He is set apart, so completely different from anyone else, and perfect in all that He does.  As these creatures are constantly beholding God, they are seeing new facets every second, if you will, and they cannot stop calling out.  There is so much of God that the whole earth is filled with His glory and still cannot contain Him!  One day all the redeemed will see Him face to face and dwell with Him for eternity, and I think that we too will spend all of eternity beholding God and crying out in awe at each new discovery of His person, and we will never come to the end of new discoveries!

It may be possible to explore every crack, crevice, and wall of the Grand Canyon.  But this wonder of earth is only a tiny expression of the vastness of its Maker!  Such glimpses of God's glory in creation call us to fall on our faces in fresh worship of the One who gives us breath and is continually revealing Himself to us, for life and eternity!

I love this last photo because it shows me how small I am next to the vastness of the Grand Canyon, and when I remember that my Heavenly Father is infinitely more vast, and that He gave His life for mine and loves me with an everlasting love, it brings indescribable peace.  It is then that I realize He is worthy of my everything, and there is nothing else in heaven or on earth for me to fear.

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 8:38-39

by Kari