Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pleasing Imperfections

     In her defense, the circumstances were less than perfect.  The weather had snapped cold and her horse did what horses do when it gets cold (they get a little excited--so do I for that matter because cold weather = hot chocolate).  Nonetheless, her execution was sloppy and she continually missed her goal after several attempts.
     I stood there watching her, beaming with pride.  Yeah, she was struggling, but I wasn't interested in perfection, or even in the accomplishment of  the goal--I was interested in the attitude with which she was making each attempt.
     Each endeavor was made with sincerity, focus, patience and a jovial laugh at herself when it failed.      
     And then, she would try again.
     I was so proud of her.  I offered a bit of advice here and there, then sat back and watched her figure it out, little by little.  Never did she become overwhelmed with the difficulty or with spunkiness of the horse--she gave herself grace to mess up so that she could try again.
     On her final try, she nearly missed again, but at the last moment she was able to swing her horse around and her feat was accomplished, though awkward at best.  She walked her horse back to me, saw the grin on my face and beamed back.
     She knew it was far from perfect--but I told her how proud I was of her effort--I could not have been more pleased!  She left that day feeling accomplished, as she should have, and I walked away with a new realization...
       Grasping how I felt towards my student during this time helped me understand how God must feel towards us.  Circumstances are never perfect--but God isn't interested in a perfect performance from us.  He's interested in how we RESPOND to the imperfections we face every day.  Do we throw up our hands and pout?  Spend time frozen with fear because we think He is angry with our failure?  Or can we laugh at ourselves and try again, knowing that our effort in and of itself is a delightful sacrifice to our loving God…

     Next week, my student will come back eager to try again.  She will be excited to see me and she will try her best to please me again because she knows she can please me.  And she knows how she can please me.  She knows I am pleased with her every time she gives me her best effort.  If we would stop pouting at God for not giving us perfect circumstances, or stop doing nothing because we fear failure, maybe then we could start doing something that actually pleases Him:
     Try our best.
     And maybe then we would realize that God IS pleased with us, and we could be excited to try again too.
"But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Hebrews 11:6
"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."  Hebrews 13:16

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Only One Thing is Needful

     I squint in bright sunlight and tilt my head upwards, "What did you say?"
     She smiles shyly from up high and, while struggling with hands and reigns and horse, repeats, "I don't think the horse is happy…"
     I watch for a moment as she argues within herself and it shows in her weak hands and the way the horse rebels against her timid leading.  She is at war inside--she knows I'm watching and she wants to please me by doing what I have taught her to do, yet fear of making the horse "unhappy" restrains her from doing the right thing (right thing = require the horse to obey).
     "Can you make the horse happy?"
     She doesn't know.
     "You can't make the horse happy," I explain, "That's his choice.  By trying to make him happy you only grow his sense of entitlement and discontent."
     She nods, but her body language doesn't change.
     I try again, "Instead of trying to make the horse happy, just focus on doing one thing--the right thing--the thing I've taught you to do."
     She tries again, growing determined now to do the one job.
     By the end of the lesson, she is succeeding, and how interesting that the horse himself seems to be much happier too!

     In Luke 10, the Bible tells us of two sisters named Martha and Mary, who invite Jesus into their home.  Mary sits down at the feet of Jesus and does not move.  Martha runs around cooking, cleaning and hosting while Mary sits and soaks in every word Jesus speaks, apparently oblivious to her sister's work load!  Eventually Martha, reasonably annoyed at her sister for not helping her, intreats Jesus:
"Lord dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?  Bid her therefore that she help me."
Martha is flustered.  Like my student, she was trying to do too many things at once and ultimately losing all control.  Jesus saw this, and He answers her,
"Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10: 40b-42 emphasis mine)
     "But one thing is needful".
     Only one necessary job to do.  
     The attitude of a disgruntled horse, angry child or crude coworker does not rest on us to fix.  We have only one job to do: 
to be Godly. 


Monday, September 11, 2017

Conference Update

     Hello!  It is soooo good to be back home--even if only for a few days before we take off again this Wednesday.  I want to thank all of you for being so understanding this month as we took time "off" to go to the Sermon on the Mount Regional Conference in Mears, Michigan.  Please understand that this was not a vacation, but three days of overwhelming information and hard work that often left me with a head ache and in danger of tears.  It stretched us and it grew us physically, mentally and spiritually and it was incredibly good for us.  Coming home, we have lots of new ideas and even more work ahead as we try to implement our new knowledge.  
     For those of you who are unfamiliar with "Sermon on the Mount Ministries", it was founded by Drs. Lew and Melodie Sterrett, who have traveled extensively to teach Biblical Principles from horseback.  Dr. Sterrett hosted this year's conference at Paradise Ranch along with the incredible Paradise Ranch Staff (seriously, we were so blessed by this hard working team and I want to give a shout out to Tim, Hannah, Chad, Sarah, Danielle, Tessa, Clint, Austin, Erica, photographers, those that cooked delicious food for us and all the people I'm missing because they worked behind the scenes to pull off such a week!).
     On Wednesday evening, Dr. Sterrett gave a presentation, or sermon, on horseback, using his horses as live visuals for the principles he was teaching.  Before I continue, you'll need to understand that by this point I was feeling fully inadequate.  It was easy to become overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge I now realized I did not posess.  As I watched the presentation, one of Dr. Sterrett's horses refused a cue and ran off across the arena in pure disobedience.  With a laugh Dr. Sterrett followed his horse and turned to the audience, "Anybody got a gun?!"
     We all laughed too, because we knew that Dr. Sterrett would never actually shoot his prized horse worth thousands of dollars.  He had invested far too much time and training to throw it away in a fit of anger over the horse's disobedience.  So he laughed and pursued his horse until it returned to him and the crowd chuckled because they could relate--perhaps more than they realized.
     For myself, I realized that God feels the same way towards me (and all of us).  I may be inadequate.  My behavior may be disappointing.  But God has already invested so much in pursuit of me, that He will not give up and toss me aside.  He will continue to call me and when I return to Him, He will welcome me.  I know God will have patience with Ben and I both as we strive to learn a new normal.  We're in an awkward stage right now--we have grown out of our old comfort zones yet we haven't quite grown into the new normal, that can only come with time and purposeful effort.  I am grateful for a God who is patient and ever present and I am excited to see HIS Ranch grow as well!  In another month, the season will be coming to an end but in many ways we are just getting started.  
     For those who also feel inadequate, my prayer is that you may recognize the God who has invested in you and desires still a relationship with you.  We don't have to deserve His love in order to accept it.
"But God commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Thursday, August 24, 2017

a journal entry ~

“Today has been hard, really hard. I had to rush through my morning because I slept in later than planned and then I walked into the office to a bunch of voicemails to listen and respond to. Naturally, it was also the day that I had a student in every lesson slot. But that all faded, insignificant, when my first student arrived. A beautiful, spunky, handicapped, and sometimes neglected child. My heart cracked. My coworker had a lesson scheduled at the same time too. Only his student didn’t arrive. It hurts when someone needs to be poured into, and Jesus’ love shared with them and the opportunity to do so is taken away.
My student couldn’t even walk all the way to the boarding ramp; it hurt for her to walk that far. So I asked her to sit and wait while I asked Philip to bring the gator over. She sat perfectly content in the grass while Philip drove the gator over and gave her a ride. Her smile was huge; she had the time of her life. But my heart isn’t okay. I bravely walked along side her and gave her a horse ride and loved her and was cheerful and chatted away but I’m broken.
As I un-tacked the horse and she received yet another gator ride the tears came and I cried out to God about this broken, sinned filled world. Why does He put up with this? With them? With me? He sees this hurt every moment. I only see it when I want to and still, I can’t handle it!
And in the middle of my tears and hurt and questions I realized that God was giving me an opportunity and asking if I would be His Hands and Feet. Not only on this day, in this moment, but every day. And as I was about to surrender this life of mine to Him once again I realized that I’m committing to more than I could ever possibly realize. Becoming His Hands and Feet means ignoring flesh and fear of man and living fully in His Spirit. I took a deep breath and acknowledged this. And I surrendered anyway. Because I believe it will be completely worth it. It will be worth every time my heart cracks and breaks. It will be worth it all. My Jesus needs to be shared with this broken world.”  ~ Lydia

“And if one person sees the love of Christ in me it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for. “ Katie Davis Major

“I have learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however change the world for one person. So I keep stopping and loving one person at a time. Because this is my call as a Christian.”  Katie Davis Major

Monday, July 31, 2017

Wonderfully Made

My student hollered across the arena for at least the fifth time of the morning, "Hey TeBow! Hey Kailey*!" I chuckled and shook my head at the adorable, friendly boy who was my morning lesson. Kailey responded to Mitchell's declaration with silence and a small wave. After some encouragement from Anneliese, her teacher, she responded with a quiet hello in return. While walking away Mitchell asked me in a reserved tone, "How come she is different?". At first I considered whether Mitchell was making fun of Kailey but that was not the case. He genuinely was interested in why he was so friendly and she was so quiet. I explained to him that God made each and every single one of us uniquely different. Some people burn out from talking to people while others get their batteries recharged from discourse with friends. Some people like sweet over salty (Though why people do I don't understand). The Bible says in Psalms "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14) We are all different but made by the same God and Father. If you ever struggle with why God made you the way you are remember that God doesn't make mistakes. If we were all the same this world would be an incredibly boring place. Your uniqueness was given to you by God, the Creator of the universe, who made you wonderfully. I pray that Mitchell's question would fill you with awe of our Creator because He made all of us differently to bring honor and glory to the great Artist of humanity.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Letting Go

     The sparrow fluttered its wings, feet still grazing the dirt and sand below it.  It went no where.  Resting for a short spell, it once again worked its wings, attempting to leave the Earth, but to no avail.  I squinted in the morning light, curious as to why.  Then I saw the long strand of torn hay netting, stretching from the small bird's beak across the sunlit gravel.  The nester could not take flight because the burden she wished to bring with her was too large for her to carry.  Freedom was in her wings, but she could not grasp it without letting go of the netting.
     Obviously the sparrow felt this material was important for the nest she wished to build because she spent some time trying to make it work.
     It made me think of the earthly things we cling to as well.  We long for freedom in Christ, but we are determined to bring out baggage with us--we don't want to let go.  So we flutter and try and fall and wear ourselves out.  We are driven mad by the liberty to be had, but we simply cannot let go of that so important material that we want to bring with us.  We don't want to accept the life Jesus has for us unless it includes what we hold so tightly to.
     Finally, with one last look at the hay netting, the bird dropped the strand it had tried so hard to carry and flew away, free and light.
     I don't think we always get to drop our burdens so easily, but in letting go we do get to experience true freedom--not only in flight, but in no longer "needing" what we thought we needed.  We drop our addictions and find life full in purpose without them as we come under the Master's training.

Friday, May 19, 2017


     Birds love to nest right inside and above our enormous barn door.  Every year we watch them swooping in with twigs, hair and other building supplies.  Soon, the twittering above the door increases and we see the birds bringing different supplies into our barn: worms, grubs and other bugs, the treasures of parent birds with young mouths to feed.  The barn becomes alive with the sound of many a small bird attempting to demand food above the cackle of its siblings while the mature birds bicker over property lines and bawk at the sight of us intruding humans.
     For the most part, I enjoy this noisy orchestra and the bustle of birds floating in and out of the barn (minus the days I find myself cleaning their mess off of walls, stall doors or the floor).  What I do not enjoy are the dead, naked baby birds we tend to find on the barn floor during this time of year.  Muscled out of the nest by stronger siblings, the weaker birds fall to the concrete below, helpless to save themselves if not dead on impact.  It is one of the most pitiful sights I have ever seen.
     This "Survival of the Fittest" rule amongst animals is a harsh one, and every year it pains me a little to see the demise of something so helpless though I know it is part of life.  This year, the sight of those little birds struck me with another thought--that we humans are blessed with the choice to play by a different rule--the rule of compassion.
     We can choose to help those who cannot help themselves.
     Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Compassion as "sympathetic consciousness of other's distress together with a desire to alleviate it."  In Luke 10:33 we read about the "Good Samaritan" who was "moved with compassion" to help a man whom most would have considered his enemy.  Christ-like compassion is powerful and it is through the weak, the poor and the needy that we learn this Christ-trait best.  We need them, which is perhaps why Jesus promises that we will always have them among us (Mark 14:7).