Summer’s Here

The arrival of some beautiful rain has transfigured the face of our landscape from the dormant browns of winter to vibrant life.

And no matter that I’ve been living here since I can remember, it still takes my breath away. So do these, my three dance partners. Faith must be about Arwen’s height already. I expect her to mature about Thunder’s height and probably also quite solid.

The damp earth has helped eliminate the various coughings, sneezings and nose-runnings of all the allergic horses.

Longer days make for those stunning late afternoon rides in the golden light. I teach until at least 5:30 most evenings now.

Lullaby is back on fighting form, her old, happy, bouncy self. She’s even off her joint supplement. She led the way on this hack up the big hill.

Liana and her kid followed. I’m so honoured to be a small part of providing kids with experiences like these.

Jamaica also went hacking with Vastrap and his kid, and behaved impeccably.

The big hill is my favourite place for hacking. It’s interesting, has amazing views, and is good work for the horses too.

Clouds have changed the skyscape, making the world seem bigger. I don’t know why, but the sky is a deeper blue in summer around here.

We now have a sign. Each step forward feels like a miracle, probably because it is one; we depend so entirely on our Jesus, and He never lets us down. This year testifies to that.

Our yard is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

This is the place where my soul can’t sing loud enough to Abba Father. Where the miracle happens. As an aside, the footing held up impressively well in the rain. We’ve been able to jump every day.

For some reason the sky is a lot smaller in town, but it’s still beautiful. My personal space is about 228ha.

That’s more like it.

Sunrises haven’t quite reached the height of splendour yet, but there’s something more subtly majestic in their muted colours.

The jacaranda tree is in bloom.

The long one-sided love story of God and I starts with sunrises. Years and years ago, since I can remember thinking about bigger things, it was the beauty of the world that convinced me that there had to be Something out there. I felt its presence; something dynamic, vibrant, powerful, and very much alive. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a name for it, but I found it utterly irresistible. I longed to know it. My longing was inexpressible; I wanted to feel it, to be drawn into it.

And the greatest miracle of them all was discovering that this amazing Thing was not only alive, it was Someone, and He had a Son, and He had given that Son up for me. The power that made the wind and stars, He wants me to talk to Him, to cry out to Him, to love Him. The sunrises stopped being splendid creations of some distant and mysterious magnificence and became something more: an intimate, personal expression of love from the God Who never lets go.

Glory to the King.

Why We Don’t Quit

(After Internet-related trouble, I’m back at last! Update on the horsies to follow.)

I’ve seen so many people come and go from the things I love. Not just kids in the riding school, but people who wanted to devote themselves to something, then eventually… didn’t.

In our culture, quitting has become socially acceptable. We’re practically expected to quit on something important, sooner or later. Every day, we quit on hobbies, on projects, on jobs, on marriages, on people… even on life. Who hasn’t, once in their life, just given up on something? Or someone?

But why do we quit?

We could make it complicated and say that kids who want to be yard managers quit because clients don’t pay, because one buck too many couldn’t be passed, because of midnight checks, because horses die. We could say coaches quit because of the kids who don’t care as much as they do, or because of being heartbroken for the kids who don’t get the chance they deserve. We could say volunteers quit because of people who abuse them or drunk people or dead people. We could say parents quit because of the realisation that whatever you do, kids will still grow up to be people who make their own choices and they won’t all be good ones.

We could say that cops quit because of corruption or because of line of duty deaths. We could say that husbands and wives quit because no one human being ever really understands another. We could say that therapists quit because of suicide or that vets quit because of having to put down healthy young unwanted animals or that people quit on life because of pain and unwantedness and despair and terror.

We could say all of these things and we would be wrong.

We quit for one reason that all of this aching humanity has in common. 

We quit because we don’t find what we’re looking for.

C. S. Lewis called it our “inconsolable secret”. We are all looking for something. We all have an aching void inside of us, an agonised abyss so vast and so inexpressibly painful that it has become the quest of our lives to find something to fill it. Call it what you will; happiness, meaning, purpose, security – our whole lives turn on filling that void. On finding that thing.

History is the long and sorry story of how we try to fill it. Some of us try to use drugs or sex or crime. But the vast majority of us have a socially acceptable method of trying to fill that intolerable emptiness. We try to fill it with people or careers or money or luxuries or hobbies or helping others or saving the world or our own perception of ourselves.

In my book, we call that idolatry.

But the terrifying, the inescapable truth is that none of those things are what we’re seeking. None of those things can ever satisfy our most demanding desire.

Anything that speaks to our natural inclination can pretend to satisfy us for a time. We find something that finally makes us feel better, or useful, or safe, or happy. Music perhaps, or people, or a sport or studies. Here are the things that have done it for me: horses, feeling needed, lights and sirens, and writing. But not one of them have ever satisfied me forever. I’ve been sick and tired of and burnt out on all those things. I’ve come face to face with their ugly flaws and hated them.

But I haven’t quit.

Not because there is anything particularly special about me or about the choices I make. I’m not a particularly tenacious person. The hundreds of half-finished drafts in my writing folder will attest to that. I’m prone to crippling insecurities and easily fatigued on the simplest of tasks.

And that brings me to what this post is all about. Not why people quit, but why we don’t.

The truths that we’re all searching for something and that we’ll never find it on this earth are absolute and apply to all of us. But the Truth that there is Someone beyond this earth that can fill our empty spaces is just as true.

I no longer do things to make myself feel better and I no longer spend all of my time searching because I’ve found that thing. I’ve found what can fill the gaping hole inside.

I’ve found Him and His Name is Jesus.

I still hate the flaws in the things in my life. I still feel pain, anger, frustration and exhaustion about the imperfections of the world. So did my Saviour, lamenting out loud, asking God how much longer He had to be stuck down here. Some days I feel the same way. But my Jesus didn’t quit.

Because of that, neither do I.

I love because He first loved me. I go because He sent me. And I don’t quit because He never did. He saw my salvation all the way through to the other side of death and back, He sweated blood, He took His final agonising breaths on the Cross and He faced the deepest darkness of the universe and He never, ever quit.

The least I can do is go when He sends me.

I don’t do things because I’m searching anymore. I do things because God sent me. And when we’ve been sent, what reason could there possibly be to give up? Compared to what He’s done for us, what is any trial we might face?

I love what I do. I love horses, I love their smell, the way they understand the subtlest of cues, the shine of them, the rhythm of their movement, the purity of their hearts. I love children and their innocence and their simplicity and the breathtaking image of God I see in every single one of them. I love expressing myself on the page, putting my tangled feelings and dreams into dancing words. I love the sound of a siren. But when the horses kick and bite and buck and die, when the children scream and whine, when the words won’t come, when nothing happens all shift long, then I can still love and I can still keep on.

Once we’ve met the One Who fills the abyss, once we know the depth of perfect love, then the things we do stop being about them anymore. Riding is no longer about loving horses or excellence. Teaching is no longer about seeing children succeed.

We do things not because of what they are, but because of Whose we are.

My whole life is not about me anymore. I don’t do things because of what I need or who I want to be. It’s about Who God is.

And that, love, will never change.

So for as long as there is still breath left in me, where God wants me, that’s where I will be.

Glory to the King!

CHG Leg 5 Goals

It has been a slow week in our little corner of God’s beautiful, broken world.

yay for volunteering though! ❤

Nevertheless, tomorrow we get to make up for it, with the fifth leg of our dressage series. Both dance partners were on walk/trot only until yesterday because they’d had their AHS shot, but it’s amazing how much you can get done without cantering even once. (Hint: Thunder did about one bazillion halts).

They both schooled their tests very nicely yesterday, though, so I’m not too worried.

Thunder: Preliminary 1 and 2

It would be nice to improve again on his first test’s score last time (65 point something). I don’t harbour much illusions of improving on the 72%, because the judge was (not unreasonably) generous, but it would be nice to get a good one again.

All that is subject to his brain staying in his head. I’d settle for a whole show without any huge dramatic spooks, too.

Arwen: Elementary 1 and 2

We’ve worked so. so. so. hard on our canter stuff and our shoulder ins. Both were 5s at the last show so it would be wonderful to see our work paying off on those, even if it us just to the point of a 5.5 or 6. Not rearing in the warmup would be nice, too. But dragons will be dragons.

Trooper – Walk/Trot 1

Taking Troopy was a bit spur-of-the-moment as we unexpectedly had room in the box, but I think I can pull off a w/t test on him as long as he remembers to go when I kick. I have no expectations because it’s his first outing and he just gets to be a baby.

More to the Point

God has been continually bringing a section home to me all week, and it’s this one:

 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:4-8

I am a teacher and a leader at this little yard and God knows how seriously I take that. But tomorrow I pray I will take myself less seriously, and Him far more; look up from all I’m trying to be and see the God Who is already doing a good work in me through no effort of my own. I am a part of the body of Christ. A rather scarred and occasionally dysfunctional part, but a part nonetheless, and I have a role and a gift to give the world – to give to my Abba. And tomorrow I pray I would behave like it, I pray I would be His Hands and Feet, I pray I would speak His words. And none of this by looking out at others and trying to help them, but all of this by looking up at Him, the reason for our interspecies dance, and praising Him with all my soul.

And if my gift is to dance with horses, then I’ll do it for the Giver.

Glory to the King.

Strong Women

Today amid the madness, I spared a thought for what it means to be a woman of God.

I thought about Proverbs 31, as you do. Strength and dignity. Sense and faith. A strange mixture of submission and power, rolled up in meekness and confidence.

I thought of the women of the Bible. I thought of Sarah, who mocked the Lord and then had a child that would become the ancestor of the nation through which God saved the world.

I thought of Deborah, Israel’s lady judge, the warrior woman who fixed her eyes on God and led her faltering people charging to victory against the looming foe.

dauntless courage

I thought of Ruth, the sweet, loyal, vulnerable girl whose meek purity shone through; the storms that should have scarred her only washed her innocence and gentleness whiter.

I thought of Hannah, the mocked, the belittled, the neglected, the distressed, the faithful; who prayed without words, and birthed the man who would anoint Israel’s first king.

blazing faith

I thought of Esther. The girl whom life threw down, a slave, a concubine, her family killed, stripped from her foster father by a selfish king, her nation accursed; a new queen who laid down her life to save her people. A woman sent for such a time as this.

heaven-sent

I thought of Elizabeth and Martha. I thought of Mary the mother of Jesus, maybe the greatest of them all – Behold the handmaid of the Lord! I thought of Tabitha and Mary Magdalene and I wondered – who does God want me to be like? Which of these great women would be my single role model?

God’s response was simple.
“I am your role model, daughter; I made you to be Firn.”

Go fix your eyes on Him and be the wonderful lady He created. Happy Woman’s Day and glory to the King.

Dance

Emma and SprinklerBandit recently wrote about the why’s of riding – how the horse you have is linked to the very reason you ride in the first place. Never one to miss out on the chance to be sappy, I’m jumping right on the bandwagon.

just because I love this photo

It’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately. The answers to why I ride for a living, and why I have the horses in the school that I have, are simple. God sent me, and God sent them.

Magic and old Skye are also pretty simple. They’re semi-retired pets. They’re here because they’re my friends and they don’t owe me a thing.

Then we get to the topic of dressage.

After realising that upper-level showjumping and eventing were just not going to happen for me – at least not in the next decade or so – I turned to my remaining options for a discipline I could be truly competitive in: dressage and showing. Showing judges freak me out, so that left dressage. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I adore dressage, in no small part thanks to the horse that was born for it – Nell. She gave me a taste of success and I liked it.

Then God turned the whole thing on its head.

Nell was sold. My best horse left; the carpet was pulled out from under the feet of my career. I mourned; not only the loss of a friend in Nellie, but the loss of a dream. It seemed to me that God was saying, “Enough of this selfishness. The time, money and energy you dedicate to this sport is self-serving; I want you to give it up and focus on the yard.”

And in a way, I guess He was. It shattered me to accept it, but I realised that much as I gave glory to Him in the high moments, schooling every day was all about progress and points and ambition. I laid down the dream.

Then He sent me Rainbow, and I was euphoric because I thought He was saying it wasn’t selfish after all.

And then Rainybow died. The cruelty of it was like a punch in the guts. It was all I could do not to lose my temper with God for this apparent injustice. I loved that horse and now she was gone and the dream with her, like Nell, but worse.

God said, “O, ye of little faith. I’ve got a plan with this, daughter.”

That’s why, when she basically fell out of the sky, I named her Faith. Not because I really had any, but to remind me to believe even when everything looks dark.

As you all know by now, since then everything just blossomed. Suddenly Arwen decided she was good at dressage too and went Elementary, and then Thunder was like “hi mom I’m really talented” and started scoring ridiculously well at Prelim, and now I have a dressage arena and even the sale ponies were scoring better than I ever have anywhere.

So the dream lives. But it’s a different beast to what it was with Nell. I have always been so desperate to prove to the students, to the world, to God that I was good enough  for them. I failed at jumping, I failed at eventing – dressage was my great hope.

But this whole year has basically been about one thing: the only opinion that matters is God’s, and nothing I ever do will make me good enough for His love, and it actually really doesn’t matter at all because He died for me before I even knew Him to say thank you to. It is the purest freedom from guilt to glimpse the depth of amazing grace, yet the strongest motivation to live purely, all at once.

So what is dressage to me now? A way to prove myself? I don’t have to prove myself because it just isn’t about me. My students are here and I give them my whole heart; as long as I keep doing that they don’t seem to care how much satin is on my wall.

Is it something for me to finally be brilliant at? Well, what does brilliance matter? Sport is temporary. I won’t be taking any ribbons or tests into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s become something more to me now. I don’t really have a name for it, but the closest word I know is this:

Worship.

I don’t deserve to be saved from eternal agony, yet I am. I don’t deserve to be loved by the God Who is Love, yet I am. I don’t deserve to become a dazzling, new, adopted member of God’s family, yet I am. I don’t deserve Arwen or Thunder or Faith or the 60x20m patch of sand or the opportunity to compete or anything – yet I have it. All that testifies to just one thing and that thing is grace.

So while I believe brilliance will be a by-product, and while I still hope one day I’ll get to ride Grand Prix, that’s all temporary. All just small things blowing by on the wind.

When I school now, I still tend to centre on selfish ambition. But this is my proclamation of a new mission statement for every time I throw a leg over one of the dressage horses.

The horses, the shows, the dances are a gift I don’t deserve, a reminder of the greater Gift. In riding every stride, I ride with empathy because I love the horses. I ride with diligence because I honour and appreciate the gift I have been given. But above all, I ride with love and passion, looking not at a number on a scoresheet but at the face of my God. I care less about how good the mark will be for a movement and more about the compassion behind the aid that asked for it. I care less about what the bystanders think and more about giving every breath I have to the God Who gives me life.

Dressage can be a sport, a dream, a torture session for horse and rider, a career.

To me, I choose dressage to be, in the style of Psalm 149:3, a dance.

Glory to the King.

Lay It Down

God is at work in me.

The first time I remember being afraid on a horse was the first time I rode a horse. For those keeping track, that was sixteen years ago. Almost my life, practically speaking. I was a nervous kid from the start; the type of beginner that could only ride two or three of the school ponies, and never got back on any of the ones I fell off of.

Then came years of riding the most random wild bush donkeys. I think if I hadn’t had old Skye, my ever-reliable island of solid ground, the cornerstone of my confidence, I would have quit then. Spooky youngsters. Stallions that bucked and bolted. My second pony spooked relentlessly. My first horse overjumped, stopped, bucked and had frequent meltdowns. (He was also four years old and fresh off the racetrack. Go figure).

Add on top of that all the teenage angst of being an insecure young girl, all the nasty falls and the mistakes and the inexperience that led to accidents, the hit-and-miss, trial-and-error learning, the lack of understanding guidance, the cowboy mentality I forced on myself, the collection of psychotic animals I found myself on in a desperate bid to prove myself – well, I dug my own hole and I was stuck in it for years.

Then I dug it deeper with every attempt at overcoming my demons on my own strength, every effort to overwhelm them with my own demonic qualities: pride, insecurity, dishonesty, cruelty.

Nobody could have fought and lost harder than I did. I hated that fear. It went against everything I wanted, everything I dreamed of, everything I stood for, everything I believed in. It brought me slap-bang against the agonising reality I refused entirely to believe:

I can’t.

Every throb of adrenalin felt like betrayal. Jesus died for you and you can’t even jump 85cm for Him. He said 365 times not to be afraid and you’re afraid 365 days a year. We haven’t been given a spirit of fear.

I felt unworthy. I felt like I’d let God down. I felt like I was inadequate, like I’d never earn my way into the Kingdom of Heaven since I couldn’t even kick my riding nerves.

I was right. I can’t. I’m inadequate. I’ll never earn my way to heaven.

And it’s OK. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to. Nobody can earn their way to eternal joy; it’s a free gift.

My fists were clenched so hard on fighting they couldn’t open to receive the gift that was waiting.

Somewhere in this year, the tide of the battle against my demons turned. It was subtle at first, but now it gathers momentum, thundering onwards. Obliterating the inevitable setbacks as they come. Rushing forth to crush every new onslaught. Something changed, something fundamental, something vital.

I did the one thing I swore I’d never do. I gave up. I quit. I threw in the towel. I had fought too long, too hard, all for nothing. I lay down my arms, and I let it go. I brought it up against God and realised that on a scale of one to God, it was a pretty tiny problem. I brought it all to Him and laid it down at the cross because I couldn’t bear the choking weight of it anymore.

I admitted defeat. I told Him I couldn’t beat my fear.

You know what He said? He said, I love you anyway. He said, I’m so glad you finally brought this to me. He said, I forgive you. He said, I’ve got this.

He said, Be still, and watch what I can do.

And then inside me, the Lion of Judah rose and roared. And now instead of fighting I walk through a sea of demons with my open hands lifted high, looking past them as they fall before us. Barefoot and defenceless and surrounded by the majesty of my God.

I will never beat my fear. But I surrender to the God Who knew fear intimately, and I watch Him conquer.

I’m still and the Lord fights for me.

And He is winning.

Glory to the King.

Perspective

It’s truly amazing what a long hack, with a prayerful attitude and John 15 in the back of your head, at sunrise, can do for the soul.

Arwen and I headed out at about 6:30 this morning, before the sun had dared to show its face.

As we started down the hill, it was just slipping into the sky from behind the hill and the brooding woods.

The world became rose-tinted; its edges softened, illuminated by golden light. It was beautiful, it was breathtaking, it was pure, and it was deeply humbling.

The challenges of running a not-so-little-anymore stableyard can mount dauntingly at the beginning of each day, leaving me as thunderstruck as the traveller in Psalm 121. Stressed. Burned out. Hopeless. Exhausted. Complaining. Selfish.

But like the traveller, today I’m reminded of where my help comes from.

On a scale of one to God, none of today’s challenges are anything more than a speck in the face of majesty.

I’m reminded of how vastly, limitlessly, with how much abandon and abundance I have been blessed. Wouldn’t it have been enough if Christ had just died and lived again for me? It is enough. Why then am I so spoiled? Why sunrises and rustling fields of ripening maize and shadow-silent little duiker buck slipping across the paths and the sweeping expanse of Highveld magnificence and a good, grey mare who never quits? Why do I, who deserves only death, not only gain life and redemption and peace, but also beauty and grace and friendship?

There can only be one answer to such an impossible question: an answer utterly complicated in its very perfect simplicity.

It’s because I am loved.

Glory to the King.