Vision, Confirmation, and a Galloping Horse

Galloping Horse Hooves

My wife and I have been on a bit of a journey over the past 3 months. It has not at all been a thrill ride, an adventure we would have chosen, or a path we would have chosen on our own. But it has been good, and looking back, I believe we have “walked with God.” He’s taught us patience, hope, trust, clarification, and even boldness and courage. As a tribute to God’s faithfulness and my lack of memory, I want to get some of the story down here.

Last May, Erin went off a Women’s retreat in Tennesse modeled after Captivating by the folks at Ransomed Heart. I stayed at home with the kids and she and a friend made the 300 mile, 4 day trek down south. There really was no sign of what was just beyond the horizon. These retreats are awesome; I go to one of the men’s retreats (Called Wild at Heart Boot Camp) each year with a group in Southern Indiana. They are about so much more than just song time and teaching… true healing, discovery, and brother and sisterhoods are built. I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for much of anything, and was excited that Erin was able to go. (I don’t know if I ever told her this, but I’d been praying that she’d be able to go for years).

While down there, she thinks during a prayer time, Erin had something of a vision. She really doesn’t remember all of the details, because it wasn’t all that “deep” at the moment. It was of her, on horseback, looking down at the feet of a galloping horse. That was really all she remembers now, or at least all that I remember that she remembers.

On the day Erin was to come home from her trip, the dominoes started to fall. I had some friends out to ride our horses on that Sunday, and Alpine, our quarterhorse, went CRAZY. He’d had a bad day a few weeks before, but some medicine took care of it. This was much stranger. Kicking the barn, squeezing into places he shouldn’t, even stepping on one of the girls when he should have been acting much calmer. Because of the past experience, I got in touch with the vet, and she had me bring him in. On a Sunday. In the evening. You know it’s important when that happens. The vet did a number of physical and blood tests and couldn’t really find anything, so I brought Alpine home with some very specific things to watch and an intestinal track to work on keeping clear with some very nasty medicine. If something like this happened again, we’d have to make the decision we knew we’d have to make.

Later that week, Erin told me about the vision. One thing that was noticably missing was the face of the horse she was riding. It wasn’t in her perspective… were we to believe that Alpine would fully recover and run again, or was this some other horse she’d later gallop with. We. Did. Not. Know.

But we prayed. We accepted that God’s plans are not ours, nor are his ways our ways. But we prayed for healing. We believed, in fact, that it would come. I shoved medicine through Alpine’s mouth through a cake decorating tool because it tasted so bad for him. We had to watch him very carefully, had to be home a lot more than normal, Erin even dug through his poop looking for rocks, which we thought he may have been eating and had blocked his system.

I don’t know how much later it was… a couple weeks, maybe, and it happened again. Thankfully, Erin was home this time. We ran Alpine into the vet, and this time, while examining him, the vet found a rapidly growing tumor on his spleen, right in the way of his intestinal tract. So many things suddenly made sense. The rock eating was because the cancerous tumor was attacking his blood system, and causing him to crave limestone for it’s calcium. It also explained all the licking he was doing on his stall bars (for the iron). It explained the weight loss, the constipation, and EVERYTHING. It was a sort of closure, I guess. We knew what it was time to do. We had some options for how to do it, but we knew even then what our path was to be.

We loaded Alpine up that very night, hauled him up to Purdue, and donated him to their veterinary school. Students, veterinarians, and others will learn from our horse about a rare cancer that may someday be more easily discovered or effectively treated.

So that chapter ended. We were obviously terribly sad, confused, even a bit lost. But I don’t think we felt let down. I don’t think Erin’s vision had lost it’s intensity; if anything, it was a sign to NOT give up; to keep our eyes open, to watch for what God WOULD do.

About a month later, we started looking for horses. Well, really, Erin did. I just reviewed the wish list every now and then to try to rule out the ones that involved me driving truck and trailer all around our good state. Occasionally we’d fine one we wanted to inquire on, and it would either already be sold, have something that turned us off, or be something to keeo our eye on.

There was a time when Erin had her “really like” list down to 3 horses. One was pricey, but possibly worth it. Another had a very good recommendation, but was a long way away. And the third was close, but relatively unknown and a little bit “normal.” Erin went to see one of them and really liked it… but was it worth the money?

She prayed for God to make things clear to her. That very night, the expensive horse and the far-away horse were reported as sold. So… another prayer answered, and we set up an appointment to go see Stormy, a Morgan / Paint gelding about 20 minutes from our home.

Erin fell in love with the horse. Colton fell in love with the horse. His comfort level was such that he did some things with me on horseback he’s never done before. The horse was the size Erin had been wanting, had the temperament we wanted, and was close. A little pricey, but possibly doable… We had a week of vacation coming up so told the girl (she’s 19 I think) that we wanted to take some time and would get back in touch when we returned. There was no peace about rushing it or making a decision right away, but much peace about relaxing, and letting God lead us.

We didn’t talk about Stormy much over vacation. A little, but not a lot. I felt like, and later did, ask God something like, “Is this for us?” and “Can we have him?” I didn’t really know the questions to ask, but I asked anyways. No clear answer, just “follow my lead,” essentially.

When we got home, Stormy’s owner emailed Erin to see if we were still interested. Yes we were. And I don’t remember exactly what, but now things really started moving in our hearts. “This might be it,” we said. We could see God leading us in this direction.

The last issue was price. We’d just spent several thousand dollars between vacation, putting Alpine down, and have a yearly hay bill coming up. We didn’t have the money in the bank to pay for the horse. So we started praying about that. Yes, we own a business. It’s profitable. There’s some money we can pull from it, and it IS money that we have a right to. It’s not borrowing, stealing, or cheating. It’s our business, created in part to make money, and it’s been a long time since we took anything “extra” from it.

A dollar figure stuck in my head was about 2/3 of what the girl was asking. I didn’t want to insult her, but I had no peace about just agreeing to the price she’d said or even the knocked down price she gave us. So Erin said I could have the job of negotating. I sat down with my email, wrote out my note with the how much and the why we could afford, and told her if this didn’t work out, we wouldn’t take offense and might try to come back in a few months if the horse was still available.

She took the offer. As is. Exactly what I felt was what we should offer.

And in 2 days, we go to pick up our horse. There’s still a vet-checkup to be done within a week to make sure everything’s all good. Who knows what might come up. But as we’ve walked this path with God, He’s been continually faithful. Not to what we thought He “should” do or probabably “would do” or what he “ought to do” to make us happy. But he has remained faithful to His character, and to those who love him.

All of this comes back now to Erin’s “little” vision while on her retreat. Of her, on horseback, galloping over a field… running, playing, even frolicking. What could easily be written off as a dream or indigestion has so much meaning to us now as we’ve walked this path. It provides confirmation, assurance, confidence, and peace.

What would happen if God wouldn’t have worked this out as He did? Well, to be honest, I have no idea. He didn’t work it out as we initially believed and hoped he would. Our horse of 5 years DIED. He’s GONE. Stormy won’t replace that horse, those memories, or Alpine’s place in our hearts. But he is a reminder of God’s goodness, his love, and his constant care for OUR hearts.

Walking with God is so much different than I grew up knowing. It’s so much more than trying to please him or hoping He’ll bless our attempts. It’s about watching, learning, and observing the plans of one much greater than ourselves. Vision is not about seeing the future. It is about opening our eyes to what is already around us, and admitting we can’t see it all (or even dream it all up) on our own. Vision, while so often treated as an active action we must perform or come up with, is much more of a passive observance of One who’s bigger plans are so much greater than our own, and it’s truly a thrill ride of a life to live.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” [This is] the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”—Isaiah 55:8–9

Some stories don't need to be told

This past week we experienced the loss of the first horse we ever owned, Alpine. He had hemangiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that resulted in a rapidly growing tumor attaching itself to his spleen and getting in the way of his digestive tract. Thanksfully we’d already had a warning trip to the vet so the decision as to what to do was not hard, even though it was extremely difficult. We decided to haul him up to Purdue’s veterinary school and allow them to do an autoposy to help their doctors and students gain a better understanding of this rare form of cancer in horses.

That brings me to what I wanted to write about – the stories that don’t need to be told. I’m a huge fan of “piling up rocks” – of journalling – especially with the purpose of having something to come back to, either for my own benefit or for that of someone else. But from the moment we walked into the room where Alpine would be put to sleep to the time we walked out… that is a story I just don’t think will ever come out of my mouth. It’s a story that is extremely personal, one that I don’t know how anyone else could ever relive through my own experience, and one I will never forget.

Other stories, however, are worth being told. They are like gold nuggets in a life full of chunks of coal. They remind us that there is light in the darkness, that there can be good in the bad. As I look back over my own experiences with Alpine, there are many, many stories that I long to never forget. I doubt I’ll write about many of them in much depth, but I did want to start a list of some of them, as memory joggers for myself and perhaps as something that might trigger something in your own heart – not just of the “good old days,” but of days forgotten, days blocked out for fear of “going there again,” and days simply overshadowed by darkness. So here’s my list, which I may come back to over time…

  • Although it wasn’t on Alpine, I vividly remember my first ride on a horse as an adult, on a VERY tame horse named Traveller on the island of Saint John in August of 1999.
  • I can’t remember what triggered us to decided to buy horses of our own. I really can’t. I want to. Maybe some of that will come back to me over time.
  • You know, now that I think about it, I don’t know how we found the people we bought Alpine from.
  • I do remember the trip out to meet Alpine for the first time. He was FAT. Not sickly, but certainly overweight. He loved his grass.
  • Alpine was one of those things that became truly Erin’s. He was a registered quarter horse, and he was HER’S. I remember how special that was to her, to have that piece of paper with his real name on it (what was it?) next to hers.
  • We first boarded Alpine at a 100 acre boarding stable that was pretty much just for us. No one else was there when we first “moved in.” The horses had tons of pasture, lots of woods, and lots of hills.
  • We got some basic training from Alpine’s previous owner. He was such a well trained horse. You could steer him with your toes. I still remember running figure eight’s inside the huge arena at our boarding stable, as well as working on walking straight lines up and down the edge of the barn.
  • Alpine picked up an injury at some point. Hock? Stifle? I can’t remember which. It laid him up for a month or so. Yeah, he was a little high maintenance, but this was also “Pre-Kids.” So we had time and attention to give. He became family to us.
  • Alpine had a girlfriend while at the boarding stable. Chocolate? Was that her name? A primped up girl by an woman obsessed with her horse’s cleanliness.
  • I remember going up and down some steep hills with Alpine. What fun that was. I also remember chasing deer, although that may have been on Jack.
  • I remember the first time I fell off of Alpine. I had taken over riding after Erin but didn’t adjust the stirrups to my height so was just trotting straight lines with my feed out… until he made a sharp turn… and I didn’t. I remember flipping off his side, landing on my butt, looking up, and there he was, standing over me, looking down, almost asking, “What are you doing down there, silly? Get back up and let’s go!”
  • We moved Alpine over to our own neighborhood shortly after having Colton. We didn’t have a barn (I don’t remember if we had specific plans to build one yet either) so he stayed at our neighbors David and Nancy’s home.
  • I remember mowing their pasture with the Dixie Chopper, having the battery fall out of the frame, and then chopping it up and spitting it out the side before the blades quiet. Messy.
  • I remember the first ride with a teenager – Dillon Hensley – for something with his Boy Scouts. We rode around the farm, and then ran across their pastures. We played with the cows. That was fun.
  • I remember building our barn. It went up so fast.
  • Finishing the stalls was one of my first “son of God” moments. I was out there all alone, finishing them up, and felt his presence with me. I sat down, said something like, “We did it, Dad!” The funny part about this one was that Erin has unknowingly to me had just walked in, and heard me… but didn’t know any context. She says something like, “What?” It was funny. You had to be there.
  • I also remember the day in the rain and the mud with the electric line. Wow, that was moving for me.
  • I don’t really remember moving our horses in. I’m sure it was a big moment. I do remember building a lot of fence leading up to that day, though. Including using a shop vac to suck the water out of the ones near the pond so we could pour concrete in.
  • I remember our early days in the barn and the parties we threw. Birthday parties. Sunday School parties. Other get togethers. I was introduced to some people who are now very close friends at those parties.
  • I can’t begin to count the people I’ve had the chance to give their first horse ride to. Little kids. Teenagers. Grown adults. I also can’t imagine how many people we’ve “reunited” with horses after a lifetime of being afraid of them. Alpine especially was extremely gentle with newbies. He seemed to have a sense as to if you were nervous and scared, and would be kind and gentle with you. However, if you were really wanting to work him or run him or control him on your first ride, he’d give you quite the obnoxious treatment, complete with barbed wire fence rubs, tree crashes, and straight out disobedience. There was this “moment,” at least for me and a few others, where you could finally find him give in, to let go and let you lead him.
  • I don’t remember when we first brought Tabi and Stevi out to ride our horses on a regular basis. I remember the offer to their parents, and the commitment that was going to go with that. I remember wondering if they’s stick with it through the winter, which they did.
  • I remember Tabi attempting to teach me how to comb long hair. I don’t think I listened. I think Erin has tried to teach this to me as well. Someday… especially now that I have a beautiful daughter of my own.
  • I remember Erin getting clotheslined by Alpine while riding at J.W. Jones.
  • Actually I remember a lot of rides at J.W. Jone’s. Wandering around for hours, with Erin or by myself, just enjoying God’s beauty on the back of one of his magestic creations.
  • I remember camping at J.W. Jones. In November. When it was cold. And running out of firewood at 1AM. And moving to the horse trailer to stay somewhat warm. And waking up in the morning to find that there was a nicely stacked pile of firewood waiting for me right next to my campsite that I never saw.
  • I remember how Alpine was always a little overweight. He put on weight so easily and loved his grass.
  • I remember the the horses got out. Really out. Like out enough for receive a phone call that they were last seen running down the road away from our home. Praying for God to bring them home, and seeing how that prayer got answered in a very real, yet somewhat humorous, manner.
  • I remember working Alpine (and Jack at times) to overcome blocks in his mind. Of crossing creeks. Ditches. Bridges. Little things that were more stubbornness issues than fear, I think.

I asked Erin to add a bit to this list, and she mentioned some I missed…

  • Alpine always liked looking for new trail heads. He loved new paths.
  • Alpine could open gates. One summer he opened Jack’s stall, let Jack go in, and then locked him in so he could have the pasture all to himself. He could also let himself out to pasture. (Chet: He also allowed me to open gates from horseback)

Erin’s going to come up with some more, since I kind of popped this on her… so check back later if you want to see more.

As I started this, I was thinking about the stories that don’t need to be told. Stories that don’t bear much repeating. But there are so many stories that DO. I love that I’ve written about some of these previously, and it’s so fun (while a bit sad) to look back in remembrance of a life well lived.

Love ya buddy!


A weekend full of rocks – Part 2

This continues a series of events known as a weekend in my life… Part one is here.

So after a long Saturday, we hit the sack for a good 6 hours of sleep before waking up and hitting a Sunday running. We’ve lined up some teenage friends to come home with us after church to ride horses for the afternoon, so it’s going to be a full day.

First things first. We need 2 cars. Between my family, Adam, and the kids coming home with us, there will be seven of us. I’d be fine stuffing all the guys in the back of the truck, but alas… that’s not happening (now that I think of it, did I even bring it up?) So Adam’s going to drive my car in so he can bring the teens back to the house after church. He comes and leaves a little early, since he claims he actually drives the speed limit (good 17 year old). 5 minutes after he leaves, though, the phone rings. It’s Adam. “I think I’m out of gas.” Greeeeeat. Let the ADVENTURE continue! We rush around to get out the door with a can of gas I had in the barn, and set out to find him. Once we get there, I tell Erin to go on ahead. We give her Adam’;s phone, since she forgot hers, so that we can call her if we need her to come back.

Glug, Glug, Glug… this has GOT to be the slowest gas can ever. It takes us about 5 minutes to get a couple gallons out of it, but because the car is sitting at an angle on the side of the road, it’s not picking it up. So we decide to call Erin, have her come back, and we’ll deal with the car later on. And then we discover, I left my phone in the SUV. So she has my phone, and Adam’s phone, and we have no phone. Lovely. We flag down this old lady, make her late for church, and call Erin to have her come back and pick us up.

While we’re waiting, we put some more gas in the car, and eventually get it started. Now we can’t call Erin back, though, to tell her to go ahead and turn around again and head back to churh… again. So we’ll have to flag her down as we pass her, or hope she “gets it” when she gets back to where the car was and it’s not there anymore. All works out, and we’re only 15 minutes late to Sunday School, which, for us, really isn’t that late. Adventure 1 down, what else is to come on this fine day?

After church, we head to  Arby’s for lunch. Uneventful event, although I am fine tuning the story from last night as I’ve shared it at least 3 times by now. Adam’s gotta get gas, and he’s taking Sean and the girls (Tabi and Katie) to the house, so he heads out ahead of us so he can get that done. We pass him anyways. I find out later on that Adam did a bit of speeding due to some peer pressure (or so he says) on the way home. Oh well, we tried.

Now, it’s on to the real adventure. Horseback riding. Sean hasn’t ridden here before, Tabi and Katie are rearing to go again – they were here about a month ago. So we get Jack and Alpine brushed and tacked up, and away we go… to the back yard, that is. Lots of good stuff, but all in all, a few highlights:

  • You can’t really make a horse do anything. Sure, you’ve got a bit of control over his mouth. But comeon, if he wants you off, you’re off. Horseback riding is so much more about convincing the horse to do what you want than making him do it. A lesson we saw put into action several times between all 4 of us who rode.  You can’t make him back up. You can’t make him jump over a log. You can’t make him stop taking a pitstop at the barn after every lap. But you can convince him. How? Talking, touching, speaking his language… convincing him. Tabi and I talked about this a good bit. It’s come back up several times since.
  • Don’t ride with a cell phone in your pocket (Katie!) 🙂 I do this too, but we experience Sunday how long it can take to really search a 2 acre plot of grass (short and tall), dirt, and horse poop. You’ve gotta go over every spot about 3 times apparently, because it finally turned up in a spot  I know we’d already looked.
  • Sean is AWESOME! He set out with a goal to get the horse (“make him,” in his words) to do something. Not really too big of a thing, but just something, like backing up. And he stuck with it. He got it done. And that’s exactly how it’s done.

So that was most of the afternoon, from my recollection, at least. Good times. We’re enjoying having the teens over, and it was nice to have a little different group this time. Erin and I are working on some ideas to make this a bit more regular and fun.

Oh, oh oh… on the way back into town for the teens 5PM youth meeting, I let Katie drive. Until we got about a half mile down the road and I was informed she didn’t have her license on her. So then Tabi takes over.. Learner permit driver, lovely. 🙂 Quite a ride… but not bad, Tabi.

So that’s the end of the stories from this weekend.

The Horses are Loose!

Another story on the power of prayer… in this one, though, I was mainly an observer. This occured earlier this summer, while my wife, son, and I were over at my mom’s house one Sunday afternoon.

We’re all just taking it easy, hanging out at my mom’s house, when my cell phone rang. It was Nancy, my neighbor in “the big house” just around the corner (the best set of neighbors I’ve ever known, I might add). I figured she had a computer question for me, as that’s the “going rate” for me borrowing farm equipment every now and then. But we were in for a bit more drama than that this time.

“Your horses are running loose,” she told me. “Some other neighbors down the road came to us thinking they were ours, but they’re yours. They said they last saw them galloping east down the road, running as fast as they could towards freedom. Are you guys nearby?”

Of course we weren’t. We were around 30 minutes away, under normal conditions. So we pack up real quick, and take off. What can we even do? We can speed home, hoping to make a difference. We can pray our neighbors find them, first of all, and then can somehow catch them. We can freak out, worry, and think that will make a difference.

So I’m driving, Erin’s riding, hanging onto her seat, I suppose. Colton’s in the back doing who knows what. And I ask Erin to pray. I can’t really remember how it goes, but it’s much the type of prayer I would have prayed. “God, keep us safe. Get us home quickly. Keep the horses safe. Please, God. Keep them safe.”

There’s a little back story to this (actually more than a little, but I’m only writing about a little). As I’ve mentioned in other posts, prayer has been all over my radar screen this year. At this time, I’d just been part of a virtual “class” called The Hope of Prayer,” (Links 1, 2, 3, 4) led by John Eldridge and provided by The Daily Audio Bible. It contained quite a bit of teaching on what they called “The Prayer of Intervention,” in which we really get down to effectual prayer that gets things done. Not fancy words that have special effects, or deeper levels of understanding, but simply understanding how prayer works – historically, through the Bible, and today. I’ve shared bits and pieces of it with my wife, and one of the things I’ve learned most is to “chase peace.” That fruit of the spirit – peace – is so helpful in prayer. Even if we don’t know the answer, or how to get there, peace is still available. Not the kind of peace that makes it all better or even makes us confident that it will all just “work out,” but the peace that understands that God Is In Control, no matter what… and releasing our own grip.

So I ask Erin if she has peace. I don’t really, and neither does she. So we try again. This time, she gets more specific… I don’t remember the whole thing, but one part stood out: “God, I don’t know how to ask this, but would you, could you, just have our horses come home?” Sure, they were last reported 1/2 mile away from the house and running, but what the heck… if someone’s going to step in, it’s God. “Do you feel any peace now,” I ask her. “Yes,” and so did I.

As we near home, when we’re about 2 miles away, we do what any logical human would do, we start looking around for our horses. We slow down, scan the then short fields of corn and bean seedlings, but see nothing. We get closer… still nothing. We drive past the house, and on down the road a little bit. Not slow enough that we could see anything, and we’re still thinking about that prayer a while back. “Could they be home?” So we turn around and decide to take a closer look around the house and barn before we continue the search.

As we head back toward the house, WE SEE THEM. They’re not on our property, but instead, they’re standing in the neighbors’ large pasture, not 5 feet from “home” but on the wrong side of the fence, just standing there, like they’re waiting on something. I can almost picture them, galloping away down the road… Erin’s prayer is lifted up (the first one), and they just keep running. “Yeah, we’re safe, and having a great time!” But on that second prayer, the daring one, the specific one… they put on the brakes. They hear their creator. “Go Home,” he tells them. And go home they do. Somewhere along the way they take a wrong turn and wind up at the wrong house, but they see where they need to be and the shortest way to get there, so they head off, running straight through a single-strand electric fence to get there. And then they wait.

How cool it was to call our neighbors and tell them we found them, and that they were not but a few feet from home. “We never thought to look there,” is something of the response I thought to get.

How great it is to see a prayer from start to finish. To see and get a glimpse of the authority God wants us to have in this world, and that He’s given to us, if we will only put it to use.