Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Determined Life

I don’t know what I was thinking except that I needed to do something completely different to get out of the particular hole I was in the summer of 2001. (Unfortunately, having struggled with major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder for 28 years, there have been lots of holes!) I had found in the past that learning a new skill, something in which to invest the intensity of my emotions, often helped. Knowing nothing about horses and having been led around on one only twice in my life, I showed up at the stables in a nearby town and they put me on a horse named Streak. Once upon a time, he had been quite the horse and won awards. Now, he was a dutiful lesson horse and the instructor taught me how to groom him, sit properly (More complicated than you might think!) and walk him in big, lazy circles. At some point as I rhythmically swayed in the saddle, I intrinsically knew that I had found my next new skill to learn. Little did I know that I would learn a lot about life as well!

The next week, I was put on another lesson horse, Eddie. Eddie was the largest horse in the stable and had an insatiable appetite. Hay was kept above our heads at one end of the arena. When Eddie went by, he often had the tenacity to stop, crane his neck up, and have a snack. They called it “Eddie's drive through.” I quickly learned that I had to have Eddie's full attention and a certain amount of momentum when we were near that hay to keep him from stopping! Eddie, however, quickly became my most trusted partner.

By April 2002 I was learning to jump. You start out trotting over poles on the ground and then they get raised. Eventually I jumped 18 inch to 2 foot jumps even in a series of 8-10 jumps. It was so like flying!

I confess that I initially thought jumping was all about the horse and that I was just along for the ride. Nothing could be further from the truth! Just as dogs are pack animals, horses are herd animals. As long as the rider has established herself as the leader, they take their cues from the rider. I was amazed to find out that Eddie could tell where I was looking. Did you catch that? I was on top of him and he could tell where I was looking? It was if sitting a string ran from my backbone to his. When I looked a certain way, that is the way he would go. When I turned my head, my shoulders turned as well. My body position changed and this clued him in.

While Eddie trotted willingly over the poles on the ground, I found that he often came to a dead stop even with poles inches off the ground. Unfortunately, this had hard results for me. At least twice, I went on over the jump without Eddie!

The lesson learned - always look where you are going! When riding to a jump, look up and over it and onto the next one and past that one . . . . When I looked down at the jump, he didn't know where to go. Being rather old and disinclined to work, he was more than happy to stop until I figured it out!

In the animal kingdom, there are a few means of protection. One is camouflage. If a predator can't see you, he can't eat you. Then there is fight. This one is typically the last resort for most animals. And there is flight. Horses are flight animals. They spook easily. In herds, there is always a lookout. They run if frightened.

This also played into the jumping. Eddie could tell if I was nervous or scared. (Remember the string?) My nervousness usually played out all over my body. When we came to a jump and I seemed unsure, Eddie decided (though he had jumped higher millions of times) that he wasn't sure either. So, stopping and looking at the scary jump (that he could merely step over) made more sense than attempting it!

Look where you are going. Ride the next two jumps and not just the one in front of you.

This is biblical as well. I believe it is what Jesus did when He went to the cross. The Bible teaches that Jesus died willingly for us. He chose to do it. But it also tells us that in garden the night He was arrested, He prayed that God would take this cup from Him. He felt enough anxiety about it that his sweat was like blood. Luke 22:44 says, "And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." (NIV) He was feeling enough anxiety, anguish, that the stress caused the capillaries in his body to begin to break.

So, what kept Him from fleeing when He knew what was coming? Hebrews 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (NIV) What was the joy set before Him? It was a couple of things. First, it was being reunited with His Heavenly Father. Second, it was looking down through time at you and me. We are the joy set before Him.

I confess that I have wasted many of my 39 years looking at life’s jumps. Okay, the truth is, I’ve wasted too much time looking longingly into life’s arena rather than even attempting riding. Once I started riding in the arena of life, I’ve found myself paralyzed by fear and anxiety, unable to step over the smallest hurdle let alone tackle the higher jumps.

I had to learn to ride Eddie with determination and look beyond the jumps. Now, I am learning how to live with determination. I will not be defined by life’s tragedies and circumstances. I will be defined by the One who paid so dearly for me.

How does this play out in day to day life or when I am in a major depressive episode? Several things come to mind.

  • Stay close to God through prayer and scripture.

  • Keep scripture always in front of you. A friend has been encouraging me for several years to write out scripture on index cards and stash them all over the house, the car, at work, . . . . I’m finally doing it!

  • Lean into a community of believers. Riders in shows or on the Olympics always look pristine. However, the truth is that horseback riding is downright dirty! Stables are dirty and dusty and horses sweat! I like to be clean, but I found caring for Eddie was a joy. I liked the intimacy of the moments spent brushing him down. Being in a community of believes means getting down and dirty too! Share your dirt and let someone help brush it away and do it for them!

  • Look past the jumps! Maybe it is a struggle with weight, problems with you marriage or a friend or a child, conflict, health issues, things from the past, or depression. It’s hard work, but choose how you think. I literally had to think my way over the jumps while riding. Now, I have to do it in life as well. I struggle so much with negative thoughts that this year I’ve committed to writing weekly on some aspect of hope to combat that negative pull.

    Above all else, fix your eyes on Jesus. He is the joy set before us!

    *I certify that this is an original work. It is reworked from a blog posted on 1/12/08 on this site. If selected, I give Proverbs 31 permission to use this work.


Celly B said...

Oh, Amy! I love the detail in your article and the parallels you have drawn between horseback riding and the Christian life. I am glad you stayed up late to finish it so that we could be blessed by it!

Heather@Mommymonk said...

This was a joy to read. You're a good story teller and your experiences with horses really did bring home the Biblical message. I want to be courageous for the jumps ahead.

Miss Sandy said...

I love the way you wove your words in this horse tale to point out spiritual principals.

Miss Sandy

Lelia Chealey said...

Congratulations!!! This is my 1st but not last to your blog. I read your comments on Lysa's blog about wanting an extension & then staying up late to get this in. I'm glad you stayed up late! :) Was well worth the loss of sleep I'd say.
Thanks so much for sharing something that a lot of women hide.
Have a great week.

Miss Sandy said...

CONGRATULATIONS! on the writing contest. This really spoke to me about keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, one of my favorite verses, and was so well-written. Have a really great day!

Miss Sandy

patjrsmom said...

Congratulations! Thanks for your visit to my blog. God's blessing as you contemplate adoption in your future...


Sumi said...

What a great post! Thank you for sharing this. I have some walls of my own that needs jumping over, and this is a great reminder to keep my eyes on the prize.

Thanks again!


Carol said...

Congrats to you to girlfriend! I'm so excited! :) Have an awesome day!! Carol :)

Sarah said...

I am so excited for you! I thought you were only Xanga. I was so excited when I opened your article to see I recognized you from talking through Xanga and saw that you had won being published. That is just awesome!
God Bless

BrownEyedGirl-- said...

A fun thing for me to do is to grab great pictures of nature, modify them to little postcard sizes, add a verse I want to memorize, and then print. You can even laminate them so they won't fade. Then you can trade them out after you've memorized one (give them to friends, etc).

Congratulations, what an honor!

Julie said...

Way to go, Amy!!! You won!!!! That's SO awesome.

Your writing was beautiful and what you are learning is life changing. I too am learning to choose what paradigm to live in. What I believe and tell myself is what I will live.

Many blessings,

Tam said...

Congratulations for being chosen by P31!! I'm very happy for you!

Carol @ i throw like a girl said...

Congratulations! Great job!

Rachel said...


This was a beautiful story, very well written and a great lesson for us all. It is awesome that you were able to draw such a beautiful correlation between your experience and God's love for us! Great visual!


Honea Household said...

What an inspiring post! Congratulations! You are a great writer!

Jessica said...

i, too, have struggled with depression---you determination to press into Jesus is extremely challenging and, well, wonderful!

and congratulations!


Laurie said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. I wrote a research paper once on horses and how they connect with people and learned alot. Your post says it all.

Congratulations on your award. You deserve it!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! It is so awesome to see you embracing your life and focusing on all the blessings around you! (And to see you smiling again!) This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

Allison (aka Dr. Wolak)