It was the first time any of us had ridden a horse, and after what happened, I am surprised it wasn’t the last.
Our family of five was excited to go out in nature and be in the wide open spaces. On one of our camping trips, we went to a ranch where horses roamed and there was sticky iced lemonade on a worn wooden table. Then the surprise: we were going to get to ride the horses!
My parents were there, my high-school-senior sister, high-school-junior brother, and middle-schooler me—all ready to jump on and go. There was another family that was going to be on the ride with us. They were first timers as well and one of the girls had lots of questions: How do we get them to stop? What if we need to go slower? How old were the horses? What do you feed them? And so many more.
Finally, she was done, and after hearing the directions, we carefully got on the horses and started our walk with the guide. We had only just started when the girl with the questions started complaining about feeling like her saddle felt loose. The guide had all the horses stop and some people got off to help. Looking around, only my brother, sister, and myself were still on the horses. Even my parents had gotten off to help.
While everyone was helping, the girl’s saddle actually slipped upside down and she fell off her horse. Her scream not only told everyone she should have asked about the saddle a little bit sooner, it also told all the other horses, including the ones my siblings and I were on, to high tail it out of there—(Oh, that is where that saying comes from…a horse tail)—which means run. Please read that word again: Run. They didn’t just trot a few paces and then stop. Every horse, including mine, galloped at a speed so fast, I felt absolutely out of control. The horses were galloping side by side, five wide.
My siblings and I were separated by horses in between so that I was riding an amazing beast, there were two mighty creatures on either side so close that they were touching my legs, and my siblings were on the outside.
This happened more than 30 years ago and I can still see the sweaty, powerful muscles rolling on the sides of me as these powerful horses ran. I can hear the harsh breath heaving in gasps as if they needed each breath to continue life.
Going five wide in a forest doesn’t leave much room, so my brother’s horse actually ran into a tree. He wasn’t hurt and the horse wasn’t hurt. The others kept running and I remember praying to God that he would save me as I was yelling, “Whoa!” and closing my fingers over the reins, pulling back as hard as I could. I was squeezing my legs as the guides had taught us and yelling over and over for God to help. I was crying out for God to save me—for the chaos to stop. And then, all of a sudden, the horses all stopped.
We came to a beautiful wide-open space, with fields that were quiet and a piercing blue cloudless sky. The yellow tops of the wispy stalks were swaying back and forth so gently. My mighty beast sighed, finally feeling safe, and rested in the peace of the sunshine.
I look back on that moment and think about how pathetic I must have looked to God to keep crying out and praying that same prayer of deliverance over and over when he knew where he was taking me. But then I think about how beautiful it seemed to him that I cried out for my Father to help. And how even today, my pathetic prayers of questioning and doubt are welcomed with love and peace because God is not worried about tomorrow. He knows that he has created me for a purpose and that it is not just the destination that marks my obedience, but the ride that makes my life a sacred example of the sacrifice he made for me.
In God’s Quiet Valley
I still wonder sometimes why the horses stopped. The guides had no explanation. The path they were on went right through the fields and the horses had no reason to stop. Our voices certainly were not helping. But I think I finally figured it out: After you strive and strive, when you are scared and don’t know where you are going, when voices are loud and you feel like you just have to give up, God will bring you to a place of quiet peace. To a place where the awesomeness of what he has created makes your problems not small, not insignificant, but sacred because he is seen in the midst of them.
Just like a quiet stream that trickles life to the fertile soil around it, God whispers the truth that we are his, chosen and dearly loved. Thunderstorms roar and skies fill with gusts of light and power, and we overcome sin with his strength, the power of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 96:11-12 says, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”
We can see God in the storms and we can see him in the yellow fields where he shines his light upon us. And we can be at peace in all things knowing that he is our peace. He gives us nature to remind us of his power and to bring us peace. And we can find freedom in our day-to-day worries knowing that this journey is just a taste of the peace to come. One day he will finally bring us home to a perfect peace.