Today, I’m honored to welcome my friend Karen O’Kelley Allen as this week’s guest blogger here at the Cross-Dubya. Ms. Karen is a demure “Alabama girl” with a gentle spirit and a fire for God within. She’s the author of an amazing book entitled Confronting Cancer with Faith, a hope-generating Bible study that delivers on its opening promise that “God is bigger than cancer.” Not that long ago, my friend Karen could not have told you the difference between a hazer and a heeler. In today’s heart-warming post, she shares the lessons God poured into her during the time she recently spent building new friends (both two and four-legged varieties). Ms. Karen is the CEO of Ewe R Blessed Ministries. Please extend a warm Cross-Dubya “Howdy” to our guest as you enjoy the way she pours out her heart onto the page.
Recently I checked off another bucket list item: a dude ranch. Not just any dude ranch but a small working dude ranch owned by a godly couple with a Lord-loving staff. Their website doesn’t horse around about their Christian ethics. They even name their horses biblical names!
My friend and I spent five days on the ranch milking the cow, collecting chicken eggs, feeding the sheep, goat, and chickens, making bread, rolling oats, playing the spoons and washboard while singing around the campfire, eating chuck wagon meals, and line-dancing. Cowboy Church was an added plus. More than anything else, though, I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding from one of the equine residents named “Socks.” She is an older gaited horse with large white patches on her brown coat. Socks not only broadened my horse sense but she fed my spiritual appetite with horse d’oeuvres!
Although I had ridden a horse a few times in my younger days, I knew little to nothing about horses. I had more fearful respect than I openly admitted but that didn’t keep me from riding when I had a chance. I always wondered how people developed such a strong bond with a horse. After all, it’s not like you can curl up in bed with them like you can a dog. A horse doesn’t lick your face, wag its tail, or sit in your lap. I’ve never heard a horse bark with joy when pulling into the driveway. No, I couldn’t imagine establishing a meaningful relationship with a horse like I had with my two Irish setters, O’Malley and Rio.
Horses are owned for a variety of reasons: working ranch horses, “pasture ornaments,” pleasure horses, show horses, and rodeo horses. Socks was my assigned pleasure horse. I learned how to muck, feed, water, give nutrients and supplements, groom, and saddle her. The more I cared for Socks, the more I enjoyed being around her. Petting her long nose and strong jaw, stroking her neck and bulging sides began to create a connection. Grooming her was especially enjoyable as she seemed to like the attention particularly when I rubbed the sweet spot on the right side of her neck. Her eyes would slowly close in pure contentment. After a few days, I found myself lingering at her stall when I had the opportunity. I learned that having a personal relationship with your horse is imperative in building trust. Hmmm … a personal relationship with God builds trust, too. I’ll take that horse d’oeuvre, thank you!
Giving Socks a treat of carrots and apples was fun and amusing to me. She seemed to inhale it as if it were candy. Her thick muzzle rolled around my hand searching for another nibble reminding me of an anteater sniffing and sucking up food. I loved the feel of Sock’s mouth on my hand; it gave me such delight. I wonder if that’s the same kind of feeling described in Psalm 37 when we “take delight in the Lord?” Ooo, a sweet horse d’oeuvre bite.
The time came to go on a trail ride. Socks and I had become friends in the barn but we had not yet bonded on the trail. With much-needed help from Stu, the wrangler, and some patience from Socks, I positioned myself on the saddle. Stu proceeded to sound out basic riding rules as we circled the arena. I was in obvious need of a refresher course. Poor Socks was as confused as I was but it didn’t take long to get reoriented. I had to demonstrate that Socks could trust me and she had to learn that I was the one to give commands. Once Stu was satisfied, we headed towards the trail. As the trail narrowed, Socks took smaller and more careful steps to avoid the trench formed by rainwater. I was thankful even though it sometimes meant getting swatted by a low hanging tree branch. One wrong step could potentially mean disaster yet I wasn’t fearful. My trust superseded my fear. Could there be another horse d’oeuvre nibble there?
When we reached the open field, it felt more secure and freeing until Socks stepped in a small hole and stumbled. She recovered but my heart took a little longer! We need gentle reminders to not get too comfortable and let down our guard from hidden adversity (like the enemy.) Whew! A hot and spicy horse d’oeuvre this time.
When we reached the river, Socks seemed eager to cool off from the 95 degree blazing sunshine. She gulped down some refreshing water before slogging down the river to a clearing on the bank. Our hungry stomachs emptied the saddlebags of our prepared lunches. A blanket was spread as curious cows began to encroach. Stu gave the cows and us a devotional taken from Job 39 pointing out the strength, majesty, and terrifying fearlessness of the horse. Only a limited number of animals are described in such detail in the Bible. An astonishing 217 scriptures can be found referencing horses. Giddy up!
The horse is portrayed as an animal of battle representing power, triumph, and glory. The splendor of Christ’s return will be upon a white horse. And yet, Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem was upon a donkey colt, a lowly commonplace and humble beast. (How amazing when you consider the colt had never been ridden and was not spooked when exposed to masses of people cheering and throwing their robes into the street. A testament to Christ’s masterful touch.) How interesting, too, that just hours before Christ’s birth his mother Mary also rode a donkey. Jesus came into this world on a donkey, He left this world on a donkey, but He will return on a horse. Hmmm … definitely a flavorful horse d’oeuvre to savor.
I rode Socks one other time to the country church on Sunday. We crossed several creeks with rocky beds. I was told to loosen up on the reins so that Socks could look down to get proper bearings to navigate through the rocks at her own pace. I never considered allowing time and space for her to carefully choose a safe path. That horse d’oeuvre had a little nutty taste.
As we approached the church, we were forced to walk a short distance on the roadway. The shoulder was very narrow bordered by a deep ditch on one side. Danger lurked as cars and trucks whizzed by. A sense of urgency rose up within me along with my trust factor as I perched upon this massive one-and-a-half ton powerhouse clomping along a two-foot wide path. We made it with no mishaps and proceeded towards the trail. However, once in the open field, a coyote was seen in the distance. The wrangler decided to choose a longer path. The longer journey can sometimes be worth the added effort. Mmm, mmm, mmm. That last horse d’oeuvre is a good one! I’m full now.
The longer journey can sometimes be worth the added effort. Mmm, mmm, mmm. That last horse d’oeuvre is a good one! I’m full now.
Karen O’Kelley Allen has a passion for music, ministry, writing and dogs. Recently retired from working in cancer research, Karen fills her time now with more writing, exercise, travel and ministry. She enjoys serving as the organist for her church in Birmingham, AL where she and her husband of 37 years, George Parker, attend. A diagnosis of breast cancer inspired her to write a Bible study Confronting Cancer with Faith (www.confrontingcancerwithfaith.com), which has brought encouragement and hope around the world. Karen has published numerous articles and devotionals and is currently writing a devotional book dedicated to the mental health community. Connect with Karen on her Ewe R Blessed Ministries blog (www.ewerblessed.com/blog) that highlights everyday and unexpected blessings.