Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Father's Love and a Vet's Visit

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matt 7:11

The padlock had fallen into pieces again. I rammed it against the fence, forcing it back together before deftly slinging the rest of the chain around the gate and fastening it tight. I turned to walk down the hill toward my house, then stopped and looked back. My Abba is so good. So good.

I shook my head. In a strange mixture of Tok Pisin and English, I had just discussed the potential for skin melanomas to occur in gray horses and how that was related to the benign lesions currently afflicting Misty, a sweet gray mare. Once every couple of months, the “local” vet makes the grueling multi-hour journey from Lae to treat, fix, and otherwise consult on behalf of the menagerie of Ukarumpa animal enthusiasts—and today, one of his patients came from our herd of eleven horses. My flexible schedule and equestrian background had elected me the representative to discuss the problem, and now that the consultation was finished, it was time for me to lock the barn up.

I shifted my bilum (string bag) to my head and straightened my laplap (wraparound skirt). This was a far cry from where I had imagined myself ten years previously.

MN winters didn't stop me!
As a child growing up on a farm, horses were my life. Rain, snow, mud—it didn’t matter. Between the time I was ten years old and leaving for college, the only time I went longer than two weeks without sitting on a horse was when I broke my ankle and the cast got in the way.

I was, to put it plainly, horse-crazy. I threw hundreds (thousands?) of hay bales, built fences when my snot froze in the cold, and stayed up late to watch an ornery mare give birth. I analyzed films of top riders, clung to crazy green Wild Things, and discussed feed percentages in relation to performance. I researched training methods, scrubbed through horse shows, and agonized over saddle fit. Every summer of high school was spent working at a horse camp, teaching kids how to ride and honing my barn management skills under a paper thin budget. I fell off. I got back on. I shoveled manure for lessons, memorized vet books, and could recite breed characteristics faster than an auctioneer. I wrote long emails analyzing my leg yield challenges, scoured online bulletin boards, pondered genetics, and even changed the way I walked and stood—to be a top rider meant fitness off the horse too.

My dressage horse, Santadeo
Slowly, I improved, and my mare and I began to sand off our rough edges. I wasn’t overly vocal about it—but why should I be? It settled in my lungs every time I inhaled. How could life be any different than this? I dreamed of the day I would be able to ride my mare in Grand Prix dressage, and I promised myself vehemently that I would never be like one of them.

Them. One of those people who chose to walk away from barns and sweat stains and the breath of your best friend on your shoulder. I could never do that. Never.

And then, my freshman year of college arrived. October. And I realized that something else also breathed inside of me. Bible translation.

But I had never heard of a Bible translator riding half passes and one-tempis at Grand Prix.

Giving up family would be hard. I knew that—expected that. And it was. But letting this go? This was not written in the “prepare-to-be-a-missionary” books—to open up my hands to my Father, offering him my bay mare with the trusting eyes and the part of me that pulsed in rhythm to hoofbeats and swinging manes. Please…

But, obedience flows deeper than longing. And love lets us make sacrifices. So, with a military-straight back and Sunday School words throbbing in my head: all things work together for the good of those who love Him… I walked away. Don’t look back. Don’t. Look. Back.

I knew I would need to sever any and all ties to the equine world—leaving even a shred behind would be enough, I knew, to scream stay! And, I was afraid I would—afraid in the manner that a chain smoker, desperate to quit, fears even the Marlboro billboard. My mare sold while I attended linguistic summer school in a different state. I gave my horse books to my sister, packed my breeches into the uppermost reaches of my closet. And I pretended.

My heart fought, of course. And so I slapped down further restrictions—if I couldn’t look at pastures without tears, then I certainly wouldn’t visit mine (and didn’t for over a year). My sister continued down the path of riding, training and burying her hands in horses’ mane. I listened politely, detached myself even from jealousy… but I never visited the barn. I gave lessons occasionally, but each time I battered my heart against future hope, fencing it around with fear, inadequacy, and failure until even the most kindly-meant offer for me to ride caused me to shake uncontrollably and I could feel vomit rising in my stomach.

And then, I found I was going to PNG. “You know, they have horses there,” someone whispered to me once. My back stiffened. Don’t you dare do this to me, God! Don’t you DARE put me through that again! I walked away once for you. I can’t do it again.

So I kept pretending. I poured myself into partnership development, into linguistic school, and finally a ticket, an airplane ride and suddenly I was touching down in a tropical country where there certainly wouldn’t be piaffes or Myler bits.

“And that’s the Pony Club.” My tour guide pointed out the window, where bays, chestnuts, and grays were meandering through the kunai grass. “They’ll all be there on Thursday.” Tomorrow.

“How silly!” I scolded myself. “You don’t know anyone there. You have no reason to be there. You haven’t been around horses for years. You’ve lost your touch. You don’t know anything. You can’t ride anymore. You’re no good.”
Aski, the horse I ride and care for

I’m just going to look, I told myself. Just look.

And touch. And breathe.

Somehow, every time afterwards that the barn was open, despite the protests that would race through my head, my feet were walking through its door and within several days, I was asked to deworm one of the flightier horses. I did it, and got dewormer all down my shirt. Afterwards, I went home… and cried for the joy of it. Within several weeks, I had not only ridden for the first time, but I was now a caretaker of a horse whose owner was headed on furlough. Whether I liked it or not, the floodgates had lifted and I was drinking deeply of all things horse—saddle fitting, hoof-trimming, nutrition percentages, lameness consultations, lessons…

I absently rubbed some of the green horse slobber off my tank top, and watched as the evening glinted off the backs of the grazing chestnuts. I don’t know where this next episode of my life might lead. After all, helicopter allocations are not accessible by horseback. Whether I ever get to don a shadbelly and tails or if I will merely soak a few liters of copra for a friend is beyond my understanding—and part of me no longer needs to. But I choose to hold my hands outstretched, cupped, open, and waiting.

Because our Father likes to give good gifts to his children that are beyond all imagining. And that’s why last Thursday, I got to talk to the vet about skin pigmentation and photosensitivity in gray horses.