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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Finding God...finding me

I just finished watching "Flicka" a movie based on the book, "My Friend Flicka". I still remember reading this book as a horse-crazy teen, although I can't recall the details.

You should know...I'm still horse-crazy, but still, without the horse to satisfy my cravings. Yet God is merciful and provides what we need, when we need it. In fact, horses figure prominently into my conversion, although that part was omitted from my overall conversion/reversion story.

Several years ago, I was living in an apartment with a roommate from whom I was becoming more and more estranged as our paths were parting. The bar life wasn't enough for me, and had no depth. I hated my job, I hated our apartment, I hated having no space. I hated that I didn't know who I was, where I was going, or why I existed. I knew there was something more...but what?

For a long time I'd desired to go horseback riding. All summer I bugged my roommate and other friends about it and got the lipservice, "Oh, sure, one of these weekends..." But that time never came. It was too expensive. There were other things going on. There were other people who would rather go to this or that.

Day after day, night after night, I sat on our deck in the summer months, watching the sun set over the cracked pavement and flickering neon signs that comprised our view. I was a caged bird, and I couldn't even sing anymore.

Finally I decided it was time...and one Saturday morning, I got up and called a local horse ranch, making a reservation I asked for a 2 hour ride, which they advertised but couldn't accomodate for only one. But they said I could ride as long as I wanted and the price would decrease each hour, allowing for the same cost for two hours.

I put on my jeans, found my boots, and drove the forty minutes out of the 'burbs and into the Minnesota River Valley.

There was something that day that struck me. Forever burned into my memory is the image of descending into the valley, along the ravine that rose above us. I can still feel the careful steps of the horse, and I recall looking upward, only to see an eagle soaring above.

Finally, I had found peace. Finally, I knew who I was again. Finally, I was where I belonged, if only for an hour or so.

I literally fell in love with the land we were on, seeing beyond it, seeing the Creator, seeing our place in things. I remember the gait of the horse, passing through dappled shadows, the fields, the forests, the vistas, the river flowing, glistening, endlessly in praise to God above.

When we were allowed to let the horses run, I remember first the sense of being out of control as I found my seat again, and then, the second time, laughing joyfully in rhythm with my mount as we passed through the field together, of one mind, of one form.

All week, my heart soared up there with the eagle, and I knew I could not stay away.

But I knew this wasn't it. It wasn't so much about the horses, but it was about God. I had been seeking His face, and found it, once again, there at the ranch. I was quite familiar with horses; when I was 13, Dad paid for English riding lessons for me, every other week. That is a gift that has and will last a lifetime, skills applied to one of the greatest loves of my heart, something that continues to bring the presence of my Dad into my life.

And so, in the horses, the memory of my Father and the knowledge of God merged, and made me more aware of my mortality. Horses can be dangerous; they are animals, they are herd animals, and as such, they can be unpredictable. They are beautiful and noble and even obedient (some of them!), but no matter the temperment, one has to respect what they are and what they were created to be. It would only take a misstep of the horse to cause our downfall. If the horse spooks, takes a jump, runs into a tree...death can come quickly and unexpectedely.

This realization brought me back to Mass, although, sadly, not to Confession. Yet there I was, every week, at Mass, wanting to know God again. Wanting to be with Jesus, not having the courage to seek Him truly. But I could not stay away. Each Sunday, even if we were out until 2 am, I got up early enough to get to the 8:30 Mass before heading out to the ranch. It was in this time that I actually began leasing a horse, so each weekend meant that I was out there in the pasture, catching my horse, feeding him, brushing him, riding him...for hours.

I was living a childhood dream. I was a child again. That October was a very warm one and a couple of us crossed the river one day in favor of galloping along the state trails. It was amazing! THIS was the dream I'd had ever since I was a little girl, desiring to gallop headlong through the woods, under the shining sun, over hills, along paths reserved for the hoof, endlessly reveling to the rhythm of the horse.

I think I'm STILL picking bugs out of my teeth from that day.

All good things must come to an end, though. That winter I bought a house and so discontinued my lease with the horse. But something even greater happened, that took me beyond where I was and confronted me with reality.

There was a horse there that had been dumped off. This little guy was just cute as a button, and attracted me to him instantly. It was his condition I saw first; his sunken neck, his terrible hooves, the spine standing ridged by sunken furrows the entire length, his tail, the hairs broken off near the top, indicative of worms, along with his swollen belly. His inability to keep food in his mouth from his overgrown teeth.

Each time I was out there, I paid special attention to this horse, and it wasn't long before he would follow me around like a puppy. He nickered when he saw me, and when I left. His stricken shadow followed me wherever I tread. And so I named him "Nickers" and wondered if I should try to adopt him?

He was obviously neglected, and my friends who worked at the ranch tried to approach the ranch owner about him. But over months, nothing happened. Finally I took matters into my own hand...I could not stand to see this suffering, especially after the story I heard.

My friend revealed that a few years prior, there had been a neglected horse named "Silver" who had also been dumped off by an unknown person. Over time his condition worsened as the herd there in the boarders' pasture excluded him...he was weak. He was beaten upon, he was reviled, he was set apart in order to die for the betterment of the herd. The boarders got together and in pooling their money, got a vet out to care for him. And each did what they could according to the vet's instructions. Silver rallied for awhile, and then took a turn for the worse, this time one from which he could not recover. So they called the vet out again and together paid to put him down.

I knew I could not let that happen to Nickers. And so on New Year's Eve when I went riding, I spent some time in the last daylight to take photos of my friend Nickers. The photos were forwarded to both the Humane Society and to the Carver County Sheriff, where I made a report of animal neglect. They had my name for the purposes of records, but I did ask to remain anonymous.

The ranch owner found out it was me, though, and I was banned. He said I was a "troublemaker" and it wasn't any of my business. He said that it was all for nothing, too, because "they" said that he was just old, and look what I'd given up in order to become such a chancre sore.

I can no longer return to that ranch, ever again. My friends kept me updated, though, and told me that the Humane Society made repeated visits, charging the ranch owner to fatten that horse up.

And the Humane Society doesn't make repeated visits if nothing is wrong. They are far too busy for that.

In some ways it saddens me that I can't return to that paradise on earth, but even that wasn't untouched by sin. It was a stepping stone God used to bring me back. He reminded me who I was, who I was supposed to be.

Loving horses...that's secondary. He reminded me that I am His own adopted daughter, so all of this already belongs to me. What is God's is ours and when we see injustice, even if it is detrimental to us, we are called to act, We are called to speak for those who cannot speak, we are called to remember that we do not act alone and for no reason.

Yeah, I'm still that horse-crazy girl who once fed a staving pony with fresh-cut grass from our yard and gallon jugs of water from our kitchen. (That's a different story). And I'm still that idealist that wants to see the world from the eyes of a child. Because no matter where I go, every paradise is corrupted because nothing on this earth will ever satisfy what I truly desire. Even horses.


Maureen said...

Oh, Adoro. It's horrible, isn't it, how some people treat the poor animals. You did the right thing.

uncle jim said...

i love your writings

Adoro te Devote said...

Maureen ~ He was just cute as a button, even in his condition. That picture with the red horse in the frozen pasture..that was him. I think he was purebred (or pretty close) Arabian. I couldn't have lived with myself if he met the same fate as Silver. The boarders there were terrified of the ranch owner because if they'd made a report like they wanted to, he would have kicked them out...and they had a lot more to lose. And it's hard to find affordable boarding AND good trails in the same place.

Uncle Jim ~ :-)

Fr. V said...

I've not been able to see Maggie in a while and I miss her - even if just to grrom her - not much fun riding in this weather.

But more tot he point - Every once in a while there is nothing like getting in touch with nature - with that glory that He made and being drawn closer into His heart. Good church architecture can do that for me too.

adoro said...

Fr. V. ~ Oh, yeah, good church architecture is incredible! I don't like horseback riding in churches, though. It seems disrespectful.

Seriously, have you ever ridden in the winter? I fell in love with it, especially bareback...those horses are like fuzzy teddy bears and so warm! (Although my toes froze...)

Sarah said...

Adoro - when you come to Ohio (or I may have to fly you here, whatever), we'll go here, which is the ranch we take Miss Muffet to as we let the horse-love take its hold on her.

I've always loved horses too. We've talked about "someday" getting one or two (how can you just have one?) but we're always stopped by the costs and the chain that comes from having an animal like that - sheep are so much easier (in part because they're my BIL's and HE takes care of them...); you can at least get away every once in a while!

Anyway, this is a beautiful post and reflection.

Sending you hugs and baby drool,
Sarah :)

uncle jim said...

and if you ever go there, we're only 2-1/2 hours west of there in east central IN - we'll come, too

adoro said...

Sarah ~ Well, hugs and doggie drool for you! :-) I hope I can come visit you...there are so many of you in that area that I simply MUST somehow find a way to get out there. How's July sound?


Uncle Jim ~ Yup...if I ever head out in that direction you will be among the first to know! You and Fr. V. and Sarah and a few others. Maybe I'll come down on a Thursday or Friday, have a long weekend. I seriously need to travel somewhere!

Sarah said...

Seriously??? :)

July is great!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (fair time if you time it right!) Lodging's on us (as in with us, ok??!!)


adoro said...

Sarah ~ LOL...God willing. I like the idea, but don't know if it'll actually happen. :-)

Sarah said...

Prayer is in order! :)

adoro said...

Prayer...always prayer. VERY necessary!

Sarah said...

Well, yes, it is, Adoro. However, I'm going to specifically pray about you coming to Ohio. :)