I AM making all things new

I like logic.  I like things to make sense.  I think we all do mostly.

I like to understand.

I like answers.

I like to have my little ducks in a row.

I like surprises… as long as I see them coming and can prepare for them appropriately…

 

My son loves math and finding a curriculum that continued to challenge him was daunting.  I stumbled upon Sudoku, I had never heard of it before, played it a little and thought he might like it.  He did… initially, until it became a matter of replication of formulae.  Then I found Kenken.  A mixture of Sudoku and math operations, it is harder and goes from fairly simple to hours of work, computation and elimination.  As I taught him how to solve a kenken puzzle, I began to enjoy the process myself.

 

I recently sent Mark a kenken puzzle and wasn’t very surprised that he quickly picked up (without even much in the way of instructions I might add) how to solve them.  The following three pictures are examples of kenken puzzles.  From simple to ridiculous.

 

*Quick simple rules.  Each dark outlined area is called a cage and in each cage the answer is the number, by way of the operation listed.  Each row and column must contain (in the first example) the numbers 1,2,3 without repeating in any subsequent row or column (like sudoku). 

3x3-5499154366842eeb7819c48acd7fa774       img_f16_t150_p1302_i1

 

kenken3  This third one doesn’t initially look as difficult but notice there are no operation symbols, therefore not only the numbers, but first the operation must be discovered.

 

There is no guess work to kenken.  There is some initial supposition backed by process of elimination and a lot of writing and erasing, but there is only one way and one answer to a kenken puzzle.

 

It is black and white.  It is entirely logical.  You do not have to wonder if you got it right.  There is no grading on a curve, no subjectivity if you try real hard…  it is right or wrong, utterly objective.

 

In a couple weeks Easter will be upon us.  If there is a polar opposite to logic and objectivity, it exists in the advent of Easter.  Sometimes we use the etymology of the word, whether Saxony or Hebrew or pagan or Christian, to back our own opinions on whether or not to hide eggs and eat chocolate.  But the celebration exists in the hearts and minds of Christians as the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.

 

Christ’s crucifixion and in fact, his life, was not logical.  It does not make sense.  In chess, we sacrifice pawns, we do not sacrifice the king.  In fact, in chess, the king is never taken.  It is illegal to even move into a position that puts the king into jeopardy.  When we win a piece, we snatch it from the board in triumph, setting it off to the side, out of play, defeated.  Not so the king.  The king is no great player in the game of chess.  He stands alone in the back, rarely even moving and then, only once and out of the way.  He is a defended object.  When checkmate is called, the king’s piece is rarely even removed from the board.  The game is simply over.  He can move no more.  The game of chess is tactical and logical.  Sometimes we see God as we see the king in chess.  Valuable… but only as the end objective, uninvolved, disinterested, separated from our small existence on this round green and blue chess board.  But we are wrong in that notion.

 

Unlike chess, Christ was not captured.  He was indeed arrested.  But capture assumes evasion.  Upon his arrest he did not evade.  Not in his speech, not in his actions, not in his defense, not in his death.  Nor did Christ sacrifice others in defense of himself.  It was completely totally inexplicably illogical.

 

And what of our fascination with the cross itself?  We wear them as jewelry, emblazon them on clothing, and hang them on walls.  They are crusted with jewels or shaped in ornate filigree, finely carved and crafted.  But the one on which Christ hung was none of those things.  It was not an emblem of beauty, it was a blood covered, rough hewn symbol of punishment and torture.  Visible to all, as a sign and warning and deterrence against crime.  The just punishment for the accused.  Go into any jewelry store and one of the most popular themes in design is the cross.  But I am left to wonder… where are the hangman’s noose earrings?  The Guillotine necklaces?  The electric chair bracelets?  Why do we cling to the cross?  It was not technologically advanced, it was not costly or of great value.  A fallen timber, stout enough to hold the weight of a man shuddering in agony.  Of all the mixed messages, the cross offers the wildest paradox.  That the bloodiest mechanism that the Romans used to intimidate, punish, and torture… the emblem of dominion and rule and power and might to crucify men; God used to free mankind by crucifying sin itself.

 

How carelessly and lightly do we toss around the phrase, “I would die for you.”  I think it is a statement intended to show great feeling or sentiment and I think the intent is gracious and I do not judge it when I hear it.  I have never spoken those words, but in my heart that force and commitment beats for a handful of people.  Even so, I would be very careful with those words.  Life is an amazing thing.  Instinctively we grasp, at times desperately at it.  Infants, just born, have an instantaneous response known as the Moro reflex.  Stimulated by picking the infant up from the floor and then lowering him sharply in a simulation of being dropped the baby will quickly thrust his arms out fingers wide as though grasping something and sharply bring them in as though holding on.  The reflex is tested by medical staff as a sign that the baby has a certain level of motor and neurological development.   The reflex is lost shortly after birth but only in its motor reflexive nature.  We all grasp.  We all cling and reach out.  I have done it.  I continue to do it.  Did it just this last week.  As adults, we like to feel the strength of self-sufficiency.  But the truth is, the humbling, sometimes embarrassing and humiliating truth is… we need people.  I reached out to Erin Sisson, to Mark, to Miranda, to my children.  I needed to be caught.  Need… sometimes it seems like a dirty little word.  It smacks of frailty and inability and lack.  But need is part of the human condition.  Need is not desire or want or transient.  The object of our grasp may change throughout life, but the underlying need to hold on… is extinguished only at the very end of life.  We struggle to continue.

 

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  I used to read those words and I understood them on some small level, like a thin film over a plate glass window.  Paul said a lot of paradoxical things.  Perhaps none so profoundly perplexing as this.  Sometimes when we fixate on our light and momentary troubles, we lose the greater focus and full weight of the gift of both life and death.  In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he says, “let us run with


the race marked out for us.”  In the NASB translation, which I read most frequently, it says “the race set before us.”  I do not think of myself as any member of a brain trust, and this is precisely an example of why.  For some reason, reading that just this morning, hit me differently. Never in all my life of having tripped carelessly over these words….  has it hit me before that perhaps, just maybe, I have a raced marked out for me.  That my race was in fact uniquely designed for me, and that I have not been asked to chart its course, only travel it.  Too often I have tried to control its path, to see beyond the next curve, missing the scenery as I go.  I would love to fit my race into a neat package.  A package of my own design.  I would like the roadmap of my race on a turn by turn GPS with perhaps James Earl Jones narrating my next move.  “In one point five miles veer left toward your college degree.”  “In three miles take the exit toward your new home, on the left.”  But James was apparently booked when I needed direction and God was seemingly quiet (though not absent) on the subject.  What I have slowly (because …. I am NOT a part of a brain trust!) learned is that God has placed people in my life, with a voice of more value than James’ not because of the timbre or tone of their voice, but because of the quality and commitment of their hearts and minds.  Mark and Miranda are two such people.  They have been, in some very real ways, a sort of GPS for me.  A light in a dark place.  We can ignore the GPS, and the GPS is not always the most expedient, nor is it always up to date.  But it gives us clarity and clarity lends comfort and strength and resolve in the face of pain, weakness and uncertainty.

 

In college I took up competitive swimming.  I was not fast but had a good deal of endurance.  I began to train for a one mile national swim meet held annually in Huntington, Indiana.  During the course of training I met someone who was a competitive triathlete.  This last week, this conversation replayed in my head and the implications hit me particularly hard between the eyes, probably right where I needed it most.  I asked what he thought of when he was racing.  How did he keep going through all the stages and the distance.  His response was, “I double down.”  I asked him what that meant, as I had never heard that term before.  He told me that it was a reference to the game of Black Jack.  I said, “That doesn’t help me, contextualize it for me.”  This was his response.  “I hit my stride 10 miles ago, I went through the pain, the tired, the boredom.  Those were the little battles along the way, my temporary focus.  Now past all those things, I double down to keep going.”  I asked him, “Do you focus on the end line?”  His reply is what rings in my ears this week.  “I keep that in my sight, but there is race to be run in each and every step up until the very end.  If I stop one foot before the end, I haven’t finished.  Finishing strong has nothing to do with the 26.1 miles I just endured.  It has everything to do with the .1 before me.  Every step of that .1 is savored, because it is pain and heart and grit and tenacity.  It is the very hardest and the very best part of the race.”

 

It was mildly interesting then.  Poignantly more so now.

 

I have no idea how Christ made it to the cross.  I have no idea why he chose that path.  It could have been a quick end.  An instant death.  It was the finalization that was redemptive.  The resurrection that was perfecting.  Why did he choose the pain and suffering?  It was not logical.   It did not fit neatly into a kenken puzzle, something completely understandable, something black and white, right or wrong, yes or no.  If we could but figure out the X axis, we would subsequently have the answers to what lies on the Y axis.  But faith is not logical.  Nor is faith the mystical and magical contrivance we so often see in flowery sentimental poetry and annoying, seemingly deep tautologies such as, “it is what it is” in an attempt to explain it.  Faith, in simple words, is fairly easy to define and intensely hard to live within.  Faith is a choice.  It is a choice to have “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  It does not come from a place of proof, it is planted in the soil of the doubting human heart.  How paradoxical that God gave us the ability to choose to deny faith… or live abundantly in it; the consequence being, we must always be in a perpetual state of not quite knowing and yet ever choosing to trust in our blindness and his vision.  His roadmap, carefully laid out, and sometimes ever a mystery.  His ways are not our ways.  We were not called to understand the road map, only travel it.

 

Never fall into the falsehood that Christ’s death was pity for fallen man.  Or that His love was sentimental or nostalgic.  His death was the curse of sin, taken with full knowledge and understanding.  His own bloody and painful roadmap.  The difference being, every step along the way, he knew led him to one hill and a borrowed grave.   The measure of holy God’s hatred for sin, poured out on Calvary into the body of His perfect son, the Lamb of God.

 

Quickly following Christ’s words, “It is finished.”  are the words, “He gave up his spirit.”  In every reference in the Septuagint to the death of the patriarchs this word, גוע in Hebrew or (later) Greek, κατεπαυσε is used.  It is translated, “to cease.”  But the words, “he gave up his spirit” in reference to Christ on the cross is this phrase:  παρεδωκε το πνευμα.  It is translated, “He delivered up.”   Christ’s death was not martyrdom.  His life was not taken, it was given.  He did not merely die… he was in complete control of the relinquishment of his spirit.  And he submitted to the will of his Father, to the point of death.  The propitiation was completed on the cross in the death of not only the Son of God, but the sin of the world.  But only one of those two things remained nailed to the cross.  Crucified and dead. Christ’s bloody body was dropped to the ground, a mass of flayed and swollen skin.  A shell, a corpse.  But…  hope springs as morning breaks.

 

Morning has broken, a pretty song, NOT written by Cat Stevens though many attribute the song to him.  It was written by a timid, shy woman of 50 years of age in the 1930’s.  Eleanor Farjean.  She spent her childhood surrounded by books.  She did not feel she fit in with friends at school and retreated to writing as a way of expressing herself.  She wrote children’s books and poetry but is remembered mostly just for one small Gaelic tune.  Morning has broken.

 

Easter does not end at the cross.  Easter begins there.

****

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”   Revelation 21:3-8

 

*Warning…  The video below does contain graphic images, taken from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

 

Thank you Father, for this horrible wonderful awfully hard gift.  The gift of your Son, his blood, his resurrection and our hope for the future.  Make me new.

 

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WWM&MD

Remember those “WWJD”  (What would Jesus do?) bracelets that were big 10-15 years ago or so?  I never had one.  I didn’t like them so much.  No huge reason why I guess.  I simply felt that wearing a bracelet wasn’t going to be what made me behave in a given fashion.  Well.. maybe any bracelet other than a “WARNING, DIABETIC, IF FOUND IN A STATE OF MENTAL IMPAIR, PLEASE FEED DOUGHNUT ASAP”… that bracelet is going to get you somewhere…. maybe the ER, but you will be going somewhere!

 

I also don’t have a little greek fish symbol on my car.  I am a fairly … confident … driver.  I like to drive fast.  I’m a good driver, one of the few things at which I have confidence.  Neither reason is a defensible position to law enforcement and I get that.  I also realize that while I am driving, people will see any bumper stickers, little fish emblems etc., and they will make parallels or judgements based on that.   I do not like for others to take a hit because of their association with me.  The very reason that from the beginning, I wanted to make it clear that Mark and Miranda should not be judged or criticized for any tom-foolery or slips or lapses in judgement within this blog.

 

I have not written in a while.  The reasons are no good excuse, but a few things in the last couple weeks have driven home a couple important points to me.  Just a couple of weeks ago because of a few different circumstances in my life, I called both Mark and Miranda in frustration, on separate occasions.  Encouragement is powerful and without sounding like a guru or mystical swami, which I am not, encouragement is a healing art.  Both encouraged me and listened to me.  It occurred to me that we all need the encouragement of someone who has earned our trust through repeated faithfulness.  Both of those qualities is vitally important.  They follow closely on the heels of one another.

 

I hope that it can be said of me that I was giving and encouraging.  But I have not always been so…. not proud, and this little story will show you why.

 

There may have possibly been a man named Brian (I have NOT changed the names because he is not innocent… nor am I) who was a prominent dog trainer in the area where I also trained.  We did not know one another personally and I’m sure we were both mutually fine with that.  We diverged on more than a few things.  He did have amazing skill and talent for marketing himself well which is not the same thing as possessing ability in the area of training.  What irked me to no end was his opinion of others and more importantly himself.  Those opinions were at constant and polar opposites, his opinion of others abilities and worth being somewhere between dust and roaches.  I’ll let you figure out the polar opinion in which he held himself.

 

Attending a large conference on dog training one summer, there were over 900 trainers and attendees staying at an upscale classy hotel.  Brian was vocal about his lifestyle, which was pure and pristine and put the saints to shame.  He didn’t wear t-shirts, strike one.  He didn’t like to get his hands dirty, strike two.  He had no patience for “underlings”  … he actually used the term underlings!  I’m not sure he actually stooped to drive himself anywhere, cook his own meals, pour his own coffee or use the bathroom for that matter.  Well, that was pretty much it for me.  It was difficult for me to look past any skill he might have with dogs when his abhorrent lack of skills with people was smacking me in the face.  He was picky about everything.  He was … dainty….  I don’t like dainty in female friends, and I SURE don’t like it in a man!  During a meet and greet the first evening in the hotel lobby while smartly attired waiters served champagne and hors d’oeuvre, a young woman approached Brian with a question.  She had little experience but her sincerity and interest were obvious.  He laughed loudly and proclaimed that perhaps if she abstained from drinking as he always did, she would be able to learn more and ask less simplistic questions.  I was shocked and it appeared that I wasn’t alone.  There were quite a few lifted eyebrows and lowered jaws.

 

I am an underdog.  Always been one.  I am unremarkable, unmemorable, of moderate talent in everything I do.  So I am for underdogs.  I expect underdogs to step up to the plate and stand up for themselves, but if they can muster that courage, they will almost always have me in their corner.  She stood firm and responded with class and withdrew quietly to talk to other more receptive and helpful people.  Which was pretty much any and everyone.  She was gracious, and probably of far better character than the author of this blog post.

 

After a few more proud boasts about his clean living and upstanding moral standing, and more than one reminder to the rest of us dullards, that the hosts of the training seminar had put him in the Presidential suite on the 7th floor,  I had about had enough and retired to my lowly room on the 3rd floor.  As I went, I thought… which those of you who know me will realize is probably not an entirely good thing.  Pondering has gotten me into more than a little trouble on more than a few occasions and I was now pondering the information that I now I had in my possession.

 

The next morning Brian was in his element.  He really could have benefitted from a black cape.  It would have suited him.  He swept into the room to less oooh’s and aaahhh’s than he probably felt were his due, but nevertheless, his bright and shining (plastic and fake) smile radiated confidence in his subject matter.  He expected adoration from his audience, what he got was attention, but I’m not sure he truly would have understood the difference and he launched into his speech with gusto.  He was speaking about a program called Vest-a-dog, which is a not for profit organization that provides body armor Kevlar vests for police dogs as well as other protective gear for working canines.  It is a great organization.  During the course of his talk, he mentioned the concern of dogs overheating.  A new product was being tested and soon to be on the market and he, Brian, claimed that he, Brian, was “tantamount to the success of the program.”  I leaned over to the person next to me and said, “tantamount?  I think maybe he meant paramount.”  To which the stranger whispered that he had attended this seminar in 3 other states because he was a vendor and Brian was the pimple on everyone’s forehead.  You couldn’t hide him, and you couldn’t pop him!  I thought it was gracious of him, and probably only because we were strangers, that “forehead” was the anatomical location he chose….   I became disinterested and began to leaf through a pamphlet until I heard the words, “laws of thermodynamics.”  I was intrigued when Brian claimed that these new Kevlar vests, made of the strongest and lightest pure titanium alloy, were designed utilizing higher science formulations that we (stupid people) would not ever understand.  He therefore would graciously spare us the unnecessary information on the science that went into the making of the vest suffice it to say that  “This vest before you, was designed utilizing the knowledge we have gained directly from the second law of thermodynamics.”  I can hear his nasally voice.  I sat up a little straighter and leaned in to listen.  I might have been holding my breath… I might have been smiling…. It is also quite possible that I could have benefitted from a cape as well.  I was now completely immersed in the topic and wanted to hear more, so much more.  I was desperate for the Q & A session when he might ask if there were any questions from the audience, because they were stacking up in my brain.

 

I was 22 which meant that I was stupid but thought I wasn’t.  At dinner one evening my roommate began to discuss something she had heard in her physics class and the only thing that I recognized was her definition of “vacuum” because it was a good explanation for my complete lack of knowledge in the subject.  I hated not knowing stuff.  Random stuff.  Trivia and useless stuff.  I didn’t care, I wanted to know it.  I spent the next month reading textbook upon textbook on applied and theoretical physics.   It just so happens that the laws of thermodynamics featured prominently in both branches.  My roommate failed her Physics class.  That was a word that haunted my life and it caused a bit of conflict in our apartment for the next few weeks as I followed her around like a lost puppy explaining Bernoulli’s law, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Transverse waves.   She didn’t appreciate it.  Probably one of the myriad reasons we were roommates for only a short time.  I didn’t blame her.

 

Seminar over, and question time began.  I choked.  I disliked Brian’s grandstanding.  I disliked his condescending and pretentious treatment of the woman at the meet and greet the night before.   I disliked misinformation, no matter how inane and unrelated to the subject matter.  But I also disliked people who publicly humiliate others.  The technicalities between the difference of what he had done to that woman in the lobby and what I was considering doing at the moment began to needle me.  Semantics.  I was currently heavily vested in a degree path that dealt with formal, lexical, and conceptual semantics.  How we choose our words.  Why we choose the words we choose and to what desired end.  My desired end was not to better Brian.  My desired end was little different than his had been in dealing with that young woman in the lobby.  Scorn and disdain are the dirty twins of excessive hubris and my conscience was pricking me that mine was no less than his.  The only difference perhaps being that his condescension and superiority had become so deeply ingrained that he now subconsciously denigrated people on a regular basis, quite possibly unbeknownst to him.  But I knew, and that made me responsible.  I am not a quick thinker.  And while I mulled this over in my mind, the moment of Q & A ended and attendees were gathering their things and leaving the conference room.

 

I stood in the middle of the room absent mindedly watching as people filed past me while two or three people stood looking at the samples of vests and equipment set out at the front of the room.  Brian was packing his briefcase to leave and as he walked past me he smiled and said, “It’s a lot to take in isn’t it?  I’m sure you have questions.”  It was clearly rhetorical.  I felt the full weight of the intended and well rehearsed condescension.  The tone he likely used with everyone.  I stuck my hand out and introduced myself.  I was confident that he would never remember either my name or face and I felt a twinge of relief.  I was no longer in a Q & A session.  The time for questions was over.   I leaned in and quietly said, “Kevlar is synthetic plastic, not titanium.   It is made stronger by the polymerization of long chain molecules.  It’s relationship to thermodynamics is only in the fact that it is indeed matter.  The first law of thermodynamics states that matter can be changed, rearranged or manipulated, but not destroyed.  The second law of thermodynamics, the one you connected to this Kevlar vest, follows where the first leaves off.  It states that the continual changing of matter, through its dispersal and manipulation, creates a state of entropy which then continues in an ever-increasing state of decay.  So… to equate this Kevlar vest with the second law of thermodynamics, was to say in essence that it will simply get weaker and weaker over time.  You might want to rethink that logic on your next sales pitch.”  I smiled my best smile, which isn’t very impressive and has never gotten me much, and turned and walked away.

 

On the third day of the convention, in the morning as people gathered, there appeared before Brian’s wonderful Presidential suite on the 7th floor, a veritable buffet of empty wine bottles, beer bottles, and possibly a pair of ladies silky undergarments.  It appeared that someone had written, “Thanks Brian, you were great.  Thanks for explaining some of those canine things so well.”  in bright sin-red lipstick on his hotel room door.  I have no idea who might have done it, but I applaud that champion of underdogs.

 

I do not know if that woman from the first night at the conference ever got her question answered.  I don’t know how Brian’s attitude affected her.  I do know how it affected me.  My response to Brian was my own, and for my part, I do not think that it was the best response I could have offered.  Words like:  inspire, encourage, and motivate; are verbs.  By definition, they describe an action and most often their purpose is to evince change in the status quo.   Most often we use these verbs in a positive sense, though not always.  Did my words to Brian produce a change in him or his lecture?  I don’t know, but I can take a guess.  Change and investment in people’s lives rarely comes through a few snide sentences, no matter how technically “right” they might be.  Change is born in the heart and mind.  It is best and most often the offspring of sincerity partnered with truth.  Sincerity itself is not a moral endeavor.  The world is filled with examples of sincerity to inaccuracy.  We must learn from those who have held the standard.  Not in sincerity alone, but in correct thinking, right acting and sound motivation.

 

So who and why and what do we look to, as our guides and teachers?  It is an important question, because if we have teachers who are sincere, but sincerely wrong, we learn deeply held beliefs but wrong skills or behaviors.  If we have teachers who teach from a place of correct thinking and sound motivation, but lack the sincerity to invest in or encourage their students; we learn correct actions, but slowly and inefficiently, lacking passion or commitment.  We feel disconnected and lost in the process and are often incapable of expanding on that knowledge in any different situation.

 

This last year I had some difficult decisions to make.  Made more difficult by not completely understanding how to look at the problem from any remotely objective point of view.  Sometimes we need someone who can maintain a little objectivity and still provide us with clarity.  That is also NOT saying that objectivity is the same thing as a laissez-faire attitude.  I called both Mark and Miranda, at different times, frustrated and unsure of what to think or which direction to go.  I am pretty good at reading maps.  I don’t know why.  I would much prefer that someone give me directions in terms of North, South, East, and West, rather than left and right.  It is more direct, it removes inexact options.  I don’t enjoy wandering, though I admit that sometimes wandering is what we need to do to get us to realize that we just might be lost and need help!

 

When I called Mark and Miranda, I learned (only later, because I’m kinda slow) that I didn’t really need an answer, I needed the support and encouragement to find my own answer.   They told me that whatever I chose, they would support.  Support is a funny thing.  Support does not always require 100% agreement, it requires the continued caring and communication of the supporter.  In that, both Mark and Miranda have been there for me.  Entirely and completely.

 

Their responses were each unique.  Miranda was almost immediately upbeat and progressive about what I considered to be a huge decision in my life.  She was excited.  Her excitement colored my view and changed my perception of both her and me, and the situation.  I needed that, though I was initially taken aback by her forthright attitude, mostly because I did not perceive the “problem” as she did.  Where I saw a roadblock, she saw possibility.  …  I needed that.  Which is not the same as saying that at the time I was particularly happy about it.

 

Mark’s response was very different.  Mark would make a good litigator.  He listened a lot but when I started sinking into my ruts (and there are many) he systematically countered.  I like debate.  I happen to be fairly adept at verbal repartee.  This was not one of those times.  I was out of my element and comfort zone and while he recognized this, he also did not allow me to settle there for long.  It is a talent, perhaps a gift to disagree with someone without shattering them.  Most often disagreements, arguments, or discussions that devolve into defensive rants, never produce useful results.  The removal of emotionalism from the discussion, the separation of behavior from personhood, is not an easy thing to accomplish.

 

My point:  I appreciated and needed both approaches.  Recently on the phone with Erin Sisson, we agreed that one of the greatest benefits in working with Mark and Miranda was NOT their similarity, but their distinct and unique differences.  I initially, when I met them, thought that we would hear the same things from each.  While they support and compliment each other, their approaches to the same goal are from different directions.  Like the perpendicular warp and weft of woven fabric, they interweave, but the threads are unique and individual.

 

For the record I will never wear a WWM&MD bracelette either.  Not because I do not respect and admire and trust them.  It would not take a great mind to recognize my opinion of Mark and Miranda.  But I think that possibly one of the best things I have learned from them is their support and respect for the individuality of the horses and people that they teach and serve.  Trainers exist like the colors on an artist’s palette.  There will always be trainers like Brian.  Trainers and clinicians who speak much and say little.   Trainers like Mark and Miranda are fewer and farther between.  They are harder to find, they are quieter, they talk less but say far more.  Sometimes, I have seen them talking not at all, but to think they are not speaking would be folly and simplistic.  For every sentence spoken there are far more thought out and pondered.  Wisdom holds the tongue in check.  This creates a phenomenon known as “weighted words.”  The concept that import comes less from the volume of words spoken than it does the impact and personalization of a few carefully chosen words.

 

This summer Mark and Miranda will be clinicians at the Mustang Family Reunion Ride in June.  I would strongly encourage anyone who has not attended a clinic to come, observe, participate, question and ride.  The options for attending are numerous and the above link will take you to that page for more information.

 

Recently I had a conversation with Miranda about riding my mare and I was discouraged.  She told me something that I will forever remember.  It didn’t take her an hour to come up with and it didn’t have the flowery poetic appeal that sometimes masquerades as wisdom.  It is a poignant example of Miranda’s weighted words.  It was really quite simple and yet somehow so profound.  She said that sometimes in the midst of learning things we forget that horses are there for us to be with and enjoy, go ride your horse.  

 

We’re Having a Heat Wave!

Miranda, you know her.  That kind, always helpful woman who is encouraging and upbeat.  …  She asked the other day, “So how is the cold?”   …  Funny…  I would love to have a clinic in the dead of winter here just for her, just for that!

 

I am not in Texas, land of the free, home of the warmth.  I am in Indiana, land of the corn and home of the ever-changing-weather.  Furthermore, we live in the belt below Lake Michigan where all the excess moisture gets deposited each winter … Kind of like a landfill for snow and ice. Recently I asked someone in Texas about their winters and with a completely straight face they told me, “Well, it really does get quite cold, it can get to 30!!!”

 

I looked at her like thismonkey2

 

I recognize that for some 30 is really cold.  Technically it is below freezing.  I also realize that up here in the winterwonderland, we prepare for cold in a different manner.  We prep the roads before hand and we have warehouses full of salt and road additive.  We have ice scrapers and chains and some of us give up and drive snow machines instead of vehicles.   And we have the clothing to adequately deal with weather that makes 30 degrees look like a picnic on Mercury.

 

So we are prepared… somewhat.  Frankly there is only preparing and being ready.  You cannot overcome nature and no amount of prep beats ice.  Ice wins.

 

We also have wind chill.  Wind chill is a glorious thing.  Designed by our creator to remind us of our human limitations and frailty it serves quite well as a humbling force all on its own.  The following little example serves as a warning to any who disrespect the cold and windchill (Miranda)… as I did that fateful morning a few years ago.

 

-19 while not unheard of, is still on the basement floor of what we normally expect here in the icebox of America, better known as South Bend, Indiana.   The weatherman, dressed in a bright floral shirt, sipping his morning java, smiling and warm, offhandedly mentioned that the “breeze” outside was reaching 20 mph with gusts to 35 mph.  This pushed the windchill to below -50, dangerous in any state, no matter how used to cold you might be.

 

Like anyone who has livestock or animals, it doesn’t really matter what the weather is, if it’s your birthday, or you aren’t feeling up to snuff, those animals need cared for.  We had planned to put in electric and water to our north field the next summer, but for now the only option we had was to bucket water three times a day out to the stock tank at the gate.  I am a fan of procrastination when it comes to things like, taking the trash out, just mash that thing down with your foot!  But when it comes to doing the chores I am a bit OCD.  So I bundled up in my coveralls, put on all my accessories, hat, mittens (everyone knows mittens are warmer than gloves) and muck boots with two pair of socks.

 

There really isn’t a way to explain the smack you get when you step from 65 to -50.  It will make you gasp and then deeply regret it.  It’s amazing how cold can also be burning, but anyone who has experienced it is nodding right now.  So I was hurrying, as much as my heavily swaddled 5 foot frame could hurry.  I had my two 5 gallon pails of water and had 2 more sitting inside the back door.  One trip to the barn, two trips with the water.  It really wasnt that hard.  But there is always that small moment of worry when you go out each morning in weather so fierce, when you round the corner for the first time each morning and you see them there, healthy, waiting, steam streaming from their noses, hoar frost clinging to their eyelashes and whiskers.  That moment, filled with relief is probably one of the best feelings I can imagine.  But the pent up energy of fighting against weather that would rob you of your warmth can actually make you perspire just a little bit.

 

I threw the hay over the fence and picked up the buckets of water.  The tank was just far enough away from the gate that I had to go inside the field to dump it.  Which meant I had to open the gate.  Might not seem like a huge deal to you….. oh-it-gets-to-30! people.  Let me assure you… it is!  The gate is metal, my hands are little white girl hands.  I am not a weakling, but there is no callous on earth that metal can not match.  Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, mittens are warmer, but they fall real short on manual dexterity.  And while I was hustling back and forth, I built up just a small amount of moisture on my skin.   I also had a lot on my mind and I wasn’t thinking, which changed quickly.  I pulled my mitten off with my teeth and reached out for the gate clasp.  The moment I gripped the gate my mind started a loud beeping of alarm.  Warning, warning!

 

I dont’ precisely remember but i’m pretty sure what came out of my mouth was not edifying!  I had been trying to multitask and was clutching one 5 gallon bucket of steaming water in one hand while my other hand was now stuck to the gate.  I leaned in and breathed on my hand, no luck.  Leaned a little closer to try to melt my hand off the gate with my hot breath and touched my nose to the fence.  In a panic I yanked back.

 

In certain situations there comes a moment of determination where you know what you need to do and you know it’s going to get ugly.  This was one of those situations.  Grit your teeth and yank.  I pulled back and felt a ripping stinging feeling that I walled off in my mind to deal with at a later time.  The problem with multitasking is…. I stink at it.  I forgot about the bucket of water that I was holding and as I pulled away from the gate, I started moving backward at a pretty good rate.  I went to throw my arm behind me to brace for the fall I knew was coming only to remember that I was clutching 5 gallons of quickly chilling water.  I also realized too late that the second bucket of water was directly behind me so that when I took a quick step back I tripped over it.  I sat down hard in the snow and the water sat down with me.  One bucket coated my chest and waist and the bucket on the ground behind me leaked into the legs of my coveralls right at the knee.

 

I remember looking up at the two young steers who stood there looking back at me, expectantly and disapprovingly.  It is a good thing I was not carrying at that moment because they both would have been butchered prematurely!

 

I got myself up off the ground, I was now flying on pure adrenaline.  Part anger at myself and the metal gate, part nagging fear of  how quickly water, thinly dispersed onto fabric, will freeze in -50 temps.  I gathered the buckets and headed for the house.

 

Our field is not awfully far from our house, but in -50 degrees, it is like the journey to Mecca.  My legs started to feel heavy and looking down at them I noticed they were starting to get shiny.  I started to move faster.  But they were starting to feel stiffer and the knees weren’t bending properly.  By the time I got to the house I had to hobble left and right like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz.  I got to the back deck only to realize that I had to go up 3 steps to the back door and the knees of my coveralls were now totally frozen.   It was only 3 steps for pity sake, but at that moment it could have been Mount Everest.  I stood there for a moment, but the clock was ticking.

 

I tried to lean back while at the same time lifting my leg up forward onto the step and leaned a little too far.  I fell backward.  But this time, unlike out at the field, I couldn’t just bend my knees and get up.  I floundered around like a mermaid out of water, freezing fast.  I finally got myself in enough of a splits position to get myself upright and sat down backwards on the steps and pulled myself up the stairs like hauling up frozen logs.  Finally up on top of the deck I was only 3 feet from my destination.  Heaven is surely 65 degrees!  I reached for the doorknob (with mittened hands!) … frozen.  I started laughing.  Are you kidding me?  They will find me in the spring, 6 inches from safety and this face loomed in front of me.the-shining-frozen-jack-nicholson

 

I could go in the back of the garage, attached right next to the house, and into the house through there.  I had to go down three steps on the other side of the deck but I had gravity on my side and at this point I was ok with just throwing myself down and crawling in!

 

But we never use the door into the back of the garage and there was a 2 foot drift, packed by weeks of accumulation and I knew I’d never get in there.  I knew that there was a butane torch in the barn and I thought about melting the door latch but I wasn’t quite sure I could get there in my current board-like state.  I decided that was my best option and managed to hobbled my way there.  I must have looked like a little short Frankenstein and I am pretty sure if someone had video taped it, I would have been sitting pretty on a fat cash prize from America’s Funniest Videos, but there were no other idiots out in this weather… just me.

 

Out of the wind in the barn, I started feeling the stinging burn that precedes the more serious lack of feeling.  I pulled out my Kerosene 125,000 BTU hurricane heater (my pride and joy) and fumbled through the filling, plugging and lighting process.  Anyone who has heard a hurricane heater knows that the sound is a little overwhelming, but I promise you that the London Symphony Orchestra never sounded as good as that heavy whoosh and roar of forced air.  I stood exhausted, pondering my next move on getting the back door open… or should I try for the front door in the hopes that I could ring the doorbell and one of my children would come and open it.  They knew I was outside doing chores.  I had told them to stay inside, it was too cold, I would only be a few minutes….  My youngest was probably still asleep upstairs and the other two were suppose to be starting school.  I had a practice of tricking them sometimes (jokingly) and testing their focus and commitment by suddenly screaming… ice cream truck!!!!  and running out the front door to see if they would fall for it. There are no ice cream trucks where we live and they quickly learned to stick their noses in their books and ignore all outside stimuli.  I had one child who found ironic turn abouts fair play to be a bigger delight than it should have been and I knew she would be the one to break the rules and unlock the door, which they were also never to do if I was not in the house.  But she would have to get past her older, conscientious, brother, who took his job of being “in charge” seriously.

 

I stood there wondering where the butane torch might be.  Where a lighter might be and if torching the door was going to cause me more problems than it solved.  I felt the feeling coming back into my legs but it was the smell that caught my attention more quickly.  Kerosene heaters are incredibly safe.  Lots of people freak out about the use of space heaters and caution and common sense are always the rule of the day, but … not apparently THIS day!  If the line is not clean in your forced air Kerosene heater, you can occasionally get what is called a flame out.  It is just what the name implies.  And when someone who has been frozen solid by Indiana’s finest weather, stands in front of said heater, while their mind wanders to how to tackle the job of getting back inside to the warmth of their home… bad things can happen.  125,000 BTU is a fairly effective heating range to toast the ice off frozen coveralls… and then set them on fire.

 

I looked down just in time to see them start turning black and then start to glow.  I screamed and did the only logical thing available to me.  I stripped… faster than a girl I knew in college …. never mind, different story.  I am not sure at what point my coveralls had been coated in thermite to make them so flammable, but they flamed up faster than I really thought they should!  I might later consider writing a letter to the Carharts company complete with pictures but right now, I was standing in the unheated barn and had gone from inconvenient to precariously dangerous.  I peered out the window.  So close, and yet so far.  Not an hour before I had crawled from my nice warm bed, made coffee and stepped into my coveralls to begin this comedy of errors.  All the layers I pulled on were in the form of mittens, socks and hat.  The rest of my body, swaddled in heavy carharts would not need heavy layers.  Having planned to race back to the house, pour some coffee and curl up under a blanket on the couch, I saw no need for layers of long underwear, pants, shirts, and sweaters…. as such, I had thrown on the coveralls pretty much in the same manner I had exited the bed, which is to say, in no way correct “apparel” for any public weather, let along -50!

 

I started to laugh again, I didn’t have my phone with me, again, I had no plans of this turning into a greek tragedy or epic tale.  And who would I call anyway?  We have no neighbors to speak of, the only friends close enough were a quiet, proper family a few miles away…  He was the pastor of a small conservative church….  I smiled at the thought of that.  Well THAT would get me some prayer I bet!

 

I tested the coveralls for hot spots and redonned them.  They were a lot easier to pull on now, they fit kind of like a dress but at least it provided me some protection from the wind.  I grabbed the only other option I had in the barn, a tarp.  I decided to head straight for the front door and the doorbell.

 

An hour later I had collapsed on the couch, after having made it inside, thanks to my attentive children.  I redressed and watered the calves… more carefully this time.   Propped the door unlatched this time and promised myself that I would shovel the garage entryway the next day…. or the day after that.  I put my fingers in my coffee, smiling.  It was so deliciously hot.  My mind wandered to possibly bathing in hot coffee when I heard the weatherman on the news.  I turned to see his bright face smiling.  The forecast tomorrow… -7…. I smiled, heatwave!

 

Yesterday Miranda posted a picture of Mark riding a pretty mare that is in training with them.  The sun was shining, the grass was green.  Mark appeared to be in a nice shirt… long sleeve, but not insulated!…. comfortable….

I’m pretty sure this was the look  on my face…

 

sneer

 

Stay warm friends!  And good luck to all those competing in the Mustang Magic competition January 20-23.

What are you waiting for?

Mark Lyon and the Waiting game.  I watched it, he won it.

 

It’s the beginning of a new year.  New Year’s resolutions abound.  I never make them though I do not begrudge the practice in others.  I used to make them.  To learn a sport… failed that one.  I could not tell you the important stats on a given sport to save my life.  I don’t even know why I made that resolution!  To speak less and listen more… failed that one on the very first day when a friend mentioned that gun ownership should belong only to law enforcement and that they should turn their guns in at the ends of their shifts.  I had a LOT to say about that one!  CLEP (College Level Examination Program) is a way for students to get college credit if they pass an exam that covers a comprehensive compilation of the matter in a given subject.  One year I decided that my New Year’s Resolution was to CLEP out of Calculus, Chemistry and Biology, three subjects I had never had in my years growing up other than a cursory introduction to Biology and Algebra.  That meant I would have to teach myself the whole subject before the CLEP test date.  I believe it is quite possible that this particular resolution was made under the influence, because I would like to believe that I wouldn’t have done anything that hair-brained while under the full control of all my limited faculties!  But I was committed.  Biology was a little easier than I had thought, and having a bit of a pyromaniac streak in me, I loved Chemistry and signed up for lab time to blow a few things up… I mean, perform properly managed and carefully controlled experiments.  I passed both CLEP tests and went into Calculus cocky.   I did not pass!  But the hardest resolution that I ever made was …. to be more patient, and to be willing to wait.

princess bride

 

To many, wait is a 4 letter word.  Ok, well, wait is a 4 letter word to everyone unless you are talking about the relative mass of an object and it’s downward force…..

 

We don’t usually like to wait.

 

We wait in lines

We wait for test results

We wait for the light to turn green

We wait for appointments

We wait 9 months for a child to be born and many wait even longer to adopt a child

We wait for an answer to prayer

We wait for a movie to come out (my kids recently saw Star Wars, but the weeks waiting on that nearly killed them… and their mother)

 

We often see waiting as a waste of time.  Wait and time are irrevocably linked.   We see waiting as a passing of time while nothing is happening, but that is most assuredly not the case.  We see waiting as the passive opposite to action.  Waiting however, is not passive, it is often proactive, and it is not easy.

 

Last year I watched Mark starting a horse.  I have seen a lot of horses broken, and by broken, I mean broken.   Most of the horses that I saw trained, were trained for harness not under saddle, but the point here is the process, not the skill set.  I had never seen patience, calmness and active waiting, until I saw and heard Mark with that horse.

 

People that I had seen break horses, in my experience (disclaimer… my experience means and is worth very little) were trainers that held an inverse relationship with their horse’s actions.  We often refer to horses as being reactive, but humans are often just as reactionary.  As the horse becomes confused and frightened, his reactionary nature moves into the foreground and the trainers I observed then perceived this as stubbornness or stupidity or willful refusal.  The trainers frustration becomes an inversion of the horse’s responses.   In a frenetic attempt to goad, prod or badger the horse into a correct behavior, the trainer becomes almost hyper-active in his own choices of behavior.

 

Mark was not in a clinic in this situation, someone had simply come up and asked for help and typical of their response, he had quickly given it.   To be clear, I have little skill with horses.  I have a lot of history in their presence, not all of it good.  I do not have the skill nor do I have the understanding that many have and I hope that I have never made it seem so.  But I do watch and more than that, I listen.  I can hear Mark’s voice and the subsequent conversation.  Please forgive how I may describe what I saw, as it may seem naive or ignorant to those more skilled and knowledgable, but I am very clear on what I heard.  Mark’s body language and particularly his hands did not seem filled with any tension.  Mark was not resisting or fighting the horse, he was guiding.  It is subtle and I will not condescend to explain the difference, I expect you understand that, far more than did I.  Unlike what I had experienced growing up, as the trainer became more frustrated, he became very “busy.”  Mark became very quiet.  He was waiting.  He was unconcerned.  He was not stressing out over the horse’s behavior.   Waiting, was the best word that I could come up with for the process Mark was involved in.  He was waiting on the horse’s understanding and resultant decision.  He knew it was coming.  I guess I have needed a few experiences recently to make me more fully understand the process of waiting.

 

He explained that his goal was not to demand mindless acquiesce from the horse, but to help him see and move through the door he had opened for him.  He explained that he had shut any other possible doors and simply was waiting for the horse to take the path of least resistance, which happened to be the door Mark had opened for him.  Mark knew where the door was.  It was Mark’s goal to help him find the door and make the choice, not drag him to it and shove or whip him through it.  It was a great analogy and one that was easily relatable to his observers.

 

It became clear that he was creating in the horse a foundation for what would become a pattern in his future schooling.  Furthermore, it struck me that Mark’s willingness to wait on the horse to find the answer, indicated that he put great value on what it was he was waiting for.  What we are willing to wait for says a lot about how we value that end goal.  Not only what Mark was waiting on, but HOW he waited, said a lot about Mark.  Waiting is very hard.   And like many hard things, it requires practice, dedication and it is a choice.

 

I don’t think I really have a bucket list.  I’ve said that before though and then come up with things that I would have liked to have done.  I would love to see a falcon hunt.  The sport of falconry has always fascinated me, though I’m not really sure why.  One of the terms in falconry is called, “waiting on.”  It is precisely what it sounds like.  It is the active waiting of the falcon on the falconer.  Far above him, he will wait for extremely long periods of time for quarry to be released.

 

The Bible has a lot to say about waiting.  In Psalm 130 David says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.”  Doesn’t sound passive like sitting on the couch to me.  Both Matthew and Mark recount when Christ healed Peter’s mother in law and she got up and began to wait on them.  In restaurants we call them waiters.  Their job is not to sit in the back, but to wait actively on the table in their service.  They are waiting and watching on the ones they serve.  Waiting for orders or requests.  There are also a number of references to waiting, as a lion or a bear waits on its prey.  Also not a passive, inattentive picture in our minds.

 

We have come to live in a wait-free world.  We can hardly stand the 3 second wait for a reply to a text.  Microwaves cook food in minutes so we don’t have to wait.  Digital pictures can be downloaded and printed immediately so we don’t have to wait for them to be processed.  We don’t wait for relationships either.  We jump into and out of them as soon as the winds of discord blow.  We don’t wait for rewards.  We want instant gratification, immediate answers, fast turn around times, speedy Jimmy-Johns delivery.  We don’t like waiting for mail, we don’t like taking the train or waiting at the airport.  Everything has been tailored to suit our impatience and expedience.  At what great cost.

 

We have exchanged commitment to the process for simpler and quicker end results.  End results that are often woefully lacking in-depth and foundation.  For the last couple years I have prayed… begged… pleaded…. and then carefully qualified my prayer.  This last week was the wait of a lifetime.  Like that girl Veruca Salt, in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when she sings that song, “I want it NOW”  …  I was that foolish child.  But waiting is an exquisite pain and a priceless process.  Waiting defines us in some ways.  And through the wait and defining, comes refining.

 

There is a time for everything.  A season for every activity under the heavens.

 

There is a time to wait.  There is also a time to NOT wait.  For what are you waiting?  Mark was waiting for something he knew was coming.  He designed the path and guided the outcome.   His vision, in many things and in many ways, has changed the lives of many horses and their owners.  In fact, Mark Lyon is the reason that I taught my children about Michael Faraday. Faraday lived in the early 1800’s and was largely self-taught.  Autodidacticism is the three dollar word for someone who largely teaches themselves about a topic and to expertise in that topic, often reaching a level of skill above what would be considered the norm.  Autodidacts also tend toward learning many different things, because theirs is not just an enjoyment of learning, but an insatiable and uncanny ability to grasp knowledge and possibly more importantly, to expound upon it.  To utilize it in a practical manner.  Michael Faraday was lauded by Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and Albert Einstein, as one of the greatest scientists in history. Not for his one time accomplishment (we most often reference his invention of the Faraday cage but he did far far more than that)  but because of the foundation he laid in electromagnetics.  Michael Faraday was also a waiter.  Patient, sure of himself and his research, he was willing to wait for what he knew was coming.  His waiting was rewarded.  As was Marks.

 

We hear a lot about a brand new year and wiping the slate clean and starting fresh.  But there is something to be said for starting where you are.  We live often through great paradox in this world.  We attempt to forget the past and move forward and I am not saying that is always a bad thing.  I have done it and I know people of better esteem who have as well.  But staying the course, continuing on, plodding forward, all have their own unique merits.

 

A new year with new opportunities for training, both yourself and your horse.  Never has there ever been a better time to act, to wait.   Happy New Year, what are you waiting for?

 

 

Sent: Bronsmethhospital/ptserver/3

 

 

Merry Christmas

So little to give to two people for whom I care so deeply.  This is all that I really have, a few small words to give.  Mark and Miranda, may your Christmas be ever filled with this kind of love….

 

“Oh Little town of Bethlehem”…  A favorite among Christmas Carols for its sweet lyrics and simple melody.  Bethlehem itself however, held perhaps less appeal than that Carol.   It was known for little other than its sheep.  The lambs used for temple sacrifices, for the atonement of sins, were born and raised in Bethlehem.  The shepherds who guarded and watched over them, were officially labeled by religious leaders as sinners.  They shared a social caste system with dung sweepers, both ritually and socially unclean; and tax collectors, little more than Roman sanctioned thugs and thieves.

 

While shepherding was an important and necessary job, and had at certain times garnered a modicum of respect, at the time of Christ’s birth, the role had fallen into increasingly ill-repute.  Jewish scholars and historians note that purchasing milk, wool or a lamb directly from a shepherd was illegal as it was assumed that the purchase would almost certainly be stolen merchandise.  In the book of Zephaniah shepherding was paralleled with ostracism and a disconnect from the accepted and valued of society.

 

From the beginning of time, the very first murder occurred because of the rift between a shepherd and a farmer.  That rivalry continued.  Egypt was an agrarian society and they despised the unkempt “hillbilly” sons of Jacob.  Egyptian art and literature refered negatively to shepherds and their hatred peaked when shepherds overran and settled in lower Egypt, their flocks devouring the carefully cultivated crops.

 

The Mishnah, the “Oral Torah” of Jewish traditions, states that you must save a lamb or sheep from a fall in a well or pit, but makes it clear that no one should feel obligated to save a shepherd who had likewise fallen into a pit.  Nothing says, “you have no value” more than the socially sanctioned exculpation of your own demise.  It’s ok, it’s just a shepherd… don’t strain your back.

 

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ starts with his genealogy.  But most people who read this account frequently start at verse 18, skipping over the somewhat tedious list of long, hard to pronounce names.  But that list is important.  There are a lot of lowly shepherds in that list and some other interesting people as well.  Rahab, the harlot.  The role of the harlot in history has always been linked to the fall of a nation, the descent into broken, lewd, failure.  And yet, there she is, her future forever secured not only in her link to Christ, but also through the birth of her son Boaz who married the next odd member of Christ’s line.   Ruth, not an Israelite, but a Moabite and an outsider.   An odd choice, a foreigner with foreign gods, to be related to the King of kings.  Tamar, who took matters into her own hands by disguising herself as a prostitute to sleep with her father-in-law.  Not the tidy heritage we think of in relation to the holy, blemish-free Son of God.  And there hidden in plain sight in Matthew 1:6 that most famous of women, unnamed and yet mentioned. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”  Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  And the list includes other notable mistake-makers, David may have topped the list, but he sure had company!  Amon, Judah, Manasseh and the list goes on.  The perfect Lamb of God was not afraid to hold a heritage of stain.  It was, in fact, not a random downline of simple sex and progeny.  It was designed and chosen.  He chose to claim the outcasts, shepherds, prostitutes and blunderers.

 

Odd choices, lowly they seem.  Insignificant and maybe a bit improper.  He chose some illiterate fishermen, a tax collector, a hot-tempered zealot and a cynical doubter instead of religious men to be his closest friends and confidantes.  He chose a borrowed crib and a borrowed tomb.  He chose a mother and father too poor to present the customary sacrifice for the birth of a first-born son and the ritual cleansing of Mary.  Instead, they brought the lowest acceptable sacrifice, two doves.  He chose the path in Jerusalem to an ugly wooden beam through the gate that all lambs travelled on their way to slaughter in the temple, the Sheep gate. He chose a donkey, a symbol of peaceful trade and lowly station for his first ride through the city.   Interestingly his next return will not be as passive or as peaceful.  The clear juxtaposition of choosing first a donkey and then a horse for his second return to Jerusalem was significant not only to the Jews, but to the ruling Roman body.  Horses were for royalty and for war.  Signs and symbols of power and might, they were used not only as transport, but as intimidation, terror and crowd control.  And his return to Jerusalem will not be through the sheep gate, it will be through the Eastern gate, the Golden gate, the only gate that enters from the outside directly to the temple mount facing the Mount of Olives to the East.  It has been sealed  for over a thousand years despite several plots and violent attempts to open it.  It will indeed be opened one day, only once, by only one King.

 

Memorial hospital, here in South Bend, has a little chime that plays for the birth of each child. It rings throughout the hospital.  It is not long or loud, but at any given moment, the tinkling sound lightens for a moment, that bleak house.  It pierces through the painful prognosis, the mechanical noises of IV pumps and infusion sets, the intimidating whine of the radiation room, the click and hum of a hundred different machines reporting on a hundred different problems.  It is a pause in the pain of a difficult place.  It is heard by the patients in the psych ward, fighting their own little monsters.  It is heard by the homeless addicts in the ER and the educated medical personnel alike.  By the staff as they clean, cook, organize and go about their daily duties.  I asked a nurse once if it became so common place that it almost didn’t register.  Her response, “Oh absolutely not.  It is always there, almost like we are waiting for it.”  She worked on a difficult floor.  Hers was the job of caring for high risk cancer patients.  The ones who were not making it.  She was the witness to stand in the room, quietly during the pronouncement that a person has left this Earth.  How fitting that her ears were ever tuned for the uplifting chime of a life entering it two floors below.

 

God chose a chime to herald the birth of his Son on Earth.  The chime of the host of Heaven.  Most assuredly more impressive than the tinkle of that little hospital bell.  I always smile just a little when I read the account of those shepherds long ago.  Not just a day job shepherding was.  Luke refers to them as living in the fields and watching the flocks at night.  An angel appeared and in my mind I think … his first words were to shout “FEAR NOT!”  scaring the living daylights out of the poor witless shepherds.  God’s unique sense of humor.  I admit that’s probably not how it happened, but I always felt the irony.  I am not sure where the notion emerged that angels are fair-haired, feminine, toga-wearing beings who emanate a soft glow and have beautiful white feathery wings.  Biblically, all references to angels are masculine and frankly a little scary! Their descriptions in Revelation are awe-inspiring, but in no way “gentle and sweet” as we tend to see them hovering over children’s cribs.   Ironic too is their presence and proclamation to a group of people who carried no social weight.  A shepherd’s witness was not admissible in the courts of the day, and they were considered less value than the sheep they were tending.  Yet God chose them.  The foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.

 

We wield logic, we rest in faith.  We use logic as a tool in winning an argument to a provable definable end, but we err greatly if we conversely see faith as the weak and passive opposite to logic.  Faith is not passive, it is living and active and permeates our every fiber.  From infancy we form our faith.  Children are creatures of amazing faith, simple, complete and unassuming.  Faith in fact, precedes logic.   But the two are not mutually exclusive and should work together like a finely tuned machine.  A few years ago a friend and I discussed the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection and the hope and faith in his promised return.  My friend disregarded faith as fallible and faulty, unsubstantiated, unprovable, unfounded.  An exercise for the weak of mind.  I reminded him that scientific method must by definition include human perspective.   Was the world flat until we discovered through astrocartography and circumnavigation, that it was not so?  Did the planets and galaxy clusters outside the Hubble deep space telescope’s ever-increasing view exist prior to their observation?  Did gravity exist before Newton formulated that every mass exerts an attractive force on every other mass?  Certainly.  Truth does not require our admission, it does not need our approval or agreement.  It does not need for us to understand it or recognize it or validate it.  Truth exists as a stand-alone, Pro se entity.   I wrote a chemical equation on a piece of paper, C12H22O….. X .  I asked him to solve for X using Pierre Provost’s theory of exchanges.  Provost’s theory is utilized throughout both applied and theoretical physics and I knew he would understand the reference.  He rolled his eyes and I can hear the haughty sneer of condescension in his voice as he shook his head and said, “That is ridiculous.  You can’t solve a Chemistry equation with a Physics theory.”  I smiled.  “Nor can you answer a Faith based question through logical argument alone.”  God will not be mocked.  God created a Universe more vast than any branch of Science can diminish.  He created a universe so exact in its minutiae as to hold a complete and working biome in a single droplet of water or a speck of dirt.  He will not be confused or concerned by our small disagreements and little logic problems.  (By the way… it’s O11… a disaccharide combination of monosaccharides that we call Sucrose… common table sugar.)

In a Micky Mouse special, Mickey proclaims, “Christmas is found by the way that we live, not what we receive, but what we can give.”

It’s a sweet quote and I am all for giving gifts.  I love it.  But to be completely clear, Christmas is NOT about the way we live.  If that notion were true, Christ’s lineage would be filled with people who could be seen to have backed up that claim.  His first birth announcement would have been at the temple in Jerusalem to the priests and religious elite.  His life would have been dedicated to the proper social strata.


Christmas breaks the rules and shatters propriety.  Christmas fulfills prophesy and promise.  Christmas is not logical.   Christmas is the I Am in the form of a powerless baby.  The I Am who slung the stars into space, more stars than are countable.  In fact, we threw out practical mathematics and developed a whole new theoretical branch of math and STILL can’t number the stars in the sky.  Our futile attempt to understand that which was never ours to comprehend.  And that unnumbered canopy that lights the sky at night, is but a small representation of the vast and pervasive love of a Father for his child.  A love that is without end, without comprehension, without explanation.   It is a relentless love that would command the prophet Hosea to marry the whore Gomer, to demonstrate to a wandering and fickle nation, His undying redemptive love in the face of utter faithlessness.   It is a love that cannot be destroyed, dimmed or denied.  It is not only, the soft gentle response of a mother to her child, but the thundering demand for justice from an entirely holy and completely righteous God.  It is an amazing and wild love, a violent and costly grace.  It is the untamed tidal wave, all-consuming and unfathomable.  Christmas is hope through the birth of a child born to die and through death to save.  Christmas is omnipotence wrapped in strips of cloth, with a dirty feed trough for a bed.  The Alpha and Omega in 7 pounds of wailing helplessness.

 

Christmas is radical.  Never in the history of the world has there been a more loved, more despised man. You cannot sit on the fence.  His very existence requires a radical choice.  He cannot be merely a good man, a clever prophet.  As C.S. Lewis put in his great trilemma, He is either liar, lunatic or Lord.   “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

 

Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve…

 

The baby in the manger who grew, struggled, was tempted, lonely, tired, hurt, tortured, abandoned, bled and died; is no longer the helpless infant in that still and silent town of Bethlehem.  He is very much alive and He is on His throne. He has conquered. The war is won, though the battle is coming.

 

The shepherds response to the angel’s message was as simple as they were.  They held no meeting to discuss the possible meanings and outcomes, they did not vote, they took no gifts, they had nothing of value to offer.  They simply came.  They abandoned the sheep on that hill, the lambs that would provide temporary atonement for sin.  They abandoned the temporary lambs to seek the One eternal Lamb, who could take away the sins of the world once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Make me as simple as those shepherds.  May I ever be willing just to come.  May your Christmas be filled with illogical, radical, life-changing faith in the knowledge of Christ’s deep and indescribable love for you.  His willing sacrifice to save you, not corporeally, but personally, intimately and eternally.  You were bought with a price, redeemed through His righteousness.  You were, are and always will remain loved beyond measure.  The very definition of love, the baby, the King, our Savior Immanuel.

 

To not only Mark and Miranda, but to all of you, each unique, valued, individual and precious…

Merry Christmas.

Please catch me, I’m falling

Greatest game ever developed by childkind… tag!  Whose played it?  Who hasn’t?  I did a little research on the game of tag.  I think it’s really sad that there are whole websites devoted to the rules of tag and how to play it.  Really?  Three year olds can play tag.  If you can toddle you can tag!  And if you need a website to explain it, you might need to play it more and spend less time on the computer.

It has been a while since I posted.  I know that relieves a few people!  This last week has found me running… and falling.  And for some reason this evening I saw this picture of Mark and a little girl in a pink dress (shown below) and this rambling post was born.

Why is the game of tag so fun?  Is it the chasing?  The thrill of running down some poor sucker slower than you?  I mean let’s be perfectly honest…. that’s some good fun right there.  What about being chased?  Feeling your heart pounding as the linebacker who eclipses the sun closes in on you.  Wondering when you will feel that hand on your back.  Wondering if you run toward someone else if he will veer off and chase them instead.  But honestly… you really want to be chased don’t you?  Because for that moment when you are being chased, you are the sole desire of the chaser.  You are their target.  You are the goal, you are the prize.  You are worth it.

What about Hide and seek? Another great game, not created by adults with PhD’s but screaming giggling children.  What is the allure, the universality of that game?  When I played this game as a child (I have played it as an adult, armed with paintball guns and I have to say the adrenaline rush is worth the welts) no one really wanted to seek.   You had to take your turn of course, but what we really wanted was to hide.  We were all in search of the perfect spot, I remember quietly whispered fights over who had the right to climb into the corn crib, who got to hide in the springhouse in the milkroom, how could we get out onto the roof of the haymow, who was gutsy enough to hide in the shed with the hornets nests?  I hold true to the notion, that the ultimate delight in both games… is being found, being caught, being rescued, being saved.

 

There is something special about being caught.  We call it an implication and inference relationship. Today, more and more, we use the word “imply” universally and make no distinction between that word and it’s counterpart, “infer.”  An implication is an indirect statement of intent.  The recipient of that implication, then infers it’s meaning.  In this case, the “it” person makes an implication that, “I’m going to get you.”  The inference on the part of the chasee is, “I am wanted.”  Being the chasee, also requires that we assume a defensive rather than offensive position.  Being in a defensive position is the fine art of managing vulnerability and playing to weakness.   Being completely defenseless is not about handing control to someone else, it is about having no control to give.  Being completely defenseless is never a good feeling.  Falling, is a defenseless position.  Unless you can overcome gravity, you are going to hit the ground.  Or…. you can be caught.  Saved.  Being caught is being saved.  Clearly we aren’t talking here about apprehension of a criminal, though there is some interesting psychology to certain criminals wanting to be caught.

So returning to the game of tag.  There would be little game if there were no adrenaline filled rush away from the chaser.  We run for all we are worth, back arched, heart pounding, panting, arms pumping.  For the fast kids, they make their escape, they evade, dodge and the chaser slows into the distance.  But what is their almost immediate response?  As the “it” person slows and turns to see if there are other closer targets, the person who just spent all that effort to evade capture, turns around and willingly chooses to move back into range, they bait the chaser.  If he really didn’t want to be caught… he would keep running, right?  But we all know the truth.  We all want to be caught.  We want someone to set their focus on us and pursue us.  We want them to not give up.  We want them to be relentless.  In the little room in our mind we are saying, sometimes screaming, “please don’t give up on me.  Please catch me.”

 

Have you ever played hide and seek where the seeker quits?  5 kids hide, 4 are found and the seeker quits.  How does that one, still-hiding kid, feel?

 

Guinea Pigs.  My roommate and I, both early in our undergrad studies, agree to be test subjects for one another.  It ran from the marginally absurd, I made her spend a week speaking and writing in Iambic Hexameter (the meter in which Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey are written).  It was one of the quietest weeks we ever spent together, though it crackled with tension and electricity.  I asked her at the end of the week,  “How then did this, a week of torture, cause you to reflect?”   We were not roommates for longer than a year!  But she was worse!  She had access to a psychology medical lab and made me take the Stanford-Binet and WAIS tests and then made me do it AGAIN while she blared Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Godda Da Vida” as loudly as she could.  She then created some lame excuse to strap an EEG to my head and make me take an Echoic Memory recall test…. twice!  I began calling her Dr. Moreau, she responded by calling me Homer.  She was studying how people perceive, learn and recall.  Our degree paths were not entirely similar, but symbiotic enough that we each gained a degree of benefit.  I enjoyed referring to it as a parasitic relationship, where I provided her a somewhat abnormal memory recall spectrum to study and she provided me amusement and a broadening vocabulary of profanity.  But joking aside, perception was an amazing study.  Perception, at its inception… is objective.  It begins with a distal and neutral stimulus.  But from that moment forward, the observer’s impression of that thing or action begins to change.  Perception, at its cessation, is completely subjective.

 

In this simple game of hide and seek, there are 3 perceptive groups.  The seeker, who in this case has given up, the found kids, and the 5th child, still hiding, still waiting.  The seeker implies that he has exhausted his search of all known hiding spots, the 5th child then makes an inference based on this.  The seeker implies that he is tired, but the hiding child perceives and then infers (incorrectly) that he is unworthy of being found.

 

I don’t think that children consciously go through all the thought process listed above, but we see this theme played out throughout our lives in many different ways and circumstances.

 

I had a friend in the military who trained as a jumper.  I am a bit of a thrill seeker, but the prospect of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane leaves me with clammy hands.  I asked him how it felt and what he thought during the jumps.  He said, that initially the heart pounding is that first step out the door, but rather quickly training and the habituation of repeated ground drills take over and you become automatic, checking your harness, headset and altimeter.  But I found his next words fascinating.  He said, “But you never get over the rush of feeling the whoosh and backward jerk of your chute opening and filling behind you.”  Being caught.  After the big step and the long fall, it is the being caught that remained ever fixed in his memory.

 

mark7

It would be interesting to me to discover how people respond when they see a picture like this.  I find myself smiling, do you?  Not because there is a caption, and there is no animation or joke.  Not because roping is clearly a skill, and one that few possess well enough to create the above picture.  So why do I have such a visceral response to this?  By the way I grit my teeth upon typing “visceral” because it relates to the emotive quality of response minus the intellectual process.  Something that I am entirely uncomfortable with, but it truly is the proper word to use when I saw this picture.  I suppose on some level because I know the man doing the “catching” I am unable to be entirely unbiased.  But I’m sure that part of it is that I relate to that girl’s smile.  This girl may or may not have any notion of the skill and expertise needed for roping and it is likely that she never experienced anyone doing this before, yet she shows no fear or apprehension.  Granted it is also possible that the camera operator just said, “smile!”  I get that, but at its core, this picture says, “I gottcha!” and as well as the “I gottcha” there is an implied, “and you will be ok.”  It is comfort in a coil of rope.

 

mark8

I was not here when this picture was taken.  I stalked Mark and Miranda’s FB pages to find a few of these because I remembered having seen them. From the dates and the general attendance age, I would surmise that this was some sort of class demo, there were some calves and animals present for the kids to pet and I’m sure they got to interact with Mark and Miranda’s horses as well.  But this picture struck me and I can’t really say why.  It is the little boy’s body language.  We can’t see his face, but we could make some educated guesses as to what he might be feeling right at this moment.  Maybe it is wonder or a moment of nervousness, his back is tensed and his arms are closed and his shoulders are tightened up so that he clearly sees the rope coming.  He has maybe played a sufficient amount of dodgeball to be wise enough to hide behind the girl in the front… live to fight another day young man!

mark4

I suppose this picture is not really about being caught, but I think that for most people the word “held” would come to mind and the two are often intertwined.  I find that the only word we can really read on her shirt, “love” somehow adds to the impact of this photo.

miranda46

This picture does not represent  being caught in any way, but there is something about the invisible thread that links these two at this particular frozen moment in time.  It is mostly the body language Miranda is expressing.  She is in no way passive in this picture.  Not a disinterested onlooker.  She is actively engaged, as is the child.  We do not see people in the background, we have no idea what the subject matter is, possibly the girl was asking a question or telling Miranda a great secret.

And why are all these pictures of children?  I am sure that Mark and Miranda have roped a few adults in a demo, but somehow the smallness of children bends our hearts in a different, perhaps more evocative manner.  As adults we often forsake the wild abandon of play for clinical propriety.  We lose the notion that there is joy in being pursued for no better reason than that the pursuit leads to capture.  As adults we need an excuse, we need a reason.  Sometimes desperate need is its own reason.  We need to be caught. What does the game of tag teach us?  What do we get from it?  Well…. nothing!  You run screaming and giggling through the yard and field for no benefit.  You wont make money playing tag.  There are some physics lessons applicable when that bigger kid plows into you but let’s be honest, we aren’t studying rocket science here.  We are playing.

In the late 1800’s a man named Francis Thompson wrote a poem called, “The Hound of Heaven.”  It is lengthy and difficult to follow and requires a bit of back story to wade through effectively.  I was required to read and reform the work as part of class one year and it remains the most troubling struggle I faced in all my classes.  It is Thompson that I credit for my personal discovery of Vodka, which was possibly the only way I could make it through his history and lifework.  It is also the one and only project that I failed… willingly walked out on mentally.  More than any other author, I disliked Francis Thompson.

Thompson was a devout Catholic and ascetic.  He struggled most of his life.  At odds with his father who was a physician, Francis was clearly seen as brilliant and originally studied medicine but had no interest in it.  He quit school to pursue writing, which further estranged him from his father.  After an injury or illness (I don’t recall which) he took opiates for pain and became addicted. He was for a time, homeless and poor.  His efforts to overcome his addiction failed and he attempted suicide.  He ultimately died in his mid 40’s of Tuberculosis.

His poem was clearly reflective of his life.  But the more important figure-head is the Hound, a reference to God, who continually pursued him through his darkness.  The entire poem is a metaphorical reference to a chase.  Continuing throughout are themes of being pursued, followed and hunted.   The hound was clearly not all that was hunting Thompson.  His life was a testament to the monsters of his past stalking him in the dark. We are left somewhat to wonder if Thompson ever allowed himself to be captured… and maybe more importantly…. by whom.

 

Everyone should be chased.  Everyone should fall and feel the safety of arms catching you.  Either literally, figuratively or metaphorically, everyone should be caught.  We all need to be saved from one thing or another.  We could all benefit from a little game of tag.  There is no real winner or loser to the game of tag.  It is a cyclically continuous game.  So don’t run too fast, stay engaged, and get caught.

 

 

No pain, No gain, No train

No pain, no gain

 

We’ve all heard the phrase.  It became more recently popular in the exercise world through the likes of Jane Fonda and her “feel the burn” aerobics routines.  But its origins are somewhat further back and frankly of more intelligent design.

 

Benjamin Franklin, in his persona of Poor Richard wrote this, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains.”  And even further back to Robert Herrick who wrote in “Hesperides” that, “If little labour, little are our gains:  man’s fate is according to his pains.”

 

Both statements were sociologically and politically motivated. Both make some very good references to working hard to receive a reward, or results.  I agree completely with the philosophical notion of working hard to gain a reward.  But I struggle with the theory in practice of “no pain, no gain” when it comes to the training of the mind and body.  Partially because the use of the word “pain” referred to “effort” and not to physical pain or the use of punitive punishment.

 

I will apologize for my references here to the training of canines.  I understand there are numerous and varied differences between the training of an equine and the training of a canine.  Sadly, it is my only frame of reference.  I’m sorry.  Disclaimer duly stated.

 

I trained with a number of great men in the police and SAR world at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Many of them trained with a lot of compulsion, which is simply a nice way of saying that they used force.  Force is a much maligned word and should not be equated with abuse.  They were great trainers and I never saw a dog abused or harmed in one single instance there.  That is also not the same as saying that their canines did not experience stress, because they surely did.  In fact, quite a bit of stress.  They made no apologies for creating stressful situations in which they placed their dogs.  Their dogs lives were on the line, more importantly, the lives of the men and women who were using those canines, were also on the line.

 

But there’s always that one person isn’t there!  In this case, I wont use his name but we’ll call him Jo-bob… because every stereotype that just came into your mind when you read that name…. fit him like a glove!  Jo-bob had about six teeth and it might have been generous to say that he had that many functioning brain cells.  Jo-bob wanted to be a cop.  Well, Jo-bob wanted the perceived power and authority and prestige of being a police officer, without the extreme commitment to maintaining decorum when faced with adversity and often a heaping helping of stupidity.  And this was well before the “black lives matter” nonsense.

 

Jo-bob’s training methods showed his lack of thought and shallow pool of character and his dog suffered for it.  Jo-bob, took literally the notion of “no pain, no gain.”  It’s worth noting that Jo-bob’s dog, a well-balanced, well-bred (possibly better bred than his owner) Belgian Malinois, took the “no pain, no gain” concept seriously as well.  For the next few months Jo-bob put his dog through a rigorous and painful domination routine.  Jo-bob demanded instant acquiescence to his every command and meted out harsh punishments for what he saw as refusals.  But Jo-bob’s powers of perception were at most 15 watt and flickering.  About the umpteenth time that Jo-bob brought his dog to train, there was a collective groan from the club when he swaggered onto the field.  As he began his obedience routine we noticed a marked difference in his dog.  He was stiff and mechanical and lacked the high-wire enthusiasm that almost any Malinois owner knows marks that breed.  The air seemed almost to crackle with electricity.  Jo-bob was blissfully unaware but it was clear to the rest of us that today was going to be memorable.  As Jo-bob rounded the final blind to return down the field he sharply corrected his dog to quicken his pace and pull up beside him.  As the dog tried to round the corner faster and keep pace with his handler, Jo-bob corrected him again… at this point, let me stop and change the wording here.  The dog was already moving to come into a better heel position, so Jo-bob’s punch and jerk was not correction, it was punishment, it was punitive and it was worthless as an informational tool.  Had the dog been dragging, not paying attention or not trying, some form of correction would have been warranted, but the dog was in the process of attempting to comply.  So as Jo-bob punished his dog for trying, the dog anticipated another punch and jerk and decided to take a more proactive approach.  Now, I know some of you wont like what I say next, but you probably needed to be there to see the poetic response of this dog.  Without breaking stride and coming into a beautiful heel position, he reached calmly over and gripped Jo-bob’s left hand.

 

I have put a bite sleeve on and taken a bite by a dog doing protection work.  It is a heavy jute sleeve with a stiff anti-compression device meant to protect the arm of the agitator.  I remember when I took the hit, my concern was being freight trained and knocked off my feet by the dog jumping at me.  But when I felt the full mouth on the sleeve I was instantly humbled by the power, even through the reverse compression sleeve, as it mashed my arm tight.  Respect.

 

When a dog lacks nerve and bites repeatedly over and over, trainers call it “corncobbing.”  It is a bad trait.  It is basically the dog telling you, “I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do, so I am going to bite and let go and bite and let go until you make it clear to me what I am suppose to do.”  Jo-bob’s dog showed no such insecurity.  He did not rip at Jo-bob’s hand, snarl or show any other outward aggression.  Had there been people there that did not understand what they were seeing, it might have appeared that J0-bob’s dog was simply gently holding his hand and walking him to the finish line.  I assure you, he was not.

 

Jo-bob swore up and down the field and cursed the dog and his mother.  He railed in rage against the dog’s stubborn stupidity.  One of the men took the dog to a crate at the side of the field.  I found it interesting to note that none of us were really worried about handling his dog.  We understood.  Dog bites are a serious business and should be taken seriously.  I do not make light of dogbites but…  I am human and pretty flawed, and I admit that the words, “nice dog right there, shame about the handler though.”  Might have crossed my mind.

 

The whole point of this story being that Jo-bob’s infliction of pain did not get him the gain that he assumed it might.  I have always strongly held to the notion that if you must inflict pain to coerce your dog (or horse?) to perform, you are doing it wrong and your “training” is faulty!  The problem is almost invariably NOT in the animals unwillingness, but in the humans inability to make it clear to the animal what is wanted and/or expected.

 

In training service dogs we talk about the 4D’s.  Duration, Distance, Distraction and Difficulty.  Many people have a dog that will sit on command or so they think.  But people do not often recognize the subtle cues or in some cases what could be called, “miscues” that they are giving.  Sometimes almost constantly giving.  Nor do we always recognize what is called situational generalization.   I once talked to a woman at the park who had a beautiful Lab.  Nice dog, but a little nutty.  Crazy for anything that moved, including leaves and stray blades of grass.  As our dogs played, she told me that her dog was finely trained and I did not doubt her.  That is, until a squirrel, with an apparent death wish, meandered onto the scene.  Our dogs immediately raced for it.  At almost the same time, we both shouted “down.”  And as luck would have it, my dog came to a grinding halt and while she stayed down, she did turn to look back at me with what could only be described as a withering glare.  Her dog was gone.  The squirrel made a bee-line for, of all places, the road. Fortunately, it wasn’t busy and both squirrel and dog made it safely across!  We eventually got the heaving happy mass back on a leash.  The dog was thrilled, the lady was shaken, they left for home.  I am an average dog trainer, don’t assume that couldn’t have been my dog racing through the countryside.  But early on, I was blessed with the knowledge someone far wiser gave me that I should never assume that my dog was fully trained until I could do every task at a distance, under distraction (including suicidal squirrels), through duration and in difficult circumstances with a high amount of reliability and precision.  From that point on, I trained my dogs to heel in reverse, through obstacles and to mirror my body position from 10 feet away.

 

I had trouble and difficulty.  As I said, I am only an average trainer.  And I suppose you could say I had pain with no gain and I had some pain with gain.  I had dogs that seemed disinterested or unmotivated and one dog in particular that I could have sworn had played too long in the shallow end of the gene pool with Jo-bob.  But at no time during this training did I assume that the dog needed to be blasted if he refused a cue.   What he needed was clear and concise information on what the cue meant and how to go about making the right decision easy for him.   That responsibility, the making it clear, was not his, it was mine.

 

Take the simple cue to “sit.”  I had a room-mate with a dog that would come in obediently and sit after each and every potty break.  But as I watched her interact with the dog I became interested in the “behavior” that surrounded this cue “sit.”  On a walk around the neighborhood one day, my roommate asked her dog to sit.  Her dog, Fluffy (I don’t really remember her name) then behaved as though she had never heard the word before.  Indeed she had never heard the word spoken out of context.  She had never been asked to perform that behavior outside the confines of all her normal and regular surroundings.  To the dog’s way of thinking, she hadn’t gone outside to the bathroom, she hadn’t come inside, there was no refrigerator in front of her.  All of those things were part and parcel of the cue “sit.”  She was lost.  She wasn’t being a jerk, she simply had not learned that “sit”  meant, any time, any place and under any circumstances.  What she did not need though, was pain.  She needed schooling, patience, consistency and proofing.  What she needed was the trainer to understand and take the lead.

 

Now, I have used a prong collar, I have used an electric collar, I have used a herm-sprenger and a choke collar.  They are all tools.  They are all useful tools, when properly understood, fitted and employed.  I am, again, not sure this translates to the training of horses, and forgive me (and please correct me) if that is not so.  But tools themselves are fairly neutral devices.  They do not correct or shape behavior on their own.  They can evince great results…. both good and bad.  They require human hands and hopefully, human understanding and a considered thoughtful plan of action.  Of course a prong collar looks medieval to a human, and herein sometimes lies a problem with the anthropomorphizing of animals.

 

I had a sled dog team when I was younger and crazier.  And of course heard all the stories of “poor dogs left to sleep out in the cold.”  My dogs all had boxes but I did not bring them inside or give them heated blankies.  Why?  Because they didn’t need it.  Their core body temperature is well above humans, they have a metabolic rate that supports thermal conservation, and they have a nifty double coat of fur.  To treat them as human beings, would have been a disservice to them.  They are not human, they are canine.  It is a distinctly different thing to look out for our animals welfare, to be proper stewards of those animals in our care; than to attribute to them human characteristics that they will never possess and are not equipped to deal with or process.

 

One of the things that impressed me about Mark and Miranda and their training, is their ability to understand, assess and utilize.  From the spoken account that the horse owner offers when bringing a horse for training, to their assessment of the horse (which may be vastly different than the owner’s verbal information), to the utilization of tools and techniques to continue forward with training.  I am lucky if I don’t trip over a lunge line, so to watch a fine horseman who knows precisely why they are doing what they are doing, and the how and why of the tools they are using, is part talent, part art form and a lot of experience.

 

Early on when my daughter expressed interest in not just riding, but learning to train a horse, I read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos.  Some were good, some not so much.  I remember distinctly a video by a very prominent trainer showing the how-to’s of a given exercise.  I waited for the why, but it never came.   To my skeptical mind, this made me distrustful.  Either A. you don’t think I’m sharp enough to understand the “why;” or B.  keeping me in the dark by giving me only half the information that I need, keeps me dependant upon you; or C.  YOU don’t understand the “why.”   … None of these options impresses me…. I choose to move along.

 

Recently a question was raised for Miranda about the progression of snaffle to bridle horse.  I am hoping that I can pull it off my ipad, but so far, I have been unable to do so, though I am still trying. I may have to have her re-tell the conversation so that I can place it here, it is well worth listening to.   I recognized that this was someone who not only knew how to do something, she knew precisely why each step needed to be reached, and in what order and progression.  What the signs were that showed her that a horse “got it” and how and when to move on.  The knowledge and use of a tool is very important.  That’s a simple enough concept to understand.  But I believe that equally as important is knowing when NOT to use said tool.  It was clear to me, That I was speaking to someone who fully understood all of that nuance and subtlety.  Furthermore, she was not cagey or withholding in her efforts to make it clear to us.  She wanted us to understand and had the ability to use cogent examples we could relate to, to explain the process.

 

I remember the very first time I met Mark Lyon.  It was in Nebraska, we stopped at their booth. Though he may never have known it, I specifically asked a question that I never got full disclosure on, from the above mentioned big name trainer.  It was not my conscious choice to voir dire Mark, but I had learned my lesson with the big-timey guy who looked a great part but didn’t measure up in the long run.  Mark immediately started telling me what they do in this certain situation and inside my little brain I was saying, “do better.”  And he did.  In fact I have fairly good auditory recall and I can hear his voice when he said, “We want people to understand not only what they are doing, but why they are doing it.”

 

There is always a window, a doorway, an opening.  There is always a way through it.  Sometimes it is as simple as getting connected to the right trainer, who understands that you can get a lot of gain and ditch the pain.

 

For more information please visit their website or FB page.

M & M Horsemanship

 

Elsa Elsa Jirkova Dvora, HRD1, FEMA type I

Giving Thanks

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

These words come from “The Tempest” (actually spoken by Miranda, but not OUR Miranda!) by William Shakespeare and are also the foundational plot line for Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World.”

 

But “beauteous” is not largely the adjective that would best describe our current times.  Though beauty can always be found in the natural world around us or in the eyes of friends and loved ones, the news it seems lately, is filled with ugly strife.  Both far off and at home, we are living an odd parallel of the twisted dystopian society that Huxley created in 1931 and set in the mid 2500 AD.  Huxley, a social satirist, was inspired by H.G. Wells and two of his utopian works, “A Modern Utopia” and “The Sleeper Awakes.”  The latter portrays London on the cusp of martial law and civil war.  Governmental tyranny has dehumanized society which has slumped into base behavior and hopeless squalor.   Huxley referred to his brave new world as a negative-utopian novel.  No offence to Mr. Huxley, but I think the term “negative utopian” is a bit of an oxymoron.  Maybe not.  It is a liberal belief, it seems, that blindly clings to illogical paradox.

 

If you have not read it, you might simply want to stay abreast of current events, the read is not far off our current sociological set of “norms.”   Individual responsibility, thoughts and actions are discouraged.  Historical literature is banned as subversive, children are taught by the state through hypnosis, reproduction is mechanized but sexual expression through perversion and orgies, drug use and movies with added tactile experience are heralded as the new strength and freedom of the ages.  Hedonism is the rule of the day.  Chastity, monogamy, and fidelity are ridiculed as obsolete or religiously oppressive.  (I’m talking about the book synopsis, just in case you might have confused it with 2015).

 

One of the most devastating effects of this brave new world, in the same way that Orwell wrote in “1984” is the judicious, incipient, slow twist and careful revision of history.  “Thought police” and “Think crimes” rule an increasingly socialistic society where you are taught what the answer is, not what to think about it. Questioning is forbidden, disagreement is dangerous. Remembering will get you quietly and permanently removed.

 

In 1947, Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night.”  Largely considered to be a poem in reference to his father’s pending death, the refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,”  has become a much quoted rally cry in the fight against the encroaching passiveness and languor we find ourselves battling as of late.

 

Our history is the shaping feature of our future.  It provides us with a view of the consequences for our actions, not in theory but in historical fact.  It provides both a warning and a hope.  It is our heritage for good and for bad.  It both molds us and allows us the ability to break that mold to throw off the chains of tyranny and with the full knowledge of history, provides us a beacon to guide our way.

 

As certain factions in our government seek to rewrite history for their own political power point, control and manipulation;  it becomes increasingly important to stand up and become the torch bearers.  We uphold the banner, we remember and we will not forget nor will we silently sit passive.

 

Recently we have been told that our founding fathers were not the Christian examples that history set forth.  We are told that they were self-aggrandizing deists who saw a creator that designed the boat but pushed it out to sea, to float and function on its own. Sink or sail.  Disconnected and disinterested.  I see a Creator deeply and intimately involved in the minutia of our everyday lives, both historically and currently.  A Creator who sees when each sparrow falls, notices each tear shed in private, and numbers the hairs on our heads.  He will not sleep, he is not out of touch or behind the times.  Technology does not confuse him, terrorism does not alarm him.  He is I Am, and He is our history, our present and our future.

 

We are then reminded of our founding fathers imperfections; argumentative, uneducated, given to drunkenness, struggling with debt, depression and debauchery… time and technology change, the fallen nature of mankind does not.  This country was not built on perfection, but on perseverance and courage in the face of fear and struggle.  It was built on a firm foundation of faith.  Not on perfection or ability or strength did Peter walk on water, he did so solely and only on faith, with his eyes firmly fixed on the purveyor and author of that faith.  We know what happened when that vision strayed from the mark.

 

I live in the midwest.  I know what it means to be cold.  It is numbing.  That is the problem.  The stinging pain and burn of severe cold reminds us of our small human frail frame.  It keeps us humble in the face of a force greater than ourselves.  The pain of cold is both alarming and invigorating.  It is motivating.  But after too much extreme cold has been repeatedly ignored and overlooked, there creeps a subtle numbing.  The cold becomes less (so it seems but rarely is) it lulls us into a sense of complacent despondency.  It is not then the cold that steals life, it is the choice to accept abject apathy.  Become a helpless victim.  Refuse to accept the warmth and safety just a step away.  This is the numbness that seeps through the message of those who tell us that our “misguided notions” about history are romanticized and overdrawn.  That honor and integrity and character are mere fictionalized projections, a figment of our desire for historical heroes, not factual representations.  That the fulfillment of all we can be, is to get, not give.  That servanthood and sacrifice are synonymous with weakness and should be eradicated at all costs. We are bombarded with the lauding of self-adulation, self-actualization, self-promotion, self-esteem, self-presentation.  But history, the repeated battle cry of our heritage, tolls a different bell.  Self-sacrifice.

 

In a time of gluttonous ungrateful demands for more and more, we have lost the concept that gifts cost the giver.  Illusory superiority, a new term that liberal progressive ideologists have coined in the desperate hope that the term “self entitlement” will die away and slip into obscurity.  It will not.  We will not be fooled by semantics.  We will remember.  Because history teaches us where that slippery road leads.

 

May we always remember the truth of our history.  That as strangers in a strange land, we gave thanks.  We were thankful, not only for the bounty of the harvest, but for the simple warmth of hearth and home.  The comfort of friends and family.  The great gift of shared community.  Not proper high-society community with bone china dinner settings, polished silver cutlery and neatly dressed, finely attended homes.  We were thankful for savages, who bestowed upon strangers a grace uncommon.  We were a people marked by a thankful spirit for the little we had, because we understood the magnitude of those little things.  Stripped bare of the frills of easy living, we valued family, friends, food and home.

 

2015, the season of getting is underway.  I hope that we can pause for a moment to give instead of get.  I am not referring to the giving of tangible things.  I am talking about the extending of grace, the giving of thanks.  I pray that I will be remembered more for what I gave, little though that may be.  Lord, make me like that poor widow, who though only giving two small mites, gave out of a poor purse, but a rich heart.  I pray that our house will always be a home, warmed and lighted with laughter and simple grace, better by far than any amount of finery.  That we will always value simple things.  That we will hold hands when we pray, and hold tightly to each other when we greet and again when we must part.  I pray that I will be thankful for the life given me, the struggles from which I have been allowed to learn and grow,  the path in front of me, wherever it may lead and most importantly, the friends and family who stand ever with me on that path.

 

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  Ephesians 1:16.

 

May that be the touchstone of this season.  “Thanks for you”  not things for me.

 

Thank you, to all who read this post.  For your presence in our lives, for your encouragement and prayers and your light in an often dark place.  Grace and peace to you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

Video submission!

I apologize that this post is both late and brief.  Please forgive me.

 

This post is credited entirely to Miranda and Erin Sisson, who brainstormed at my dining room table over a plate of candied jerky bacon, M&M’s, gummy worms and some sort of chocolate nougat thing.  I don’t know…. there was a lot of sugar and some caffeine and laughter and I think maybe somewhere there was a conversation about horse scented perfume as well!   But in and around the wonderful silliness, there was a conversation about the logistics of clinics.

 

We are entering the season that children describe in terms of excitement and joy and adults describe in terms that I wont publish here.  Winter.  I recently asked a friend  what the temperatures got to in Texas during winter and I felt pretty proud of myself for not snorting outloud.  Let me tell you, it took a bit of control on my part.  But joking aside, winter is an inconvenient time to organize a training event.  The weather, even if it isn’t frigid, may well be unpredictable, or people traveling in from other locales might be dealing with inclement road conditions.  The diminshed daylight also leaves us with less time and sometimes less energy.

 

 

What if you could still gain access to the wisdom of a trainer from the comfort of the couch?  Or at least, a taste of success in the off-season.  A hope for the future.  Hope is an amazing thing.  Everyone should grasp at hope with both hands.  Hope is not a genie in a bottle granting wishes.  Hope is also not the great pinnacle that success is.  Hope is the everpresent pinprick of light that we follow in the dark.  It is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire… it is the still, small voice.  And hope knows no off season.

 

I don’t remember precisely who it was (Erin, I think, she’s clever that way…. mind always working… a little scary sometimes!) that mentioned the idea of having people send in a video clip of their horse, or a problem they are wanting to work on, to have Mark and Miranda look at it and offer advice.

 

So if you have video of you and your horse, or a roadblock you are facing, please send it in and we will try to get you some timely feedback.   If you have a scenario that you have faced or find yourself struggling with, and yet have no video, please send us some detailed info on that too.

 

 

Tell me the Story of You!

I have struggled greatly with the guilt of knowing that this blog is not really a service or benefit to Mark and Miranda as I had hoped it might be.  I intended better but we all know where that road leads.

 

Last week when Miranda and Erin Sisson were visiting, they asked what I’d like to do, and this was first on my list.  I had tried to find a way to record Skype and Facetime calls so I could conveniently interview them but apparently the FBI and CIA take a dim view of that sort of thing and have made it incredibly hard!  I tried contacting Hillary because I was sure if anyone could figure out a way around the system, she would have that in the bag, but apparently she lost both my number and my e-mail.

 

It is no great mystery that Mark and Miranda are talented.  I would go further and say gifted.  Talented implies the ability to learn, retain, and utilize data or a skill to a highly effective level.  Many people have talent, at any number of different things.  Gifted, is somewhat outside the scope of human hands.  That does not mean that gifted people do not also work hard to hone a skill and talent, they surely do or should, but those who are gifted have an almost ethereal ability that is not found in the best of textbooks, the finest institutions, or the most rigorous and exacting training regimen.  It is not just talent, it is a gift.

 

 

So intentions and excuses aside, I wanted to hear how Mark and Miranda started.  Furthermore, I wanted you to be able to hear it. Actually audibly hear their voices.  There is something personal in hearing the style, lilt, and syntax that makes up a person’s voice. The small pauses, the choice of words, the emphasis, all those things bring us closer to the speaker.  It draws you in, in a way that written words cannot.  The following represents an attempt at that personalization.   It was not an entirely successful venture, for which I apologize to you as an audience, and more importantly to Mark and Miranda.

 

I was unaware that I could not post audio in a blog unless it is hosted by a third party.  That made me grumpy.  I have, on occasion, gotten in a LOT of trouble by not taking “no” as an acceptable answer.  So I had to upload the audio to Youtube, where I learned that you cannot upload audio alone…  That made me grumpy.  It was at this point that my kids retreated to the barn to do their schoolwork.  After wanting to pull my hair out …  I downloaded software to merge audio and photo.  After a few hours of talking in vicious undertones to my computer, and a few more hours of clipping and sewing and stitching like Dr. Frankenstein in his lair, I am hoping that the resultant product of Miranda telling her story will help you see and hear her in a new light.  Maybe it will also make you see yourself in a new light as well.  Maybe it will inspire you to record your own history. Perhaps you will grow your story and attend a clinic or blaze your own path in some uncharted adventure.

 

I want to credit the photographers who took such wonderful pictures of such a beautiful woman.  Beauty that, despite the great skill of a photographer, can never be truly captured because it is not born on the skin but deeper in.  I take responsibility for any infringement and will be more than happy to edit or correct the video if necessary or as needed.

I did my best to edit out my own voice, other than a couple questions, but I know very little about proper editing.  The voices you hear in the background are Erin Sisson, who wants to be a food critic, (you’ll have to listen to get the joke!) and myself.

Enjoy.

 

 

I am hoping that Mark will be kind enough to allow me the same pleasure of recording his story and will post it whenever he manages to get off a horse long enough talk…  You might have to wait a bit on that one.