I woke when it was still dark. My 70-pound dog was curled up, cinnamon-roll-style, against my back, breathing deeply, contentedly. Briefly, I considered going back to sleep. The warmth of my flannel sheets and the weight of the blankets was certainly compelling. After all, I didn’t have to get up. It was my day off.
But I gave my word.
Easing the covers back and sliding my feet into the fuzz of cool slippers, I shrugged into my fluffy cardigan and brushed the top of Meg’s head. “Come on, puppydog. Time to get up.” She sighed, just like a teenager, and looked at me through squinted eyes before closing them tightly once again.
Five more minutes.
I flipped on the lamp and made my way down the stairs to turn on the coffee pot and listened to it pop and hiss. The thing tended to leak if I didn’t pay close enough attention.
Pulling on an old pair of jeans, my boots and a few upper layers. I threw my hair up under my Marine Corps hat, wondering if anyone would believe I wore it because I earned it.
I did my usual morning routine that I would on a workday, and considered what the morning would entail. I’d never done this before.
A little over a month ago I came into contact with ladies from Embrace Equine Therapy, a group based out of Rathdrum, Idaho. Myself and another staff member from my place of work had been taking them out to the ranch once a week for several hours a day for an experience unlike any other. With an opportunity to take care of horses, as well as the ever-joyful task of mucking stalls, the girls learned not only about the horses, but also about themselves and how they relate with others. Even more importantly, the volunteers with Embrace shared the love of Jesus Christ with their words, scripture, and their arms ever ready for a hug or a loving touch.
I was amazed and overjoyed at how the love and care of those at Embrace impacted the girls for the better. I was even more surprised by how their love for the girls impacted me. I became acutely aware of the gaping hole in my heart that I had somehow managed to ignore for the last few years. I had mistakenly believed that because I dealt with it in one stage of life, it would roll over into the next. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every stage demands a bit more polishing and refining than the last – in every area of life. By visiting these women and seeing their love and care for the hurting teenage girls I was responsible for, I felt like a spotlight had been shined on my own past trauma. Mixed in with this I’ve been away from my husband for the last four months, and will be for the next 3 months, have been attempting to build deep and meaningful friendships, and have had a highly stressful job. If I were to put my life into two feeling words, lonely and insecure would only touch the surface. There is much to be grateful for, and yet I understood my struggles were overwhelming and needed to be addressed.
After receiving the invitation, I decided I needed something different. This is why, at 7:15 on a Saturday morning, as the sun was beginning to crawl over the horizon, I started my jeep and pulled onto an empty side road to begin the 45 minute drive into the hills of northern Idaho. It snowed last night, and remnants of it dusted the ground, sweeping the towering pine trees as I drove into higher elevation and away from most of civilization. When I pulled into the muddy drive, several horses in their outdoor pens lifted their head with ears perked in my direction. Most of them watched until I drove around the barn and parked. Everything was closed, the air was still and crisp, quiet. I felt like I was violating a sacred silence when I shut my car door, the echo seeming to bounce against the two barns. I slowly walked across the melting snow and mud toward the horses draped in blankets, intending to say hello.
Instead, the sound of a radio in the big barn caught my ear, and I turned toward it. Trying the handle, I turned… and it opened. I hesitated. The woman who owned the barn, and her son who handled the logistics of everything, were kind people. If I was in the wrong they’d certainly let me know, but I wouldn’t feel like a jerk for it. I made my way down the alley and said hello to every horse and waited for them to come to me before I raised a hand to stroke their beautiful faces and necks. The smell of pellets, manure, dirt and snow filled the air.
When he walked into the barn he simply said, “Hey, Sam.” When he gave me a hug, smiled and asked me what I wanted to do today I responded, “Just put me to work.” And he did. I mucked and stripped stalls; I spread manure, drove a four-wheeler, took horses to pasture and by the end of it all I looked and smelled worse than the horses. I also got to have a heart-to-heart conversation with a couple of people I knew from Embrace who lived, volunteered, or worked at the facility. I saw the fruit of my work. The stalls were dirty and I made them clean. There was manure in their bed and I spread it in the proper pasture. The horses were cooped up and I set them free in a paddock to run and play together. I worked and I saw the results of my work.
I live day-to-day rarely, if ever, seeing the fruit of what I do. The girls I work with make progress but you never know if the work you did in house lasts when they leave. The Bible studies I do with them are like sowing seed on rocky, thorny and paved paths – they may look forward to it taking place but it’s not ready to receive it, and it may never be. But I’m still sowing. I submitted paperwork to the U.S. government to get my husband a green card and it’s processing, but I can’t see how quickly it’s moving along. I’m simply waiting with no knowledge of when I’ll find anything out while we remain apart. I’m running the race, but feel as though I’m running on a treadmill. I’m going hard, but not going anywhere.
Paul says to run the race with endurance and that Jesus will perfect our faith as we run. To not grow weary in doing good and that when we do get weary, look to Jesus because he endured the worst and showed us the example to follow and gives us the power to keep going. This doesn’t make life easier, but it does give me perspective and clarity. Meanwhile, I’m grateful I have a place to volunteer and do something that I can visibly see makes a difference. I’m grateful for the people who run it, who give me access to the facility, as well as a whole lot of love while I’m there.
As I drove home looking and smelling like a hot mess, my heart had never felt cleaner.