Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today's Forecast: Drizzle turning to showers. Heavy rainfall expected tomorrow.

These are the days where even disciplined equestrians falter, fall short, give in, succumb utterly to...a glass of wine and a good book by the fire instead of riding. Those who live in the Pacific Northwest exist under grace these days--have you looked outside? I need a wet suit just to go to the barn.

Here's what riding looks like (when I actually accomplish it): Muster up motivation by the fire, toasting my backside extra long knowing it will be freezing in a few short minutes; capture a filthy beast and work up a sweat scraping mud off two inches of wet matted winter hair; put horse in trailer and drive slowly to the arena, squinting through the raindrops pelting the windshield; tack up a frisky distracted horse and attempt to relax atop an icy saddle (by this point I am already exhausted and ready to return to the toasting backside step); wrangle an under worked thousand pound beast jacked up on alfalfa and oats--rodeo should be a winter sport--for thirty minutes or less before giving up and returning home; clean out trailer and feed beast more rocket fuel for next "ride"; brush soggy turd off of damp wool sweater before entering the house and collapsing in front of fire. Glamorous the winter equestrian is not.

In lieu of doing much riding, I'm catching up on a vital winter activity--movie watching. Besides reading, the television is one of the few things I'm enthusiastic about during weather such as we've been having. Recently I watched, The Soloist.

The premise of this film intrigued me and is "based on a true story." I'm a sucker for anything based on real life, even though I know Hollywood holds a permanent Oscar in "artistic license." Here's the storyline: Robert Downey Jr. plays a journalist in a personal and professional slump. The guy can't seem to find a good story anywhere much less "write" anything inspiring in his own life. Jamie Fox is a schizophrenic homeless man who plays a two-stringed violin while babysitting a shopping cart full of trash. When Downey encounters him by chance on the street one day, Fox babbles something about going to Julliard. Julliard? No way. Dirty, crazy homeless guys don't possess the talent necessary for Julliard. Still, Downey is desperate for a story and has time on his hands. He calls the school, gives the homeless guys name and, surprise, surprise finds that he did in fact attend Julliard for a time. What transpires from there is a journey of friendship between societies trash and a "normal" guy who initially simply wants a good story and professional notoriety.

To be honest, this film didn't capture me right off the bat. Downey (infamous eternally in my mind for his role in the '80s film, Less Than Zero) and Fox are both good actors but the story didn't touch me until midway through. Right about the point where Downey receives an award for his columns recounting his adventures with Fox and Fox begins to utterly resist any attempts to rehab him. In one scene, Downey begs the director of an LA homeless shelter to give Fox a diagnosis (with corresponding medication) while outside hoards of homeless people shoot up, fight with each other, babble incoherently, and guard filthy trinkets. The camera pans repeatedly to signage on the shelter that reads: The wages of sin is death. When Downey cannot get a diagnosis and Fox resists medication, he tries music lessons, a concert he hopes will be "transformative"(it fails) and even puts Fox in an apartment so he'll at least be off the street. All those things are inspiring material for his newspaper column. Fox is not impressed. When he discovers Downey has tampered with his family affairs he throws him to the ground and says, "If I ever see you again I will cut you open and gut you like a fish."

At that point the film grabbed me by the heart. It begged the question, Where is God's grace for the graceless? For the ones for which there is no diagnosis, no inspiring "after," for the many who live among us broken, despairing, and resistant to all attempts of rehabilitation. It's uncomfortable to consider the ones who can't navigate normal society and never will. The ones who can't produce and simply take up space. Those of us who are productive, who are able to hide our brokenness, put programs and medication and rehab before our fellow sinners and shriek as Downey does when they are resistant--"I am a professional person; I have a job!" This apparently validates our space on the planet.

A few things stuck out for me in this film. First, the wages of sin is death. Brokenness exists in every creature in God's creation. Some hide it better than others but no amount of humanist rationalizing can take it away. Only One can do that.

What also exists in every creature is the fingerprint of God. It's more obvious in some then others but we simply have to look for it. In the film, Downey sees it for the first time when he takes Fox to a concert and watches him live the music in peace and utter bliss. He later says, "There's something higher out there and I don't even know what its called."

Lastly, love and friendship is the one thing that is transformative. Downey at first resists friendship with a homeless person and laments, after being physically threatened, "I thought I was going to help someone who had lost their way; now I can't see a belief in anything worthwhile." Instead of fixing he is encouraged to, "show up, just be his (Fox's) friend. You can't fix LA."

What does this have to do with horses? Though I do not put animals on the same scale as human beings, I own a broken horse and think often about the state of God's creation. Sin mars the world but His fingerprint is there if you take the time to look for it. And friendship, with a person, with an animal, can be transformative. I know, I've seen it with my own eyes.

I conclude with Robert Downey that there is something higher out there. It is called Grace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I wanted my stallion, Eli, the moment I laid eyes on him. Aloof and introverted, he nevertheless had the kindest eyes I'd ever seen on a horse. He is sensitive, intelligent, and possesses a quiet mind and air of dignity. "Still waters run deep."

Though quiet and calm on the ground, swing a leg over this flashy horse and he's all about forward going. He's built to move. In reference to Tristan from Legends of the Fall, I call Eli Brad Pitt--strong, tawny, and full of restless masculine energy. He is a good example of why "horse power" describes a fast car. I'm still learning to ride and manage the enormous stride and energy of this horse, not to mention the challenge of converting his sometimes distracting hormones into useful activity. With my shortcomings in mind, I decided to take some dressage lessons.

"Dressage" comes from a French word that simply means "to train." Rather than bombing around the front yard, oblivious to gravity and the laws of physics (as I did as a child and teenager), a student of dressage breaks down the fundamentals of riding and movement, eventually mastering the subtle influence and language of a good equestrian. A horse well trained in dressage becomes the true athlete he is meant to be. One of my favorite horse trainers is funny Texan, Craig Cameron. While watching him guide a group of students one time he exclaimed in mock frustration, "They call it riding, people, not sitting!" Dressage is all about riding.

While the lessons have been stimulating and enlightening, I find myself challenged: challenged in basic fundamentals, to get rid of bad habits, to stop sitting and get engaged, to correct subtle misconceptions and misunderstanding. On perhaps our third lesson, my instructor made an observation as I guided Eli in a left hand circle. She said something like this:

"Do you feel your butt sort of fall away to the right?"

Um, yeah, and thanks for noticing. Note to self: The new riding tights don't look as good as you thought.

She went on to explain that Eli's right hip is weak and he frequently drops it rather than stride under. This makes my right hip feel as if it is falling. He is strong and balanced with the left hip. This is a fundamental of movement I'd noticed subconsciously but until she pointed it out, didn't connect it to anything. With lots of practice Eli will get better and stronger. As will my...well, never mind.

This dressage journey comes to mind when reflecting on last weekend and my attendance at an apologetics conference in San Diego called, The Case for Christianity. Rather than bomb around, oblivious to the evidence for my faith, it challenged me to study and consider the fundamentals.

"Veritas" is, of course, the Latin word for truth. The longer I live and journey in my faith, the less I'm interested in the traditions and habits of religion. Truth is the only thing worth seeking. May I never be the person described by Winston Churchill: "Most people when encountering truth stumble over it, dust themselves off, and continue unchanged."

One of my favorite movies is The Insider (forget Brad Pitt, I'm more of an Al Pacino girl when it comes to leading men). In the movie (based on a true story), Russel Crowe plays an insider, a scientist, who works for big tobacco. He risks his job, his family, even his life to tell the truth about the dangers of nicotine. Pacino is the truth loving journalist (yes there are some) who loses his job because of uncompromising loyalty to Crowe and the story. I saw the movie twice in the theatre and a couple times on video. I love the ending: Pacino tells his high profile boss what he can do with his lukewarm ethics and censorship then, music pounding, sweeps out of the door in a trench coat (as only he can do) and walks away. Away from compromise, away from lies. The film illustrates dramatically the struggle to expose and live truth. There is a cost.

Of course truth in religion is debated without end in this world. Many are willing to kill for what they think is true. This begs a question: If truth is relative, if it does not exist, if it doesn't even matter, why do people get so upset about it? In America we are a people of apathy and feigned "tolerance;" quick to be offended, to resist examining what might be true. At least one thing can be said about about Islamic extremists, they passionately live their beliefs.

Five years ago, as a novice writer, I learned this word, "verisimilitude." The appearance of truth. Some things that appear true are not and visa versa. In a world of religions that swirl and collide nothing seems more important than discerning truth. If God did create a universe that exists because of highly specific absolutes, does it make sense that he is confusing, vague, easily assembled into whatever form we feel comfortable with? Nobody would be so foolish as to jump out of a plane and say, "Gravity is not my truth." We accept absolutes in science--cosmology, biology, physics--but resist the notion that any absolutes exist spiritually. Why? As comfy cozy as moral relativism appears, nobody wants to go where this belief actually leads--Do What Thou Wilt/Anything Goes.

By definition a belief is something you hold to be true. Hopefully it is something sought not as an exercise in "rightness," but with an honest, transparent heart, willing to be changed if need be. God promises that, "You shall know the truth and truth shall set you free." Not, "You shall accept many truths, and amidst that pudding of confusion, find hope and freedom." God cannot be both personal and impersonal; eternity cannot all at once be dead in the ground, taken up into glory, and endlessly reincarnated.

"When you seek Me with all your heart I will be found by you, says the Lord." This is the only journey I want to take.

They call it riding, people, not sitting.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Experts say--no doubt the elusive board of "they"--that it takes around seven seconds to form a first impression of somebody. I would like to say that I am not that judgemental or shallow--sometimes it takes even less time for me to decide what I think of someone.

In WalMart, for example, (officially my least favorite place on earth) it can take as little as three or four seconds. This split second judgement kicks in when I spy a three hundred pound shopper with a cart containing cheap wine, The National Enquirer, and cartons of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cremes ( which, by the way, are delicious. Something that artificial shouldn't taste good). Or the guy with a feathered mullet and I-Don't-Call-911 T-shirt (for more examples see a fave source of shallow entertainment: .

Notice I didn't say seven second evaluations of people are good or accurate. Only God can determine inner spirit and heart. But to judge is human and, as a member, I err. Frequently.

But can a person come even close to a true (though incomplete) impression of somebody in around seven seconds? I say yes. As long as they're wearing equestrian footwear.

Last week I stood in the check out line at Costco. With nothing to do but wait, I engaged in people watching. It's fun to imagine things about people based on attire or the food in their cart. I can justify this, I'm a writer (characters have to come from somewhere you know). A woman in the next lane proved to be challenging: bland looking, nothing spectacular in her food choices-- peanut butter and tomato sauce, average height, and appropriate, non-descript clothing. Then I looked at her feet. She wore a pair of Ariat paddock boots. Chunks of dried manure and mud clung to the soles. Suddenly I knew several things about this stranger I would likely never meet.

Like other sports, horseback riding has rules, attire, lingo. And while any old person can wear a pair of cowboy boots, only someone serious would invest in Ariat. Someone who actually rides and, more likely, owns their own horse. Here is what I know about serious equestrians:

1. They are compassionate and passionate. By definition a passion is something you endure suffering for. Trust me, this applies to riding a horse.

2. They probably did not spend much time playing with Barbie as a child and likely enjoy manual labor/getting dirty. Girlie girls do not last as equestrians.

3. They do not give up easily. If in doubt, muscle around a 1,000 pounds of horseflesh for a month or so. If you don't give up, you'll discover new levels of will power and determination. I promise.

4. They own other animals--a hundred bucks says the home has at least one dog.

How's that for seven seconds? Now, for an Oatmeal Creme or two...