Not long ago I watched the movie Soul Surfer. If you were born under a rock (or live in a tiny town named after a cartoon, like me) you may not be familiar with the true story of Hawaiian teenager Bethany Hamilton. Born to surf, the passionate athlete lost her arm in a vicious shark attack off the coast of Kauai in 2002. Forget about surfing, she's lucky to be alive.
But Bethany could not simply forget about surfing. Her story is an inspiration and modern commentary on the power of passion. It is especially appropriate for what I have been going through lately in both my equestrian and spiritual life. Passion, as it turns out, makes all the difference when one is hit by the unthinkable.
Passion is a word I've been tempted to throw around at times in a sort of casual emotional sense. A person's "passions" are highly individual, but they are also defining whether it be a romance, the practice of faith, or expressed in a hobby. One may feel passionate about gardening, or mountain biking, or horses. They just *love* to do it so a certain effortlessness must be involved, right? As it turns out, the word passion--from the Latin passio--literally means "to suffer for." It's purest form isn't found in the pages of a Harlequin Romance; it was originally affiliated with the sufferings of Christ on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago.
Passion can be found in unlikely places; like in the tearful lament of an armless teen--"I just don't see how this can be God's will"--who initially gave her beloved surfboards away. Later, Hamilton returned to the ocean to re-learn the art of surfing. After suffering dramatically, the teenager went on to compete professionally and inspire thousands with courage beyond her years. It seems one cannot be truly passionate without first suffering in some way. When the going gets tough the depth of our passion is revealed and we find out who we really are.
In the last nine days the depth of my equine passion has been sorely tested by disappointment. It's tempting to give it in and take up something less demanding. Bird watching, for instance. I spent my birthday this year at an equine surgical center emptying my wallet and crying my eyes out while vets determined how my daughter's horse, Cowboy, will ever recover from a critical hock injury. I'll spare you all of the details but suffice it to say a mysterious "blunt force trauma" tore a tendon, punctured his joint cavity, and cracked a vital structure called the hock. This is anatomically equivalent to the human knee. It can take a horse's life if infection sets in, a very real fear from the beginning.
If this happened to Eli I would grieve, but ultimately be okay. I've suffered for my passion before (Can I hear an 'Amen'?) But this is the beloved friend of a child and, if the worst happens, will be her third horse in four years that has been lost to strange catastrophes. She is done competing in western games on this horse--maybe forever--after working hard for two years. It seems impossible and deeply unfair.Though I love this horse, my personal breakdown comes in seeing the disappointment of a child and knowing there isn't one thing I can do to make it make sense or go away--"I just can't see how this is God's will." My daughter is young and vulnerable and I feel her pain more keenly than my own--I just want things to work out for her; for life to magically become "fair."
Yesterday we were ready to euthanize Cowboy as he hopped on three legs and hung his head in the corner of the stall in misery. But xrays suggest a tiny bit of hope and my faith rests, regardless of outcome, in a promise that "All things work together for good for them that love the Lord." Eventually.
The disappointment in all of this--and overwhelming thought I'd have to put another horse down--has been such that one day I told a friend, "I think I'm done with horses." Murphy, you win. Inviting a horse and equestrian goals into my life and that of my daughter has also invited pain and disappointment. Like Bethany Hamilton, I thought about hanging up the surfboard.
The Easter season approaches as I think about all this, medicate a stall-bound horse with an uncertain future, and let my daughter decide where to go from here. It's a good time for us both to consider what it means to follow the heart in the various passions that define it. And on Sunday, passion will be celebrated in the picture of a cross. It epitomizes committment, courage, suffering, and reward. I'm inspired to "count the costs" and choose my passions carefully.
Happy (passionate) Easter.