What Bertha Taught Me

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Taking a trail ride on a horse provides a distinctive lens to view the mountains that cannot be captured on the walking paths or roadways.


My trips West over the course of my life have given me more than one experience with this and in each case, the views were breathtaking and the horse fortunately knew the way to go and what it needed to do.


On my last trip to Yellowstone I had the prospect of taking one more such ride. I was not deterred by my age or the reality it had been thirty years since I had tried such a venture. That’s how I tend to approach adventures that peak my interest after spending a childhood where I was often too timid to try much of anything.


The morning came and the guide had chosen Bertha to be the mount for me. I still have no idea how a specific horse is chosen for a specific person. Bertha was named such as a result of her size, B-I-G! Her head was enormous and I could never have gotten on the saddle without the wooden platform and steps placed beside her for me to use.


As always, we were given only a few basic instructions. Be sure to hold the reins and pull back on the reins when you want the horse to stop. Don’t let the horse eat along the way. Check.




IMG_2578After all, horses used for such trail rides are trained and know the drill. I had also been assured that Bertha was not a young skittish mare that would be tempted to bolt or buck.


With all those basics under my belt, Bertha and I set out following the guide at the head of a long line of other riders. Bertha was doing well except for her temptation to eat along the way.


Fifteen minutes into the ride, our trek ventured down a slope to a small stream littered with rocks. Rocks were on either bank of the stream as well. Bertha started down the slope and into the stream stepping as carefully as she seemed to know to do. Suddenly she tripped and immediately dropped on her front knees into the water!


Wait!! No one gave me instruction for this! I know we signed a release about various things that could happen, but no one expected any of those things would.


As Bertha fell to her knees quickly, the time for me seemed to be happening in slow motion. I recognized that she was leaning to her left side and appeared to be going completely down beyond her knees. My reaction prompted me to try to get my left foot out of the stirrup as quickly as I could so my leg would not be pinned beneath her. I managed it just in time and my left foot found a fairly secure spot on which to land.


Next was that other foot and lifting my leg across the saddle as I felt Bertha steadily going all the way down. That was going pretty well also, but as my right foot hit the rocks it slipped into the water and then I lost my balance and there I was with my knees banging against the rocks, my left hand down in the stream and my right hand hanging onto one of the rocks, my body sprawled in the mix.

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Bertha seemed totally at ease! It dawned on me that it was almost as if she knew to go down just slowly enough after losing her footing to give me a chance to get off safely.


By now everyone was scrambling to find out if I was really okay or hurt in some way that might not be apparent. One guide was helping me up while another was helping Bertha.


I was given a choice to go back to the ranch or to continue for the two-hour ride. Since I was fairly certain I was largely unharmed save some bruises and a scrapped knee, I chose to continue on the ride.


Despite the fall, Bertha taught me I could trust her, that she knew her job was to carry me safely from the beginning of the trip to the end. I didn’t need to be the expert! She was! She knew the path!


Bertha also taught me something else.


In my life there is One who knows the path, is the Expert. He can carry me from the beginning to the end and I can trust that.


The Risk of Throwing Stones



Every family has its favorite stories of memories they enjoy retelling and ours is no different. We have a fair number between all of us that we chuckle over. One of my favorites relates to my grandchildren – actually four of them – from a number of years ago.


These four (two boys and two girls) were out for a walk in their neighborhood. As they were walking along some neighborhood boys began throwing little berries or pebbles at them (I cannot recall which they were.). The oldest grandson and first born told the other three to ignore what was happening and this would stop, but as they walked a bit further and it didn’t stop our youngest grandson and youngest of the four decided this was enough.


He took off running toward these ornery boys and yelling at them to stop throwing stones at his sisters. He was the smallest and youngest, but from birth has had a strong

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sense of justice.


And guess what?


These boys began running away even though they were older and bigger.


Throwing stones or berries can be risky but tempting on the part of children of any age. Those on the receiving end usually are intimidated so the ones doing the throwing see no reason to stop throwing stones.


As we grow up, we tend to give up throwing stones, but this morphs into throwing words in the form of criticism and judgment. They slip out of our mouths with ease within our homes, neighborhoods, workplace, church, and beyond. We sometimes frame them as our opinion as if it justifies us but tend to ignore that much of the time, we are blind to the log in our own eye.


Sometimes we point out little things that we label overtly or covertly as wrong when those things are just different than our preference. We move on from there to pointing out the flaws and weaknesses of others while ignoring or missing our own. We speak of the biases of others without recognizing they reveal the biases of our own.


accusation-anger-angry-984950We point to what we believe are the sins of others, the failure to keep a moral code of conduct, while forgetting or rationalizing our own sin. We seem to believe we are very righteous so that we can sit in the seat of judgment on what we see in the life of someone else.


Over and over again we are admonished in scripture not to judge others and we miss that this tendency to accuse others of wrong is part of our sin nature, our DNA from the Garden of Eden. We barely pause as scripture reminds us, we will be judged as we judge others whether that is a parent, child, neighbor, friend, leader, pastor, or politician.


I think it may be because we aren’t dealing with the cross – our need for it – in order to be reconciled with God. And it gets reinforced as we compare our own weaknesses or failings to someone else’s and inwardly or outwardly decide we are not as bad as this person we have judged.


The road of transformation is messy, and, in the middle, we go down rabbit trails throwing stones of one kind or another at others along the way. It becomes such a habit that we fail to recognize what it says about us to those who hear, to children who are watching.


Of all the passages in scripture that speak of the danger of judging others, the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery is one that leaps off the page. It seems clear she should be judged. She has broken the law, and everyone knows it and with stones in hand they are ready to mete out justice from what they see as the moral high ground on which they stand.



They miss that their judgment points to moral flaws as well, as does their self-righteousness. They forget the basics – sin is sin. We are all guilty, all in need of the cross, all of us struggle with bad choices even in the middle of transformation. We forget that Lucifer is known as “the accuser of the brethren” and when we step into that role, we are more like him than we recognize.


You may ask, “what about justice?”  Be assured there will be justice, but it will come from only One who is perfect and righteous in every respect.


It’s easy to see someone else is throwing stones whether they are stones, berries, or words, but the risk for us that we fail to recognize are those we throw.


To those standing with their hands full of stones to throw at the immoral adulterer in John 8, Jesus says,


“All right but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”


Throwing stones can be risky.











The Best Way to Milk A Cow



Despite growing up on a farm, I did not have a great affinity for the animals that were a part of my daily life. Looking for eggs under clucking chickens that fluffed their wings with every step I took was not what I considered fun.




They were ginormous! I know that because when the fence that kept them corralled was not working and they decided to go exploring, my dad would do his version of a cowboy to get them back where they belonged. My job? If they ran in my direction, I was supposed to wave my arms, yell, jump around, and persuade them to go where my dad wanted them to go.


Cows and the farm fascinated Debbie, my city friend when I was in high school. On her first overnight at my house, she announced to my dad, “I want to learn to milk a cow”. My dad said that he would be glad to teach her the next day.


In the morning, we trudged out to the barn and my dad began to give Debbie all the steps she needed to follow. He patiently guided her step by step. He had been a farmer his entire life and certainly knew the best way to milk a cow. She seriously followed each step until she got to the one where she needed to touch the cow.


Suddenly, the reality of sitting on a milking stool beside a cow that looked like the size of an elephant made touching her in order to milk her quite daunting. Debbie would move her hand toward the cow and then jerk it back. She looked helplessly at my dad and said, “Make me do it”.


My dad laughed and told her there was really no way to milk a cow unless she would touch it. He patiently tried to help her, but after a half hour he and Debbie both realized this was not going to happen.


You see, the best way to milk a cow means you need to touch her and grab hold and squeeze in order to get the milk you want.


For many of us, our desires, hopes, and dreams have nothing to do with milking a cow and yet, like Debbie, we hesitate. Our fear cripples us and the voices in our head whisper over and over again well-worn lies that keep us stuck from ever reaching out and touching that thing, grabbing hold, and squeezing to get what we desire.


Going after that desire, hope, or dream is difficult and too often we want to cave in to the doubt and fear. If that thing you long for is a part of who you are, a part that the Creator put there, then it is something that requires bravery and courage to achieve and is worth the fight to reach out and do or be what captures your imagination.


Thinking about the thing you desire will not give birth to it.


You will need to fight past your fear and doubt, labor over the dream, have patience, and grab hold and squeeze to get the rich goodness your heart desires.


The best way to milk a cow or pursue any other desire, hope, or dream means you will need to reach out, touch it, grab it, massage it, and trust the One who gave you that vision at every step along the way.


You will get no milk if you simply sit on the stool beside the cow!


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To Share or Not to Share



The scene gets repeated hundreds of thousands of times each day. Two people meet over lunch, coffee, or some other relaxed venue to catch up with each other on what has been happening in each of their lives.


If the relationship is one that has stood the test of time and trustworthiness, conversations flow easily from one topic to another, from deeply personal concerns or beliefs to the latest fads or headlines. Each feels pretty safe as a result of previous conversations and confidences that were not betrayed.


It would be wonderful if that were common for our times with one another; but more often than any of us would like to admit or recall, we discover the person we entrusted found it too tempting to keep our conversation only between the two of us. Most of the time we learn about the breach. If the tidbit shared was relatively inconsequential, we are fortunate. We DO make a mental note, however, and find ourselves reflecting on what else we might have shared that could be more significant.


Within the Christian community, information can often be repeated or shared under the guise of a prayer request. Certainly there are times when the motives are pure. We know someone is facing a cancer diagnosis and we want anyone and everyone to be praying and we skip the request to not share with anyone else.


Early in our walk with Christ when we look at fellow believers as mature and IMG_0674trustworthy without question, we can be naïve and openly share information with those who may not be safe for us.


For some who hear, they are tempted to share or use our information to in some way make them feel more important or special for being “in the know” and passing it along to others. We don’t always receive the acceptance, understanding, and encouragement we hope to hear. Sometimes we hear what seems like religious jargon that fails to show the person really heard our heart.


Others of us tend to be very closed to share much of anything about ourselves. The result is usually that we have very few relationships and despite our fears about sharing, we may feel lonely and unfulfilled by the relationships that we do have.


What is the answer?


We need to grow in our discernment, learning from our observations of the person we are sharing with and also from our past experiences. That can also mean getting beyond our adolescent desires to have one “best friend” we can share everything with.


Each of us is a complex, unique creation, and no other person can hear, understand, or relate to every aspect of who we are. That will not usually be the case except with “thebest friend we can have who will never betray us and understands every aspect of us more than we do — the Lord Himself. 


The snare the enemy sets for us is to let our feelings at the moment dictate what, how much, and to whom we share. Even before hearing there is any betrayal, in those cases we can often regret how much we let roll out of our mouths.


That nudge to “spill our guts” is even stronger when we have not first done so in our time alone with the Lord. We all can often benefit from talking through something or processing something with another person, but it is key to remember to not neglect sharing it first with the One who hears us best and loves us most.


If we fail to grow in discernment, we fall into another enemy snare and close ourselves off. Liz Curtis Higgs notes,


“Discernment is needed. But for most of us, the greater danger is being close minded instead of open hearted, staying home rather than venturing forth, playing it safe instead of taking a risk.”


ALL relationships involve some level of risk, but God designed us as relational beings.


Perhaps the key is once again to learn to hear His voice, trust His leading, and know He will be there even when we mess up.



Living Life in the Midst of Waiting



I have never been very good at waiting, but it seems pretty clear to me by this point in my life that it is one of those tools the Lord uses to inform me of areas of character He has not yet fully sanctified.


I can’t even recall my earliest waiting experience, but I know there were all the usual ones most of us relate to. Waiting for Christmas morning, waiting to get a grade on a test, waiting to hear if I were picked for a team or a part in a play, waiting for summer vacation, waiting to go see the movie I anticipated…. and the list goes on.


Sometimes when we are young, we are also waiting to grow up so we get to do all those things we think are better than the things we get to do now.


 We tend to try to rush life along when we are young. We want to experience that first car, first date, first job, first apartment, and so much more. Maybe life as a child or teen seems to drag along because we are too often waiting on what we think will be better ahead and never savor the now of childhood.


My dislike of waiting highlights my impatience, my self-centered existence, and my wavering faith and trust to name just a few things.


As I got older, I still felt like “I can’t wait” when I was waiting on a child to be born, waiting on a decision about a new job, or waiting to hear my husband was on his way home from being overseas. That feeling began to be tempered, however, as time and experience taught me that the news was not always what I hoped for, the opportunity did not always manifest itself, and prayers were not always answered in the time or way I wished.


God truly is sovereign! He is ever looking out for our best and how to shape and mold us to look like, be like, and do things more like Him. I don’t think any of us can imagine Him pacing impatiently around heaven because the news He is expecting has not yet arrived.


 Some seasons of waiting are especially difficult. Things like waiting on medical test results, homecomings for service members, waiting for some injustice to be made right, and news of a job when we are unemployed are not easy no matter what our age or season of life.


Scripture often reminds us to wait. How often has someone quoted Isaiah 40:31 to you in your season of waiting?


“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)


In a hard waiting season, the words may feel much less comforting than the person who spoke them may desire them to be.


How I wait and likely how you wait is very much affected by a great many variables including, but not limited to:


  • The meaning or value of the thing or one we are waiting for
  • Our perspective on whether we anticipate something positive or fear something negative
  • Our past experience with waiting
  • How we view God’s goodness toward us as well as His faithfulness and trustworthiness
  • How much we own of God’s love for us


As I was reflecting on this today, I tried to turn this around and look at it differently. When I did, other perspectives came to mind that were not there before.


  • How long did God wait for me to accept Him and make Him a priority?
  • How long has God been waiting on His church to love Him above all others and to be prepared as His bride for His return?
  • How long has God waited for me, you, or any of us to recognize the truth about Him, the truth about ourselves, and what He desires?


These questions begin to adjust my perspective and remind me that He does not see or experience time as I do or you do.


He always and forever looks at things through an eternal lens with an everlasting perspective.


That brings me to repentance for my impatience for so many temporal things, temporal answers, and temporal desires.


It also reminds me that my eagerness for His return is the one desire that should temper all else and remind me of His goodness toward us. It causes eagerness in the waiting because of the confidence in that goodness and faithfulness.


Will it also influence my living while I wait?