To a casual observer, it probably would have looked pretty simple. I led the horses through the gate, closed the gate, checked my girth and cinch, paused briefly, put my foot in the stirrup, and swung up to mount. Just as my leg was over but before I was actually in the saddle, things started going south. The horses all started moving in a tight circle. I couldn’t get all the way into the saddle. As I tried, I inadvertently spurred my horse who moved faster and tighter and, ultimately, out from under me. I twisted in the air and landed hard, on my back.
As I lay there on the hard-packed dirt and gravel, mentally checking over my body, I realized that I was very sore and a little bit angry. The pause after I checked my girth and before I put my foot in the stirrup came because something didn’t seem right. I paid only enough attention to it to utter a short prayer – “Lord, please get me through this safely.” – and then went on with what I was doing. Laying in the dirt, hurting, I was angry with myself for not paying more attention to my own internal warning and I was angry, or at least disappointed, with God because He hadn’t heeded my prayer. After a minute, I got up, brushed myself off, and began limping to where my horse was standing, about 70 yards away, with a contrite look on his face. I led him a while and, after we’d both calmed down a bit, got on and rode some. There was no joy in the riding because I hurt. But when you come off, you have to get back on. Lying in bed that night, I found that I was still disappointed in God for letting me fall when I had just prayed about it.
Sunday morning, I was scheduled to read in church and serve as a chalice bearer at the Eucharist. I thought about calling in because I woke up stiff and hurting but decided that going to church was more important. I got through the 9am service and, for the first time in a year, went to the lectionary Sunday school class. We covered a passage from Matthew (about the wedding feast that the invited guests refused to attend) that had always puzzled me. I was pleased to finally get the point of that lesson. Then, only because we had a little time left, we covered the day’s epistle reading, a passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In it, he writes that they should ask God for what they need and that he will give it to them. That got me thinking again about my prayer and my fall of the night before. As I turned it over in my mind, I remembered more of what happened and why.
What that casual observer might have seen was all there – but there was a lot more. There were four horses. My son and another boy were on two of them, both Quarter Horse-types. I was leading my horse and another horse – both Appaloosas – that I was going to take across a pasture to my friend, the other boy’s father. There were a number of longhorn cows milling about, trying to get into the corral because their calves were in a pen on the other side of it, so I led the horses out of the corral and closed the gate behind me before mounting. The gate to the corral is immediately next to and perpendicular to the barn. There is an open path, wide enough to drive a truck and trailer through, to the gate. Next to that path, across from the barn, some farm implements were parked on the ground. My truck was parked next to the implements. We, all four horses and three humans, were in that open pathway surrounded on three sides by the barn, the corral gate and fence, and the implements and my truck. Directly blocking the path, maybe 15 feet away, were four or five somewhat agitated mama cows. Before moving to mount my horse, I looped the other Appaloosa’s lead rope around my saddle horn. He was on my horse’s right so I could mount from my horse’s left.
Looking back, I realize that we were in a very dangerous situation. I wasn’t paying enough attention to it because everything around me was so commonplace, so much a part of my regular experience that I didn’t see the danger. And yet something stopped me for just long enough to utter “Lord, please get me through this safely.” I don’t remember ever praying before mounting a horse before but I did then. I also don’t really know what happened next. Somehow, as I mounted, my horse turned and moved out from under me. As I tried to gain my seat, off-balance with only one foot in the stirrup, I accidentally spurred him, immediately making matters worse. Sometimes, when everything goes south, it can seem like things are happening in slow motion and even though you can’t do anything about it, you see clearly what is happening. Not this time. It all happened in a flash. On the horse – in the air – on the ground. Just that fast. I fell to the “off-side,” my horse’s right, toward the other Appaloosa. I have no idea where the kids’ horses moved or how the boys even stayed on in all the commotion. I don’t know how I didn’t get tangled up with the other Appaloosa. I remember seeing the barn rushing toward me but don’t know how I missed slamming into it. When I hit the ground, I was stunned. If I could see, I wasn’t processing the information. Pain shot through my back. My neck and head hurt. My teeth and jaw hurt. When my vision cleared and I could stand, I saw that I was in the middle of the clear path.
As I sat in that Sunday school class, I realized that God had answered my prayer. He had gotten me through a dangerous situation safely. Sure I had some aches and bruises but I didn’t break any bones. I didn’t hit the barn, didn’t land on the gate or the fence, didn’t land on any implements or get slammed into my truck. I didn’t get stepped on and a horse didn’t fall on me. I didn’t get tangled up with any of the longhorns. The kids stayed on their horses and they all, the horses and the kids, somehow got out of the way. None of the horses and neither of the boys were hurt. Sitting in that Sunday school class, I realized that without that answered prayer, I might not be sitting there at all.
As the discussion of Philippians proceeded, I tried to tell what happened and what I had realized. I got part of it out, but badly. I was too choked up to really explain. I was choked up by the enormity of what happened and of what could have happened, and by the reality of an answered prayer.