July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:41 PM
"While some people are challenged by nature (How about a climb up Everest?) and others intimidated, (Tent camping? You've got to be kidding!), I perceive nature as one of God's greatest forums for teaching and molding me.Take that pair of house finches that have discovered my hummingbird feeder. It hangs within sight of my computer and I have a great fondness for looking out on it when I am fresh out of creative words. The finches recent discovery that taking a break from family matters to occasionally imbibe the crimson sweetness, even though the perches are designed for tiny hummingbird feet and not their modest stature, is a good thing. They have convinced me that healthy little sips provide the get up and go one occasionally needs to meet the demands of caring for others.I take it as a sign that regular getaways with my husband are a good idea. Ours are particularly modest (an uninterrupted conversation over a steamy mocha) and often rather unconventional (a drive in our 1966 Mustang coupe with sounds of the Doobie Brothers turned way up to drown out the road noise) but they are refreshing and connecting and restoring, nonetheless.And while those little flyers are charming teachers, the most impacting lessons these days are coming from an 850-pound mare named Breeze.Purchased a year ago for our then 10 year old who longed for a horse and proved she was responsible enough to accept the challenge, my husband and I assumed that Breeze would be a good investment in our daughter's future. Not that I decided she would become an Olympic equestrian, mind you. I approach a child's interests from the onset as a pathway to raising a good and honest, loving and responsible human being. I believe, in fact, that it is my responsibility to know my children well enough that I can identify those things that excite and entice them - away from the Nintendo and the television. If my kids yearn for competition and strive for greatness in a particular area of interest, I will be their biggest fan and supporter. If they simply want to express themselves, gain some independence and expertise, socialize with others with like interests, and learn to manage in positive ways the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, mission accomplished, I say.Little did I know that God would speak volumes to me using Breeze, when I perceived from the onset that the lessons were intended for Katie.I have begun to detect God's lessons by noticing some profound changes in horse and rider in the year since we have owned Breeze. This time last year I recall a fair amount of frustration, for the horse and rider did not know each other well. My daughter was just a beginning rider and like all youngsters, gave a continual string of mixed signals with legs, body and reins. I watched as Breeze danced and miscued with frequency while Katie responded with frustration and tears on a regular basis.On top of such dynamics, Breeze came to us as a reasonably healthy but somewhat neglected little mare. Once a beloved and inseparable pal, Breeze had been relegated to the pasture when her former owner entered high school and decided that boys and sports, classes and dates were far more enticing. While not really neglected, Breeze's inactivity resulted in forgetfulness and her fading muscle tone gave truth to her idleness. Her coat showed signs of stress, as did her front feet, indicating a short episode of foundering.Realizing she deserved better, she was sold to us, the family with a horse-crazy child.It was with all these factors that Katie and Breeze began their relationship. And it is this picture that so contrasts with what I see today. What a portrait God has given me of the growth and hope and beauty that will result when there is consistent attention given to training, feeding, medical care, and plain old hard work. Katie's initial 10-year-old passion has become so much more than a mere hobby. It now serves the developing character of a young girl. It serves a horse who had potential but needed the gift of daily commitment. It serves a mother who seeks godly models for parenting and needs regular doses of encouragement - witnessed in the huge changes and great progress made in both child and equine.God the gentle teacher. Nature the portrait painter. What a joy it is to see and experience. Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and former editor of Christian books published by Gospel Light Publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. "