The Lord was simply part and parcel of Mama’s daily breathing. She invoked His assistance for any task that proved difficult – from the ones that seemed easy but eluded her, right up the ladder to the more complicated ones. I can remember being no more than seven or eight years old and watching her as she pitted all the strength of her 5’ tall body into popping the lid from a jar of canned green beans. It wouldn’t budge.
Mom stopped and sighed.
Holding the cantankerous jar in her left hand, she raised her eyes heavenward and said “Lord, I’d like to feed these beans to my family for dinner, but I need your help in getting this lid off. Thank you, Lord.”
Her tone was reverential and totally respectful and the little prayer was delivered in an attitude of one friend talking to another. Matter of fact. Affectionate. But, most importantly, confident of receiving an answer.
Mom lowered her eyes and put her right hand on the lid that, just a few seconds earlier, refused to move so much as one millimeter. She gave a twist and off it came, so easy it appeared oiled.
Even as a youngster, I can remember being impressed by Mom’s faith. I believed in her and I believed in God but, for whatever reasons, I just couldn’t muster up that closeness she enjoyed. There were times I wondered how in the world she could talk so much to someone she’d never seen. I asked her about it once and she told me she had seen Him. Of course, she went on to explain she saw him in the flowers and trees and stars and a host of His other creations. That was fine but it wasn’t what I had in mind.
Regardless of the closeness I did or did not feel with the Lord, I did grow up knowing there was Someone and He was somewhere out there.
Mom didn’t read the Bible a lot but she did manage to find various passages relating to horses. You see, I was a horse nut and I had my very own big, black, wonderful Tennessee Walker. His name was Bob’s Merry Legs and he was far more than just a horse. He was a friend. He listened to all the things that welled up inside my secret heart. His broad, white blaze caught my tears. His finely etched ears switched back and forth as he strained to catch every syllable I said to him. Mom knew if there was any way to reach me with God, it was through horses.
She read to me passages from Job, with the Lord speaking of the horse’s might and majesty. She told me how Jesus would come back one day and He’d be riding on a big, white horse with all His saints riding horseback behind him. I could envision the scene. It made my heart beat faster and my pulse race with excitement. I took it a step further and mentally seated angels on horses, their robes flowing downward over the strong withers and backward across the muscled rumps. Then, when I went outside with Bob, I pictured him in heaven and thought even Jesus might be proud to ride him.
Every school morning I got out of bed, dressed, ate breakfast and went outside to visit with Bob before catching the yellow school bus that I rode for a total of three hours each day. One morning I went through my routine and then headed for the barn, snatching some sugar cubes as I passed the kitchen counter. I went out the back door whistling and calling for my friend. His routine was as predictable as mine. He would hear my whistle and call, look out the barn door and then come romping into the paddock to whinny and hang his head over the fence. This particular morning, however, there was something wrong. There was no Bob. It was enough of a deviation that I panicked immediately.
“Bob?” I called again. I opened the gate in the paddock and went into the barn. He wasn’t there. I went back to the paddock and, from the angle of the barn doorway, I spotted the problem. There was a section of fence down and Bob had obviously wandered off. I was frightened.
I ran back to the house and told Mom I wouldn’t be going to school, a rather presumptuous announcement for a 10-year-old fifth grader.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
She didn’t repeat what I’d said. Mom was like that. In a crisis she always had an immediate grasp of the situation.
“I’ll go get Daddy,” she responded. We always, always turned to Daddy in any crisis. “You wait here,” she instructed.
I could hardly stand still. My best friend was out there somewhere. I knew it would take Mom only a few minutes to drive to the field where Daddy was working in the cotton. That’s where I was raised. A cotton farm that was crisscrossed with dozens of dirt roads. Bob and I knew all of them.
It seemed like forever, but it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes when Daddy pulled into the backyard in his truck with Mom behind in her car.
Mom got out. Daddy didn’t. He yelled for me to get in the truck. I ran and he started driving.
We covered those dirt roads but there was no Bob. He was trying to not show it, but I knew Daddy was getting worried. Suddenly, from nowhere, he said “I’m going across the main dirt road to Mr. Rogers’ place.” There was something about the way he said it that made my skin prickle. I can still remember it.
We crossed the main road and headed toward a huge gravel pit. Daddy stopped a safe distance from the rim and we got out. We looked down and there, appearing very small, was Bob. I immediately started crying as if my heart had broken.
Today, because there’s a lake where the gravel pit was, I know it was more than 100-feet down and nearly an acre across.
I wiped my eyes, hiccupped three or four times, edged closer to the rim and looked down. I could see his right rear foot was cocked off the ground, a sure sign that it was injured. There was no use asking or even wondering how or why he’d gotten into the pit. The only concern was getting him out.
We lived in a tiny, rural community. There were no such things as rescue helicopters or hook-and-ladder fire trucks or anything else bordering on the sophisticated. Daddy began walking around the lip and I followed. He came to a spot that had a more gradual slope than anywhere else. There was a sort of trail leading to the bottom. Bob, who wasn’t wearing shoes, had left hoof prints in the dirt that was still semi-soft from a rain three days prior.
Daddy and I looked at one another.
“I have to go down and get him,” I said.
“No way,” Daddy responded. “You’ll get hurt, your mother will kill me and I have no idea what else will happen. But I do know you’re not going down there.”
I wiped away the last of the tears and looked him in the eye. “Then how will we get him?”
“I’ll go,” Daddy answered.
“He won’t follow you and you know it,” I said. “I’ll be fine. I can scoot down and, coming up, I’ll have Bob to hold on to. He won’t let me fall.” Suddenly, I knew I was speaking the truth. He was my best friend and that meant I was the one to rescue him; and I was his best friend which meant he’d do all he could to keep me from harm.
I knew it was a struggle for Daddy, and I know that even more today now that I’m older. I was the youngest of three children, and enjoyed certain privileges that go with being “the baby.” Daddy was torn.
“There’s no choice, Daddy.”
He knew I was right.
“We don’t have a lead rope,” he said.
“We don’t need one. He’s wearing a halter. Besides, I know he’ll follow me without a rope or a halter.”
Daddy knelt down and double tied my tennis shoes, shortening up on the laces and tightening the knot. He got up and stood back. I knew that was his way of giving permission. I sat down at the top of the trail and started scooting, kicking rocks as I went.
I don’t know how long it took to reach the bottom. I was a kid and time wasn’t all that important to me. I just remember it seemed to take hours to reach the bottom, shredding my jeans in the process.
When I was three-quarter of the way down, Bob hobbled in my direction and started whinnying. I thought of Mama. I knew what she would do.
“Lord,” I breathed, “I know I have no business doing this but my friend needs help. I know you like horses or you wouldn’t have them in Your Bible. I don’t know if I can do this, Lord, so I’d sure appreciate it if you’d give me a hand. Thank you.” I didn’t know it then, but I must surely have sounded just like Mama.
I reached the bottom and turned around to wave at Daddy. I immediately wished I hadn’t done it because it made me think of the climb needed to get us out of the pit. I reached up and patted Bob on the neck.
“You silly, silly horse,” I crooned. “Why’d you ever get out and why in the world did you come here?” He looked at me as if to apologize for causing so much trouble.
“Okay,” I said, “I know your foot hurts but you don’t have a choice – just like I didn’t have one. I’ll help you but you have to help me, too.” I took hold of his halter with one hand and put my other hand on the side of his neck to help steady me.
I suddenly stopped in mid-motion.
“Lord,” I said matter-of-factly, “we’re going to need all the help You can give us. I’m just a kid and I’m scared. I know Bob’s scared, too. Just please don’t let us fall, Lord. Just let me and my friend get to the top. Thank you, Lord.” I was about to start forward when I stopped again. “Lord,” I said, “if you were thinking about sending any angels down here today, it would sure be good if you could send some to go all ‘round us. Maybe they could let us just sort of lean on them. Thanks again.”
This time we started up, each step placed slowly and carefully, Bob maneuvering his big bulk along the narrow trail with small rocks scattering from under his feet. I plastered myself as close to him as possible. Every time I extended one foot forward, I can remember saying “Please, Lord, don’t let us fall.” I don’t know how many times I repeated those words, slipping and going to my knees in what seemed like dozens of times. Bob stopped with each slip. I stopped any time he seemed to favor his hurt foot.
We made it to the top. Two best friends holding on to one another. I learned that day what it meant to take risks for a friend and, just as importantly, I learned what kind of relationship I could have with Someone I’d never seen.
Mama was right….as usual. And today, when I can’t wrestle the lid from a jar, I simply stop and say “Lord, I need some help to do this.”
It never fails, the lid slips off….so easy it appears to be oiled.