Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Good Rancher

Last year, my crew headed to the Big Apple for spring break. This year, we took a trek through the Lone Star State.

Caught! At the Ft. Worth Stockyards
Rodeo (April 1, 2016)
To watch a video of calf roping, click here
While Texas is obviously a bit different from New York, we still took in the requisite Broadway (traveling) show (for my drama gal) and an NBA game (#gospursgo). Plus three unofficial college visits, a stop at Waco's Magnolia Market, strolls along San Antonio's Riverwalk, and an attempt to enter Cowboys Stadium (thank you, #Wrestlemania, for shutting down my husband's mecca). And let's not forget to remember the Alamo! 
We wrapped up the very full week with a day at the Ft. Worth Stockyards, where the longhorns impressed us as they sauntered down the street. It was also the perfect spot for me to replace my twenty-something-year-old cowboy boots. We capped off the Stockyards experience with an evening at the rodeo.

I thought the rodeo would be a bit hit, especially with my former equestrian who was in cowgirl heaven the year we vacationed at a dude ranch in Idaho. But instead of excitement, I was met by a troubled gaze when we took our seats. My twelve-year-old stared at all the calves, huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in the pen a few feet from us.

Wrinkling her brow, she quietly voiced her concern. "I don't want to watch them rope those calves." I assured my tender-hearted girl that they were not going to hurt the baby cows. That this was a show - the animals did this all the time, just like she performs on stage. They wouldn't be hurt one bit.

She wasn't buying it.

As each cowboy took his turn, I actually found myself sharing my daughter's discomfort. Truth be told, most of the men were unable to rope their calves. But the men who did - in case you've never seen it - would then leap from their horse, grab the snared calf, flip/drop it to the ground (Wrestlemania, anyone?), and tie up its legs (see video above). The calf lay there squirming, soft eyes wide, for all the crowd to see.

It looked a bit brutal for the uninitiated and I unexpectedly found myself rooting for the little guy, just like my daughter. Of course, the roped calves were immediately untied by rodeo clowns, after which the calves jumped up and trotted happily through the gate like they'd just gone for a stroll in the meadow. But still, the image was a bit distressing.

I leaned over and explained to my husband why his daughter was no longer watching the rodeo. Instead of getting all misty-eyed like the native New Yorker (me), the native Texan paused, and then replied: "They're just like shepherds. Ranchers need to be able to rope calves to protect them and bring them back if they stray from the herd. The rodeo is ranchers displaying one of their necessary skills. They're just like shepherds, it's just that instead of a hook, they use a rope."

I just stared at him. He didn't try to explain it away like I did. Or say it wasn't as bad as it looked. He just explained why it was necessary. He's so wise, that man.

"They're just like shepherds." The words sank in. "Instead of a hook, they use a rope."

Shepherds. The Shepherd. Instead of a wide-eyed calf, I suddenly saw myself squirming in the dirt, immobilized.

Have you ever been there? Straying down paths that leave you lost, alone and broken? And then here He comes, not as a knight in shining armor to sweetly sweep you off your feet, but as a divine rancher, yanking you - me - back to reality and to safety.
"I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down," declares the Sovereign LORD. "I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak...You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God," declares the Sovereign LORD. Ezekiel 34:15, 31 NIV 
It's a scary thing to feel hog-tied (calf-tied) by God. But it's also a blessing. Because it means the Rancher cares for you. He hasn't shrugged His shoulders and let you wander off, never to be seen or thought of again. You and I are so valuable to Him that He's willing to come after us, lasso whistling through the air, to save us from ourselves. Myself. Yourself.

And I like to think of the rodeo clowns as friends who come alongside me when I'm tied up and whimpering. Not to shake their finger for straying in the first place, but to help loosen the ropes after God has halted my wayward sprint. And to maybe bring a little joy and laughter as I dust myself off, a bit wounded from the rescue.

To be honest, I really wish that, instead of the panicked calf in the dust, I was always one of the calves that scampers away without being snared. The ones that hear the sound of hooves behind them and head quickly to the gate as the lasso falls empty to the ground. I wish I was always like that. Getting back on track as soon as I sense Him coming for me. A lot of the time I am. But other times I end up in the dust.

But when I find myself there, hurt as my life and my pride may be, I know I am loved. Because He never snares me for sport. He snares me because He's my loving Father, the Good Rancher who cares too much to watch me wander down a path that will leave me spiritually lost and broken. And I know that a time of disorienting discipline is a price well worth paying for an eternity of beautiful fellowship with the Creator of the universe.
[D]o not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves... Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV 
The Good Rancher. I like the sound of that.