Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Oldest Horse on the Ranch

This summer has been so very bittersweet.

On one hand, I have been stressed and exhausted and worn down and burnt out. On the other hand, I've gotten to have lovely little adventures with my family that have kept my spirits from sinking for too long.

For the 4th of July holiday, my cousins were in town from California. The three young ones had never really visited Texas before, at least not what they could remember, and so they were looking for a true Western experience.

I live in the heart of Texas, where tall trees are sparse and the sky is bigger than you've ever seen.

A few Texas Panhandle activities were a must, such as kite-flying in the windy weather, visiting the most popular restaurant in town, making homemade ice cream, buying fireworks, and eventually venturing out to Cadillac Ranch. 

On the morning of July 4th, we decided to drive a ways and head to the edge of Palo Duro Canyon, where we would ride horses.

Trail rides tend to offer horses that are worn down and over-worked. However, these Quarter Horses are working cattle horses that are excellently cared for, come from champion lineage, and are well-trained. During the summers when there is little work to be done, their owners will allow them to be ridden by people wanting to explore the edge of the canyon. This keeps the horses trim and used to following commands.

If you remember my experience on the island of Antigua, I enjoy riding horses, but I have my anxieties, so I always tell my family beforehand that I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be matched with the most elderly horse of the bunch. Surely an old-timer will be less likely to run away with me.

We gave our heights and weights over the phone and were matched with a horse before we even arrived at the ranch.  The youngest kids were given their horses first, and then a buckskin horse was led my way. "Emily, this is Bucky. He's the oldest horse on this ranch: 28 years old." I was thrilled. On Antigua, I was given the oldest horse... and in Texas, I got the senior citizen once again!

Although Bucky is 7 years older than I am, he sure did not act like it. During the times that we were riding in a line, he would attempt to weave his way to the head of the pack. Although he was gentle and obedient with me, Bucky liked being in charge of all the other horses.

The trail ride was beautiful in a completely different way than Antigua was. The grass was pale green, the sky was pale blue, and the entire world seemed to stretch out before our very eyes. Cattle grazed around us while cowboys in our group would occasionally wander off to herd them in the right direction.

We reached the edge of the canyon, where the earthy colors fanned out before us like spilled paint.

Looking around at the great expanse of the Texas horizon, I could not help but imagine what life would be like as one of the first explorers in this part of the world. What was it like to see the second largest canyon in America without ever having expected to find it? What was it like to stumble across thousands of buffalo grazing in waist-high grass? What was it like to be among the first from across the world to admire God's vibrant sunsets in the vast Texas sky?

The beauty in this part of the world is a unique beauty, but it is beautiful all the same.

Riding horses is such a wonderful glimpse into the history of this state, as well as the perfect way to have spent the start of Independence Day. I heard a quote once that said, "When I ride a horse, I borrow freedom."

I may be timid, inexperienced, and a little worried when it comes to riding horses, but there is a beauty that horses bring to a landscape, and I was happy to be a part of that.

Three years ago: My Bucket List
Four years ago: 40 Reasons to Eat (Part 5)

Monday, July 21, 2014



Jesus, how I've talked the talk
So that people would see
The way I've tried so hard to live,
The big plans You have for me.

But my "talk" is not Your plan.
In fact, You came and died
As a humble man in poverty,
Holes in Your hands and side.

I want to lose it all for You,
In Your Name, for Your will.
So use me in Your way, not mine,
And let my pride be still.

March 22, 2014

One year ago: Just behind the fence.
Three years ago: Interesting Facts About Me

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fellowship of the Unashamed

Several years ago, my pastor at the time, Milton Jones, passed out a sheet of paper to everyone in the church. On the paper was written a creed that convicted me immensely. I used to keep the paper folded carefully in my Bible, but with time I lost track of the little piece of paper and forgot about the poem entirely. I only recently stumbled upon the very same creed that had so deeply touched my heart for Christ as I was just entering my faith.

I'm not sure who wrote this commitment, but it has encouraged and challenged me.

"I am a part of the 'Fellowship of the Unashamed.' The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, love with patience, lift by prayer, and labor with power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won't give up, shut up, let up, or slow up until I've stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must until He comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner is clear. I am a part of the 'Fellowship of the Unashamed.'"

Two years ago: Just hope.
Three years ago: I was a strange child.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Best Kind of Rest

When I woke this morning, the sun was just barely finding its way into the Puerto Rican sky, but we were already docked firmly at the pier. My vacation was in its final hours.

Sleepy and lagging, I shoved my last few articles of clothing into a bag and made my way to the Windjammer for a final meal on the ship. The electricity actually shut off halfway through the meal. This caused quite the stir, and I honestly would have been somewhat concerned if we had not been knotted so securely to dry land.

There are a few reasons why I am ready to go home:
1.) I miss my Naana and Pa.
2.) I miss my family's three dogs.
3.) I miss having my own bedroom.
4.) I miss a comfortable pillow and bed.
5.) I miss using a shower that is wider than my office chair.

There are more reasons why I wish I could stay in the Caribbean for a few days longer, but do I really need to list those?

The flight to Texas was four hours long and spent sleeping, studying calculus, and re-reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Last night when I finished Blue Like Jazz and was raving about its impact on my heart, Amy told me she didn't believe books could change lives. She said books could change people's perceptions, but they can't change a life.

I disagree. After reading Blue Like Jazz, I hope to embrace God's charity and open-ended grace with outstretched arms and a broken, smiling heart. After reading The Ragamuffin Gospel, I hope to daily look more and more like Mary Magdalene did when she washed Christ's feet with her hair and less like the Pharisees when they proclaimed their good deeds from the street corners.

After reading books like The Ragamuffin Gospel and Blue Like Jazz, my life will never be quite the same again.

My Naana and Pa picked my family up from the airport after a long day of navigating through terminals and attempting to find comfortable napping positions in cramped airplane seats. Our dogs were squirming and crying and dancing with sheer excitement as soon as we stepped through the front door of the house.

It rained four inches while we were gone. While this might not seem like much, most of Texas is in severe drought, and the land around my home is looking greener now than it has in three years.

Now I'm sitting cross-legged on my comfortable bed in my very own bedroom with five piles of laundry strewn around me. Memories from the cruise dinner last night already seem like they happened a week ago. On Monday I'll start back to work (and buckle down on that calculus class).

Rest is beautiful. It was created by God. It is essential for restoration and rejuvenation. The last ten days have been such good rest.

One year ago: Mind the Gap
Two years ago: How the Story Continues
Three years ago: Alphabet Blogging Challenge
Five years ago: I met my sponsored child for the first time today.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Day at Sea

Today was spent entirely on the cruise ship, Jewel of the Seas. Our destination is Puerto Rico once again.

The waters were smooth for most of the morning and a deeper blue than a twilight sky. In fact, when I first woke and went to sit on the balcony and breathe in the ocean air, I could see flying fish sparkling in and out of the waters like small birds.

My family was up fairly early, so after breakfast we ventured to the top deck of the ship to see what activities awaited us. Royal Caribbean offers so many events on board, but it can become easy to get absorbed in your own little routines, even during a brief 7-day trip. On the top deck alone, there are pools, water slides, golf simulation machines, a rock climbing wall, and miniature golf.

We played mini-golf on a small, aged course with 9 holes. No one kept track of the points, but I'm pretty sure I was dead last. I blame my failure on the rocking of the ship.

Luke went to play basketball, so Grandma Marcia, Dad, Amy, and I took up a game of shuffleboard. We are a competitive family, so we played several rounds and it was eventually decided that my Dad was by far the best at this game and whoever was on his team would win by a landslide. I got my very first sunburn of the trip during this game: a saddle of pink across my nose and the apples of my cheeks.

We had lunch as a family at the Seaview Cafe. All of us were flushed and excited from our individual games and activities. I chose to finish lunch early and go back up to my cabin so that I could sit on the balcony, study the bane of my life (business calculus), and read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The book was both challenging and inspiring. Every few pages I finished seemed to be filled with jotted notes and highlights.

It is a little sad that this trip is already coming to a close. I said goodbye to my family's two precious waiters, Shirlyn from Jamaica and Julian from St. Lucia. They have been so gracious to my family, especially to Nawnie. Shirlyn called her "my favorite lady" and always tried to make her day brighter. The staff on this ship make the cruise even more delightful. Even the steward who keeps our cabin tidy was a joy to meet.

Perhaps the saddest of my farewells was when I finished my final creme brûlée of the cruise. This dessert will always hold a special place in my heart.

My little brother and I have a weird bond. Throughout the cruise, I've been making up nicknames for Luke depending on each island we've visited. He didn't get a nickname for the day at sea (probably because his idea was to call him "Loser" because it kind of rhymes with cruise!), so I've returned to calling him by the first nickname on the list.
Puerto Rico: Lucardo
St. Croix: Lu-Cray-Cray
St. Maarten: Luken
Antigua: Aunt Lou
St. Lucia: St. Luka
Barbados: Bob

Tomorrow we will arrive in San Juan bright and early. Our luggage has been taken from our cabins the night before departure so that it will be waiting for us in the morning at the gate. My family will spend no more time in Puerto Rico; we will leave straight for the airport where a plane will be waiting to take us back to our beloved home in Texas.

Two years ago: Better Than Christmas
Three years ago: Parched.
Five years ago: I became ill... in Africa.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Last Island

Barbados, not too far from the coast of South America, is by far the most developed island I have visited on this cruise. When I looked off my cabin balcony this morning, instead of seeing lush forests and mountain peaks, I briefly wondered if we had arrived in the middle of Dallas! Buildings everywhere. The ship docked right next to a bustling warehouse.

The island is still very beautiful but in a different way than St. Lucia or St. Maarten. Barbados (at least the parts that I saw) is beautiful in the way that a tropical, smaller New York City would be beautiful. Now, I will admit that I only ventured around the shopping areas today. I saw pictures from my mom's camera of their time at the beach, and everything they saw was quite beautiful there.

My family split up today so that everyone could participate in different activities. Grandpa Frank, Grandma Marcia, and Courtney took a catamaran around the island and swam with sea turtles. Mom, Amy, and Luke visited a sunny beach with soft sands and vibrant waters. Dad and I went exploring to find some sort of internet cafe so that we could download my calculus textbook and get started on my first week of homework for the summer.

The joys of being a college student.

Internet could be found in a shopping center a quarter of a mile off the pier. Best yet, it was free connection, so we didn't have to add onto the $30 worth of failed downloading attempts accumulated on the cruise ship.

The weather on the island was very tropical and warm. After an hour or two of wandering around, Dad and I returned to the ship and brought Nawnie onto the island. She just turned 81 and has been perfectly happy to spend the days of this cruise resting, with family in the evening, and seeing the sights from her balcony. She ventured briefly onto St. Maarten a few days ago. Today she wanted to go souvenir shopping to buy a gift for her best friend, so Dad and I were delighted to show her around a piece of Barbados. We shopped for a bit and for a short time we went to an outside bar while I sipped on a virgin pina colada.

My time on Barbados was brief. But I am not being dishonest when I say that I was thrilled to be able to just have quiet time and read Water Walker by Ted Dekker on the sunny balcony outside of my cabin while watching the waves rise and fall below.

I am an introvert by nature. I'm like an old electric drill that needs eight hours of charging for every two hours of use. When I travel and share a room with people, spend extended periods of time with people, and am constantly surrounded by people, I sometimes need to get away and crash on my own. Today I got the recharging time I needed.

It was lobster night at dinner, something my entire family had been looking forward to experiencing. The food was delicious, particularly my favorite sweet: creme brûlée. During dinner, we felt the familiar, gentle rocking of the ship that meant we had departed from Barbados.

Our cruise is nearly finished. Tomorrow will be a day spent entirely at sea. Instead of roaming about a tropical island, it will be time to explore what adventures this towering cruise ship has to offer.

Two years ago: So Many Prince Charmings.
Three years ago: What do you think?
Five years ago: My first steps into Africa