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When Hope Dies

The hooves were frostbitten. The horse lay on its side. Two of the horse’s legs rested suspended, thick and brittle from the freezing, North Dakota winds that claimed its life. A frozen expression of forlornness and depression remained on the horse’s face. Forever cemented.

It is 5 a.m., December 25, 1924. The sun had begun to rise on this Christmas morning.

“Annabelle. Poor Annabelle,” Theodore Smalley said. This horse was what connected Annabelle Neill to her mother, who is in heaven.

All the neighbors agreed. The horse seemed to have an ethereal disposition. Annabelle claimed she could hear, smell and sense her mother’s presence in every fiber and hair of the Palomino. The Palomino was not a workhorse. She was the prettiest horse any of the neighbors had every laid eyes on.

The horse had become a source of hope in the sad, monotonous lives of the ranchers. Now, hope is dead. Nothing beautiful remained in the impossibly flat plains. What happens when hope dies?

Benjamin Cartwright simply stared at the horse. Cartwright was the practical one. He grew up on the farm. Ranching and farming were in his blood. There was no denying that. Cartwright had an underlying disdain for the poet-in-remission, Theodore Smalley. Who needs poetry? He had said as much to Smalley when he first moved to Bottineau, North Dakota.

He knew better than to breach a question like that again. Smalley used words he didn’t understand.

Smalley had come to Bottineau to “rediscover” his pen for poetry. He had hoped he would find inspiration amongst the farmers and ranchers who lived outside the sleepy town. What Smalley didn’t like to think about was the current depression in the stock markets didn’t leave much need or want for poets or poetry. His creative ideas were squelched and bankrupt along with what seemed to be a nation-wide depression.

Instead of renewal, he found frostbite and drudgery. Life in North Dakota is hard. The majority of time is spent indoors because it is simply too cold to do otherwise. Not quite what he was expecting, Smalley would remark to anyone who would lend an ear. Yet, he remained optimistic.

The minutes of gaping at the horse and the impossible task before them seemed like eons to Smalley.

“I suppose it is too heavy for us to lift?” he said. He started to roll up his sleeves, but was reminded why this was not a good idea when the sub-zero winds froze the blond hairs on his arm.

Cartwright did not answer. Of course it was too heavy. Anyone with any common sense would know that.

His wife was expecting their first. He worried for Sarah. Night and day he worried. After Rachel Neill died, he worried. The baby boy had survived, and he knew what a difficulty Joseph had loving the boy, taking care of Annabelle and running a farm. He sensed a small measure of hurt whenever he saw Joseph looking at Samuel. Samuel had taken Rachel’s life.

There was a doctor in Bottineau, but that was 50 miles away. In winter, snow prevented the doctor from leaving the town.

It was Christmas morning. Joseph had asked Benjamin and Theodore to move the horse before Annabelle could see.

Joseph must have forgotten to take in Polly, the Palomino, on Christmas Eve. Cartwright could only imagine the agony Joseph was feeling.

“Come on,” Cartwright said. “We’ll get two of my horses and a cart.”

He turned and walked away.

“But, but how will we lift Polly?” Smalley said.

Smalley was forced to follow Cartwright’s lead when no reply came.

When they returned with Cartwright’s two sturdiest horses and a low-lying wagon, it was snowing. It was a flour-in-a-sifter snow, but it could turn into a bag of flour unsifted very quickly.

Cartwright tied a thick, coarse rope around the nape of Polly’s neck and another around her midsection. The rope was tied to a yoke that rested on Lucky and Jude’s shoulders.

“What are we doing?” Smalley asked.

Cartwright’s annoyance deepened. He could be helping me, he thought, instead of standing idly.

“Lucky and Jude are going to pull Polly onto this wagon. Once we’ve got her on the bed, then they’ll pull the wagon.”

Smalley was puzzled.

“Couldn’t we tie the rope to her legs?” he asked.

“Her legs are frozen. They’ll break under force,” Cartwright said.

Life in North Dakota was so bare-boned, so ugly. The reality of the situation seemed to catch up with the poet. This wasn’t anything like Boston. His circle of poet-friends would be appalled with everyday life in North Dakota.

They spent their days sipping imported Earl Grey and eating scones and philosophizing, romanticizing and spouting off epithets. Hours were spent spouting off lines of iambic pentameter. No one in North Dakota knows what iambic pentameter is. His idea of going back to grassroots wasn’t going as he planned.

“Well, are you going to help?” Cartwright said.

Cartwright and Smalley, with a good deal of trouble and cracking of vertebrae, managed to get Polly onto the wagon bed. When they made it back to the Cartwright farm, Sarah was waiting with shovel in hand.

“What are you doing outside in this weather, Sarah?” Cartwright said. “The baby, think of the baby.”

Sarah looked down and the fresh grave she had dug. It is harder to unearth frozen ground. It had taken more energy than she would admit to Benjamin. She knew how much he worried.

“Polly needs a place to rest,” Sarah said. “Annabelle will find out, and she will need a place to come grieve and mourn.”

Cartwright and Smalley lowered Polly into her final resting place in the hard, arctic soil.

“Is there room in poetry for Polly?” Cartwright asked.

“What?” Smalley said. Smalley had never heard Benjamin mention poetry, much less in this tone.

“Do you suppose,” Cartwright said, “you can write poetry about Polly?”

A pregnant pause followed.

“I, I suppose, one could endeavor, to write some poetry,” Smalley said. The thought of writing about a dead horse had never occurred to him. He was looking for something cheery, abstract and flowery to write about. He had never thought of writing about death, sadness and dreariness. Where was the nobility in writing about death?

He couldn’t seem to find anything noteworthy to write about since coming to Bottineau.

Life, hope and death—or the death of hope.

Maybe poetry isn’t about cataloging the revolutionary ideals and abstract principles. Maybe poetry can also be about the hardships and the unfairness of life. Maybe poetry is about hope.

What happens when hope dies?

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An august August

I can’t believe the month of August is almost over.

It’s weird how time flies when you become an adult. When you’re a child, time goes by so slowly. It seems like Christmas will never come and you’ll forever be in the fourth grade.

I think it’s when college hits that time starts its time warp. Does anyone know how to stop a time warp? Does sticking bubble gum in it work? Or what if you were to yell really loudly, “SLOW DOWN A BIT, WILL YA?”

I guess that’s why God tells us to make the most of every moment.

August is my favorite month. This is why I am alarmed that it’s almost over. Now I have to wait a whole ‘nother year for it to come again.

The origin of my favoritism could possibly be from my birthday. (It’s in August) When I think of August, I think of wistful days spent in green grass and afternoons in the summer sun.

I also think of August Gloop in the 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Yeah, he was the boy in the Oompa Loompa song who fell into the chocolate river.

Hmm, that was a bit of a Debbie Downer throw-in. Sorry about that.

August also is just fun to say too. It’s fun to say in Thai too — “Singha khom.”

Time never slows down, so I hear, it only gets faster. This scares me because I don’t want to waste a day. I don’t want to watch days float past me like Russian racehorses on a clay track. I want to be a part of the race. While I’d like to think I am, many a time I think I take the lazy spectator approach to life.

It seems like only yesterday that I was walking across Fountain Mall at Baylor heading to the journalism building. A few days ago I sipped Dr Pepper floats. A few weeks ago I was a nervous freshman.

It’s crazy how time flies huh?

Treasure the past, savor the present and hope for the future.

That’s all I can say.


Filed under Life

In their footsteps

Running in flip-flops is something new for me. But it’s not a novelty for the countless Burmese who’ve had to flee from their own countrymen.

On the border of Thailand and Myanmar, children fall asleep to the sound of bazookas and rapid rifle fire instead of sweetly sung lullabies. It’s been 40 years, and the people of Myanmar have had no solace from strife. It’s Myanmar’s people groups, their ethnic minorities, who are the primary targets of violence. To read more about the situation in Myanmar, click here

This past weekend was the 6th annual Run for Relief . The purpose of the run is not only to raise money but also to make a statement: you are not running alone. Not everyone ran in flip-flops. You could choose to do so, however, as a sign of solidarity. Yes, my feet hurt a little afterward, but along with the many others who ran in flip-flops, we were saying, “You’ll never run alone.” In Christ, they’ll never run alone. The sad part is, many don’t know the Author of Life.

Will you commit partner in prayer?

This weekend I am headed to work with Burmese refugees near the border. We’ll be playing with and loving on children in an orphanage. Stay tuned for stories from this weekend.

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It’s the Climb

View from my balcony

You know the song, “The Climb,” by Miley Cyrus? I’m not too keen on Miley as an artist or individual, but I can’t help but think about her song now that I am back in my new-old environment.

My last two years of high school we lived near the international school I went to and later graduated from. We had a great house. I had a room with a king size bed and a balcony that faced Doi Kham (a mountain). I loved sitting on the balcony and reading my Bible, praying and contemplating life and its intricacies. I had some great times with the Lord. It was a great time of solace. Those were the times that I felt most keenly the “Sacred Romance” John Eldredge writes about.

Now, I am back in Chiang Mai–my hometown. I’m here not as a high school student in pleated skirts and polos but as a recent college grad with a career. I’ve landed my dream job at 22. I’m not here for play like I was before. I have responsibilities. I am here by myself. I am going to be doing ministry as a single– not a family. I have an awesome, light-filled apartment in a bustling part of town that has several coffee shops and a plethora of eateries. It is very convenient. Where we lived before was kind of out in the boonies.

Guess what? I have a balcony. Actually, in the apartment there are a total of four. Yes. Three of the balconies face a mountain. I almost cried with joy when I first walked into the apartment. It’s more than a balcony–it’s communion with God. I’m reminded of His glory every time I look out. I am reminded of what He has done for me, the lessons I’ve learned and the victories He’s granted. I look out and see the city I love so much.

But this time, the mountain is Doi Suthep, which is a much taller mountain. How fitting that it it’s a bigger mountain. It fits my new role here. There’s more challenge now. With challenge though, there is adventure and we all know how much I love adventures. And adventure, as I’m learning, is the pursuit of a Sacred Romance with God.

So to get back to our teen phenom, several lines in her song, “The Climb” popped out at me.

“There’s always gonna be another mountain.” This has proven true. “I’m always going to want to make it move.” I don’t want to make my mountains move. Instead of looking at mountains as a challenge, look at them as an adventure–a mystery.

Valleys, in the Christian metaphor world, are usually synonymous with low times in life. They are associated with the times you are far from God. “Mountain top experiences” usually denote a time of closeness with God. Mountains can be fearful and make you sit in awe. God is a powerful God. It’s good to have a reverent fear of God. I think that is the beauty of mountains. They make me think of Him and how powerful and awesome He is.

So I don’t want to make my mountains move. I know that mountains can also be an obstacle–in that you have to get around or over them to see the life/future on the other side. It doesn’t really bother me what’s on the other side of Doi Kham and Doi Suthep. As Miley said, “It’s the climb.” It’s not what’s on the other side. It’s the lessons we learn on our climb up the mountain. It’s the intimacy with God that comes from the challenge presented.

It’s the adventure we all crave.

Don’t look at mountains in your life and be dismayed and discouraged. Look at them as a chance to find intimacy, solace and learn lessons in your walk with Christ. It’s about running the race in a manner worthy of winning the prize. The mountains in our lives are there for a reason and a season. Allow God to use them to grow you and remind you how great His love is for you.

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