Here's another story I often share with kids who come out, to encourage them to not lose hope even when things go wrong:
I held my breath as my five-year-old trotted her horse, Valentine, toward the little goat tied in the middle of the arena. Valentine hesitated. Jayna straightened her shoulders and urged the horse on.
A few seconds more, then, she stopped, jumped off, and raced toward the goat. The goat skittered left. Jayna grabbed for the ribbon on its tail. The goat scampered right. She plunged after it and raised her fist to show a bright red ribbon clutched in her fingers. A moment later, she turned, ran to a barrel twenty feet away, and slapped the ribbon on top.
The crowd erupted in cheers. The judge grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. I let out my breath.
She walked Valentine out of the arena and threw herself into my arms. “Did you see, Mom? We did great!”
I grabbed the reins and gave Jayna a huge hug. “Of course I did. And Dad got pictures too.”
“Cattle sorting. You ready?” That was an event she’d also never done before.
Twenty minutes later, I was holding my breath again as Jayna trotted her horse down the middle of the arena. Only this time, six cows stood at the far end instead of one little goat.
Jayna moved into the midst of them. She reined Valentine around, then back, trying to separate one cow from the others. At first, it seemed to be working. A black cow ambled off to the left. I let out my breath again. Maybe she could do it.
But then, circumstances changed. The black cow darted back into the herd. Valentine spun toward the gate. Then, the horse took off. At three strides she started to hop. At four, she bucked. Once. Twice. And Jayna flew off into the dirt.
I ran into the arena and scooped her up. Sandy mud mixed with her tears as she spat out a mouthful of arena dirt.
“Th-that didn’t go very well,” she wailed.
I sighed and brushed a clump of mud from her helmet. “No, it didn’t. Are you okay?”
“Come on, let’s go get Valentine and get you cleaned up.”
She sniffed and rubbed her hand over her nose as we made our way toward the gate where Valentine was standing.
In the days that followed, I thought about our time at the horse show and realized that life is lot like the show. It’s a mixed experience. Things go well. Things go badly. You succeed, you fail. You win, then you lose. One minute the crowds are clapping. The next, they’re gasping as you take a mouthful of dirt.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus knew all about life’s ups and downs. One day he was riding into Jerusalem as the people cheered, waved palm branches, and cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9, NIV). A few days later, he was standing bloody and bruised before the crowd again, and this time they shouted, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13, NIV). One day he was eating a Passover feast with his friends (Mark 14), the next, he was hanging on a cross to die (Mark 15). One day he was in the tomb. Three days later, resurrection.
Up, down, up, down. Life is like that. So, how do I live through all life’s ups and downs? How did Jesus live?
I think Jesus, and Jayna, had it right. Jayna walked through the gate, faced the next event, and trotted down the center of the arena toward whatever goats or cows awaited her. Jesus walked into this life, faced the will of God, and strode resolutely toward whatever His Father asked. Both faced life’s ups and downs with trust and obedience rather than fear and what if’s. Both rejoiced and wept and got a mouthful of dirt. But they didn’t give up, they didn’t turn away. And because of that, Jesus rose again. And Jayna rode again.
That’s what God asks of me too, that I would continue forward in His will, that I would face every up and down by trusting him and walking forward in obedience. And even if my face hits the dirt, I know God will be there to pick me up and help me wash the mud out of my mouth. He will help me face the next event, so that I, too, can rise and ride again.