Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Courage Is As Courage Does

How do you become a courageous person?

The simple answer? Do what has to be done. Period.

But it isn't always simple, is it?

I saw my horse from inside the house and did a double take. She didn't normally sleep inside the fence of the stall. She would never lay her huge head on a fence rail and lay in a pool of water.

I ran out and tried to help her get up with encouragement and a little pulling, then pushing. No go. I ran in for the phone and called for help. I ran back out, phone in hand, still talking.

Missy thrashed and the phone plunged under six inches of ice water, out of my reach. It was going to be a while before the vet could get there and now I couldn't even call a neighbor. I had to do something or she'd freeze to death. And then she started trying again, thrashing in the puddle. I pulled, shouted encouragement, and slipped on ice. She thrashed so hard that she pushed herself into a deeper part where her nostrils went below the water.

I didn't have time to think, I had to act. In I went. I had to hold her head above the water or she'd drown. I live in Montana where we'd just had a heavy snow during the week. It was freezing, around 30 degrees. It warmed up from the sub-zero of the week before. But Overnight it rained and a deep puddle formed, with ice under it. As I stepped in to grab Miss Piggy's head, I slipped and went down on my knees. (Her official name is Missy, but she never stopped eating and so I dubbed her Miss Piggy.)

Since she was too big for me to lift, I talked to her as I rubbed her muscles to try and keep her warm. My hands went numb in her icy, slick coat.

She tried a few more times to get up. Each time I'd fight with her. Down on ice like that, the danger was intense that she'd freeze and I might slide under her. At one point, I was able to balance her head on my boots while I leaned across her body to rub her down around her heart. As she continued to try, we went into deeper water near the stable muck pile and all I could do was hold her head again--and wait.

My miniature horse, Spanky, kept coming over to lend support. He'd nuzzle my cheek or hers with soft, warm fuzzy lips. Sometimes he'd push his face into the back of my neck and help me try and push up Miss Piggy. But we kept ending up splashing back in the ice water. Filthy liquid doused my face and hair. It ran under my coat and up my sleeves.

Miss Piggy wrestled hard and sent both the horse trough and me flying and then landed back in another even deeper pool. Her ears went under. I was immediately back in with her to keep her up and breathing. I balanced my elbow against one thigh, crossed my hand to my other leg in a makeshift tripod for her head. I held on tight while I tried to keep massaging her massive neck. My legs and arms burned and trembled. I switched arms laboriously every few minutes to keep from wearing out.

By the time the vet arrived, every muscle in my body was on fire from the effort and I was soaked to the skin. We were both covered in slime from the manure pile run off, both shivering.

He'd brought a friend with him. Together we were able to lift her head and put on her bridle. Then all three of us worked on the ropes to haul her to her feet. After several tries, the slime won. The halter winged over her head and sent two grown men and me flying backward into the muck as if we'd been thrown from a sling shot! Missy slammed down hard too. I started crying.

Another halter, more rope, we worked to roll her to the other side. At that point, the leg she'd been lying on flopped over at the hip. My heart broke with it. I knew.

About two hours into the most courageous battle of Missy's life and one of the most devastating for me, I had to let her go. My  vet put a hand on my shoulder and helped me. I held her head out of the water again, but to cradle her in love and calm her as we waited for the medicine. She tried one last time to get up. I told her to rest because soon she'd be pulling a chariot in heaven.

I know God was with me in that moment because that image glowed in my mind. I could really see it, the glowing chariot. It came out of the blue as a surprise comfort. I even asked God to send her back for me when it was my time. I told her it would feel like tomorrow to her, but I'd miss her in the waiting.

I'd put every ounce of strength, prayer, and emotion into saving my horse in the most epic battle against the circumstances, evidence, and elements. And lost.

This is Miss Piggy and I a few years ago.

She was a gentle, sweet gal. I believe Missy knows how much I loved her and how hard we tried to save her. I believe God was with us the entire time. He gave me the ability to keep going, not give up, and kept me safe from hypothermia when by all reason, I should have had it. I expect to see her again.

I saw so much courage in her battle to stand with a broken hip. I'll never forget the effort we both put into the simple act of standing up. I'll remember that in tough times I need to fight with that kind of intensity, that kind of determination.

So I learned courage is as courage does what is needed without care for how we look in the doing. The facts were that I was too small to lift a horse, the weather was too cold, ice was under the water, I'd lost my means of communication, and I was covered in slimy manured ice water, but the only fact that really mattered was my horse needed me.

Courage isn't clean and pretty. It's messy and scary and usually unplanned. Courage is action in the face of need. Sometimes courage is holding on or standing firm when further action isn't possible.

Courage soothes, encourages, and stands guard. It sometimes takes you places that are icy, where you are in deep without options or help, and hurts. It takes everything you've got to keep going past your own capability--yet you keep going into God's territory of strength beyond your own.

Courage is being willing to get dirty, do what needs to be done, and have hope when you don't know the outcome. It takes even more courage to admit defeat, say goodbye to a courageous beauty like Missy, and take the walk of grief.

Miss Piggy (Missy) is on the left. She was a mountain trail horse, stocky and heavy. Curious and well-mannered.

One heavenly view :-)

Good bye, Missy. I'll look forward to the day we ride across the clouds. I thank you for your courage and the courage I found because of knowing you. I thank God for the time I had with you here.
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