When I first met Josie, I met a powerhouse of a young woman; she presented as a strong, independent teenager with something to prove to the world. She was fluent in psychology, philosophy, and teenager, and she had an opinion about every current issue facing our nation. I found myself going home and researching current events just so that I could sound intelligent when conversing with her! Josie was strong and fearless.
During her first session with me, Josie’s goal was to meet each of the therapy horses and pick the one that would become her equine partner. She met our elegant Thoroughbred Adam, our charming Arabian Magic, our gentle Quarter Horse Blue, and our sweet Paint Sunny. But it was Moses who caught and held Josie’s attention. Moses is our Draft cross, and both his body and his personality are quite large. Moses has been known to nibble on coat pockets and hair, open his stall door when nobody is looking, and playfully throw his bridle across the aisleway when his stall window is open. Our theory in equine therapy is that people will pick the horse that they truly need; it turns out that Josie did just that.
Over the next few months, Josie came faithfully to the barn every week to work on forging a relationship with Moses. While Josie enjoyed Moses’ company, she found it incredibly difficult to maintain a mutual, emotional connection with the horse. Josie used her body language to ask the horse to come to her, yet the horse often responded by ignoring her completely; she found herself feeling frustrated and hurt from the horse’s seeming rejection.
Weeks turned into months of this similar pattern, and one blustery winter day, Josie broke. She cried as she told me about growing up in a family that viewed women as lesser than men, in both worth and intellect. Josie told me about how she constantly felt the need to prove to everyone around her, including her parents and siblings, that she was smart and that she was worth something. However, Josie’s defenses of intellect and wit did not work with the 1,400-pound animal. Josie had never received the unconditional love of another; instead, any love and connection that she superficially obtained was fought for and earned. Suddenly, her fight for her worth did not work, and she was left feeling alone and empty. I watched Josie shatter, all façade of strong and fearless left in the arena dirt.
Meanwhile, Moses was being, “Moses-y”, or his usual ornery self, on the other side of the arena; he was chewing on a lead rope and throwing it into the air, completely disengaged from Josie and me. As I walked Josie through her brokenness, she said something that I will never forget. Josie started to realize that when the horse started to connect with her, she felt a shift in her body energy, which she later described as, “surprise”. When I asked Josie why she felt surprised that the horse wanted to connect with her, she looked at the ground and almost whispered, “Why would anybody want to connect with me?” My heart sank, and tears filled my eyes.
In that moment of true vulnerability, God did the miraculous. Seconds after Josie released those heavy words and pain poured from Josie’s heart, Moses responded; he picked up his head, dropped the lead rope, turned around, and walked straight over to Josie, stopping directly in front of her. I watched in silent awe as Moses put his massive head over her shoulder and wrapped her in an equine embrace, as if to say, “You are worthy of love and connection, and I am going to prove it to you.”
Silence fell around the arena as both Josie and I let our tears fall. Time slowed as Josie wrapped her arms around the giant horse’s neck, buried her face in his mane, and wept.
Moses taught Josie about her inherent worth that day. After months of desperately trying to connect with the horse the only way Josie knew how, Moses showed her that there is another way. Moses taught Josie that she does not have to fight for connection or prove that she is worthy of love; instead, Moses loved and accepted her by authentically embracing her in a moment of vulnerability and pain. Moses taught Josie that she is capable of being loved unconditionally, perhaps for the first time in Josie’s life.
Isn’t that such a beautiful picture of how our God wants to connect with us? We are marred and stained with sin and shame, yet God wants to connect with us in our broken places. We try to act like we have it all together; we compete with our peers to see who can create the best façade of a perfect life. But God, like Moses, wants nothing to do with our façade and everything to do with the condition of our hearts. He meets us in our authenticity and wraps us in His unconditional, loving embrace, proving to us that we are loved and accepted, flaws and all. What a relief it is to know that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved and accepted!
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that we may be freely forgiven and accepted into your family. Teach us to love unconditionally the way that you love us. We love you endlessly.