It was my 6th birthday and I remember Dad rushing out the door into the yard shouting, “I told you no!”
There was a big discussion that followed, but my sister and I were sent upstairs and out of earshot of most of the conversation. When I was finally allowed to come downstairs and called into the front yard, the truck and trailer were gone from the driveway and there was a pony tied to a tree.
“Happy birthday! It’s your pony,” Grandmother said, grinning ear-to-ear. “Do you like it?”
“It’s not saddle broken to ride, so you are going to have to break it,” Dad shot back, looking me square in the eyes. “Do you know what that means?”
Of course I had no idea. I just turned 6.
What I wanted for my 6th birthday was a pair of cowboy boots.
Instead I received a pony.
I’ve been playing that memory over in my mind a lot lately — a childhood memory I had repressed for most of my life because of what happened in the weeks that followed the birthday gift I didn’t ask for.
I’m just starting to realize it, but as I replay that memory, I now know it was Dad’s way of teaching me an early lesson on how to handle the things we didn’t choose.
I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way), we are the sum of our cumulative experiences. How you react to any given situation can more times than not be predicted based on how you handled similar situations in the past. We try and repeat our successes, and if we’re lucky, learn from our mistakes.
It’s human nature.
No doubt, I’ve lived a blessed life.
I’ve made mistakes and had my share of disappointments, but thanks to the lessons and values I was taught by my parents, my life has almost always followed a trajectory of my choosing.
During both success and the failure, I’ve been able to hold my head high and accept the outcome because I chose the path I would follow when my journey reached a fork in the trail.
That is, until recently when I found myself nearly overwhelmed by a series of situations and incidents that was not of my choosing.
It was the first Sunday afternoon following my 6th birthday when Dad told me to follow him out to the barn to saddle up the pony and walk her into the pasture. I distinctly remember having a jacket on and the wind blowing beneath an overcast sky as I walked my horse through the gate Dad had unlocked and opened.
I think I gave the pony a name, but I honestly can’t recall it.
I remember Dad putting me on the pony and almost immediately getting bucked off.
He picked me up and put me back on the saddle, and I was immediately bucked off again.
I don’t recall if it was the third time or the fourth time — it may have even been the first time — I began to cry and told Dad I didn’t want to do it anymore.
He kept putting me back on the horse.
I kept getting bucked off. I remember at one point I was sobbing hysterically.
When the pony bucked me off and stepped on me, I demanded to quit.
Dad wouldn’t let me.
At the time, I couldn’t comprehend why Dad was so mean. The more I cried and tried to quit, the more determined Dad became that I was going to break the pony from bucking and he would put me back on the horse.
For the next month or so, we repeated the process every Sunday afternoon.
I came to hate that pony.
As I recall, I wasn’t all that fond of my father, either.
After four or five Sundays, I remember my attitude began changing. Instead of dreading Sunday afternoons when I would have to get on the pony, I made up my mind I was going to stay on her back until she would let me ride around the pasture.
That’s all it took. All I had to do was change my mindset — how I perceived the situation, and in the process, turning what I felt was a miserable, impossible situation into an achievable goal.
If Dad was going to make me go out to the pasture every Sunday until my pony was saddle broken, I was going to do it. Not because I wanted to, but because I knew if I rode her without getting bucked off, Dad would have to stop putting me back in the saddle every time I fell off.
Eventually I broke the pony and she let me ride her around the pasture as I rode tall in the saddle.
I remember Dad had a smile on his face and he told me that he was proud of me.
I’m embarrassed to admit it all these years later, but I didn’t care.
At that point I didn’t want anything to do with that pony and, as best as a 6-year-old boy can convey to his father, told my Dad as much.
He sold the pony shortly after and it was nearly a quarter-century later before I rode a horse again. Not because I was afraid — far from it. It was because at the age of 6, I made up my mind from that point forward if at all possible, I needed to avoid getting into situations that I didn’t choose.
It was decades before I would allow myself to even think about horses. It worked, because it’s been nearly a half-century since I last thought of that experience.
For the first time since those Sunday afternoons so long ago, I now find myself in situations where I’m being bucked to the ground every time I get in the saddle, dealing as best I can with things I didn’t choose.
Hardships and crisis are part of the human experience. I’m certainly no different than anyone else when it comes to having to overcoming adversity. Dealing with an isolated moment of misfortune is certainly difficult, but I’ve learned to persevere and get through it — often coming through the other side stronger than I was beforehand.
But this is different.
I thought anyway, I was unfamiliar territory, finding myself overwhelmed while being confronted by adversity in multiple directions — all while walking on a path I didn’t choose.
For me, I find it true what they say about finding strength in your darkest moment. I also find it amazing the unexpected ways in which God answers prayers. In response to my prayers, God reminded me of that long forgotten memory — as well as the lesson my Dad tried to teach me so long ago on how to deal with the adversity I didn't choose.
If you want to change your life, all you have to do is change your mind and find a way to get back on the path of your choosing.