Sunday Full of Grace: Spiritual lessons taught by a pony named Sugar, 1984

I’m not a guru. Or a prophet.

But I know some things after living almost a half century.

I know that people can love you for no reason. That it takes faith to believe in things you don’t see or even feel sometimes. That sometimes we have to have mercy on those that love us by putting our lives into their hands and trusting that they will be tender with us. It takes so much will for me to accept that those that love me are not trying to hurt me by loving. You’d think this would be a natural thing to me, because I love people so much myself. But no, I have to actively trust others and let my guard down to let others love me. IMG_8839

This can be as simple as showing up for the community of my church, a community filled with people that love me, no matter how long it’s been since I showed up last. It’s humbling, that grace. To be accepted with love and kindness in their welcoming arms whether I bring anything but my broken and battered self—well that one shocks me every time. They don’t expect anything from me but me to just come there and worship with them. GAH! The love in that is mysterious.

Today’s sermon was about grace-one of my favorite words and what I try to live by every day. I fall from grace constantly. I have not mastered it in any way.

My falls from grace are just like me getting back on the retired and stubborn circus pony I acquired at 14.

Sugar had no interest in being ridden any more. She had gladly given up that part of her life. She just wanted to eat oats and hay and fresh grass and enjoy her golden years without an interloper ruining her plans.

I got the privilege to drive down to California from Montana with my dad, a very rare treat. I don’t remember the being down there much, but I remember the drive down and up again. Having time to my dad myself, just me-well-I’m not sure we ever had that any other time in my childhood like this trip.

On the way back up to Montana we had a horse trailer with Sugar the strawberry roan pony that was going to be a pony for me and my sisters. Naturally I thought of her as “mine, because I saw her first,” a rationale maddening to adults that makes 100% sense to children.

There was a mechanical problem with either the truck or the trailer, I can’t remember which, and we had to stop. I think it was in Weed, or another small, slightly off the beaten path kind of town. It was definitely not a big town like Redding or Yreka. IMG_9164.jpg

Anyway, as the mechanical issue was being dealt with, my dad (I always called him Papa, or later, Pop. Never once “dad” or “father.”) let me take Sugar out of the trailer and ride around with her. It was just me, Sugar and her bridle.

Sugar was not a fan of any of these events. She was hot, she was annoyed, she had flies landing on her eyes, she was NOT.IN.THE.MOOD. I was not an experienced enough horsewoman to realize these signs from a horse, so I took her over to a big rock, climbed up on her and mounted. We walked around a bit. She walked me in a perfect circle, to be exact. And then she stopped back at the rock and refused to move a muscle. The “ride” was over. She was not going anywhere. She tried to eat some tender weeds, I pulled her head back up. She danced side to side, pushed her front legs up in the air, and let me slide right off her back. She proudly pranced over to more dandelions and chomped away, me trying to figure out what happened.

I was mad. I was fuming, actually. I went  stomped over and grabbed her bridle and took her back to the rock. I mounted her again, and I’m sure the energy in me was electric with anger and frustration. Sugar walked a few steps, slightly tripped, and then whipped her back up in the air and bucked me off.

I barely missed hitting that big rock with my head.

She was nibbling weeds again. I got up, pissed off and dusty, on this little hill behind the gas station. My dad was oblivious, the heat was making heat waves on the pavement, the air was still with summer heat and heat energy.

Sugar turned her head to look at me. My pitiful self in my dusty jeans and t-shirt, stared back at her. She went back to eating. I walked over and stood still a moment. Then I touched her muzzle. I said, “I’m sorry.”

And we completed the “ride” by me following her around the hill, holding on to her bridle. It was much more like she was walking me than I was walking her. This was Sugar letting me know that this is what our relationship was going to be like. If I wanted anything to do with her, it was going to have to be on her terms.


This experience, with Sugar the Circus Pony, is a good analogy for God’s grace. Sometimes it’s just going to happen the way God wants it to happen, no matter how many times and in how many ways you try to force your will. Things will work out how they are supposed to, no matter what we do as humans, we can’t force God to do things the way we want them to happen.

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