True stories of God's encouragement in the life of two music ministers living on the road in a living quarters horse trailer with their two horses.
Come ride along with Pony Express Ministry and be inspired by their, and others', testimonies and beautiful photos.
I looked across the table at her frail frame. The smoke from her cigar curled a white trail through the air. Her heavy heart was palpable as she stared out the window at nothing in particular. The deep lines that coursed down her face gave testimony of a hard trail ridden. A year ago to the day, they had buried her son—his life taken by the effects of doctor-prescribed drugs. They had buried her daughter a short time ago too though she couldn't bring herself to give details.
What do you say? How do you help this broken woman? What could you possibly say to help ease her pain? I sensed the Lord telling me, "Just listen." So, this was my "action" much of the time during the following days...
We were in Albuquerque when we got the call—our friend needed help working in the sewer holes in a particular town in New Mexico. Huh. "OK, Lord," we prayed, "we've done a lot of things besides teaching and singing in our ministry. But working in sewer holes? You’ll need to confirm this one."
No calls came in for singing dates ... for any dates—just the looming prospect of the sewer work. We decided that the final confirmation would be the price of the horse motel where we would need to stay. We set the we-won't-go-over-this-much price and made the calls. After unsuccessful attempts to find a reasonably priced motel, we decided that this trip was a definite "no."
Then, one of our friends volunteered to put out the word to her rodeo group to see if they knew anyone in the area where we could stay. The word came back: "Yeah, there is one place. But the lady's pretty cranky."
Well, in our ministry, we've handled 'cranky' pretty well, so we gave it a shot. I called her up and the price was right. She also had room for us. As we chatted, I found out she was an elderly woman and desperately needed the money. I felt a tremendous peace as I hung up the phone. If we're going to invest our money anywhere, I'm excited that we can help her out.
She was a bit on the crusty side, but I found from that first conversation, I liked her. We ended up coming in a week early and so, stayed at "Miss Haddie's" stable and RV park for a month and a week.
While Bruce spent some "iron sharpens iron" time helping our friend rebuild manholes in the sewer system, I spent most days in a smoke-filled room with my newfound friend—or trimming trees, feeding horses, and running trash to the dump for her. I discovered that in the middle of that hard shell lived a woman with a heart of gold.
The lingering question of "was coming here the right thing?" answered itself as I sat with Haddie, listening to her talk about her family, her joys and frustrations, her questions ... her life. I was grateful we chose to follow this "trail less-traveled." This adventure was out of the ordinary from our music ministry, but we knew we weren't supposed to be anywhere but here—for this woman and for our friend in the sewer holes.
We filled the role of protective neighbor as well. My phone rang about 8:00 one evening—a distressed voice meeting me on the other end. "Hey, I need you! Get over here, now!" Miss Haddie was in a panic. "Miss Haddie, what's wrong?" “Just get over here!" Click.
Phone in hand, I bolted out the door and raced for her house with Bruce hot on my heels. Looking back, I guess it wasn't too bright of us, running through a half lit stable yard toward who-knows-what—we just prayed and ran.
Rounding the corner of her house, we nearly careened into the man who rented the space next to us. "I don't know what's going on," he blurted out. "She's crazy!" I noticed, however, that this man's words were just a bit slurred. And, as he turned his head, I caught a whiff of the "spirit."
Leaving Bruce to talk to the man, I sprinted up the trailer house steps to Miss Haddie's front door. "Miss Haddie, it's Shara," I called through the door. "Come in!" I pushed the door open and nearly collided into my friend—with a pistol in her hand. She was scared and ticked off. "Come with me," she commanded. I walked with her back out on the front porch (careful to stay clear of her pistol-hand), and we addressed the situation. "I just wanted to borrow your ladder," the renter slurred in his defense. "Well, you just kept bangin' on the door, yelling you were in Space 519," she retorted. "We don't have a Space 519. I didn't know who in the ___ you were!" "Sorry, Ms. Haddie," he apologized. "I didn't mean to scare you."
Tempers cooled, and the situation was quickly resolved.
“You still want to borrow my ladder?" she asked. "Yeah, but I'll get it tomorrow," he replied as he shuffled away.
Living at that little stable was definitely an experience. But it was well worth it. At the end of our stay, we saw Miss Haddie, a woman shrouded in depression, transform as she escaped from that spirit and joy engulfed her. And we saw our friend at the sewer holes receive crucial answers to some issues he faced.
Sometimes the Lord sends us to places that aren't necessarily our comfort zone—sometimes it’s more like a war zone. But we serve a very personal God Who will do whatever it takes to reach someone crying out—or to reach someone who a loved one is crying out about. (Luke 15:1-23)
The questions: Are we willing "to lay down our lives"—lay down what we aspire to be ... our desires and plans? Are we willing to leave the "ninety-nine" (our comfort zone) and go after the one (or two) who need the touch of God's love on the "trail less-traveled"?
"This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends”—John 15:12-13.
If it had four legs (more or less), be it fiberglass or human, I rode it. The back of my middle-aged Grandpa, my older brother, or the shoulders of my favorite uncles were fair game. (My Grandpa submitting to a living room rodeo are still fond memories.)
When I wasn’t pouncing on one of my human-horses, I straddled my fiberglass hobbyhorse and rode into adventures only I could dream up. Puffs of air blew back my bangs as I pulled on the handles below its tan ears and threw myself backward, and then forward. The metal springs creaked and groaned as they strained to their max—sounding to me like hoof beats galloping down the trail.
My next thrill was the privilege of riding a steed whose legs actually moved. I was ecstatic! I sat proudly on its black and white painted back, grabbed the reins, and took off into brand new adventures. Staring across the mountains, I wondered what was on the other side. I imagined my horse and I flying over the ridges, exploring new territory. At four-years-old, my heart soared with the endless possibilities.
In the midst of my exciting escapades, however, there was an emptiness—a void only a real horse could fill.
On a quiet afternoon, I played with my plastic horses, trying to teach my Barbies how to ride. The devout ladies in my mom’s prayer group sat in a pious circle in the living room. Tranquil murmurings filled our home as the women prayed through their list.
Somewhere around the last name, the faint rattle of my dad’s pickup and trash trailer rumbled up the driveway. Intent on successfully bending the Barbie’s legs to fit around the barrel of her Breyer, I barely gave it notice.
And then, we all heard it. The reverent “Amen” had scarcely been uttered when a rather peculiar noise blasted through the air from inside that trailer.
The appalled look on Mom’s face was along the lines of, “Oh no, what did he bring home now?” (to add to our two goats, a couple of dogs, hamsters, and a colorful assortment of 20 or so cats).
“What was that?” Squeaked the lead church lady as the rest of the women stared out the window in wide-eyed silence.
Apparently my dad found an awesome deal on a donkey. I’m sure you could hear his Hee-Haws in the next county! Donkey Ode (Don Quixote) wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but he had four legs and a tail and I was happy. He, however, was a utility-type donkey, bought to tromp down weeds and clear land. My brother and I did attempt to ride him while Dad led him along the wash road. But he wasn’t too thrilled about that and promptly bucked us off in the brush. He remained a “utility” donkey, and I resumed my pony-dreams.
Not too long after, I was “helping” my mom with dinner when we heard my dad roll up with the trash trailer again. I raced to the dining room window just in time to see him open the door of the trailer. There was something moving back there!
How fast can a five-year-old run? Fast! I bolted across the room, out the door, over the front lawn, leaped the wall and nearly collided with my new present. The first lesson I learned was never run like a crazy thing up to a horse. It could spook them and all.
The story? On the way home from the dump, my dad discovered a pony for sale by the side of the road. Unable to resist the desire of his daughter’s heart, nor the sob story of the pony’s owner, the Shetland was purchased and loaded into the empty trailer.
The next day, growing suspicions of Sandy, our new family addition, surfaced. This placid little pony from the street corner showed signs of a more spirited, mischievous steed in our backyard. In the name of safety, my parents solicited the help of one of our horse-neighbors and her arena.
As the horse people we knew weighed in with their doubts, the verdict became unanimous that our first lesson as new horse owners was: “beware—the horse trader.” Our little friend had obviously been provided with some “happy juice” to calm his personality, and the trader had laid in wait for someone to take the bait.
But even when others pull a fast one, God has a plan. That pony taught me how to ride. His lively shenanigans of twirling in circles and nipping at my legs taught me to balance. His sporadic bucks taught me to grip. And I learned to outwit him, anticipating his evilness, when he decided a frolic across the field would be great fun.
In fact, years later at age 18, my ability to stick to a horse like glue came in handy when I applied for a wrangler job at a local stable. The interview with the foreman included the challenge: “If you can ride that strawberry roan out of this stable yard without gettin’ tossed, you’ve got the job.” I got the job.
However, at 5-years-old, my limited expertise in the equine world warranted a search for another horse. A nice lady with five rambunctious boys bought Sandy and assured us he was going to a good home. But she also assured us that Sandy would continue his comeuppance with her fearless bunch.
Shortly, I was rewarded with a black and white pinto pony, King. We rescued him from a lonely existence in a friend’s pasture after her sons decided they liked motorcycles better. I moved on to learn more solid horsemanship skills on a more amiable horse.
Sandy, nevertheless, will always have a soft spot in my heart. Although a holy terror, he was beautiful, he was mine, and he was the start of a long legacy of my love and amazing adventures of all things horse.
At 55, I still have horses. They are a vital part of my husband and my ministry. I sit here grinning and grateful at the thought that sometimes a blessing may not come in the package we expect. Even when a “trader” targets us with less than stellar deeds, God, in His goodness, has a way of turning even that into a beautiful gift we can use.
Rocky and Nocona
And yes, I explored the other side of those mountains … and many others.
('And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose'—Romans 8:28)
It’s been kinda rough around here. My father-in-law passed away last week. We, like so many others, are wading through the waves of grief, yet holding on to the treasured memories of a man who left his mark on “this side of the fence.”
So, in honor of him, Henry Joe Repka, I decided to repost this story—the first story I posted on this blog. Henry loved his family, loved his life as a lifelong, accomplished musician, and, boy, did he love his dogs!
I invite you to ride along with us as we remember a very special man… Chico and the Man
"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all"—Psalm 34:17-19.
My father-in-law, Henry, loves dogs. Years ago his original "dog plan" was to breed Rat Terriers as a business adventure (yes, adventure). However, as the puppies were born, he became so attached to them he couldn't bear to sell them. His brood grew to a lively bunch of seven. I have fond memories of watching him walk his dogs next to the cow pasture. With Henry leading the way, his little entourage followed him like the Pied Piper. Or, when he drove his "Mule" to the back end of the property, one of his bunch would proudly sit in the passenger seat—mouth open, tongue hanging, and ears blowing back in the breeze.
Henry also has a huge heart for homeless or unwanted dogs no matter what size or breed. As each one of the little Rat Terriers eventually moved on to the "Happy Hunting Ground of Heaven," a stray or unwanted dog would, without fail, show up "on the door step."
He discovered Smokey, abandoned and wandering, around a gas station pump. She stole Henry's heart and became his constant companion for many years.
When the inevitable time came and she passed peacefully to join her former companions, my father-in-law was heartbroken. It is never easy to lose a loved one, be it human or animal, no matter what the age or reason.
It was a lonely drive as he traveled to the family farm for his monthly visit. He tried to steel himself as he passed every rest and potty stop that he and Smokey would frequent during that long trip. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. "I can't deal with this," he cried. "Lord, You're going to have to help me." He drove on to the farm, parked his car, and wearily began to unload his things.
Suddenly something caught his attention—a tiny figure next to the farmhouse door. He moved in for a closer inspection and discovered a lively little Chihuahua investigating the porch.
Daily inquiries were made until it was apparent that this little guy was homeless … dumped on the County Road to fend for himself. At this realization, Henry immediately made him part of the family and named him Chico.
Chico has proven to be a family project. Scared and defensive, no one could get close without him yelping. One day my mother-in-law, Betty, was lying on the couch and her hand slipped to the ground … right next to Chico. A "Grrrrrrrr!" immediately resounded from somewhere under the coffee table—her hand pushing the boundaries of his comfort zone.
However, as Henry and Betty persevered in their patient care of this little dog, Chico began to progress from whimpering at them to whimpering for them when they were out of his sight. The latest feat was actually picking him up, which,had not been a tolerable move until now. With heavy BBQ gloves to protect against defensive teeth, they crossed this last hurdle. But they needn't have bothered with the gloves. Chico lay perfectly peaceful in their "armory" … no animosity, whatsoever, expressed. He has now become Henry's faithful companion, following him everywhere and sleeping next to him in a little blanketed, cardboard box next to the bed.
The Lord displayed his grace by bringing these lives together: one with a broken heart, the other abused and homeless. He knows that in this life we will go through trials and heartaches. But He promises, through Jesus, to deliver us out of them all in victory and with strength. His love is so great that it will reach out in answer to a simple prayer—even bringing an abandoned little dog to a man's door step to help ease the pain of a loss. (1 John 4:14-16; Lamentations 3:21-23)
It was a beautiful mountain morning as Bruce and I, two teenage girls, and our new friend hit the hill-trails with the expectancy of an excellent ride.
We hadn’t traveled far, when our friend started having trouble with her mare, a young draft horse cross. The mare was cranky so my friend dismounted to walk her for a bit. She led the horse along the trail and through the stream as the mare continued her antics.
We finally came to the short, but steep narrow part of the trail that shot up from the creek bottom to the top edge of the meadow. I knew that it would be difficult, at best, to lead a horse up this path. I offered to pony the mare from my horse.
She gratefully accepted, and I moved Nocona closer as she handed me the lead rope. I no sooner gripped the rope when the mare lunged forward. I tried to pull her back and around but that mare already had her plan of action figured out—and it was on. I remember seeing two huge freshly shod hooves fly at Nocona and me. She missed but, quick as lightning, regrouped and fired off another shot like a Gatling gun. I felt the smack as her hoof landed on my ankle and heard the thud as her other hoof landed on Nocona’s flank.
I vaguely heard a “let her go!”, but was already releasing the rope of that wild-eyed whirlwind as I swung Nocona away from her—but not after she cranked off another one and buried her final blow in Nocona’s stifle.
Immediately my friend was at my side bursting with profuse apologies. But her voice faded as I blocked out everything around me. I lowered my hand to Nocona’s flank and prayed, “No weapon formed against us will prosper, no evil will befall us, no plague will come near us!”—quoting Isaiah 54 & Psalm 91. I didn’t know who heard me and didn’t much care, my first thought was my horse.
Powerful testimonies pepper my experiences when the Word of God is spoken over situations and the miracles spring forth. As I prayed (albeit with heart pounding), Nocona slowly relaxed his leg and put weight on it. At that point, I noticed the intense throbbing in my ankle. I went to praying over it too.
I pulled my attention back to Nocona and walked him back and forth across the clearing—he was solid. I reined him toward the steep incline—the real test. “Let’s do this, Nocona,” I grinned. He sailed up that trail with no problem. Praise God.
When we reached the top, the teenagers stared, wide-eyed, at us. “Are you OK?” “What happened?” they blurted. And, frankly, beyond me telling them, “We’re good,” I have no idea what I said after that, distracted by the stabbing pain in my ankle. I smiled through gritted teeth and headed for Bruce, who was also staring at me intensely.
“How is he?” Bruce asked. “He’s fine. But we need to pray over my leg,” I whispered. (My friend felt bad enough that her horse had kicked mine, and there was no way I was going to let her know that her mare had nailed me too.)
So, while the rest of the group got horses and riders reorganized, Bruce and I prayed over my ankle. He commanded healing to come and the pain to go in Jesus’ Name.
I moved my ankle around. “Pray again,” I said. He did.
“Are we ready?” our friend called out. “Yep,” we answered. Nocona and I ended up leading the pack and he stepped out like nothing had happened. And as we rode out, I felt a kind of warm sensation in my ankle, with tinglies. The pain left… just like that.
Four and a half hours later, we finished the ride—no lameness in Nocona or me.
With all my stories, of course, there’s always some kind of epiphany or moral… a lesson to be learned somewhere. So, first off, I learned to not be so quick to offer help to someone, even a friend, with their cranky horse. Secondly, go for the prayer first. Sometimes there’s no time to think, just do it. The Word of God is definitely a two-edged sword and we need to wield it like a weapon… ‘cause it is. And you can’t beat the power in Jesus’ Name!
My ankle should have been broken, and Nocona could have been seriously hurt, but we were fine and finished a ride that turned out to be a very enjoyable one, indeed.
“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
Funny how thoughts of past adventures drift into your memory when you need encouragement. Many people nowadays are facing pretty hefty challenges. Our family is no exception. But this verse keeps popping up in my head, “And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) and the word of their testimony..."—Revelation 12:11).
In tough times, I am comforted when I reflect on all the times God has shown up in this adventure called life. And, frankly, I can’t recall any time He has let us down. Through illness challenges (both human and horse), lack challenges (no truck), family challenges, on-the-road challenges, ministry challenges, people packaged with challenges, on and on, there has always been answers…aka hope. Answers come in ways we expect or ways we never thought of (and every variation in between), but all answers come from a God who is incredibly kind and full of wisdom.
So, I have to remind myself of His faithful goodness with each confrontation that rears its ugly head: focusing on the faith of a good report, even when I can’t see the outcome clearly; focusing on the One who makes all things possible, even when there seems to be no way out.
The following simple, yet profound testimony insists on making a recurring appearance in my thoughts. It reminds me of God’s grace and power, and I figured it may encourage you too:
Back in 2005, before our living-in-our-horse trailer-days, Bruce (my husband) and I loaded up my diesel truck with snacks, sleeping bags, and a pup tent and headed cross-country. We sing/play Christian Country music, so concerts were scheduled along the way during our round trip from Texas to Wisconsin to California and back to Texas again.
Bruce and I love to stay in and explore National and State Parks. So after our concerts in Wisconsin, we set out for The Badlands of South Dakota.
As we traveled through The Badlands, we gawked at the strange, unearthly look of the landscape. It looked like a movie set from Star Wars!
We stopped and snapped pictures, enjoying this unfamiliar “moon” scape. However, we grew increasingly wary of the skies and the ominous storm brewing in the distance. But the storm seemed far off and was actually quite beautiful to watch with its swirling clouds and lightning show.
We made our way through the hills and down into a valley, keeping an eye out for a campground sign. A stampede delayed us a bit, so it was rather late by the time we spotted the campground entrance (see last month's post: Bison in The Badlands).
Creeping through a sleeping campground is a tad difficult in a diesel truck, but we trekked to the far end of the place, away from the other campers.
We set up camp and prepared for a good night’s sleep. Glancing at the skies again, we caught our breath—the humongous thunderstorm we had been watching changed course and headed straight at us! There was no way out. We hunkered down in our tiny, nylon tent and listened as the rumble of thunder drew closer.
Now in South Dakota, there’s a lot of open ground. And, here we sat in our flimsy tent with little to no protection. The line of that storm stretched so wide, there was no way it would miss us. About the only thing we could do was pray. And pray we did! We rebuked that storm in the Name of Jesus, then prayed and thanked the Lord for protecting us (albeit through heavily beating hearts).
We tried not to count the seconds between the flashes of lightening and the claps of thunder, but it was hard to ignore. By then the flashes and the thunder became almost as one. We prayed harder, thanking God again for our protection and that the storm had no authority where we were.
Suddenly the wind came up…blowing against the storm! My first thought was the verse in Psalms: “He makes His angels winds.” I told Bruce my thought.
“Hey! The Holy Spirit just told me the same thing!” he said.
We breathed a sigh of relief. The storm stopped within a short distance of our camp and blew around the campground in a circle. (Psalm 104:4)
As the thunder continued to roll and the lightning danced, we peeked out our tent flap. Directly above, we gazed at stars twinkling in a canopy of clear, black sky.
Safe and dry, we settled in for that good night’s rest.
(For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat; For the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall—Isaiah 25:4.)