Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Concert in the Cookhouse

I stomped the cold from my feet and rubbed my hands together, feeling warmth creep into them. Fog billowed from my breath and from my horse’s nose. I put my foot in the stirrup and swung my leg over the saddle. “Yow, that’s cold!” I squeaked as I sat in the seat—at 7:00 in the morning the temperature hadn’t risen out of the teens.

My husband, Bruce and I were invited to this fall roundup by our friend Bo, a seasoned buckaroo (Nevada lingo for cowboy). Hundreds of cattle grazed across thousands of acres in the rugged, unforgiving mountains of northern Nevada. Several volunteers, stockholders, and hired buckaroos worked together to gather these cattle for shipment to their winter feeding grounds.

Bruce and I sing Christian Country music and travel full-time on the road with our two  horses. God had given us this awesome opportunity to ride with these folks, and we jumped at the chance. However, he saw an even bigger picture than merely volunteering to help with the cows.

                                      No Wimping Out

Saddles creaked and horses champed their bits as we waited for the foreman to assign groups of riders their sections of land. The goal was to drive or "sweep" the cattle from the high country and meet at the bottom pasturelands at the same time … or nearly. Most of these cows are as wild as the country they run in, and this type of gathering keeps them moving forward. 

While gazing across the haphazard landscape, I was grateful for the instruction we had received from Bo about the cattle and country. I realized we were living examples of Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds … encouraging one another.“ Bruce and I were strangers to this place, but the Lord had prepared us for this job through Bo. Receiving our section assignment, we spread out to cover our area.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Philippians 4:13 flew from my mouth as my horse and I plunged down the side of a steep draw to gather cattle at the bottom. At the same time, “Whoohooohoooohoooo!” echoed across the mountains as the buckaroos revealed their location. I urged my horse around the cattle and drove my mini-herd through the small canyon.

We rode narrow mountainside trails that appeared to be carved by a goat and skirted bogs and boulders to keep the herd tight. I picked grit out of my teeth and blew a breath of relief when I saw Bo with his cows at the meeting point. We joined Bruce farther down the mountain.

                                         No Offense Taken 

Bruce and I have learned that the opportunities the Lord gives us are not just to minister to others. Opportunities also arise to knock the bark off us.           

“You’re late!” bellowed the foreman as he raced by us on his horse. Startled, Bruce spun around in his saddle and stared after him as he thundered past and disappeared down the prairie.

We knew there had been some confusion concerning the instructions of the day, but it appeared we were blamed for something out of our control. Our blood boiled. Angry words churned inside us: “How dare he!”; “It’s not our fault!” We rode in an indignant fog for about a mile. Then, like cold water on a hot flame, the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice impressed, “Let it go.”

We realized it was foolish for us to ride in offense, recognizing Satan’s temptation to tear down the relationships we had already built. Swallowing our pricked pride, we decided not to take the bait and continued our search for the cows in our section.

                                     The Bigger Picture

It was a good thing we let it go. Later that day the bigger picture unfolded—a stockholder asked Bruce and me if we would give a concert in their cookhouse.

The next evening as we set up our sound system next to the kitchen counter, we thanked the Lord that we had overcome the challenges from the previous days. When you ride in someone else’s world, you either earn their respect or you don’t. This was the ultimate reason God sent us here.

One by one, the entire crew filed into the warm cookhouse while the smell of fresh coffee and homemade cookies drifted through the air. They took their places at the picnic-style tables or lounge chairs along the wall. One old cowboy even relaxed in his own recliner.

We began with a lively hymn medley and continued through a list of songs as the Holy Spirit led. The demeanor of the more hardened ranch hands softened, their toes tapping to the beat. One rambunctious buckaroo had wanted us to sing one of his favorite country songs as we rode with him through the aspens the previous day. We didn’t know the song but, when the concert was scheduled, we determined to learn it. We sang it that night and dedicated it to him. He couldn’t believe it. His eyes brightened, and his heart opened to God’s message in the other songs we sang.

We watched in awe as the Holy Spirit moved through that bunch. Alcohol was passed from one to another, but one by one, weather-worn hands waved it away. We hadn’t said a thing—we just sang.

We intended to end the concert within an hour to respect the crew’s early morning call, but they didn’t care a bit about hitting their bunks early. Their stomping, clapping and laughter rocked the cookhouse. And by the time we wrapped up the hour with what we thought was our final song, shouts of  “Encore! Encore!” resounded around the room—even the rougher ones were giving us the thumbs up.

A buckaroo’s girlfriend slowly raised her hand. “Can you sing 'Amazing Grace'?” she requested.
“Absolutely,” we replied, as others nodded in agreement.

As the words and melody wound through the crowd, the peace of the Holy Spirit wrapped around troubled souls like a warm comforter. Tears streamed down faces; eyes stared off in deep thought; heads bowed, some nodded.  God’s grace and power were palpable in that old building.

We finished the last song, and no one wanted to leave. Groups of two and three gathered here and there talking, laughing, eating cookies, and sipping coffee.

The ranch foreman hailed us as we loaded our sound system and music gear into our truck. “Thank you,” he said. “We needed this. It gets really tense here around this time.” He smiled. “And, hey, you can ride with us anytime, and you’re more than welcome to sing here next year too.”

We are honored to answer God’s call to face the challenging tasks that introduce us to the ones living along the trails less-traveled. No one is too far from God’s gracious hand. As Acts 13:47 encourages: "For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ’I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” We pray that those stockholders, buckaroos, and volunteers never forget the love of God they experienced in that old 1800s cookhouse on a lonely road of Nevada’s high plains.

*Exciting announcement!* Walk Like a Warrior: Inspirational True Stories of God's Encouragement on the Trail Less-Traveled is now available in print and Kindle editions through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the WestBow Press bookstore.