A few weeks ago I was looking at the Groupon offerings of the day, and commented to my son that an ATV outing at a nearby ranch sounded like fun, but I wondered if I should even consider such an option. He encouraged me to sign us both up for the two hour deal, so on a whim (and with a giggle) I did! On New Year’s Eve, we made our way down to Beaumont Ranch and met our guide at the designated spot.
As we were standing around the guide with the other couple, listening to the instructions for operating the equipment and how to lean into turns and how to stand up to keep from being jostled plum to death, I began to have second thoughts. What if I fell off? What if I ran into a tree? What if I was so bad at it that the other people in the group would be frustrated with having to wait for me? But as our guide continued to talk, he conveyed a sort of confidence that he knew what he was doing, what we were capable of, and what to expect out of those machines we would be riding. I began to trust him. I figured that he was not out to kill an old lady, and that for all his warnings about how things might go wrong, he really expected that they would go right.
As I was the least experienced in the group, he had me first in line behind him. Off we went past the group of horseback riders (one who was the counterpart of me; struggling to get her horse to stop eating grass and follow the other horses). As we started down the trail, my first revelation was how hard it was to keep the thumb throttle consistent with my baby-size thumb. I finally figured out how to “choke up” on it the way I have to do a baseball bat so that I could keep a steady grip on the speed (no, of course I don’t play baseball! Don’t be ridiculous). Incredibly early on the track, we were going down a hill and around a corner at the same time and it had my heart racing. But I trusted my guide, and I barreled ahead, not gracefully, but successfully rounding the corner. My confidence grew a bit and I relaxed a little. Every so often the guide would stop us, give some explanation of what was to come, and tell us what gear to be in. Suddenly we were in an area of brush, narrow paths, deep gullies, steep hills, and my mind was asking, “are you crazy?” But I just kept following my guide. I noticed often that he had his eye on me, making sure I wasn’t getting into any trouble. When I maneuvered a difficult part of the path, he would give me a thumbs up. When I seemed to be struggling a little bit, he would ask if I was ok. The further we went, the more I got thumbs up and the less he had to ask if I was ok. Once in a narrow part of the path my front tire caught a tree, and it jammed my hand against the handle. Once going down a steep windy hill I forgot to put on my brakes and took it kind of fast (for me). But for the most part, I found that if I kept my eyes on my guide, and followed his lead, I did ok. If he stood up, I knew we were going to hit some rough ground, and I stood up too. If he leaned forward to go up a hill, I leaned forward too. Once in a while he would give me advice (“use your brakes”, “take it slow”), but most the time he just led by example. As I looked at the road we took, I would often think to myself, “if I didn’t have my guide going before me and showing me it could be done, I would never in a million years think it a good idea to drive here.” But never in the entire two hours of the tour did he ever lead me astray. There was once, when I was going up a long steep hill that found myself veering off to the right (I don’t know why, don’t ask!). “What to do,” I wondered. I just kept going to the right until I had looped all the way back around and got back on the path – now in second position behind the guide. He waited at the top of the hill, and asked, “Are you ok?” and “What happened?” I answered, “Yes” and “I don’t know” and he gave me kudos for keeping my head about me. And on we went.
Towards the end of the ride, he told us we had enough time left to go back and run any of the tracks he had taken us on. By this point I was feeling tired and a bit “off my game”, so I let the others choose, and I sat that part out to watch and rest. On the return trip he led us backwards through the first track so that we could see how much progress we had made in our ability to relax and control. I was amazed at how much easier it was. Then we went to a section called “mini pro” in which there were all sorts of dips and jumps and turns, and I actually got a few inches off the ground a few times. Finally, as we set out on the last part of the tour, across a fairly flat field, he gave us permission to get all the way into 5th gear and take it as fast as we wanted. I waved the youngsters on ahead, so that they could have the freedom of the flight, and I started my way across. I only got up to 4th gear, and that was thrill enough for me. When I got off that ATV, I realized that I had gotten quite a workout in my legs and arms. I wobbled back to the car, and made my way home to take a long hot bath in epsom salts.
As I rode along behind my guide that day, I couldn’t help but draw some spiritual correlations. As our great Shepherd leads us through our lives, He does sometimes lead us beside still waters and into green pastures. But sometimes He leads us along paths that, if we weren’t following a Guide we would never imagine it a good idea to take. But He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He leads us along the path that is best for us. He knows what we are capable of, but more than that, He is capable of getting us through even those areas we are totally incapable of maneuvering on our own. Just like my guide that day on the ATV track, my Shepherd keeps an eye on my progress and is there to encourage me and teach me and rescue me if need be. If I just keep following Him, I can trust Him that He will keep me safe. If I stray off the path, He will stop and help me get back on track. And the further I go in my journey, the more I learn to navigate the twists and turns, the more I learn when I need to stop and rest, and the more I trust my Guide.
The days following the ride, I was very sore. Every time I went to sit down or stand up, the muscles in my legs would begin shouting in anguish. Of course, the natural reaction was to use my arms to help distribute the weight off my legs. Unfortunately, my arms would then start shouting in equal anguish. I was reminded of the trip over and over again each time I went from sitting to standing. There’s a lesson here too. Those rough pathways God takes us through – they leave a mark sometimes. This residual pain can be used as a reminder of what we have managed to make it through, and Who it was who brought us through, and perhaps about sins we hope to avoid the next time. No matter the pain, I am grateful I had this experience. And, no matter the pain, I am grateful for the journey I have had with the Lord as my Good Shepherd.
One more thing – while I was in the midst of the ride, I was doing a lot of concentrating to remember to lean, turn, sit, stand, change gears, etc. I didn’t have much time to contemplate how graceful I was accomplishing these tasks. I felt clumsy and inexperienced. But my son, who was two people back from me, told me I looked good. He was complimentary of how well I maneuvered the terrain and how I looked like I knew what I was doing (he also said that was the most athletic thing he had ever seen me do, which could be a sad but accurate commentary on my life as a mom). All I knew was that I needed to trust my guide and do what he told me and showed me. Often on my spiritual path I have had the same experience: I have felt that I was bumbling along making a royal mess of things, but what the pilgrims behind me saw was something quite different. This, my friends is the grace of God. In the midst of the perceived chaos, we trust Him and do our best to follow his instruction. And those who are coming behind us see His results more than they see our clumsy, feeble attempts.
There you have it, dear readers, the parable of the ATV ride. So thankful to have these moments to remember.