By Their Fruit Will You Know Them

As a ranch wife, one of the most treasured joys for me in the summer is walking barefoot about our yard and lane. However, if I want to be able to walk barefoot, I must control certain elements that make walking barefoot painful or even impossible. I must control the annual outbreak of sandburs.

To that end, I periodically patrol our yard, corrals, and lane with a container of sandbur spray to eliminate the encroachers.

The problem with spraying is that I want to ONLY spray the sandburs and not kill every green thing in sight. And those sandburs are clever chameleons. The sandburs will intertwine and grow right next to the plants that I want to encourage to grow. Happy little foxtail or witchgrass sprouts will share a root space with the insidious sandburs. During the early growth period, I am absolutely unable to distinguish between the plants that I want to preserve and those that I need to eliminate.

So, I wait for all of the plants to “produce their fruit” or head out, and then I selectively spray the newly identified sandburs.

This year, as I trudged up and down our lane with sprayer in hand, I thought about people I have encountered throughout my life who identify themselves as of the Christian faith and yet, act and behave in a manner decidedly unChrist like. People who fooled me and hurt those that I love, …people who deliberately chose to cause pain and wreak havoc. I pondered the notion of how, much like the sandburs, these chameleon Christians insinuate and entertwine themselves into people’s lives, serving not Christ, but the other one…their actions producing annual bumper crops of pain.

How does one differeniate between the truly devout from the chameleon Christian?
Wait and Watch.
Wait for their fruit. By their fruit will you know them. Matthew 7:16

Unlike God, who gives each one of us chance after chance after chance to return to a right way of thinking and acting and offers the most precious gift of forgiveness, I am implacable and, with sprayer in hand, once I see their fruit, I consign the sandburs in my yard to oblivion.

not sandburs
not sandburs
not sandburs

“It’s Time”

"It's Time"
“It’s Time”
Far north in the Canadian prairies, the shallow waters of a lake ripple and stir. One golden yellow eye opens. The crane shifts legs unusually cold. An inhale of dark, predawn air. Something in the sluggish, heavy breeze whispers, “It’s Time.”

Wings spread and beating, the crane begins running and lifts into the air. One by one, then two, then ten, and then thousands follow, feathers flattening, necks stretching. The cranes circle higher and higher, waiting…waiting, and then they all hear the call, “It’s Time.”

The leader strikes for the south, unerringly drawn by invisible threads of instinct and compulsion. And without hesitation, great clouds of cranes follow, each curling the chorus, “It’s Time.”

In Southern Nebraska, I stood in our corral, hammer in hand and an old coffee can of fencing nails by my feet. My dog rests panting in the shade of a paint blistered shed and the horses, after checking that there were no oats to be had in the coffee can, drift idly away to graze.

A battered broad brim hat shades my eyes and my boots absorb the heat from powdery corral dust. Broken boards and bent, rusty nails – out, new boards and straight, shiny nails – in. Pounding, pulling, stacking, sorting, the job progressed.

Suddenly, one by one, the horses lift their heads and uneasy, look to the north, ears pricked, testing the wind with soft fluttering nostrils. The dog raised himself up, took a few steps out into the sun and also looked to the north, the soft leather of his nose twitching and searching. A queer feeling like a small frisson of electric current darted throughout my body. Sharing the unease of the animals, I slowly turned and looked all around me.

Dropping my jaw just a little to hear better, I too looked to the north and wondered, “What is it?”

Then, I heard them. The voices of a vast multitude, drifting and floating on the wind. Peering skyward, sweat streaking my face, my eyes reached out for …. what? And then, I saw them. The first ragged V’s from the north, flying at such a height that they appeared to be only slender, ragged lines in the sky. But the curling song drifted down and I knew, “It’s Time.”

The cranes called their siren song to me as they swept by so far above, “Hurry! It’s Time! … Hurry! Follow me! .. It’s time .. it’s time .. it’s time…” Their faint, haunting cry softly faded and they vanished from my view.

A bitter and deep despair filled my being. I longed to race madly down the road, flinging hammer and nails and boots to the side while my heavy, pounding feet suddenly become weightless as my arms reach out to cut the air and lift and soar. I want to escape the earth’s clutches and cry “Wait! Wait for me! I’m coming!”

But I cannot.
And so I stand, stupidly staring up to the sky. A cry twists in my throat and tears sting my eyes. Boots permanently anchored into hot, dusty earth; Boots made of concrete. I want to leave so badly.

But I whisper to the cranes, “I cannot… I cannot come with you.”

The dog heads back to the shade and flops down. The horses once again lower their heads to graze but I cannot go back to broken boards and bent nails. I am stuck in the dirt and they have left me. Because, “It’s Time.”

“Good Morning Boss!”

Scrabble as a pup.
Scrabble as a pup.
'It was the cats Boss!"
‘It was the cats Boss!”
part of the Nelson Pack
part of the Nelson Pack
Grand Champion Novice Obedience
Grand Champion Novice Obedience
Throughout my life, there have been only a few periods of time where I did not have a dog for a companion and all around “buddy.” In the cattle business, ranchers will attempt to conceal the pet status of their dogs by gruffly announcing “Old Jet there is a working dog.” I would not be surprised however, to learn that “Old Jet” is actually a part of the family and more often than not, gets better health care than his boss.

My current dog Scrabble, is a Blue Heeler. Scrabble was born in a stock tank in a fellow rancher’s living room. Yes, this is true. No barn or outdoor kennel for Scrabble’s mom, “Francie.” The rancher’s wife had her husband roll a stock tank into her living room in preparation for the whelping and containment of the pups. Up to this point, I thought that allowing our dog into the garage where we had a thick pad and fresh water during the winter months was pampering.

My two sons and I arrived to pick out one of Francie’s pups for our next cow dog. The whelping area was spanky clean and the mom could hop in and out of the stocktank for a respite from the pups. Jake and Ethan picked out a male puppy who came to be called, “Scrabble.”

Scrabble taught my sons so much about the loving relationship between God and his people! Jake and Ethan learned that in order to protect Scrabble, they had to train him and teach him to obey. My sons knew that we have a one bite rule on our ranch. If Scrabble bites someone, he will have to be put down. Jake and Ethan understood that the rules imposed upon Scrabble not only protected him but also fulfilled a very necessary niche in his doggy brain that he has a boss. As time progressed, Scrabble learned the hierarchy of his pack (our family) and knew that he could rely on and trust his bosses.

As Scrabble’s training progressed, my sons learned that when dogs attempt to solve their own problems, it usually does not turn out well for the dog. A frightened or cornered dog with no trust in his/her master, has a high potential to bite or act out in a manner dangerous to himself.

As people of faith, how many times do we attempt to solve problems on our own without looking to our Master for guidance? The dangers facing us are so much more complex than those facing Scrabble. With the entertainment industry creating an unending host of songs and shows that push all moral boundaries aside, corruption at the highest levels of our government, and access to the most vile activities that the mind can conjure just a finger tap away on our electronic devices, our obedient relationship with God and is more vital now than ever to keep us safe.

Another crucial lesson learned through Scrabble’s training was the “heel” command. When Scrabble misbehaved and the order “Scrabble…HEEL!” was issued, Scrabble was never punished for the offense when he came to heel. Sometimes it took some ingenuity to figure out how to convey to Scrabble that a particular activity did not please us, for example; chair destruction. When Scrabble returned to the heel command, we always told him that he was a “good dog.”

Likewise, God will never punish us for returning to Him. We err everyday with our thoughts, words, and deeds. The parable of the prodigal son illustrates that God will welcome with feasts and celebrations the one who once was lost, but now is found. When we make mistakes with our lives, step one is to get back to God and then try to figure it out. There will most likely be consequences, but still, get back to God.

God exemplified through Scrabble. Scrabble is always smiling and so happy to see me even if I am in the foulest of moods. Every morning I am greeted with a “Good Morning Boss!” Scrabble is my constant companion on walks and while doing chores. I think God is like that too. He is with me in my going out and my coming in…while I work and while I sleep. God is always happy to see me. So this morning I say to God, “Good Morning Boss!”

Horses and God

I have lived on a ranch for most of my life; both as a child and then as a ranch wife and mother. My horses are so amazing with their unique personalities. As we interact with the horses on our ranch, they illustrate the parallels with our relationship with God… with Christ… and how we react when a call for action or a change of direction is set at our door.

Raider and the Dash for Home
One afternoon, my son Ethan and I were checking the mills in the north pasture. To save time, we split up with Ethan and Big Red checking the middle mill and Raider and I checking the east mill. We were to meet somewhere along the middle ridge and compare notes.
On the way out to the east mill, Raider was acting out by dogging along and constantly looking around to see where her buddy, Big Red was. Raider is not a confident horse and her desire to be with Big Red reflected her reluctance to proceed in a direction away from him. Horses are herd animals and Raider’s instinct was to rejoin her herdmate. However, she did as I asked and we completed our task of checking the east mill. I ride Raider once or twice a week. Her job on the ranch is to move or sort cattle. She is a great cutting horse. She knows me. She obeys my commands. However, I have not spent the time for her to implicitly trust me.
Ethan’s horse, by way of contrast, is his tried and true 4H horse. Ethan has spent literally thousands of hours in the saddle with Big Red. Big Red trusts Ethan implicitly and is confident in being alone and away from his herd.

On the way to our rendezvous point after checking the east windmill, Raider spotted Big Red on a ridge about a mile away. He was just a small figure on the horizon, but Raider knew who he was. That was where she wanted to be. The direct line from Raider to Big Red was down a steep gully, across a ravine and then up the other side. There was a problem however, in taking the direct route. Some elk had dragged a snarl of barbed wire into the ravine crossing and Raider and I needed to swing north to circumvent the danger.

I gave Raider a cue to change direction. It was directly away from where she could see Big Red. It was directly away from where she wanted to go. Raider balked and began to throw a fit. My options were: to escalate the fight (absolutely not an option), get off and lead her, or just get off and turn her loose knowing that she would gallop straight through the barbed wire snarl and, in all likely-hood, mortally injure herself (also absolutely not an option).
So, I dismounted and lead her to the safe path, remounted and met Ethan and Big Red on the middle ridge.

On the ride home, Ethan and I discussed our actions as people of faith in comparison with Raider’s reactions to my cues to change direction. How often do we see a goal that we really want and calculate the shortest distance to achieve that goal? It might be selecting a marriage partner, buying a house or car, or getting that promotion at work. It might be something really big or something relatively inconsequential. When God asks us to change directions and follow His promptings it is because He knows things that we do not. When God asks us to change directions and follow His promptings, it might be to spare us from grievous injury. When I cued Raider to change direction, it was not to make her suffer…it was to keep her safe.

Sometimes, we know full well that we are behaving contrary to God’s will, and yet, we do it anyway. Simply turning Raider loose was never one of my options. However, as people granted free will, at what point will God “turn loose of our reins?” Is it when that tiny small voice finally becomes silent or those actions that once caused feelings of discomfort and disquietude are completely numbed with callous disregard? Christ is The Way and offers forgiveness. No sin is greater than Christ, and yet, the scars and regrets and burdens we have carried to no end and with no purpose!

If you are faced with a change of direction, be light of mouth and respond to the Master’s touch of the reins.