Tag Archives: focus

Grappling with “not knowing”…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Inspiration this week comes from the following verse from Deuteronomy 29:29 as well as study in the book of Revelation:

“The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that He has revealed to us, so that we may obey all of the terms of these instructions.”


I am nearing the end of the New Testament study that I started last spring. A couple of weeks ago, I delved into the book of Revelation which is the last book of the Bible. Revelation has historically been hard for me as I struggle with both the language and some of its’ messages. I’ve read the New Testament in its entirety several times over the past five years, finding more clarity each time that I read it. So, this time I made a goal to approach Revelation with a desire to look past my fear in order to gain understanding.

Both our teaching pastor and our discipleship pastor encouraged me to “not get stuck” on the questions that Revelation does not clearly explain; but rather, to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern the messages that God wants to make known to me. That was really good advice. Not just for reading Revelation, but also for studying the rest of the Bible. I have a bad habit of both “grappling with not knowing”, and also fearing what I do not understand. This distracts me from searching out the message that the Holy Spirit is trying to put on my heart.

Let me offer a metaphoric example: I love to run. Before I broke my leg, running was a daily safe haven for me. It was a time when I could let my mind be free and drift. I often prayed while I ran the gravel roads by our farm. One day I headed off for a long run. A couple of miles into it, I got a rock in my shoe. The discomfort of the rock interrupted and dominated my thoughts. While the rock was in my shoe, it was the only thing I could think about. I got “stuck” on the rock and was unable to attain the normal mental calmness that I get while running. Eventually, I stopped to remove the rock. As soon as I did, my mind was free again.


The above verses from Deuteronomy point out something incredibly valuable for me. I believe that they serve as a reminder of our heavenly Father’s expectations. As God’s children, we are accountable for what He has revealed to us. We are asked to follow the instructions of the Holy Spirit as we study the Word of God. There is no expectation that we will know everything, and God will not hold us accountable for those things that we are unable to discern. There is a freedom for me to be found in that. I’m a good “worrier”. I dislike making mistakes and that makes me very cautious. This is a trap for me as sometimes it keeps me from moving forward.

I think that God wants us to bring our questions to him. And, I believe that He helps us to find enough of the answers that we are able to continue to grow in faith as long as we keep our focus. What I’ve come to understand more fully over the past several weeks is that obedience to God is a clear path. I don’t need to worry that I am going to miss a turn as long as I focus on what Jesus puts in my heart and the Spirit puts on my mind. There are details that I don’t need to comprehend today in order to continue to live faithfully. Letting those details go gives me freedom to focus on what I do understand instead of getting “stuck” grappling with the things that I don’t. When I remove those “rocks”, then I can find peace “running” in faith and trusting that I will be led in love and righteousness.

 

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Focus…Feel…Communication

Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!

 

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Think like a calf…Then open the gate!

We originally were missing about 45 head…Monday morning the number was down to 13…Today it is down to 10…

10 is too many, but better than 45.

I found two calves last night in our corn field.  I got smart—thought like a calf—used patience and good cattle handling savvy—and got them in.  My cowboy and I found a third calf at the neighbor’s this morning.  We are gaining.

The second calf in the field approaching the fence...(I wasn't organized enough to have my camara for the first one...)

Handling cattle in a corral system is very different than handling cattle “at liberty” with no fences.  If any of you do Natural Horsemanship, you may be familiar with the concept of “liberty” and the communication system that you set up with your horse which enables you to interact (either on the ground or in the saddle) with no halter/bridle or lead rope.

Horses "at liberty" in a pasture...Two of them are asking me a question...

Handling cattle at liberty follows the same concepts, but the animals are much “flightier” or wilder.  Small movements mean big things, and it takes a lot of savvy to move a lone animal through a big field with tall crops and then through a gate.

The corn is 6' tall (I am only a measly 5'3" and the calf is much shorter than that...)

It also requires you to “think like a calf” in order to increase your chances of success.  Cattle are concerned with safety (they prefer being in herds/groups), they are concerned with having enough to eat (not a problem out in big green fields with growing vegetation!), they are concerned with finding water to drink.

What did I do?

I put a big red mineral tub in the middle of the gateway (mineral “licks” or “tubs” are a good magnet for cattle–they love them!).  We turned on the water tank that is near the gate.  I waited until dusk when cattle are more likely to be active in the warm summer months…and when the calves that are still in my feed yard are more likely to bawl or vocalize which will “call” the missing calves back into the group.

The mineral tub and water tank that are by the gate...

One by one two animals showed up…

I worked each calf (they showed up about 30 minutes apart) quietly and carefully down the field and toward the gate.  I waited for them to find the mineral tub and move through the gate.

I guided the calves down the alleyway and back to the home pen.

The first calf--turning to ask me a question as I moved him down the alley way. At that moment, I am "outside of his bubble" and he is confident enough to ask me for guidance.

I did all of this with great patience and small movements in my body focusing on pressure and release once I figured out where each calf’s “bubble” was.  Each calf is surrounded by an invisible “bubble”.  If you apply pressure to the bubble, then the calf will move.  It is important to only gently apply pressure to this bubble (especially in a situation where you are at “liberty” with no fences for help).  When the calf responds appropriately, then you release the pressure.  This pressure and release system is a good way to communicate with cattle (and horses too).

I penetrated the calf's bubble and he moved away from me and down the alley...

Watching the body language of the calf tells you when you penetrate his “bubble”.  This requires patience and focus.

The mosquitoes made a very tenacious attempt to “eat me alive” while I was up in the corn field.  I kept my focus on the calf and ignored the bugs…Slapping at mosquitoes with a flighty calf nearby will send the calf running in a “flight” behavior pattern which is virtuously impossible for a handler to manipulate.

Back in the home pen and bawling to his herdmates...He seems glad to be there...

I got home after dark, tired, but feeling a sense of accomplishment.  Who would have thought that a city kid from Florida would be able to act as a “calf whisperer”?

The second calf heading back in to the "home pen" with the herdmates that came out to greet him...

I am still moving forward, I am still praying that we will recover the other 10 calves, I am still caring, and I am still exhausted.  But, under it all, I know that I am gaining.  I know that I am a good calf caregiver.  And, I know that tomorrow will again be a better day.

Back home after a long day...

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