Monday, April 25, 2011

Healing Goes Both Ways

Happy Easter sweet friends!
In honor of the grief and joy we share in celebrating Easter, I wanted to share an article that came out in my hometown paper about my Momma and her sweet friend Lisa, and their love for horses.

This brought back so many precious memories of days spent in the hot Mississippi sun riding horses during my growing up years. Everyone who grew up with me knows, I'm actually not a big horse person. I prefer Louboutin to Carhartt, but they also never miss a chance to tell the story of me chasing down that horse up and down the highway, and actually catching her.
Luckily, my Momma prefers wading in the mud in her boots to cocktail parties, and this is her sweet, sweet story.

Healing goes both ways

Community Editor
Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011 9:33 AM CDT
LAKE CORMORANT — Blind in one eye and rescued from a life confined to being tied to a tree and left to eat his own waste, Feather, a Tennessee Walking Horse, gently nudges his new owner Lisa Sparks.

"He was 200 pounds underweight," Sparks said as a group of home-schoolers listened intently. "He has made a remarkable recovery."

Sparks, who rescues neglected or abandoned horses, said when she found out about Feather, who had been tied to a tree on a farm in the lower Mississippi Delta, she took a shotgun and a halter.

"We came prepared to put him down or bring him home," Sparks said matter-of-factly.

The horse's original owner, whom Sparks did not name, had been paying family members to take care of the horse but they simply pocketed the money instead.

"By the grace of God he survived the winter without food," Sparks said. "Horses like this, sometimes they eat their own manure."

Sparks, who has been riding horses for 20 years, discovered she needed to find out how to communicate with horses like Feather.

She became a student of horse whisperer Dennis Reis, a California rancher, who teaches the fine art of horse whispering to people like Sparks.

"I learned that I needed to understand more about horse communication," Sparks said as she taught a group of home schoolers how to create a protective "bubble" between them and the horses.

"They get to work with the horses in a natural setting, not just a stable," Sparks said.

Heidi Zumbehl, 11, Anna Grisham, 12, Hannah Sahnger and Rebekah Grisham are her willing pupils.

Sparks is assisted on this day by her longtime friend Missy Flanagan of Hernando.

The two women who share a love of horses, also share a legacy of grief.

Sparks lost her daughter Eve, 26, to cancer two and a half years ago. Flanagan lost her 16-year-old son Ben to a heart condition six years ago.

Rescuing abused animals and helping teach home schoolers about horsemanship has allowed the two women to channel their grief into a positive, almost therapeutic ministry.

"The Lord led me back here through our friendship, our love of horses and children, and our grieving hearts," Flanagan said as she waded through ankle-deep mud to a pasture where more than 14 rescued horses frolicked and roamed.

"Every horse out here has a story," said Flanagan. "Just like people. As a grieving mother I've learned you have to work through the pain. The horses are learning to work through the pain of what they have experienced."

Flanagan's husband Jim surprised her with a horse of her own this past Christmas. She named her "Beauty From the Ashes."

The name is taken from Isaiah 61:3: "He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted … to comfort all who mourn and console those who grieve and give them beauty for ashes."

The black Mustang lived on a farm in rural Marshall County.

"The owners didn't know it at the time but it had toxic waste on it and some of the other animals died," Flanagan said. "We have Beauty and there have been at least three others which came from that situation."

Like Sparks, Flanagan grew to have a love of horses.

All four of her children took part in learning how to handle and ride horses at Sparks' farm.

"Horses were my true love but I always struggled with communication," Flanagan said. "Lisa has blessed our generation of home schoolers and now she is helping another generation. It's been a blessing beyond measure."

Sparks spoke of her own grief.

"The grief becomes a crater in your heart," Sparks said. "You have a need to give because so much has been taken away."

Sparks, Flanagan and the group of teens not only learn how to train horses in the paddock area behind Sparks home but they have been given free reign of an adjoining 85 acres owned by Albert Gartrell.

Gartrell, too, lost a child years ago and has donated free use of the land to Sparks so the horses have a chance to roam and graze.

Sparks began gentling horses and learning how to communicate with them when her eight-year-old niece received a two-year-old horse with no instructions as to how to train or care for it.

Even though some of the horses are wild and unbroken and not yet gentled, the home school students are learning how to tame them.

"We teach these kids how to recognize the signs and we stress safety," Flanagan said. "It's not really anything mystical about what she does. It's all based on body language. Horses use body language to communicate and so do people."

Rebekah, her long hair tucked underneath a black Stetson, said she has bonded with the animals.

"We learn from them and they learn from us," she said.

Robert Lee Long: or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Messy life

I cannot believe March has come..and gone.
Through the years March has become, the most precious yet bittersweet month of the year for me, and all my loved ones.On March 14th 2010, Chris and I welcomed into the world our beautiful son, James Bennett Merrifield (Baby Ben!). He was 4lbs and 17inches long. And every bit as wild and his Momma. He even has my crazy hair, and monkey toes. (Never mind the fact that everything else about him is the spitting image of my incredible husband)

March 15 is my brother Ben's Birthday, and March 17th is the anniversary of Ben's death.
There is such a stark difference in the emotions I felt this year in celebrating Baby's 1st Birthday, and the 6th Anniversary of Big Ben's death, than I've felt the previous years since Ben's homecoming. This year I felt an overwhelming since of peace. Never underestimate the knowledge of total and complete peace in Christ providential will for your life. Take it from someone who spent many years on the journey of grief and sadness. The years leading up to Baby Ben's birth were tough years. But the blessings that brought Chris and I both to the place where we rest now, at the foot of the cross, can never be measured. Someone very sweet and dear once told me grief is "just messy". And Messy is the perfect way to describe our life. Messy...yet Wonderful. And filled shining examples of Christ love. But still messy!

Speaking of messy, Baby Ben is the epitome of all things messy. He doesn't just like to hold onto the drawer of my chest of drawers, he likes to open it up, and pull out every single shirt I own. I think he's trying to tell me it's time to organize my clothing. He also thinks it's a great idea to throw his craisins and cheerios across the apartment when he finds himself feeling total bliss. This emotion is normally brought about by a full tummy and Mommy giving him teaspoons to play with. He is a child after my own heart. Did I mention he's newest hobby is putting almond butter in his hair? :)