Early last Tuesday morning, after pulling on too-tight jeans and too large estate sale cowboy boots I opened our cabin door to find two college gals ready to watch our boys for a couple hours.

We heard this was one of the best parts of Pine Cove. An adult morning. Including horseback riding and a delicious cowboy breakfast (we’re talking maple syrup soaked bacon, y’all!).

I expected to enjoy doing something “earthy” and anti-urban. I got excited about the extra time with just Bruce and our friends.

I didn’t expect to be given the most memorable parenting wisdom for the week.

After a brief lesson from the head wrangler, he assigned us to a horse. We were given the simple instruction to keep our horse facing a rope hanging down from the side of the barn.

We were also instructed on the importance of these first few minutes establishing a relationship with our horse. How gently we sat down on the horse & how we took control determined how the rest of the ride would go.

I was swinging my leg around the saddle to sit atop my horse, “Patriot”, when my neighbor’s horse “Red Baron” decided he wanted to get away from his neighboring (apparently evil) horse “Tank”. Unfortunately that meant the Red Baron no longer wanted to face his rope. Instead he wanted to turn around and head out of the barn.

The shocked rider attempted to pull the rein back toward the assigned spot, but her horse was determined otherwise.

In that moment the wrangler arrived and began giving gentle instruction and encouragement, “You aren’t doing anything wrong. Your horse doesn’t like getting close to ‘Tank’ and wants to get away. You just need to confidently lead him back to his spot.”

Which she successfully did.

But that lasted about a minute before Red Baron tried to turn around again.

I glanced over to see the fear in her eyes. Then I heard her say, “I’m not sure about this. I don’t know…”

Maybe she was remembering our earlier lesson about the importance of establishing control. Maybe she wondered, is it okay that her horse had just “broken ranks”? What about on the trail ride, would he continue to go off course?  Maybe she should switch horses?

The wrangle arrived again with his encouragement…”You’re not doing anything wrong. Gently guide him back to his position. You are doing exactly what you should do.”

That’s about the time I made the parenting connection.

You see, the week before we left for family camp was rough. The boys broke my heart with their bickering. I poured out my concerns to a friend.  How it felt like I repeated the same phrases to my boys with no effect:

“Love one another.” “Be kind.” “Use gentle words.” “Treat your brother special.”

She encouraged me with the phrase, “Remember mothering is discipleship.”

A process.

A journey.

Just as I continue to strive to live like Christ, my boys are only following me on that path.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”  1 Corinthians 11:1

We lined up our horses for the trail ride. Again Red Baron decided to take a detour. Another wrangler encouraged the rider, “Remember they can sense when you are afraid. They know when you lose your confidence. You are doing a great job. Just keep turning the reins back to the direction of the path”.

This discipleship journey with my boys is so very similar.

They will continue to go off-track. I shouldn’t be surprised or fearful or personally offended.

Responding with anger or hurt or fear will not help get them back on the right path.

As the rider gently directs the horse back in the direction it should go, so I need to respond firmly & gently, not emotionally or drastically.

The rider that morning feared what the rest of the trail ride would look like if she had lost authority with her horse. Often I fear what the rest of my boys’ lives will look like if they act out or misbehave. I project their future selves instead of focusing in the moment on leading gently back to the path of righteousness.

Not fear-based parenting.

Not emotionally-reactive-based parenting.

Not personally-offended-based parenting.

Gentle. Guiding. Grace-based parenting.

This image is seared in my mind. When the boys go off-course, just steer the reins back to center.

Because…just like the wrangler encouraged, I hear God gently whisper, “You are not doing anything wrong. Your son is just behaving like a little boy. He needs direction. Continue to guide him. You are doing a great job.”

May you be encouraged today mom. You are doing a great job.

Keep hold of the reins to guide your children on the path of righteousness…gently. guiding. grace.

May your feet follow Christ’s example so your children can follow where you lead (even if you feel like the boots are a bit too big to fill…He will fill in the gaps).