Riding Side-saddle

It was a crisp fall afternoon as I plopped down on the back steps with Grandma Carol and Lora. I remember twirling a sprig of cotton between my fingers as more rained down from the sentinel-like cottonwoods that arched overhead. It was a perfect afternoon for doing, well, nothing and Grandma, Lora, and I was taking advantage of it. It was a charmed childhood—hanging out with Grandma, playing in the orchard and semi-regularly falling out of trees (of which you never mentioned to anyone).

Anyways, I can't say how we got on the topic but somehow the ditch out in the apple orchard came to our collective attention. The comment was made, by either Lora or me, that it seemed to have shrunk as we got older. Grandma Carol, always good for a story, plucked up and asked if she'd ever told us about her grandma riding sidesaddle. Lora and I exchanged a side-eye, sidesaddle? They belonged in the 1800s, didn't they?

Well, apparently, Grandma had found an old side-riding saddle in her grandpa's barn or attic. Her grandmother, that is my great-great-grandmother, happened along and Grandma Carol asked her about it. Her grandma promptly tacked up their somewhat lackluster horse with the bizarre-looking saddle and mounted.

Grandma Carol described what happened next as a surprise to both her and the horse. Her grandmother dug her heals into the equine's sides and something came alive in her eyes that Grandma described as young and voracious. Under strict rein and a tough hand, her grandmother drove the horse to sprint across the long yard and vault a ditch that ran along the back of the property. Mouth agape, Grandpa Carol watched as she circled back, driving that hilariously surprised horseback over the black hole of a ditch and across the yard.

Grandma Carol ended the story by remarking that she'd never suspected her grandmother capable of such ferocity, such freedom and that she was effectively humbled by the reminder of what lies beneath the surface of our loved ones. I thought of that story when the youth class read Joshua 22:9-34 earlier this year. The text recalls the story of the 2 ½ tribes of Israel that left to return to Gilead and, in the process, built an altar by the Jordan River. The other tribes, offended by the irregularity, prepared to go to war against their kin.

Thankfully, the crisis was averted and the tribes that had left were able to explain themselves—they wanted to safeguard their descendants in the eyes of the Lord and the eyes of the tribes that remained. The alter was a sign of good faith.

So often, younger and older generations refuse to see eye to eye—particularly in the church. We shouldn't sing hymns. We shouldn't have drums. We shouldn't have brown carpet. We shouldn't encourage SDA's to marry non-SDA's. The list goes on and on. I wonder what God thinks of our discord when he's given us such a rich example of communication in Joshua 22. The generations will doubtfully go to war over skirt length or hymn choice, but there is something to be learned from Joshua 22.

The tribes responsible for the construction of the offensive alter (today's youngsters) committed an act insulting and intolerable to the remaining tribes (other generations) because they knew not how to commune their ideas and thoughts to them. They were somewhat impulsive but good-hearted in their act. The remaining tribes jumped to a conclusion (war) as a proper reaction. They were afraid of what the departing tribes were trying to communicate and were also pure of heart in their dedication to God.

But God willed them to come together to right the wrongs they committed against one another. One was not right, one was not wrong and he encouraged them to seek to understand one another…before hoping to be understood themselves.

Now, what in the world does this have to do with my great-great-grandmother riding an old sway-backed horse like a war banshee? Everything and nothing, I suppose. I don't give much thought to those who came before me, not really until I'm reminded that they blazed a path for me—in all things. My great-great-grandmother rode ferociously in a side-saddle, a mechanism used to differentiate proper from improper. My Grandma Carol taught herself to drive a car because nobody else would.

What does that tell me? Simply that I hale from a long line of strong, determined women. My ancestors have touched me through time and space and our ancestry in God plays no smaller part in our lives. We must strive to understand our elders. We must strive to understand our youngsters. We all worship the same God. The same powerful, magnificent, loving God.

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