A Cow Named Kisses

Yesterday, my husband and I took our kids Drew (9) and Madeline (6) to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. As Fort Worthians, we find it’s almost a necessary outing each year, like a holy pilgrimage. For all of its cowboy culture and history, Fort Worth is really pretty cosmopolitan. You don’t just stumble upon the Old West on any given day unless you’re actively seeking out cow patties on the North Side. Our kids DO own cowboy boots, naturally, but they only wear them on Cowboy Day at school and each year for approximately four hours at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. We, their parents, see it as a kind of annual nod to ceremony and tradition. With funnel cakes.

This year, we had a friend whose teenage son was showing a heifer at the stock show. If you are from Dallas, a heifer is a girl cow whose one purpose in life is to become a momma cow. If you are from my particular neighborhood in Fort Worth, a heifer is a girl cow whose one purpose in life is to become a momma cow.

This heifer’s name was KISSES. She had a beautiful caramel coat and a white dot smack dap in the middle of her forehead, resembling a white chocolate Hershey’s kiss. When we arrived at her stall, all 900 pounds of KISSES was lying on her side, her head nuzzled in the arms of our friend’s teenage son. “She thinks she’s a lap dog,” said our friend Tricia, the boy’s mother.

With some help, my 35-lb wisp of a daughter Madeline was suddenly sitting in the seat of honor, staring face-to-face with a cow whose head easily weighed as much as her whole body. Almost instantly, a hefty, grey, sandpapery tongue was licking all up and down the side of Madeline’s face and head, leaving her hair stringy and wet and swirled around her face like a Dairy Queen soft serve cone. I don’t think anyone will ever accuse my daughter of being a country girl, especially now that she has begun carrying a PURSE at the tender age of 6, but I was extremely impressed by the fortitude she demonstrated looking steadily into that great face as it lapped her up.

Madeline benefits from heifers like KISSES in ways she can never imagine. The milk she drinks, the leather on her barely worn boots, the hamburger she enjoys after the Stock Show, not to mention the cheese which would constitute 80% of her diet if she wrested control from my hands. All these things just come and go throughout her life on a given day, nourishing and clothing and sustaining her without her paying a bit of mind to it. And now, she was actually being kissed by the embodiment of every shoe she’s ever worn and almost every meal she’s ever eaten. Kissed by KISSES. To me, this is meaningful in a bigger way; maybe even a God-size way.

Our sometimes tenuous, sometimes reverent, sometimes exultant relationship with God is mirrored in the Psalms. The Psalms are honest, difficult, and beautiful. Many of them describe God — what he is like, and how he behaves. But I find Psalm 16 especially interesting because I think it says more about its author than it does about God. And the biggest thing it says about the author? He is very, very God-ward-ly active.
“In You I take refuge…”
“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’”
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.”
“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel.”
“I have set the Lord always before me…”

The Psalmist takes refuge in the Lord. Calls the Lord LORD. Chooses the Lord. Blesses the Lord. Sets the Lord always before him. He doesn’t wait to passively enjoy the proofs and benefits of God’s presence before worshipping. He presses forward into God, actively, like someone determined to remember his lines in a play or the image of a map in an unknown city he’s desperate to navigate. The Psalmist’s face is pressed up against a window, straining to see that Great Face looking back at him.

I think it is a rare thing to come face-to-face with God on a given day. Maybe every now and then he gives us an awesome, timeless Encounter. But most days, we experience God through his quiet presence and provision — the leather-bound shoes, the cups of milk. It would be easy to forget. He would be easy to forego.

An almost funny line in Psalm 16 is where the author says, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord.’” (vs. 2). The irony is built right into the sentence, isn’t it? It’s like saying, “I say to my mother, ‘You are my Mom’”, or “I say to my hand, ‘You are my hand.’” He’s the Lord, whether I call him Lord or not. He doesn’t NEED us to say it for it to be true. But the Psalmist is SO committed to pursuing God, he’s going to speak something into the air that states the obvious and lassoes the obvious for the purposes of his own surrendered heart. He’s Lord; might as well bend to that reality. Which, come to think of it, is probably the most sensible way to go about an ordinary life.

Yet the Psalmist’s God-ward activity isn’t driven by cardboard duty. He seems to know very well the heart-thrill of the Lord made Lord:
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (v 9-11)

If these are the riches of seeking that Great Face, why don’t we do it more often? Maybe we’re like those Stock Show hogs I see with their heads down, sniffing the grime for a morsel or two. Maybe we’re too scared to feel our smallness. Or maybe we’re just too inwardly focused for the idea ever to occur to us in the first place. And so I have to admire this unafraid, un-self-centered Psalmist who has made it his personal business to look up.

Next year, apparently, KISSES will weigh about 1,800 pounds, double her current weight. And she’ll be pregnant. Her life is pretty much mapped out for her, which is both sweet and sad as I remember her tenderness with which she welcomed Maddie into her little world that day. I don’t think Maddie will have a hard time remembering that tenderness, either, although she might use the words “scary” or “too much” to describe it. It was enough cow for a lifetime. Maddie certainly doesn’t need a daily encounter with KISSES for her life to be complete.

A daily encounter with God is not what we need, either. But a daily pursuit? That’s essential. Pursuit is better than the encounter — daily pursuit that yields God’s presence in subtle, yet increasingly heartfelt and abundant ways as opposed to instant angel choirs and shekinah glory. Maybe that is all our souls can handle right now, this side of things. Don’t wait around passively, putting it on God to make himself manifestly obvious to you.
First, be God-ward-ly active.
Make him Lord.
Set him before you.
Choose him as your food and drink.
His presence comes in gently, like a breeze through a door left open.

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