To The Reader, I wrote the story of my life to encourage each of us to live a life of compassion and purpose. The compassion shown to me as a lonely, broken-hearted child changed my life and gave me a purpose to make a difference as an adult. It is my desire to have my story read by both young and old in all walks of life so that our lives can be better.
Gathering Courage: A Life-Changing Journey Through Adoption, Adversity, and a Reading Disability is an award-winning book about a child who was adopted and then rejected by her adopted family. This child was sent to a foster home at the age of nine because she was dyslexic and struggling to learn. The story goes on to show how walking through the pain and suffering of losses and hurts built a strong faith in the Lord and the courage to be successful.
Walking the stage to receive a diploma at Texas A&M University was not only a dream but also a reality. Helping students to succeed in life was a burning desire from someone who had to go back and learn basic educational material while attending college courses. Passing on encouragement and the internal desire “To Make Life Better” turned into a lifetime career.
The dust rose up from the dimly lit arena floor as the sounds of horses filled the air. I stood next to the holding pen as they crowded through the open gate to run at full speed on the arena floor. The horses circled, snorting and bucking, making their presence known. This was a big event for these beautiful horses at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. Their story was going to be told across the nation with the filming of a special program by National Geographic Wild. It would focus on the mustangs, their inheritance, and the transformation of a wild mustang into a fully broke horse. I watched in total amazement as the arena lights intensified to a full brightness, revealing the cameras set up in the stands. The spectators rose to their feet as the mustangs gathered together after their grand entrance. We all knew this would be a remarkable performance.
The wild horse of the North American plains holds a special place in my heart. In their native habitat, these mustangs had to find their own food, seek shelter from the rain, and always on alert to the dangers found in the wild. Freely roaming on open range only a few months before, they had been rescued, adopted, and given only one hundred and twenty days of training prior to the Fort Worth event. These beautiful, majestic equines were shown love, guidance, trust, and respect from the trainer who worked with them, and now we would see the results.
The desire to train a horse comes from deep within. It takes a person with true inward honesty and an abundant amount of patience to successfully train a horse. An innate awareness of how to work with an animal’s natural strength along with the ability to turn fear into courage makes a good trainer great.
Over the next two days in Fort Worth, horse trainers from all over the United States performed with their mustangs in an exhibition sponsored by the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Thousands cheered and watched in awe as formerly wild horses maneuvered through amazing patterns and freestyle movements. Each performance was as different as the color of the horses but a common thread of trust, respect, bonding, and unconditional love between horse and trainer was apparent. I stood, cheered, clapped, and hollered for each horse and for the positive relationship and invisible connection that had developed. It was evident to me that each horse had found peace in a domesticated environment away from his natural habitat in the wild. A new partnership and a strong bond between horse and human had formed. Each horse and trainer was a winner to me.
After the awards were given out and the crowd settled down, the auction began. This was the part that pulled at my heart and exposed my emotions. Horses and their trainers were scattered throughout the arena. Trainers were waiting for their horses turn to come up for bid. The auctioneer stood in the middle of the arena and with a microphone in his hand, set the pace, and started the bidding.
Jesse, the horse that won first place, was up for bid, meaning he would have a new home, a new environment, and a new owner. All eyes were on this horse and rider who were walking around in the center of the arena. One thousand, fifteen hundred, two thousand, yes, two thousand echoed around the arena and into the stands. Three thousand, yes, three thousand caused the crowd to clap and cheer. Thirty-five hundred, do I hear thirty-five hundred? Yes, now, four thousand, four thousand. Do I hear four thousand?
The auctioneer said in a much slower tone, “This is a solid, well broke horse that will give you his all. Jesse’s trainer, Cody, won first place this year and first place last year at the Mustang Million. This horse is as true as the day is long. Do I hear four thousand? Yes, now, let’s go for five thousand. Do I hear five thousand?”
The yelling of five thousand bounced from one side of the arena to the other. Then a complete hush came over the crowd as the focus was on Cody. While still mounted on his mustang, Cody pulled his bid card out of his vest pocket and flashed his number at the auctioneer.
“Yes, five thousand, five thousand, do I hear fifty-five hundred?” The sound from the auctioneer intensified throughout the coliseum.
The crowd stared in amazement as Cody kept his bid card raised high in the air. The auctioneer called fifty-five hundred but no one said a word. Cody kept his bid card raised before the auctioneer.
We knew the bond between this horse and trainer was fused solid. Again, the auctioneer loudly called fifty-five hundred but no other bids were raised. No one wanted to take Cody’s horse away from him.
“Sold! Sold to Cody Kyle Carson for fifty-five hundred dollars!”
The crowd stood up and cheered to congratulate Cody and Jesse for a job well done. I cried with joy knowing this beautiful, loyal mustang gelding would not be separated from the trainer who taught him how to trust. Cody would not be separated from the horse he loved unconditionally.
Although the auction was over, the emotions prompted by thoughts of separation sat deep in my stomach because I, like Jesse the mustang, had been adopted and placed in a different environment. As a child, the raising and the guidance that I received was turbulent and unsettling. Unconditional love, patience, and trust—experienced by all the performing mustangs at the event— were not a part of my adopted family. I was left to cope on my own to develop the skills needed to be successful in life.
Life circumstances consistently proved to me that not everyone could be trusted. So at an early age, I learned to trust myself and to be self-reliant in order to simply survive. Trust is built one step at a time unfortunately, and the threads of trust can be pulled apart in an instant, with the repair process taking years to rebuild, if it rebuilds at all. Through the love of animals, I realized that kindness and gentleness were life changing. I learned that unconditional love, unconditional trust can melt away hurt and pain hidden deep inside one’s being. Love can become a source of encouragement to others.
From the time I was a child, I had an unspoken yearning to be faithful to the Lord. I prayed a lot and held on to what was solid and true. From my heart, I wrote a prayer and repeated it often:
Each of us has a journey to share, a life full of excitement, challenges to be conquered, dreams to be fulfilled, and hard-earned wisdom to be passed along. Gathering Courage is my story, my journal, my struggles, and my accomplishments. I share with you my heart-filled life to serve one purpose—to encourage you to be the best you can be. Life at its best is tough and it is in the tough times that we all must gather the courage to be our best and to do our best.
It is my desire that this book will encourage you to reflect on your life, to overcome your hardships, and to accomplish your dreams. The journey is within and I look forward to hearing from you about the courage and accomplishments in your own life.