“I really believe working with horses in any capacity can bring out the best in us, help us through all kinds of difficulty, and help us grow closer to God.”
— Melinda Smoot, FUMCFW Director of Communications and author of “Riding Through Thick & Thin”
“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
While there’s no doubt that God knows these plans, sometimes it’s tricky for us to discover how to make the most of them. We all have our own plans and passions. Maybe there is a fresh college grad beginning a climb on the corporate ladder. On the other side of the coin is a soon-to-be retired teacher who has shaped the lives of countless students with pop quizzes and gold stars. One looks to the horizon ahead while the other is taking a wistful look back before beginning a new journey. Wherever you are and whatever you do, God is there with a plan for your future.
Melinda Smoot, Director of Communications at FUMCFW, spent 20-something years as a freelance writer — “a woman on a mission to write stories that make a difference.” Little did she know that her mission would also take her behind the scenes of the church she’s loved and belonged to all along to discover a new facet of difference-making. Since she joined the staff as Director of Communications in early fall of 2012, by day she helps tell the important stories of our church and all the ways we make a difference in the world — and between her First Church workdays, writing about people and horses takes the front and center of her literary world.
Melinda’s latest book, “Riding Through Thick & Thin,” is about embracing the things you love to do (in this case, riding horses) and changing how you look at yourself — mind, body, and soul. Her previous book, “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses,” explores authenticity and “dusting off your dreams” in the second half of life. Before that, “Grandmaster: The Story of Struggle, Triumph and Taekwondo” tells an inspiring life story of how tenacity, character, and focus can make a difference beyond a single person’s wildest imagination. Prior to that, her work as Senior Writer for Millionaire Blueprints Magazine yielded dozens of stories with some of America’s most interesting millionaire entrepreneurs as she traced each story from original idea to unimagined success. “In each of these stories — and we learned to watch for it in the interview,” Melinda recounts, “there was always a ‘God moment’ that each person recognized as a deep inner knowing that this was something they must do.” Looking back now after working with the stories of our faith community, Melinda says she realizes it was her fascination with this consistent “God moment” that connected her “making a difference” credo to telling the stories of our church and its ministries.
“Riding Through Thick & Thin” delves into body image issues many women face, particularly with respect to riding horses, but metaphorically for anyone who lets body image concerns prevent them from doing and enjoying the things they love. Melinda says it’s important for women — and everybody — to appreciate their bodies more for what they can do and not as much what they look like. She believes what matters most is taking good care of the body you were given and making the lifestyle changes you need to make to experience your life to its fullest. “Ironically, once you accept your body as it is right now — and start working more toward doing the things you love to do and enjoying them more, rather than changing your body, your body often begins to change on its own,” she encourages. “When you change the lens of how you’re looking at your body, your age, and your life, the whole picture often changes, inside and out.”
Melinda says that she believes women are raised and conditioned by culture to question the worthiness of their bodies and to be critical of themselves superficially (Am I tall enough . . . short enough . . . thin enough? Are my limbs the proper length? Is my waist too thick . . . my shoulders too broad . . . my rear-end too big?). However, after some fascinating research, Melinda has discovered that riding a horse well is not as much about weight but more about balance, energy, and mindfulness. “It’s about getting quiet on the inside and learning to listen to that inner wisdom, finding what makes you deeply happy, and working toward doing more of that,” she explains. “For some it’s work or recreation or both, and for me it’s a little bit of all of it.”
Even though a lot of people look at riding horses on the surface as a recreational activity, Melinda says there’s something about being around horses that taps into our spiritual nature. “They say horses are mirrors of our insides — they show us with their behavior what’s going on with our emotions, thoughts, and spirit,” Melinda describes. “Horses don’t tolerate ambiguity, indecision, or dishonesty of any kind. To work well with a horse requires inner calm, clarity, mindfulness, and complete authenticity.” Oddly enough, Melinda says she thinks that is exactly what God asks of us in our dealings with one another. “Almost all contemplative prayer practices are helping us get to that same place, and I think working with horses provides a unique opportunity to practice and develop these qualities,” she adds. “I really believe horses can bring out the best in us; there are all kinds of amazing stories out there about horses as healers that help us through all kinds of difficulty. I think working with horses in any capacity helps us grow closer to God.”
Melinda likes to tell the story of her horse, Trace, as an example of how this has played out in her own life with horses (which, incidentally is the name of her blog on equisearch.com). Trace was a difficult, reactive, and (some said) dangerous horse that most people thought she shouldn’t keep or continue to work with. Melinda, on the other hand, felt a connection with this horse from the very beginning and recognized that working through his issues was presenting an amazing learning opportunity for her as well. From her decision to stick by this horse and learn all she could, the impetus for her Midlife Horses book emerged.
As Trace pushed Melinda to be clearer, quieter, and more in touch with her inner wisdom and intuition, a second horse, Rio, began working with her on setting boundaries and being consistent. “All the things that these books are about being — my horses have demanded that of me,” she says. “To earn Trace’s trust and respect was really a challenge. He taught me to get quiet, inside and out, and really listen with all my senses to what’s going on. Rio is more of a clown who tells me to lighten up and be more playful. He is also a bit of a brat who demands his own way — with occasional tantrums.” Learning to have fun, but still hold a boundary without getting mad or taking resistance personally, is another huge life lesson delivered on hooves. “I’ve learned a lot from both horses, and a lot of it translates into everything I do,” Melinda adds. She jokes all the time about the many parallels in working with horses and working with people — but most of it isn’t a joke. She maintains that being authentic, honest, clear, and straightforward is always the right answer as far as she’s concerned. “You have to get your energy aligned with the energy of the horse to find your balance together,” she adds. “It’s the same in how you deal with people — there’s an amazing synergy that happens when people work together with the same goals in mind.”
As Melinda leads the FUMCFW Communications team in telling the many great stories of our church and the difference we are making in our community and beyond, she still marvels at the unexpected gift of this opportunity to reach people who need to hear these stories. She says that as her job unfolded, she realized the deep connection between all of life’s stories — and the people who live and tell them. “As a writer, the ultimate reward is to be able to get a story out into the world that could make a difference in someone’s life,” she says. “That’s what we get to do every day here in FUMCFW Communications!”
What do you love? How does it bring out the best in you and your relationship with God? Just like its team leader, Melinda, FUMCFW Communications is on a mission to write stories that make a difference. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share yours.