The Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show is the world’s largest such event. For three weeks each year the city of Houston is inundated with “Cowboy” lingo and rodeo happenings. The Rodeo is a charitable event that raises millions of dollars every year for educational scholarships. Everything from art, to pigs, goats, steers, bulls, cows, rabbits and sheep are offered on the auction block with dedicated philanthropists offering thousands upon thousands of dollars for the cause.
Each night there is a concert held at the NRG Stadium (where the NFL Houston Texans football team plays), The other night our whole family went to the rodeo and enjoyed a rousing performance by famous country singer Alan Jackson.
Each day in the late afternoon before the concert, a full blown rodeo takes place…
Calf scramble, barrel racing, calf roping, bareback bronco riding, steer wrestling, mutton busting and team roping all get the crowd of 70,000 people worked up in enthusiastic applause.
Nothing gets the crowd worked up into a frenzy like the last event of the night…
Here’s the goal of the event.
Jump on the back of a writhing, wiggling, animated, angry, two thousand pound bull while holding on to a rope with one hand and remain on this bull’s back for 8 seconds.
Count ’em… eight seconds…
Not very long.
However, in bull riding eight seconds is an eternity!
Eight of the strongest, toughest and experienced cowboys that you would ever meet lined up to test their strength, willpower and ability against eight bulls.
Over the eight cowboys that participated I noticed a pattern with the crowd of 70,000 strong..
With the bull rider right out of the gate there was modest applause.
Two seconds later people were leaning on the edge of their seats.
At four seconds the applause and screaming was borderline frenzy. The fact that the rider was only halfway through the ride was beside the point.
At six seconds everyone was on their feet, pounding the ground with their feet, yelling at the top of their lungs.
At seven seconds the deafening applause and sound was overwhelming as the crowd was becoming apoplectic!
At seven and half seconds you could not hear yourself think. The crowd is collectively thinking, praying, screaming, yelling, “Hold On for a half a second more!!!”
At eight seconds, the horn blares signaling that the rider has “won”. No one in the crowd hears the horn. A bright red light goes off letting everyone know that eight seconds is up. At this point it is as if this cowboy has hit the winning shot in a NBA championship game. People are going crazy with high-fives, laughter and simple, pure amazement.
Of the eight bull riders we cheered on only two were able to hold on for eight seconds…
The rest were thrown off like rag dolls.
Some didn’t last two seconds.
One lasted seven and half seconds.
The end result was simple, blunt and to the point – They couldn’t HOLD ON…
As a pastor I have the distinct privilege and honor of watching bull riding every day.
Let me be clear, I am not watching real live bulls doing their best to buck their respective riders off.
Then again, let me be clear, I am watching real live cowboys and cowgirls riding their proverbial bulls of life and doing their very best with all their strength to do one thing and one thing alone… Hold On!!!
I see cowboys and cowgirls struggle through marriages that are devoid of life, joy and love.
I see cowboys and cowgirls getting jacked all over the place in dysfunctional families, work places and relationships.
I am watching a cowgirl right now ride the bull of widowhood. She’s only a second or two into the ride.
I am watching a cowboy deal with the bull of betrayal and mistrust as a valuable employee ended up embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This list could go on and on…
With each rider my prayer and cheer is always the same – “HOLD ON!!!”
Sixteen years ago I was on a mission trip to the Pacific Northwest. One one particular day we broke into teams of ten and went through a ropes/obstacle course. The idea behind the exercise was to build team work.
Our particular team had a great time going through the obstacle course. The last obstacle was the 12 foot high wall. The objective was to get everyone on team to the other side. At the top of the wall on the “other” side was a landing a few feet down, so as to ensure that no one went flying over the other top of the wall and then had to drop down twelve feet.
The leader of the exercise informed us that no team had ever gotten all 10 members to the other side of the wall.
We strategized and dealt with the smaller members of the team first – We basically just grabbed them by the arms and tossed them up to the top of the wall!! After eight of us had made it over there were just two left. Joe Bill Whittenburg (How’s that for a good ol’ Texas name!) and me.
Joe Bill climbed his way to a standing position on my shoulders. It took several attempts. And then he was able to jump off my shoulders and grab hold to the top of the wall. Soon he was over the top and standing on the landing on the other side.
Now the question remained. How do I get over? I cannot jump twelve feet in the air and grab the top of the wall.
I ran toward the wall, jumped up and placed my foot on the wall and tried to push off. Joe Bill leaned over the wall and tried to grab my hand. We were about six inches shy. The second attempt yielded the same result.
The leader of the exercise stood on the side with a smirk on his face that simply stated, “I told you so…”
On the third attempt I jumped just high enough for Joe Bill to grab my wrist and I was able to grab Joe Bill’s wrist.
I hung there in mid-air with my body swaying and bumping into the wall over and over again.
Joe Bill shouted, “Pull yourself up!”
I laughed out loud. In my exhaustion, all I could utter was, “I can’t. I’m too tired.”
And then something happened that I never thought was possible.
Joe Bill began to pull.
Joe Bill’s biceps bulged and his face turned bright red as he literally single handedly started pulling me up the wall.
The other campers started to cheer! My team was yelling, “Hold On! You can do it!”
Joe Bill pulled me up high enough for me to swing my foot up to the top of the wall. Except my foot fell short. I tried again and another person caught my shoe lace.
I was hanging eleven feet in the air by a strong grip and a shoelace.
Another member leaned over the wall and grabbed my leg and within seconds I was over the wall.
We all jumped up and down in complete joy and exhaustion. Joe Bill and I embraced. Forever in my memory bank he will remain as the true cowboy who pulled me up and over the wall.
Joe Bill and I looked down from the wall at our “leader.” All we could do is shout and whoop and holler in the simple joy of an amazing accomplishment and feat!
Here’s my question for you:
Who was holding on to who as I scaled that twelve foot wall?
Was I holding on to Joe Bill or was Joe Bill holding on to me?
Since I was there and experienced it firsthand the answer is obvious to me…
Joe Bill was holding on to me!
Now listen here…
Earlier in my writing today, I said that when I watch these cowboys and cowgirls ride the proverbial bulls of life my prayer is, “HOLD ON!!!”
To whom do you think I am directing my plea?
I am not praying that my cowboy and cowgirl friends will HOLD ON.
Left to their own strength and devices they can’t hold on. They won’t hold on.
They’re tough and strong, but not tough and strong enough. They will let go. They will get bucked off and land on their butt in the dirt.
My prayer is to the One who will never let go!
Oh dear Lord, you see my friends riding the bulls of their life… Oh dear Lord one plea I pray…
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:29 ESV)
Laugh often and Fear not!