The sequined cross on her black cap caught the sunlight as she bounced in the saddle across the dusty pasture. Katie Griffith held the reins while Hank, her sorrel quarter horse, galloped around the field, sometimes at a sprint and sometimes at a slow trot.
Though the first-year teacher in vocational agriculture and FFA adviser doesn't get to ride as much as she would like, being on her horse gives her a chance to unwind and reflect on the blessings in her life, especially her newfound peace and contentment. No more anxiety. No more fear.
"It's been the best peace of mind knowing that God has a place for me, a purpose," Griffith said. "And if it's time for me to leave this world I know that I won't be lost forever or in some dark empty space. I will be with Him. Forever."
Griffith, who teaches at Chadwick High School in southwest Missouri, grew up on a beef cattle farm and Appaloosa horse ranch in Butler, up near Kansas City. A self-proclaimed "rodeo brat," Griffith said she had a wonderful childhood and both her parents, who divorced when she was only 4 years old, were supportive in everything she chose to do, especially her mom.
But because of her family's (and later her) love of taking care of and showing livestock animals, as well as the long work hours of farm life, Griffith's Sundays as a child were spent at county fairs and horse shows rather than in a church auditorium.
"But I do think my agriculturally-minded family naturally fit in with Christianity," said Griffith, now in her early 20s. "My family always instilled in me the importance of good morals and level-headed thinking. Also, it's been sort of ingrained in me that God put animals here for a reason and that we're supposed to interact and even take care of some of them.
"Funny, I think I've always kind of known that if He created animals for a purpose, He must have created me for a purpose too."
It wasn't until high school, when Griffith became active in the National FFA Organization, that she sensed God was working in her life and on her heart.
Griffith said her teacher, 30-year veteran FFA adviser Paul Jett in Butler, was her first true example of what a Christian was supposed to look like. If Griffith had questions, Jett would suggest the Bible as an answer. She took his advice and though she wasn't consistent in following through back then, Griffith now sees how the foundation of her faith was laid during that time.
"Mr. Jett's positive influence is one of the reasons I decided to become an Ag teacher," Griffith said. "I saw how much one person is able to impact the lives of students and help them to become better people."
Though she was certainly curious about God in high school, it wasn't until her college years that Griffith felt God truly seeking her.
"One of my roommates would go to church regularly by herself and she encouraged me that faith is a personal thing and if I wanted to go, I didn't need someone to hold my hand," Griffith said. "She inspired me to go out and make my life what I want it to be."
So Griffith started attending Sac River Cowboy Church in Springfield, a Baptist church plant that meets inside the Springfield Livestock Marketing Center. She immediately fell in love with its friendly people and its bluegrass gospel music.
But it wasn't until last summer when Griffith realized her need was not only for moral guidance but also for a Savior.
"I have always dealt with anxiety because I was scared of dying," she said. "I even had multiple panic attacks. But I finally came to the realization that even though I may have been a good kid all these years, I never truly followed Jesus and lived the life I was supposed to be living. I knew I needed to change."
"Finally putting my trust in God has allowed me to get things squared away in my mind," she said. "With the strength of God alone, I know I have done my best and given it everything I've got. And when I do pass away, I will leave this place fulfilled ... completely fulfilled in the love of Christ."
And though Griffith is still very new in her relationship with Jesus and knows she has a long way to go, she finally feels happy with herself and confident in her purpose as a Christian, especially as a teacher.
"God has chosen me to be His influence on young minds and it's really important to me to be the best influence I can be," Griffith said. "I was blessed to student-teach under some amazingly godly men and the staff here at Chadwick is also filled with teachers that I aspire to be like. It's all just confirmed that I'm on the right path, the path God's laid for me."
Kayla Rinker is a writer in New Lenox, Ill. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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