- Название: Flash
- Автор: Rachel Anne Ridge
Stories that teach spiritual lessons, delight with
humor, and make me lean in closer to God’s heart
are my favorites! And this unlikely treasure of a
book does just that. You will fall in love with
Flash and the way Rachel Anne processes their
LYSA TERKEURST, New York Times bestselling author of The
Best Yes and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries
When I first heard that Rachel Ridge had written a
book about her family’s donkey, Flash, I had no
idea what to expect. Nothing could have prepared
me for such a delightful experience! I loved every
page of Flash, and Rachel has such a gift for
storytelling that you can absolutely picture each
scene. This book made me laugh at Flash’s antics
and cry as I identified with the lessons he has
taught her family about the way God loves us and
sees us. This book will make you fall in love with
our Savior all over again and, more than likely,
make you hope you can have your own pet donkey
MELANIE SHANKLE, New York Times bestselling author of
Sparkly Green Earrings and The Antelope in the Living
This book is a delight; it’s an honest, funny, and
encouraging reminder of the creative, loving ways
that God pursues us, teaches us, and changes us.
Granted, I never expected that I’d have so much in
common with a donkey, but Flash has taught me
more than I could have imagined. You’re going to
love this book, and when you finish reading it,
you’re going to want to follow Flash’s lead and run
SOPHIE HUDSON, author of Home Is Where My People Are and
blogger at BooMama.net
Flash is a marvelous, wonderful, funny, touching,
and illuminating book. The author makes the good
donkey Flash come alive on the pages. I agree with
Rachel that God uses all sorts of things—from
dogs to donkeys—to teach us more about himself,
and all we have to do is pay attention.
JIM KRAUS, bestselling author of The Dog That Talked to God
Charming, poignant, funny, honest—Rachel Anne’s
journey with Flash the donkey is pure reading
pleasure as she shares her family’s misadventures
with their four-legged friend. She opens her heart
to us as well, helping us learn memorable lessons
about doing life with more meaning and purpose.
Flash is delightfully different. I loved it!
LIZ CURTIS HIGGS, bestselling author of The Girl’s Still Got It
What a charming, endearing, numinous book—and
donkey! From the first chapter, you will
immediately fall in love with Rachel Anne Ridge
and her beloved Flash. By the last line, your eyes
will be opened to seeing the ways God shows up
and reveals Himself in the most unexpected—and
LISA WHELCHEL, actress and author of The Facts of Life and
Friendship for Grown-Ups
I always stand amazed at God’s infinite creativity.
When Rachel and Tom Ridge faced a financial
crisis, I would have suggested a financial advisor
or career counselor. God chose to send a homeless
donkey. Flash used his considerable donkey charm
to teach the family lessons about service,
faithfulness, purpose, passion, and second chances.
You will laugh (often) at the antics of Flash. You
will be touched by the authenticity of Rachel’s
writing and the depth of the lessons God revealed
through an abandoned donkey with big ears and a
DAVE BURCHETT, author of Stay and When Bad Christians
Happen to Good People
A kick-in-the-pants read! Flash is memoir plus
heartwarming and sometimes stressful animal
story, mixed together with spiritual truth, all
tempered with humor at just the right spots. Though
I live in the suburbs, this made me want to disobey
my neighborhood’s bylaws and get myself a
MARY DEMUTH, author of The Wall around Your Heart
Rachel Ridge has a beautiful ability to take the
common things of life (like words) and craft them
in such a way that they flow like prose and poetry.
Submerging yourself in Flash is to become lost in
a beautiful gallery of her finest art. With each turn
of the page, the master storyteller shares a glimpse
of humor, revelation, and hope. We’d all like to
have a friend like Flash, faithful and
true. I recommend this book to anyone who has
ever needed a true-blue friend, a second chance, or
a fresh perspective.
JAN GREENWOOD, pastor of Gateway Women (Gateway Church)
and author of Women at War
I believe that since Creation, God has used animals
to teach us about ourselves and about our Creator
—if we’ll pay attention. Rachel pays attention, and
so will her readers as they delight in a quirky and
lovable donkey, Flash.
DANDI DALEY MACKALL, author of Winnie the Horse Gentler,
Backyard Horses, and the Starlight Animal Rescue series
What in the world could a donkey teach me about
life? Lots. Why? Because donkeys are simple
creatures who live simple lives. Isn’t simplicity
exactly what so many people are seeking to find
amid their busy and hectic existences? In the pages
of this book, you will find—in the life of Rachel
Anne Ridge and in the life of her surprise pet
donkey—that simplicity is beautiful.
CHRYSTAL HURST, coauthor of Kingdom Woman
Reader, BEWARE! By the end of this book you
will be searching for a donkey for your own
personal growth! From now on, every time I see
one of these marvelous creatures out in the field,
I will think of Flash, and I am sure a smile or
giggle will follow, for this burro of burden is laden
with humor and wisdom. Rachel has dignified a
lowly creature to the point that you think it almost
necessary to fence in your yard, buy some hay, and
wait for the lessons to begin.
TINA WESSON, Survivor: The Australian Outback (Season
I loved this whimsical, vulnerable, and simply
profound book! Rachel tells how a broken, lost,
and stubborn animal awakened her awareness of
God’s voice in her life. Her story gives hope to
anyone who has ever felt inadequate or unseen.
She takes the simple and makes it shine to
encourage the reader to look with a fresh
perspective at the potential God puts in each of us.
PAIGE C. GREENE, director of Adult Events, LifeWay Christian
Bravo to Rachel Ridge for this beautifully written
book that so eloquently reminds us that our
everyday happenings in life can be great lessons
and blessings in disguise from our Maker—even in
the form of a donkey! Two things you will want
when you turn the last page are a donkey in your
yard and Rachel as one of your besties!
CINDY OWEN, Given Entertainment Group
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Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and
Copyright © 2015 by Rachel Anne Ridge. All rights reserved.
Dust jacket photographs of donkey copyright © Thomas Ridge. All rights
Cover photograph of daisy copyright © iava777/Dollarphotoclub. All rights
Weathered wood textures copyright © DanaGarsonDesign. All rights
Unless otherwise noted, all other artwork copyright © Rachel Anne Ridge.
All rights reserved.
Designed by Stephen Vosloo
Edited by Bonne Steffen
Published in association with the literary agency of William K. Jensen
Literary Agency, 119 Bampton Court, Eugene, OR 97404.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy
Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by
Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House
Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James
Version,® copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible,
copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights
Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible, English
Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing
ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Some names and details have been changed for the privacy of the
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ridge, Rachel Anne.
Flash : the homeless donkey who taught me about life, faith, and second
chances / Rachel Anne Ridge.
ISBN 978-1-4143-9783-2 (hc)
1. Animals—Religious aspects—Christianity. 2. Human-animal
relationships. 3. Donkeys—Miscellanea. I. Flash (Donkey) II. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4964-0666-8 (ePub); ISBN 978-1-4143-9788-7 (Kindle); ISBN 9781-4964-0667-5 (Apple)
Build: 2015-04-22 10:53:03
my best friend.
Lauren, Meghan, and Grayson,
my greatest gifts.
Chapter 1: An Unexpected Guest
Chapter 2: What’s in a Name?
Chapter 3: The Arctic Blast
Chapter 4: Flash Runs with Horses
Chapter 5: A Pasture Romance
Chapter 6: Sure and Steady Trails
Chapter 7: A Matter of Paternity
Chapter 8: When the Rain Stopped
Chapter 9: Barn Management
Chapter 10: Change Comes Calling
Chapter 11: Beau
Chapter 12: “That’s Some Donkey”
Chapter 13: An Unlikely Answer
Lessons from Flash
Q&A with Rachel Anne Ridge
About the Author
Good books are like good friends—difficult to
find. Many can look promising at the beginning,
only to disappoint somewhere down the line. Even
when a book is recommended by a person you
trust, you can never be sure you’ll experience the
same connection, that the two of you will hit it off.
Yet sometimes—often for reasons you can’t
quite put a finger on—you choose to open it up,
and open yourself up to it. And every now and
then, you’re surprised and thankful at the warmth,
the joy, the excitement and pleasure you discover
I’ve had the privilege of finding both—good
books and good friends. And I’m giddy with joy to
introduce you to a couple of them.
Rachel came into my life over a decade ago
with a friendship so pure and lasting and impactful
that it has made me a better person. Not in theory
but in real, tangible, practical ways. She’s taught
me how to look for and discover the profound
beauty tucked away in simplicity, the lovely details
that someone else might miss because they’re too
busy or too tired or too self-absorbed to care.
These little nuances of life are Rachel’s
treasures. I’ve watched her take the mundane and
routine, the commonplace and plain, and squeeze
drops of surprising goodness and vitality from
them until everyone in her sphere is saturated with
hope and love. She recreates what others would
discard, turning it into something memorable and
worth capturing. From her perspective, everything
is budding with endless and immense possibility.
So a decade ago when she drove up to an
unkempt 1970s farmhouse, she saw only the
blossoming potential of a cozy, tender place her
family could call home. And she loved it and cared
for it until it was.
Years later, when her second daughter met the
man of her dreams, Rachel transformed a weedfilled, neglected acre of ground into a lush carpet
of greenery arched with luxurious foliage to
welcome 250 guests and a walk down the aisle.
And the reception. Oh, the reception! A
timeworn, misshapen barn became a vintage
paradise hung with chandeliers and dainty,
twinkling white lights that seemed to dance to the
beat of the music, like fluffs of white dandelions,
blown loose from their stems and carried away on
the evening breeze.
This is Rachel’s way. Creating goodness where
there seems to be none in sight.
And so when Flash showed up—when he
sauntered up her quarter-mile driveway, lost,
dazed, frightened, and wondering where his next
meal would come from—he’d just moseyed
unaware into the wide-open arms of grace. Into the
arms of Rachel Ridge. The one who sees beauty
everywhere and in everything. Even in a dirty,
hungry, unwanted, displaced donkey.
He was home.
Rachel and her husband, Tom, looked for
Flash’s owner for a while. I mean, can you blame
them? Who needs a donkey around to brush and
feed and take care of? But then days folded into
weeks, and those weeks disappeared into months,
and suddenly years had gone by—and Flash was a
permanent fixture. Yard art, as she likes to call
him. He morphed from a project into a pet, then
into a passion, and finally . . . into a present.
A gift. First to her, and then from her to you.
And to me.
And the thing is, Flash is a gift. I never thought
I’d be the kind of girl who could warm up to a
donkey, but Flash stole my heart, as well as the
hearts of my three sons, who decided he was their
own personal pet from the very first day. His
penchant for following close behind them with his
soft muzzle nudging the backs of their shoulders,
begging to be rubbed and caressed, is the highlight
of their time with him. Flash keeps his head so
close to theirs that they basically bump. They love
it. They love him. When my boys show up at the
gate and call his name, he comes trotting up
enthusiastically. He’s been looking for them,
waiting for them. And they’ve been waiting for
Turns out we all were and just didn’t know it.
Because with Flash, the life lessons weren’t
long in coming. Rachel would tell me about how
he was always able to escape through the one
solitary hole in his mile-long fence. Or about the
friends he’d made with critters in the next pasture
and his sometimes obstinate refusal to move one
inch, no matter how hard anyone tugged on his
halter. Or his relationship with Beau, the family’s
beautiful yellow Lab, and how they finally made
nice after a long-standing feud.
With each new adventure has come a new
lesson, a new gem to enhance all of our lives.
Images and insights that could easily go unnoticed
by someone less observant and interested. But
Rachel sees all the splendor hidden in these
regular simplicities of life. She captures details
and digs for beauty, paying attention and causing
others to do the same.
Which, by the way, is also the essence of good
And that’s exactly what you are holding in your
hands. Rachel’s good, good writing.
We’re so grateful to Tom and Rachel for
turning an interruption into an opportunity, for
giving a stray donkey a new home and a new name,
for letting Flash into their lives. Because in doing
so, they let him into ours.
And now, Rachel’s letting him into yours.
Every lesson you’ll find tucked into these
pages will make you laugh, just as much as it will
make you learn. And when you turn the final page,
you’ll be surprised to discover you’ve found two
things in one: a good book about a donkey named
Flash, and a good friend in a simple country gal
And you’ll never look at either of them quite
the same again.
The idea had seemed so solid. Or at the very least,
romantic. My husband, Tom, and I launched an art
and mural business in the Dallas–Fort Worth area
during the booming early 2000s. . . . What could
possibly go wrong? Gated communities filled with
European-styled mansions were springing up
everywhere as the good economic times rolled in.
An insatiable demand for the best of everything in
amenities and decor kept us booked for months at a
time creating interior masterpieces for
Not bad for a company that had started as my
little hobby, painting up birdhouses and selling
them in local shops. “Dream Big” was my highly
original, personal motto. And it had been my
dream to make enough money to get my hair
highlighted regularly without dipping into the
family grocery budget. Good grief, those
highlights are expensive. That was about as lofty
as my early goals had been. I stayed home with
three children, desperately needing this creative
outlet, while Tom worked long hours in the
electronics manufacturing field.
When the phone began to ring with requests for
bigger and grander painting projects, suddenly my
hobby became more than I could handle. I needed
help to pull it off, and my husband was just the
person to bring in. Tom loved creating art with me
on nights and weekends, lending his talents and
muscle power, since by now scaffolds and lifting
heavy supplies were involved. As a creative spirit
stuck in a precisely controlled industry, he secretly
longed for a way to leave the corporate treadmill
and do something with his artistic talents. And
when Tom’s job evaporated in an industry
downturn, it appeared to be the perfect time to
launch our dream together.
It had to be divine providence, right?
So it was, indeed, a good moment to start a
venture we had no prior training in. We would
We wanted to create beautiful things and paint
stuff and make people happy. It was a simple
dream. And it worked, mostly. Yes, the cyclical
nature of the housing market challenged us more
than we anticipated. We knew that “feast and
famine” seasons were prerequisites for
entrepreneurial triumph. But doing what we loved
made each day an adventure, and we were thrilled
to wake up and know we were going to make art
that people enjoyed. We had our three kids and our
dog and our dream, and we said, “It is enough.”
For several years, our life was exactly that.
Enough. We reveled in the experience.
Now, cue the foreboding music and enter the
burst of the housing bubble. The reveling turned
It’s an odd thing when success turns to failure.
Life looks a whole lot different when your mind is
constantly concerned with questions like how will
you pay your bills, how will you afford
orthodontia for the kids, and how will you make
rice and beans remotely appealing until the next
paycheck arrives. And, really, would living in a
tent be so bad? You forget to notice the sky and the
clouds and the way the sunlight sparkles on your
daughter’s red hair, and you start noticing that
every other car is a shiny new BMW and how
crowded the fancy restaurants are. At first, you
cannot believe your friends are taking carefree
family vacations to Cancun, but there’s the proof—
pictures of them on Facebook, enjoying their
prosperity. You forget to walk the dog, although it
would do you a world of good to get some
exercise, and you eat fast food because it’s easy
and because slicing up healthy vegetables seems so
complicated. You eliminate frivolity and
spontaneity, not because you don’t have time for
them but because those are luxuries rich people
enjoy, and you know that “getting away for a
weekend” might mean you can’t afford supplies for
your next project.
Mostly, you wonder why God has let you
down, when all you wanted to do was that thing
you thought you were created to do. You feel
cracks forming in places within your soul that once
seemed unshakable. You raise your questions to the
sky, but your prayers plummet, seemingly
unanswered and ignored.
You feel very alone.
Failure wears like a wet wool coat on a
summer day, crushing your frilly party dress of
optimism underneath its weight. Survival and
existence and going through the motions feel like
the best you can do, and sometimes that’s all you
can do. You go to work, you put food on the table,
you help with homework, you smile and cheer at
your kid’s hockey game, you reach for a hand under
the blankets at night, and you grasp at every sweet
moment you can. But beneath the busyness and
activity, you know that something must change—or
you will not survive.
This is exactly where I found myself the night
the donkey showed up.
Tom hit the brakes and brought our ten-year-old
Explorer to an abrupt stop on the gravel. The dust
from the tires blew past us and swirled around the
animal in our headlights, much like smoke in a
It was a donkey. In the middle of our driveway.
“What in the world?” my husband muttered as
we peered through the windshield at the creature
with gigantic ears, caught midchew and looking
every bit as surprised as we did. Just twenty feet in
front of our bumper, he blinked hard into the bright
beams, grass protruding from both sides of his
mouth and those unmistakable ears pricked
forward. We stared at him as he swallowed his
mouthful and stared back at us. Then the ears
swiveled around, and he did an about-face,
heading for the shadows.
I turned to Tom, my nylon jacket rustling
against the seat belt.
“Hey, that’s a . . . that’s a . . .”
“Donkey,” he finished for me. I squeezed my
eyes shut, then opened them quickly, just to be sure.
Yep, still there. Still a donkey. “What on earth is a
donkey doing here?”
Tom leaned forward and squinted through the
darkness at the lumpy shape, which now feasted on
a clump of early spring grass beyond the
headlights. Tom rubbed his chin, assessing the
situation. He put the vehicle in “Park” and reached
a conclusion before I could say anything else.
“Somebody is going to run into that guy if we
don’t catch him,” he said, almost too tired to get
the words out. The narrow, meandering lanes
through the Texas countryside, a shadowy March
night, speeding locals, and a donkey on the loose
. . . it was an accident waiting to happen. And
neither an accident nor a donkey roundup was on
the list of things we wanted to deal with at the end
of a long, hard day.
“Just let him be,” I reasoned. “I’m sure
someone is out looking for him, and they’ll find
him and take him home.” I watched as the stray
donkey plunged his head into another clump, tore
off the grass, and munched away. A neighbor’s
floodlight now illuminated him, and I could see he
was scratched up pretty badly. Maybe he’d already
been in an accident. He probably did need our
help, but still . . . all I could think about was taking
a warm shower and crawling into my pajamas. It
was well past 9:00 p.m., and we hadn’t seen our
kids since breakfast. We were exhausted and ready
to put this awful day behind us.
I thought back to that morning. It began with the
discovery of our client’s girdle and brassiere,
heaped in a pile on her bathroom floor. Yes, let’s
start there. The sturdy shapewear was an awkward
obstacle right in the middle of the room, hampering
our “glamorous” handiwork as we decorated the
cramped space with an Italian countryside scene
and became intimate friends with the toilet in the
process of working around it. Tom finally used a
paint stick to scoop up the undergarments, holding
them at arm’s length and looking away out of
gentlemanly respect as he placed them on the tub
ledge so he could continue the commode
masterpiece. Good grief, it’s hot in here. Why is
the thermostat set so high? And why does
underwear need so much structure?
The day ended under the ceiling dome of the
home’s foyer, balancing on extension ladders and
sweating profusely while we plied our brushes,
adding “just a few more details” requested by the
client at the last minute to a painting we’d already
finished—well beyond the scope of our agreement.
Somewhere in between these two events came the
horrifying realization that this mural project would
not pay the rent.
We were living our dream. Only it had become
Tom and I barely spoke to one another as we
loaded up our ladders and artist supplies to head
home. Our kids, the two who remained under our
roof, had eaten cereal for dinner without us and
were hopefully doing something constructive
without supervision. I had some reassurance that
homework was underway after making several
calls from my precarious perch in the foyer,
carefully inching the cell phone from my right
pocket to my left ear without disturbing my
balance. Like every working parent, I wouldn’t
know for sure until I got home and saw proof.
Grayson, our twelve-year-old son, could be
easily distracted by an elaborate Lego project or
model airplane, two of his current passions
besides ice hockey. Meghan, a senior in high
school, might have spent the whole evening on the
phone, or writing music for her band, or picking
out tomorrow’s outfit. Our oldest daughter, Lauren,
was in the middle of her first year at a nearby
university, studying graphic design and planning a
wedding with her high school sweetheart. Between
the kids’ activities and our workload, life spun like
a wobbly top most days. I couldn’t help the sigh
that escaped my lips.
I pressed my forehead against the cold
passenger window in the Explorer and let fatigue
wash over me. This wasn’t exactly how I’d
envisioned our following-the-dream adventure
playing out. We had come to the part they don’t tell
you about in the motivational books and seminars
—the part about how in the midst of living out your
passion and going for all the marbles, you still
need to eat and pay the rent. Life has a way of
kicking your dream in the pants. Add to the
equation orthodontia for the kids and coming up
with college tuition, and you’ve got something
called a painful reality check.
Driving the potholed roads, Tom and I had
retreated into our separate worlds of silent defeat
and mutual blame. We both needed warm showers
and a good night’s sleep so we could face our
situation with some objectivity in the morning. But
as we turned the Ford onto our dirt-and-gravel
driveway for the final, dusty quarter mile to our
home, there, illuminated by the headlights, was the
We watched him a few minutes more; then Tom
turned off the engine and opened the door. “This
won’t take long, Rachel,” he said over his
shoulder. “Stay right there and keep an eye on him,
and I’ll be right back with a rope to catch him.
We’ll put him in our pasture tonight and find his
owners tomorrow. I don’t want to be responsible
for anyone getting hurt by running into him with a
Obediently, I sat and watched the donkey
continue his voracious feast on the roadside grass.
What a pointless animal, I thought, but, kind of
cute. As promised, Tom quickly returned with a
nylon rope—and a bucket. The donkey, though
suspicious of this human stranger, immediately
became interested in the contents of the container
that Tom shook ever so alluringly, and he stepped
closer to inspect it. Oats!
It was then we made the overconfident
assumption that “this is gonna be easy.”
A classic rookie mistake.
Hey, getting a stray donkey interested in oats is
simple. Getting him roped and convincing him to
follow is . . . not so much. Tom, a tough
outdoorsman with a soft spot for anything in need,
seemed to be up for the task in spite of the long day
of work he’d had. Cautiously, he closed in on the
nervous donkey and gently looped the rope over
his gigantic head and around his neck. In a calm
voice, Tom urged him to cooperate and flashed a
premature thumbs-up at the first tentative steps.
See, it was going to be easy after all!
“Yay!” I mimed, with a dramatic happy face
and my own thumbs-up in reply. I believed the dim
moonlight called for some overacting to properly
convey my encouragement. Suddenly, the small
hooves stopped and dug in. The little guy leaned
back and refused to take another step.
Tom coaxed and gave a gentle tug on the rope.
The donkey balked.
Tom gave him nibbles of oats. He took two
steps forward . . . yes! Then five steps to the side
. . . no! Tom pulled. The donkey pulled harder in
the opposite direction. Clearly, this was not
working as we had hoped.
Tom called me from the sidelines into active
duty. He gave me the rope and went behind the
donkey. With a deep breath, Tom pushed. I pulled.
Tom put his shoulder into the animal’s rump,
braced his feet, and pushed with his legs, while I
pulled even harder.
Not an inch. We dropped our hands to our sides
and began to strategize.
Tom had a brilliant idea. “Let’s switch places,”
he suggested, but I was not so sure.
“He’d better not have gas!” I moved to the rear
and planted my tennis shoes as far away as
possible to stay clear of any kicks and possible
flatulence, while Tom took hold of the rope at the
donkey’s head. Still no progress. The animal
would not budge. He simply looked at us through
heavy-lidded eyes as if to say, “Go ahead, keep
trying. This is entertaining.” He chewed on the oats
like he had all the time in the world.
To our exasperation, all the coaxing, leading,
pulling, enticing, and demanding resulted in the
donkey only getting farther from our pasture gate
than where we had started.
By now, the wind had picked up, and the
branches on the trees swayed in an eerie dance that
spooked the long-eared intruder. He bolted into a
nearby yard, pulling Tom into a run alongside him,
my poor husband hanging on to the rope for dear
life. A bathrobe-clad neighbor came out to see the
ruckus, and she and I stood with our backs to the
wind as the cat-and-mouse game continued its
spectacle. Three steps forward, two steps back.
One step forward, three steps to the side. Cajoling,
pushing, pleading, chasing. Mercy, it was hard not
to laugh. But when I saw Tom rip the baseball cap
off his head and throw it in frustration, I stifled my
snicker. His small act of kindness had become a
sheer battle of the wills. This. Was. War.
Respectfully, I got back into the parked Explorer,
pulled a granola bar from my purse, and settled in
for the rest of the show.
I watched as they slowly made their way down
the blacktop road and back toward our long
driveway. A yard lamp backlit their bodies into
black silhouettes, and it was then that I laughed out
loud. There was Tom’s dark shape, straining hard
on the rope until his body practically paralleled the
ground. And there stretched the donkey’s dark
shape, front legs locked, neck drawn forward, and
back end sitting down in defiance. It looked just
like an old velvet painting I’d once seen of a
silhouetted boy and stubborn donkey in the same
pose. How I wished I had bought that classic
painting for this very moment in time.
Finally Tom found a rhythm the donkey could
cooperate with, and the two moved down the
driveway, which went across a pond’s dam and
through a tunnel of swaying trees. With one arm
around his opponent’s neck while talking quietly
into one of those big ears, Tom leaned into the
animal and knocked one knee out from under him.
As the donkey tried to catch his balance, Tom took
advantage of the forward movement and pulled him
an extra couple of steps. By fits and starts, the duo
arrived at the pasture, and Tom closed the gate on
the skinny-rumped creature—three hours later.
“Done!” he said. “I can’t wait to get rid of him
tomorrow. That was one of the worst experiences
of my life! We’ll call the county sheriff first thing
in the morning.”
By the light of day, Tom and I, along with Meghan
and Grayson, gathered in the pasture to take a good
look at our unwilling guest.
He was a mess.
Mud and scabs caked his shaggy winter hair
into an ugly, matted coat. Fresh gashes from barbed
wire fences seemed to be everywhere, from head
to hoof, oozing and bleeding. The scratches
crisscrossed his face and legs, with a four-inch
slice that went deep into the flesh of his barrel
chest. The wounds needed immediate attention, so
we cleaned and dressed them with ointment as the
donkey trembled inside our three-sided barn.
Although it seemed as if he knew our efforts were
meant to help him, he allowed only brief touches
before skittishly moving just beyond our reach. His
lips quivered, and his tail swished nervously. We
moved in slow motion, using hushed voices as we
“It’s okay, donkey. You’re okay,” we reassured
him. What else had he experienced before his
sudden arrival here? We wondered aloud about his
Under the mud, he was a light brownish-gray
color, with a white muzzle that looked as if it had
been dipped in a deep bucket of buttermilk. A
matching creamy-white color circled his big
brown eyes and covered the underside of his belly
with soft hair. With faint stripes adorning sturdy
legs, he stood no taller than four feet at the
shoulder. How can an animal this compact be so
difficult to manage? The daylight made him seem
so . . . well, compliant.
A wispy mane trickled down a broad neck, and
his tail, unlike a horse’s, was a strong shaft of
muscle and bone with long strands of coarse hair
starting partway down. A long, dark stripe down
the center of his back began at his mane and
disappeared into his tail. Up close, his ears were
even bigger than I’d remembered from the night
before. Thick and mobile, they were never pointing
the same direction for very long. The caramelcolored fuzz that covered them was outlined by
dark hair around the edges and tufted with cream
on the insides. His straight black eyelashes made
his eyes seem a little sad, or maybe it was just the
way his large head drooped that gave him such a
“Oh look!” Grayson pointed out in delight from
his perch on the fence. “He has a cross on his
back!” A chocolate-brown pattern of hair
emblazoned across his shoulders distinctly
intersected the dark stripe down his back. Legend
has it that every donkey bears the symbol of Christ,
in honor of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem
before His crucifixion. Seeing a donkey face-toface for the first time certainly brought the biblical
story to mind. Our eyes lingered on this marking
and then wandered to his many wounds. He was,
as we say in Texas, “tore up.”
Tom put his arm across Grayson’s shoulders as
we made our way through the tall grass back to the
house, while Meghan stayed to keep the donkey
company. A creature lover since she was a toddler,
Meghan once claimed the ability to talk to animals.
Although this one was much larger than the
hamsters and parakeets she’d communicated with
before, he still looked as if he needed a friend.
She sat on a wooden step in the barn near the
shy donkey, chin in hand, and listened to the birds
sing in the rafters as she watched him. With wary
eyes on her, the donkey kept his distance but
lingered in the barn, rather than making for the
pasture beyond. After some minutes had ticked by,
he took one hesitant step toward the slim,
redheaded girl, then paused as if thinking.
Then another step. A little closer.
A fly buzzed.
“It’s okay, buddy,” Meghan murmured. She
turned a palm up in silent beckoning.
And another step.
A long minute. Ears twitching. Blowing hard.
The chirping birds oblivious to the slow dance
“I won’t hurt you.”
“You’re safe now.”
A little closer still . . . until his tentative
nostrils touched her knees.
“It’s all right.”
He sniffed her scent and paused again. His long
ears turned forward. Tail swished the fly. Finally,
he closed his eyes and took one last step, resting
his giant head in her lap with a deep donkey sigh.
Meghan’s hand came up and gently stroked his face
and ears. She scratched his neck and whispered
softly to him. His lower lip sagged sleepily as he
relaxed for the first time since his arrival. The
donkey and girl stayed just so for a long while, his
head heavy on her legs as she caressed him and
gently untangled his scraggly mane.
I was in the kitchen when Meghan came
bursting through the door. “Oh Momma! He’s
sweet!” she exclaimed as she described the quiet
moments in the barn. She finished with a
breathless, “Can we keep him, pleeze??”
Drying my hands on a towel, I looked at her
pleading expression. I should have known this was
coming. Here we go. Don’t you start begging for a
donkey. Sweet or not, we knew he had to belong to
someone. Surely. I mean, how can a person
misplace a donkey, for heaven’s sake? His owners
must be looking for him.
“Meggie, you can’t let yourself get attached to
him. You know he’s not going to be here long.” I
smoothed the disappointment from her forehead
and continued. “He’s going to be on his way just as
soon as we find out where he belongs, and I don’t
want you to get your heart broken when he leaves.”
“But what if nobody claims him?” she
appealed. “Then can we keep him?”
“Honey, I don’t think we are ‘donkey people.’
We don’t know the first thing about them. We
certainly don’t have any use for one. And besides,
I think you’re getting ahead of yourself. We need to
do what we can to find his home before we start
making any plans.” But in my mind, I’d already
been wondering the same thing.
Just then, we heard noise from outside, near the
pasture gate. We hurried to see what the fuss was
about and found our yellow Lab, Beau, wagging
his entire body as he barked and whined in
excitement. A new friend! He could hardly contain
his joy. The donkey, who had left the barn and
ventured toward the house, looked up in surprise.
“Beau is anxious to say hello,” Grayson said as
he came from around the corner and attempted to
grab Beau’s collar to calm him. But the onehundred-pound dog had already squeezed his
slobbery self under the gate and loped across the
open space to where the donkey stood, frozen in
alarm. Beau’s hefty tail worked from side to side
as he approached the donkey with shameless
curiosity and wiggly welcome.
For a split second the donkey held still, taking
him in. Then, like a bolt of lightning, he whirled
around and struck out with his back left hoof.
Yelping in shock, Beau came to an abrupt skid on
his haunches. The donkey turned and lowered his
head, breathing heavily, while Beau backed up and
let out a whimper. The two locked eyes as they
circled one another. Donkey: ears flat, head low,
nostrils flared. Dog: ears forward, hair raised,
nose twitching. The hoof had missed Beau’s chest,
but the message it delivered was clear: Stay away.
Rebuffed, the dog finally returned to the gate,
looking over his shoulder with his tail tucked and
eyes filled with confusion. Poor Beau. He’d never
been rejected so soundly in his whole life!
“Beau needs to learn to slow down a little,” I
said as we huddled over the dog to comfort him. I
looked back to see the donkey, still breathing hard
and agitated. “He scared the poor guy half to death
with all that energy!” Too much, too soon.
That week, we went into action. We posted signs,
contacted authorities, and checked with local feed
stores. We looked for the donkey’s owner high and
low. But no one seemed to be missing a donkey. It
was like he appeared out of thin air. Onto our
property. Like a rabbit out of a hat.
When the county sheriff stopped by our house,
we learned that our situation was far from unique:
People simply abandoned their donkeys along
country roads when they tired of caring for them,
given that the animals have life spans of thirty or
forty years. Droughts always bring high numbers of
strays, and we were in the middle of a bad one.
Many people can’t afford to keep these cute-butgrass-consuming animals who compete for grazing
land with cattle, so they dump them off. Without so
much as a second thought.
“Yep, novelty wears off real quick,” the sheriff
said in his Texas drawl. “Ya see a lotta sad cases
out here.” He adjusted his wide-brimmed hat and
looked at the donkey. “Now, this fella here is
young. He’s not even a mature male, if you know
what I mean.” He cleared his throat as we digested
the meaning of “mature male” and glanced
underneath his thin belly to see what the sheriff
was talking about. Aah, yes.
The lawman’s thick mustache twitched as he
continued. “It’s pretty typical to see males let loose
like this. You don’t see the females as often
because they’re better at keeping coyotes away
from cattle and goats, but these jacks . . . well, I
can’t even get five dollars for ’em at auction.
Nobody wants ’em. Basically, they’re worthless
“But what happens to them if no one takes them
from your auction?” I asked, not wanting to know
He paused for a moment. “We try to find a
rescue organization that will take ’em. There are
some reputable ones around, and they do a good
job taking these guys off our hands. Problem is,
right now, they’re filled up over their capacity, and
it’s tough to place these new strays. Ya hate to
think what could happen, but the reality is the state
can’t afford to keep feeding ’em indefinitely.”
The donkey’s ears twitched toward us, as if
eavesdropping on the discussion of his fate.
Horrified that he might have overheard, I
looked at Tom for support and suggested, “How
about if we just keep him here until his owners
contact your office?” Tom nodded in agreement,
and the sheriff beamed.
“Sounds good. Real good. Now, I’ve got three
other jacks in my custody . . .” He trailed off,
bushy eyebrows raised in an unspoken question.
Tom hurriedly thanked him for his time and
said we’d look forward to his call. We parted
ways before this whole rescue thing got even more
out of hand.
The weeks stretched on, and Lauren, our oldest
redhead, came home from college to finish
planning her wedding to Robert. It was just a
couple of months away, and we had some work to
do in order to pull it off. With the five of us all
together, we felt like a complete circle once again,
a little family staying afloat on a swift river of
painting projects and dress fittings. Somehow we
limped through the financial disaster that had
loomed the night the donkey showed up, and we
were managing to barter, trade, and “do it
yourself” through the wedding details. Our
problems were far from solved, but we did our
best to pretend they didn’t exist. At least for now.
A warm stillness hung in the air as we gathered
at the fence to look at this wounded, and apparently
worthless, stray who had given rescue such a fight.
His sores had not yet healed, but he looked
remarkably good in spite of the two permanent
scars across his nose. Already his thin stomach
was filling out, and his patchy hair, without all the
burrs and scabs, felt soft under our touch.
There had been no response whatsoever to our
search for his owner, and we knew a decision
needed to be made. We could turn him over to the
county and some unknown future, or we could
provide a home for him, at least for now.
Obviously, the three kids and I would launch an
all-out campaign to keep him.
“Look at him out there. He is pretty sweet,” we
pointed out. He nibbled daintily on the green
blades of grass and swatted flies with that funny
tail of his. He seemed . . . perfectly innocuous.
Tom was having none of this “permanence”
thing, and it seemed he had Beau on his side. “I’ve
seen the dark side of him,” he rebutted,
remembering that first night. “He’s impossible to
handle, and he’s stubborn and obviously not very
bright. And Beau hates him—don’t you, Beau?” At
that, the donkey looked up and gave a snort. He
shook his long ears so they flapped together in a
kind of ear-clap as if he were replying, “Hey, now!
I heard that.”
Beau barked in return. He didn’t exactly hate
the donkey after their first encounter. However, the
donkey seemed to hate him. They weren’t any
closer to friendship, and in fact, they appeared to
be in an animal standoff. But I had faith. After all,
no one can hate a good yellow Lab. And who
could resist such an adorable donkey? I was sure
they just needed time to bond. Perhaps Beau could
learn to be less extroverted, giving the donkey a
chance to see beyond the teeth and tail to the warm
heart that was just a bit overeager. Their
relationship would take some work.
The kids picked up the lobbying. “Dad, we
Googled ‘donkey care’ and found out that donkeys
are pretty low maintenance. They don’t need
expensive food, they don’t require extra special
care, and all they really need is shelter in bad
weather. Which we already have.” They pointed to
the barn, unused except for storage.
“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure it’s not as simple
as that. It never is. I think a little more research is
in order, guys. We just don’t need another mouth to
feed,” Tom volleyed, mindful of our precarious
bank balance. “Think of the vet bills and hay.
I mean, look at him out there. He’s a pig. He’s
going to require a lot of food at the rate he’s
going.” Then he pulled out the reasoning every
parent gives to every child at some point in their
lives: “You kids can’t remember to feed the dog,
much less a donkey, so don’t expect me to take
care of him for you. We’re not keeping him,
Tom did have a point about not remembering to
feed the dog; they couldn’t argue that. But of course
they insisted that this would be completely
different. Despite his tough talk, I’d seen Tom out
there trying to befriend the scruffy donkey when he
thought no one was looking. Day after day, he sat
on a camp chair in the middle of the pasture for
long periods of time. He brought a book to read, or
watched the birds, or looked at some imaginary
point in the distance, in hopes that the donkey
would simply become comfortable in his presence.
It was as if Tom instinctively knew (unlike Beau)
to leave the pace of trust up to the donkey.
At first, the donkey had given the man in the
chair a wide berth, grazing in a perimeter far
beyond his reach. He shied back from any sudden
movement of Tom’s arms. Every now and then he’d
look over at Tom, all the while chewing, taking
him in, assessing.
Had the donkey been mistreated at the hands of
a man in previous encounters? If only he could tell
us. I could see that the donkey’s resistance to our
rescue had been rooted in some kind of fear, and it
broke my heart to think that someone could hurt
such a sweet animal.
Gradually, the donkey’s self-designated
perimeter around Tom’s chair grew smaller. He
inched nearer. And one afternoon, as Tom read his
book, he heard the grass rustle behind him. He felt
a nose on his shoulder. A sniff on his neck. Lips
gently nibbling his collar.
“Hey, Donkey Boy.” Tom’s voice was soft,
calm. “That’s a good boy. That’s a good boy.”
He slowly lifted his hand and cupped the
donkey’s head. The wall began to crumble.
Brave enough now to come near for a carrot
and gentle petting, he still seemed so vulnerable.
And was it me, or did his soft brown eyes seem
slightly hopeful? Perhaps I was projecting.
“What do the neighbors think about his
braying?” Lauren asked, breaking a twig off the
tree by the fence. “I actually heard him from way
down the road the other day! Sounded like
someone was being killed over here.”
Right on cue, the donkey lifted his head and
began heaving his sides. His lips pulled back to
reveal a big set of teeth as a foghorn-like sound
exploded from his mouth. HEE-haw, HEE-haw,
HEE-haw, haw, haw. I suppose it could be
disturbing if you weren’t used to it, but in truth, I
loved hearing his bray because it reminded me of
growing up in Mexico as a missionary kid. We’d
lived there off and on during my growing-up years.
Burros were everywhere, carrying loads of sticks,
pulling carts, and posing in their colorful, fringed
halters with tourists. I thought they were such
beautiful creatures, and I’d try to imitate their
brays as we drove past, sticking my head out the
car window and letting out a HEE-haw! in what I
thought was a friendly overture. Not one of them
ever seemed remotely impressed, but that didn’t
keep me from trying.
As the donkey’s bray subsided, we considered
the pros and cons of keeping him.
“We probably wouldn’t ride him, like we
would a real horse, would we?” asked Grayson.
“I guess you could, but it seems like it would
be a really slow ride,” Tom replied. “Plus, we’d
have to train him, and we don’t know anything
True, true. Nods all around.
“What if we put him to work around here?”
Meghan offered. “We could plant a big garden, and
he could pull a plow.”
We thought about that for a minute.
“Nah. That would never happen.”
“Too bad we don’t have a mine,” I laughed.
“He could haul wagonloads of gold, and we could
all be rich.”
Our chuckles subsided, and I could see that
Tom was just one good reason away from letting
him stay. Think, family, think.
“Well, he’s fun to look at,” said Grayson,
glancing up at his dad.
“Yes! Yes, he is!” we chimed in. “Very fun to
look at! And nice to talk about!”
“You mean he’s a conversation piece?” Tom’s
voice had softened with his smile at the thought.
“Yeah, like what if we had some weird
relatives from the city over, and we didn’t have
anything to talk about? We could always just bring
them out here to see the donkey, and they’d
probably love it.” Grayson was making a solid
case here. Just needed one final push . . .
“I bet we could get ten minutes of conversation
out of it,” Lauren said in support. “Possibly fifteen.
People would find him really interesting.” Four
pairs of eyes turned toward Tom with laser-like
“Ah, excellent point. I guess you could say he
makes good yard art,” Tom conceded as he opened
the gate and stepped close to the donkey. Still
moving slowly around him, Tom reached forward
to rub the insides of his ears. I felt in my pocket for
the carrot slice that I’d brought from the kitchen.
“Listen, you guys.” He took a breath. “We can
keep him if . . .”
The cheers from the group nearly drowned the
provisional addendum he was about to tack on.
“Ahem!” Tom regained our attention by
quashing our congratulatory noise with his hand
motions. “As I was saying, we can keep him . . . if
he is indeed as low maintenance as you say he will
be, if he does not eat too much, and if he is an
upstanding citizen around here.”
Simple! Piece of cake! We’ve got this! We
went back to cheering, and naturally, our
exuberance spooked the donkey in question. With a
toss of his head, and hind legs bucking, he spun
around and trotted for the far corner of the pasture,
but not before snatching the carrot from my hand in
a greedy chomp.
Beau barked his opposition to the arrangement,
possibly the last voice of reason.
Something told me this was not going to be as
simple as I thought.
The donkey’s temporary citizenship gave both Tom
and me a mental reprieve from our worries. And it
helped me avoid the feeling of defeat that had
settled in my stomach, like a wad of cookie dough,
which is always a huge mistake to eat in the first
place. Watching our new resident become familiar
with his home, and learn to trust us in the process,
provided a relief valve, not to mention a favorite
topic of dinner conversation.
“Hey, have you noticed how the donkey can
reach almost every part of his body with his teeth,
to scratch wherever he itches? Pass the butter,
“I know! I saw him reach underneath his tail
today. He bent completely in half, backward,
flipped up his tail, and started scratching it! Rolls,
“Seriously, I think he is double-jointed or
something. More spaghetti, thank you.”
We quickly learned to watch his velvety ears,
which moved constantly. Pricked forward showed
his interest and inquisitive nature. Facing
backward meant he was afraid, uncertain,
displeased. One forward and one back . . . well, it
called for interpretation, especially when
accompanied by a hoof stomp or tail swish. His
ears were a key part of his communication—
a silent form of expression that delighted us.
We began to educate ourselves about donkey
care: what kind of diet was best, how to groom
him, how to care for his hooves, which vaccines
he’d need. Our pasture, labeled “unimproved” by
the county, was perfect for this animal who was
made for arid desert life. The tough native grasses
in our six-acre pasture, baked by the Texas sun and
blown by incessant winds, would provide enough
nutritional roughage without being too rich. The
back section of the fenced area included woods
that he could use for shade and foraging. He would
need little supplemental feed, except perhaps in
winter months, or in the peak of summer scorchers,
when grass withered to brown dust. There was
more to learn than we thought, but the donkey’s
gentle temperament invited our attention and
Since he had worked his way into our barn and
our hearts, we knew it was time to give him a real
name. In our family’s history, we’d ceremoniously
christened a succession of pets: Checkers, the
springer spaniel with brown and white markings;
Buttons and Twix, handsome cat brothers; Wilson,
the parakeet we rescued when we found him
bouncing across the street like a tennis ball. And
there was Angel, the red-tailed hawk Tom once
had when he practiced falconry. Even the gerbils
and fish had fancy names bestowed upon them
during their brief lives in our care.
The challenge had always been to find a
moniker that would fit each animal’s personality,
yet wouldn’t cause embarrassment if we had to
yell the name in public. Over the years, Tom, on
the grounds of his manhood, vetoed cutesy names
like “Schmoozy,” “Fluffy,” and “Snookums” for
our family menagerie, and we agreed it was a
reasonable enough guideline to follow. You
shouldn’t make a guy who’s most comfortable in
camouflage have a pet whose name suggests it
should be carried inside a pink purse.
“So what do you think we should call him?” I
asked Tom, whose reflection I caught in the mirror
while I did double duty—brushing my teeth and
inspecting the crow’s-feet around my eyes.
“Should we go with something comical since he is,
after all, a donkey for crying out loud? Or should
we find something sort of stately?” We had never
had much trouble deciding with our other pets, but
for whatever reason, this was quite the dilemma.
Tom sat on the bed and put on his work shoes.
“Not to confuse things, but since we live in Texas,
there’s also an abundance of Spanish names we
“That’s true!” He knew how much I loved
those burros from my childhood. This was getting
more complicated by the minute.
We spent some time tossing around various
ideas but decided to keep thinking as we went on
with our day.
While up on scaffolding, we moved on to the
silly: Brae, Harry, Eeyore.
“Having a donkey is fun, but he’s not something
I want to make fun of,” Tom objected, dipping his
brush into blue paint and wiping the excess on the
rim of the can. We crossed those names off our list.
The business of naming him came up at all
hours of the day. In the evening, over a mass of
open Bride magazines and popcorn, the girls
suggested something more serious, more dignified.
“What about Jefferson, or Winston? Henry?
Roosevelt?” Better, but still not right.
Maybe some biblical inspiration? At bedtime,
we considered Balaam; Ichabod; and Jonah,
Micah, and all the other minor prophets.
No matter what we tried, nothing seemed to fit.
He was the Nameless Braying One of the Pasture,
and it bothered us. The weeks drifted by with no
“We can’t just keep calling him ‘Donkey
Boy,’” I said as Tom and I unloaded ladders into
the barn one afternoon. “It seems a little
impersonal, and just slightly like we don’t care.”
We stopped to watch him mosey along, enjoying
the sunshine, his hooves dragging from one end of
the field to the other.
“I know. But the right name is important. You
don’t want to mess that up, even for a donkey that
we couldn’t get five dollars for.” Tom winked and
threw an arm over my shoulder, then quickly
removed it in the sticky heat. “You know,” he
reflected, “that guy is never in a hurry. It’s like he’s
in a time warp. He could never get anywhere in a
We looked at each other, and the light dawned.
Flash! That was it!
Flash. As in a speeding superhero who comes
to the rescue of one in distress. We chuckled at the
thought of our new donkey in a mask emblazoned
with lightning bolts, stopping to take a nap en route
to thwarting a crisis. Yes, it was perfect. The kids
As soon as Flash was named, we knew without
saying that his probation had ended and he could
now be considered a bona fide member of the
family. We walked right into it, eyes wide open.
Here’s a piece of advice that comes free with
this book: Rescuer, beware. As soon as you name a
stray animal, it’s yours. For better or for worse.
Yours, baby. You need to think about that the next
time you pick up a stray kitty and start calling her
“Pookie” while you’re trying to find a home for
her. Face it—Pookie is yours, and she became
yours the minute you pronounced those two
Flash was ours for keeps, and we fell in love
with him. He shed his shaggy winter hair, revealing
a smooth, gray-brown coat that made him look
positively sleek. Even his ears lost most of their
wool and became silky soft, especially at their
base near the knob on the top of his head. He loved
having the insides of these long, tubular
appendages rubbed and looked forward to any
attention that came his way.
Being groomed became his favorite pastime,
and I used it as a bonding opportunity, talking to
him as I worked the brush over his body. He
seemed interested in my chatter, so I filled him in
on our projects, kept him abreast of our family
activities, and told him whatever came to my mind.
His ears followed my voice, turning this way and
that, and he’d nod every now and then, suggesting
his response: “Go on, tell me more.” I quickly
realized he was the perfect listener, the kind who
makes you feel he has all the time in the world for
your story. Whenever the currycomb came out, he
relaxed into a puddle of equine bliss. You could
almost see him smile. Flash’s shyness slowly
melted away, and we began to see glimpses of an
Flash made himself at home at our place. Our
yellow, 1970s barn-shaped house, properly
deemed “gambrel style,” sat next to his new
pasture and gave us a prime view of his activities.
He had it made: an abundance of wide-open space
to aimlessly wander under a big sky, a barn for
shelter, and two acres of shady woods to explore.
Four years earlier, when we had found the
property through an ad in the paper, we had no use
for most of it, except to store supplies in the empty
barn. We gladly abandoned our suburban life and
set about making the rented fixer-upper our home
—on a dime, of course. Though just twenty miles
outside of the Dallas metroplex, it felt like a world
away from the city.
The quarter-mile driveway wound atop a dam,
past a pond, and through some woods before
coming around to the house in a clearing. The
“charming farmhouse” (as described in the paper)
contained some strange features, such as a toilet
crammed so close to the wall that it required
sidesaddle positioning and a sense of humor to
make it work. But once we replaced the carpet and
painted the antiseptic, white semigloss walls and
ceilings with pleasant new colors, it felt like a real
The kids’ bedrooms were nestled under the
sloping eaves of the barnlike roof and had dormer
window seats—perfect spots for daydreaming,
which we encouraged. Though tiny, the kitchen had
plenty of faux wood countertops and enough
cabinet space for all our cookware. As I washed
dishes, I could look out the window to an everchanging view of grasses and wildflowers in a
field that sloped down to a wooded creek bed.
Mighty bur oaks, red oaks, and cedars filled
the woods and transformed with the seasons,
providing an endless array of beauty. We’ve been
starved for this. We soaked it in. Granted, the
septic system backed up regularly, and almost
every fixture needed replacing. But those were
small hindrances. Our family could breathe here,
and the eighteen acres of land that came with the
house was more than we could have hoped for. It
became our sanctuary in the midst of our tightrope
walk of financial insecurity. We had no money, but
the view was priceless.
With his calm presence gracing the property,
Flash seemed to complete our new lifestyle. It just
felt right to have hay bales on hand for our
“livestock,” to check fences for needed repairs,
and to pet an eager nose over the gate. Even Beau
seemed to resign himself to sharing our affection
with another animal, although he made a point to
bark at Flash whenever he could.
We had only had Flash for a couple of months
when our landlords stopped by to visit. They’d just
moved into an old cottage that was on the same
property we rented from them, which now made us
neighbors. A Louisiana–born-and-bred blonde
belle, Bridgette made a striking contrast to her
husband, Steve, a tall, bearded Midwesterner.
Where Bridgette was vivacious and talkative,
Steve was reserved and quiet. While Steve
favored flannel shirts and jeans, Bridgette always
looked as if she’d stepped out of a fashion
magazine, her athletic figure accentuated by slim
skirts and fitted blouses. Bridgette had pioneered a
prestigious architectural design firm in Dallas and
represented everything I was not: beautiful,
educated, confident, successful, worldly, fit,
stylish, professional. I avoided her as
often as possible. Which was not easy, since they
now neighbored us.
Bridgette and Steve had recently married and
shed their fabulous careers and chic downtown
Dallas loft to strike out on their own as
entrepreneurs. Everything about them was cool—
even the fact they had downsized to the small
house on the property. They designed corporate
spaces from their front porch by day and worked in
their organic garden in the evenings. I’m quite sure
they loved hummus and knew all about fine wines.
Beneath the shade of the cedar trees that lined
the pasture, we chitchatted about the weather and
caught up on the neighborhood news. Just then,
Flash meandered up to the gate, looking for an ear
“Have you met our new donkey?” I asked,
turning to see if they were impressed.
“Oh, we’ve already made friends with this
guy,” Bridgette drawled as she reached forward,
her expensive bracelets clanking. “Idn’t he jus’
adorable! We jus’ love him.”
We smiled like proud new parents, pleased
with their progeny. Yes, Flash was a real member
of the family. A keeper. We started to gush about
his emerging qualities, but what we heard next
silenced the words on our lips.
“And guess what!” Bridgette continued,
enthusiasm spilling. “We’ve given him the perfect
Our smiles froze in place. Wait. You’ve done
She paused dramatically as we stared, wideeyed in disbelief. With a flourish, she went for the
Big Reveal. “His name is . . . Hay-soos! You
know, it’s a Spaynish name!” She clapped her
hands together in delight. “Idn’t that perfect?”
Perfect? No, not in the least. Jesús, while a
common name in Spanish, would never be used for
my donkey, who already had a name: Flash.
“Well, hi, Hay-soos! How ya doin’?” she
greeted Flash as he nosed in for more affection.
She pronounced “hi” like “hah,” and it suddenly
grated on my nerves. Flash clearly did not share
my misgivings about this name because he homed
right in on the attention.
So pleased with their excellent naming of our
animal, these well-meaning neighbors seemed
oblivious to our awkward protest that he’d already
been named Flash. By us. His owners. The people
he belongs to. The ones who own him. Yeah. Nope,
they just kept talking.
“Hay-soos is so entertaining! We just love
giving him carrots over the fence and tickling those
big ol’ lips of his!” They laughed, throwing their
heads back in delight. But all we could hear was
“Hay-soos this” and “Hay-soos that,” and each
time, we became more annoyed.
The nerve. To name someone else’s pet. Why,
I’d never dream of going over to their house and
presuming to rename one of their fancy cats. My
I heard Miss Southern Belle, Bridgette, calling
Flash from her backyard. “Yoo-hoo! Hah, Haysoos! Come heah, darlin!” she cooed. I closed my
eyes and clenched my teeth.
“Don’t go, Flash. Don’t go over there. Don’t
answer to that!” I sent thought waves to
encapsulate my new donkey in a protective mental
force field, willing him to stay away.
But no. Uh-uh. Flash appeared to be
completely over his initial shyness as he trotted
over to the fence, happy as a clam to respond to his
alias—especially if there were carrots involved.
Day after day, I watched in disgust as he sold his
dignity for a handout. Flash, where is your selfrespect?
This could mean only one thing: war. A subtle
war. I hitched up my mom jeans and applied some
lipstick. A shot of hair spray. Ready.
I dropped Flash’s name into every
conversation with our neighbors, whether it fit the
context or not.
“Nice weather we’re having! Flash sure is
enjoying it.” I emphasized his name with just a
little edge and waited for their response, which
“Oh, what a lovely outfit you’re wearing. I
should call Flash over here to admire it.”
“I hear there’s a new movie coming out. I sure
wish I could take Flash to see it.”
I made a point of correcting every mention of
the unmentionable name I heard. But, having been
raised in church, I did it only in the nicest,
sweetest way possible, so as to keep my Christian
Bridgette said, “I just loove to heah Hay-soos
bray! He just makes me happy.”
“Oh, I know.” I smiled. “Flash can certainly
make some noise. Flash is so silly. Flash really
likes to hear himself.” My strategy seemed to fall
on deaf ears.
Undaunted, I employed another tactic: I spoke
directly to Flash himself. He obviously needed a
good talking-to so he would stop running over to
Bridgette every time she called him by that other
name. Not his real name. The name that somebody
else dubbed him.
I took my donkey’s shaggy head into my hands
and looked into his warm, brown eyes. He flared
his nostrils and gave me an innocent look in return.
His muzzle hairs poked in all directions, giving
him an extra boost of audaciousness.
“Flash,” I said. “Baby, you’ve got to stop this
business of responding to ‘Hay-soos’ every time
you hear it, when that is not your name. You
already have a name: Flash. It’s Flash, because I
own you, and I’m the only one who has the right to
name you. Other people can call you any other
name in the book, but get this straight: That’s not
your name. You belong to me. You are mine.
Therefore, whatever name I’ve given you—that’s
I saw a spark of understanding in his
expression, so I let him go. But not without one last
mom glare and a two-finger point from my eyes to
his and back again that told him I meant business. I
wanted to see a change in his behavior, and that
was that. He lowered his head and kicked the dirt.
Yes, he obviously understood.
Now if I could only get over feeling
intimidated by our wildly successful neighbors and
flat out tell Bridgette and Steve to knock it off. But
I somehow couldn’t bring myself to confront them.
I felt fine with light, brief conversation and thinly
veiled hints, but I’d seen Bridgette’s website with
her impressive bio, the list of prestigious boards
she served on, and the glossy photographs of all
her high-end corporate architectural designs . . .
and the words just stuck in my throat. My paintsplattered work clothes, the Ford Explorer with
fading paint, and the postdated rent check only
reinforced that they were way out of our league.
In truth, this little spat over Flash’s name had
brought up insecurities I’d been trying to squelch.
The change in our location and scenery hadn’t
changed the fact that I was coming up short on all
fronts and that my failures kept bubbling over, no
matter how hard I tried to keep a lid on them. The
razor-thin edge of the will-we-or-won’t-we-makeit pursuit of our artistic dreams seemed to amplify
my shortcomings. Being confronted with a
gorgeous couple who seemed to have it all only
made my flaws all the more obvious.
But I couldn’t think about that now. I needed to
paint a princess-themed nursery for a client, and I
hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to get it
done in the time I’d allotted. I rushed to sketch the
design on the wall and quickly lost myself in the
“Mom, did you forget to pick me up?”
Grayson’s voice on my cell phone brought me
scrambling down my ladder at the job site and
hurrying to the truck in a fit of panic. How could it
be 4:30 already? He’d been waiting an hour for
“I’ll be right there, Gray. I’m so sorry! I forgot
about the time.” How could I have been so
thoughtless? It was Grayson’s first day of middle
school; I’d vowed that on this day I would start
doing a better job of staying organized, and I’d
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!” I chided myself as I
sped the seventy miles from the job site to his
school. “I am so stupid!” I arrived an hour later to
find him sitting in the darkened school office, a
secretary keeping him company as the poor kid
waited for his negligent mom to come. Happy first
day of sixth grade, son. Mommy loves you. She
just forgot about you.
My failures as a mother stacked up relentlessly.
I remembered how I used to have a nice dinner on
the table at a decent time, and how I kept the house
picked up and tended our children’s needs with
focus and energy. These days, keeping our heads
above water meant putting in long work hours.
Loading ladders and equipment each day exhausted
me, and my evening hours were spent planning and
sketching upcoming projects.
On the one hand, I enjoyed the work and loved
the creativity, but I was a distracted parent, and
one with a short temper, at best. I missed the
simpler days, when my goals as a mother had been
clear and I had the time to be intentional in my
parenting. I hated pulling shirts from the bottom of
the clothes hamper and fluffing them in the dryer
with antistatic sheets, trying to pass them off as
clean. This system fooled nobody. Chipping frozen
ground beef in the frying pan while my hungry
family gnawed on chips at 8:00 p.m. demoralized
me. Bedtime devotions with the kids? Ha.
“Inadequate.” I dug the word into my journal
with my pen, tearing the pages with the force. My
distractedness, my inability to complete a task, my
failure to see the things that were important to my
husband—it was a recurring theme in our marriage
when things got tough.
We are fortunate; our conflicts are few and far
between. But when we have them, it seems they
center on differences in priorities, and I take it
hard. He’s the planner, while I work off of a hope
and a prayer. He’s the one who measures to the
centimeter, while I eyeball and guess. He needs
things tidy, and I don’t see the mess. When you’re
the “close-is-good-enough” partner to a “do-itright-or-not-at-all” person, it’s easy to feel like the
biggest failure-wife of all time. It wasn’t Tom’s
fault I took things that way. . . . It was mine. I’d
hear him make a small request for, say,
remembering to buy toothpaste, and I’d naturally
assume it meant I was completely inadequate and
My focus got lost. I got lost. Yes, the Texas
landscape was beautiful, but I couldn’t see it
anymore. My to-do list overwhelmed me.
Everything clamored for attention: The laundry
needed sorting; Grayson needed help with a
science project; our new client waited on a sketch;
weeds overtook the flower beds; we were out of
milk; the Explorer’s engine made knocking sounds;
hockey practice started in an hour. . . . I imploded.
I’d begin one task, only to be pulled by another,
then another, and at the end of the day have nothing
There were some mornings when I couldn’t
even get out of bed, let alone wage war over my
Just then I heard Bridgette’s cheery greeting to
Flash ring out yet again. I sighed. And as I peered
through the curtain to see him eagerly trotting to the
fence with his ears wobbling from side to side,
something strange happened. I felt a whisper. Okay,
maybe not even a whisper, but something. A
nudge, a thought.
A tickle on my skin.
Snippets from a verse dropped into my head:
I have called you by name; you are mine.
The words caught me off guard. Where had I
heard them before? I know I’ve read them
somewhere. I reached for my Bible and flipped
pages, finally finding them in Isaiah 43:1:
But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.”
The letters leaped off the page.
“You are mine.”
Deep breath. Oh. I had not expected this. As
much as I believed in a God who cared about me
and could certainly speak to anyone, at any time, I
wondered if this might be that “still small voice”
that people talked about. Consumed by my little
vortex of failure, I’d been doing more blaming than
connecting with Him. I just kept muddling,
struggling, failing, and repeating.
But somehow, He was using a donkey to lead
me to a simple truth.
Because I felt pretty much like a donkey’s hind
end. I was no different from Flash. I had an identity
crisis of my own going on. Somehow, in the
busyness of the kids’ activities, work, cooking,
paying the bills, and trying to juggle it all, I’d
stopped paying attention to my spiritual life. Prayer
had become little more than accusations and pleas
for help, addressed to a God somewhere up there.
Time spent listening for Him, or reading His Word,
was nonexistent. Why bother? Focusing on myself,
my problems, and my solutions, I had let the
connection with my Maker go cold.
I saw myself as the center of my own universe,
utterly inadequate in everything. Dropping all the
balls. A failure in my artistic venture. A terrible
businesswoman. A mom who forgot to pick up her
kid at school. Alone, even in the middle of a
beautiful family. Lost, in the midst of a new country
life. Always behind, forever floundering. Afraid of
being discovered as a fraud. Who am I kidding?
I’m nobody. I listened to the whispers that called
into question my value—value that was based on
my performance instead of the magnificent grace
poured out on me from the heart of a loving
The One whose I am. The One who named me.
I’d forgotten just who I belonged to, and that
my Father had given me a name—in fact, many
names—that expressed His love for me. In that
moment, God reminded me that my value comes
from my relationship with Him, and not my
“success” as a mom, or as a wife, or as a friend, or
as a businessperson.
I grabbed a small spiral notebook and wrote,
Remember your name.
Below it I put these words:
Know who you belong to.
Then I realized that, like a good Texan with
poor grammar, something about that sentence
wasn’t right. We’d say it, “Know who ya belong
ta.” So I scribbled it out and carefully printed,
Know whose you are.
Know whose you are. I paused and looked out
the window. My identity really starts and ends
with the One who created me. There is a beautiful
poem in Psalm 139 that says He knit us together in
the womb and knows our innermost parts. He
created us in His image and then sat back and said,
“It is good.” Blinking hard, I realized something:
God doesn’t make mistakes. He created me to be
uniquely me, and I had simply forgotten whose I
was. I had been operating from the wrong owner’s
Oh boy. As my own master, the names I called
myself. Names I responded to as soon as I heard
them. Names that weren’t actually mine.
I wrote the names in my notebook and
continued listing every name I could think of that I
called myself. In the end, I had a pretty long and
pathetic list. On so many levels I had beat myself
up in my “self-talk.” Forgetting who I belonged to
had created an open season for blasting away at
myself. And I suddenly realized that I’d let my very
identity be formed by the names I called myself,
because I had confused what I do with who I am. I
saw myself through a distorted prism. All I had to
do was think back to my last low moment, and
bingo—I could hear myself saying, “Hello, My
Name Is _______________.” Just as if I were
wearing it on a name tag.
Hello, My Name Is
Afraid: I’m paralyzed by fear of rejection and
Alone: No one understands me.
Unloved: If God loved me, how could He allow this?
Unlovable: I’m obviously not worth loving.
Lost: I will never find my way.
Unworthy: I cannot accept love and affirmation
because I’m such a loser.
Failure: Um, obvious.
Sinner: I keep committing the same stupid sins
over and over again.
Damaged: My wounds are too deep to heal.
Ugly: God used all His best stuff on the
cheerleaders and gave me the leftovers.
Why even try?
Stupid: I am constantly making dumb mistakes.
Fake: One day everyone will find out I’m not who
they think I am.
Inadequate: I cannot measure up to the woman I
should be for the people I love.
Nobody: I don’t matter.
That afternoon, it hit me. As a child of God, I
belong to Him. He made me. He owns me. I am
This. Changes. Everything.
God sees me through the lens of eternity,
through grace and through the mercy that makes all
things new. Complete. Perfect. My identity is in
Him. Only He has the right to name me. As a matter
of fact, only He has the right to name you.
My heart beat a little faster as I wrote down the
names He had given me. Later, I followed each
with a Scripture reference, but at the time, just
seeing the list of names overwhelmed me. I
pictured each word as a name tag.
Hello, My Name Is
Setting the notebook aside, I laced up my tennis
shoes and made my way to the back woods, where
Flash liked to pass the afternoons in the shade of
the tall oaks. At the sound of my call, his hooves
rustled toward me through the underbrush.
“Flash! Hey, buddy.” He came to a standstill in
front of me and lowered his head to sniff my shirt
and rub his forehead on my stomach. What a
difference from the scared donkey he’d been just
weeks ago. Perhaps ownership had changed him as
well. He seemed eager for a good, all-over
scratching, and I couldn’t resist giving him one as I
continued to ponder.
If you’ve ever had a paradigm shift, can you
relate to how it feels like giant boulders are
moving from one side of your brain to another? I
tilted my head to hasten the process, and I’m not
sure it helped, but I still couldn’t deny that
something big had happened. Something solidified.
I belong to God. I am His.
My identity is in Him. He has given me a new
I am not what I do.
My value doesn’t come from my successes or
What I do comes from who I am, not the other
My value is inherent, not earned.
No, I didn’t hear any peals of thunder or angel
choirs singing, and no trumpets blared to announce
a “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” truth to my hurting heart.
There was just this funny-looking burro who had
landed on our doorstep late one night. And there in
the back woods, while scratching a donkey’s ears,
I learned an incredible thing: God can use
anything, at any time, in any way, to speak to me.
Fortunately, He was far from finished.
Remember your name.
Know whose you are.
If you’re a person who likes certainty, then come
on down to Texas in July. You are certain to
experience searing temperatures that top one
hundred degrees each and every day. You can
depend on wide blue skies, punctuated by puffy
white clouds that offer only fleeting moments of
shade before leaving you to bake once again under
the blistering sun. Most assuredly, you’ll run from
air-conditioned buildings to air-conditioned cars
to air-conditioned buildings, clutching a sweater
for the chilly indoor climates while perspiring
profusely in between entries. You’ll suddenly
understand Southerners’ deep affection for sweet
tea and lemonade and realize that cowboy hats
aren’t only an icon of the West, but a way of
avoiding sunburned necks and faces.
Lauren and Robert had picked July for their
wedding but also had the sense to get hitched
inside a church with powerful air conditioners.
The frosting on the cake held tight, which was
more than I could say for my hair that drooped like
melted ganache. But that’s only a small footnote on
a wondrous event; despite the heat, it was a
Texas summers seem to stretch endlessly, the
hot wind blasting across the prairies and withering
all but the hardiest of vegetation. Day after
sweltering day, those of us who live here find
ourselves yearning for that first cool breeze that
tells us autumn is on its way with the northern jet
Now autumn, as far as seasons go, is a real
guessing game. You never know if you’re going to
get gorgeous fall colors on the trees, or if the
leaves will simply turn brown and fall off. I’ve
been told it has something to do with the amount of
rain during the year, but really, it’s all conjecture.
No one really knows. We’re all happy to have
survived the heat, so vibrant leaf color is merely a
bonus, like having gravy on your chicken-fried
steak. Don’t even get me started on winter weather.
But since you brought it up, let’s just say Texas
winters are crazy. They bring huge fluctuations in
weather patterns, resulting in the obvious: an
extreme dependence on hair products. Every
woman in Texas lives in a state of perpetual
preparedness. Word to the wise: If you know
what’s good for you, do not get between me and
my can of superhold hair spray. A day in January
might be sunny and seventy-five degrees, and the
next day will likely bring freezing temperatures
and biting winds that can knock the breath right out
of you . . . and reduce your carefully coifed “hairdo” to a limp “hair-was.” In seconds. But hair
problems notwithstanding, I secretly enjoy the
schizophrenic winters because I like waking up to
surprises. Especially ones that bring flip-flop–
wearing sunshine and a chance to wear shorts in
With such extremes, it was necessary to have a
suitable shelter for Flash, and our three-sided barn
made a perfect home. He could go in and out as he
pleased, finding welcome shade for loafing on a
summer day and protection from the unpredictable
wind, rain, and sleet during other times of the year.
“Flash still prefers the woods,” Tom observed.
“I think he likes to keep his options open.”
Nonetheless, under Flash’s watchful eyes, Tom
installed a hayrack and water bucket in the barn,
shored up the partition, and hung lighting so we
could see at night. These improvements received
Flash’s stamp of approval, with the hayrack being
his most cherished feature of all. You would have
thought his hay was being served up on fine china,
as he eagerly pulled it from the sturdy metal
structure, one mouthful at a time. It was fine dining,
donkey style. When not eating or combing the floor
for any dropped bits of hay, Flash’s favorite place
to station himself was half in and half out of the
stall opening. Back end protected, front end out
where he could see what was going on. With soft
wood shavings on the dirt floor, Flash had a comfy
spot for dozing. Pretty nice digs for a oncehomeless fellow, and it felt good to see him enjoy
As the seasons changed, Flash himself seemed
to transform with them. His sleek, summery hair
was again replaced by a thick, furry coat that made
him appear fuzzy and chunky—a look that was
endearing on him. The hair on his forehead and
down his nose curled in all directions, giving him
a kind of plump, teddy bear charm, and the creamy
white hair on his chest and belly felt as soft as
velvet and twice as deep. Every time I saw him, I
just wanted to squeeze him, so I usually did.
Flash was getting accustomed to my bursts of
affection, and though he pretended to simply
tolerate them, I noticed he’d started to come
running when I called. However, as soon as he got
near me, he’d pull up and act like he just
“happened” to be passing by. “Oh, you want to hug
me? Well, if you must, I guess it’s okay,” Flash’s
demeanor intimated, barely hiding his delight.
Perhaps in his previous life he’d been
disappointed so often that he didn’t want to appear
Nonchalance, as I’d found in my own
experience, is an effective defense mechanism.
Seeing it linger in him touched me, and I squeezed
him a little more tightly because of it. And since
winter had arrived, I threw in an extra handful of
hay, which, in contrast, he received with joyous
snorts and nickers. Not the slightest bit of
indifference to be found.
February arrived, bringing a week of
delightfully warm weather. Out came the shorts and
sandals. Of course, it was immediately followed
by a record-breaking cold front dubbed “The
Arctic Blast” by local media. It hurled in from the
north with freezing rain that brought our busy lives
to a standstill. It probably goes without saying that
Texans don’t function well in ice, but I thought I’d
go ahead and mention it. The pelting ice storm
started during the night and continued throughout
the following day, and all roads were shut down.
Bridges and overpasses became slippery death
traps. School attendance was unthinkable. We sat
glued to our television set like weather zombies. A
jackknifed 18-wheeler on I-35? We must watch
As the trees and native grasses became
encrusted with layer upon layer of ice, they
glittered eerily like a scene recreated from a
Narnian winter. The temperatures dropped further,
and the sleet kept coming as the deciduous trees
began to bow under the weight. The branches of
the cedars around the house were also bending
beneath the load of ice; by nightfall they nearly
touched the ground.
Inside, I turned on all the lamps and lit scented
candles to celebrate being cozy and safe and warm
on such an unforgiving night. The kids were
already in their pajamas and sat on a rug by the
fireplace with Beau, who was only too happy to
join them as they started a movie. Canceled school
meant a late-night treat for everyone, including the
dog. Tom, a nature enthusiast, wasn’t content to
nestle in the comfort of our living room. I watched
him don his jacket and hat.
“Where do you think you’re going, honey?” I
asked as he pulled on thick gloves. I had already
guessed what his response would be.
“I’ve got to see how bad it is out there.”
Tom always secretly hopes for a Texas blizzard
—not surprising for someone who grew up in
Minnesota and harbors an intense fascination with
wintry blasts. Mercy, he’d love a good snowstorm.
But short of a blizzard—the weather event of his
dreams—ice is clearly the next best thing to snow.
He’d never forgive himself if he missed it.
Moments after closing the door behind him, he
poked his nose back inside.
“Come out here with me,” he called. I had seen
enough with one glimpse—it looked awfully cold
and miserable out there.
I shook my head and sank a little deeper into
my afghan on the couch. No. I’m good. Thank you,
though. Seriously, I felt quite comfortable inside
where it was nice and warm. My fuzzy socks were
“Please come. I want you to experience this!”
he insisted, his blue eyes dancing.
Sighing, I set my book facedown on the
cushion, got up, and dutifully put on a heavy coat
and shoes. Grayson and Meghan looked on in
amusement. They were accustomed to their father’s
weather obsession and had already set out seldomused plastic saucers for hill sliding with him in the
morning. I followed him out into the icy evening,
and he put his arm around me as we stepped across
the crunchy grass.
“Rach, you’ve got to see this!” Tom said. He
acts just like a kid during these climatic
occurrences. I had to smile. Despite myself, I
always get drawn into his excitement for the
He whipped out his high-powered flashlight
and aimed the beam into the trees. They shimmered
in the light, their glittery layers of ice flashing and
sparkling. The baubles of ice that clung to the
cedars sounded like a thousand beaded dresses
swaying in the cold night breeze.
He was right. It was worth coming outside.
And to think it didn’t cost a penny.
“Now,” Tom said, “behold!” In a grand
gesture, he moved the beam out into the pasture,
where the winter grasses stood frozen in their
white couture. Each blade, each plant, each stick
was a picture of magical perfection, as if coated
with glimmering fairy dust against the black sky.
“Ohhh,” I breathed. It looked simply amazing.
We stood awestruck by the beauty and savored it in
the darkness that surrounded us. Tom slowly
directed the shaft of light across the small field and
toward the barn. The light tipped the grass and
shrubs as it moved along, igniting icy sparkles in
Suddenly a dark, shaggy lump appeared in the
spotlight. Tom backed up and shone his flashlight
across the gray mass again. What in tarnation?
Flash! Huddled just outside the barn in the
freezing rain, the donkey raised his heavy head and
peered back at us questioningly. “Huh?” he seemed
to say. He started toward us, and as he neared, we
could see that he, too, was covered in thick ice.
Only on Flash, the ice coat wasn’t nearly as
glamorous as the one worn by the cedars. Crusty,
frozen dirt balls stuck to his long winter hair, and a
mass of muddy icicles hung from his mane. He was
a cold, filthy mess.
“Flash, what are you doing?” I scolded him.
“Why on earth are you standing outside the barn
when you should be inside where it’s nice and
dry?” I’d checked on him earlier in the day and
made sure he knew he had plenty of hay in the open
stall. I never imagined he’d choose to brave the
Flash pulled up close to the gate and gave me a
pathetic look that said, “Please let me come into
your cozy house to get warm.”
Well, there wasn’t a chance in the world that
that was going to happen, but before I could open
my mouth to set him straight, Tom turned to me and
said, “Why don’t you head back inside? I’m going
to give the poor guy some oats.”
“He’ll just think you’re rewarding him for his
ignorance,” I called after him, but to no avail. My
man was already off to have mercy on the frosty
beast who couldn’t seem to figure out how to
escape the sleet. I shook my head. Aww, Flash!
You’re awfully cute, but where’s your common
Tom gave a whistle, which had become his
signature call, and Flash followed across the
frozen pasture to the barn. Once inside the shelter
of the stall, Tom gave him a handful of oats and
then made a hasty trip to the house for some
supplies: towels, blankets . . . and a hair dryer.
Back he went to the barn, and Flash shivered
uncontrollably while Tom pulled the ice clods off
him and blotted his matted hair with my good bath
towels. Flash was soaked all the way to the skin—
and dangerously cold. With one hand around his
thick neck to reassure him, Tom turned on the noisy
hair dryer. Flash startled and tried to break free.
“It’s okay, Flash. We’ve got to get you dry.”
Tom began to work him over, inch by inch.
Once he got used to the whirring sound, the
donkey relaxed and let the warm air blow over
him. Gently separating Flash’s hair, Tom massaged
the animal’s body with his fingers. Flash clearly
loved the attention, cooperating fully by turning
this way and that so that no part of him was
missed. He chewed slowly on the hay, pausing
whenever Tom hit a particularly pleasant spot. Just
above the tail? Oh yes, please.
By the time Tom finished the lengthy salon
treatment, Flash’s hair felt soft and fluffy as it
curled up along his back in shiny ringlets. Tom
decided he was finally dry enough to drape with a
heavy blanket (also one of my good ones) and
leave for the night.
“Feel better now, buddy?”
Flash gave a deep sigh and pressed Tom’s
jacket sleeve with his white muzzle. With eyes
closed and hindfoot resting, he was the picture of
After one last noggin scratch, Tom returned to
the house and shed his dirty jacket and hat.
Cupping his hands under the hot water, he started
to wash up as he gave me the report on our nowfluffed-and-warmed donkey.
“I can’t figure out why he didn’t get out of the
sleet this afternoon,” Tom said. “He could have
been warm and dry this whole time, but it was like
he didn’t know how to take shelter in the barn
when it was right in front of him.”
I took the kettle off the stove to fill a mug with
hot cocoa. “What could possibly have been going
through his mind? I thought his sense of selfpreservation would keep him inside.” It was a
mystery. “Anyway, thank you for getting him fixed
“Glad to do it.” Tom took the mug from my
hands and sat down in his recliner. I was grateful
he had taken it upon himself to make sure Flash
was safe. It was beyond the kind of cold I wanted
to face that night. Brrrr. I went back to my book,
but a word Tom had said niggled at me. I thought
for a moment. What was it?
That was it.
It was the thing Flash had needed the most, and
it had been available to him from the moment the
storm hit. Just a few small steps would have taken
him right inside, and he’d have been spared the
dangerous misery he experienced as the ice and
temperatures fell that day. I pictured him as he
stood there, becoming coated with sleet, and yet
unable, or unwilling, to seek shelter. I felt both
sorry for him and puzzled by his behavior. I
couldn’t understand it.
Setting the book down once again, I suddenly
had a vision of my own self—in the darkest
moments of my life—standing outside, cold and
alone, just as Flash had been. Oh sure, there had
been many times I’d needed help and had been
comforted by the shelter of God’s presence. But
there had also been just as many times that I’d
stood shivering in lonely misery. Could it be
possible that in my own moments of deepest need I
had been just that close to comfort and not realized
Refuge—true refuge in the face of life’s
struggles—can be found only in Him. I know that.
So why was it that when times got tough for us, the
first thing I wanted to do was go shopping for a
new purse? And eat something completely
decadent, like a molten death-by-chocolate dessert
topped with gooey ice cream? It’s like I wanted to
find comfort in the mall. Or more specifically, the
food court of the mall. Or both.
Sometimes my refuge du jour was losing
myself online in Facebook and Twitter. Doing
Google searches for red-carpet hairstyles or
shopping on Amazon. I never got into alcohol, but I
hear it does a bang-up job of numbing pain. I’ve
got plenty of little “coping techniques” for stress
and storms, but in reality all of them are just
substitutes for true comfort. Temporary relief for
my deeper problems. They are counterfeits that
seem like the real thing, but in the end, don’t work.
I was learning the hard way that counterfeits in
general can get you into trouble. I’m reminded of
the time not long ago when an invitation to a
wedding taught me this valuable lesson. I made a
last-minute stop at the store for a gift and
something to wear because, as per usual, I had
nothing suitable on hand. Now running late, I
dashed home and threw on my new outfit, then
realized the clothes I’d so hurriedly bought would
show the dreaded panty lines. Yikes. I rummaged
like a madwoman through my drawers and baskets
for my SPANX, the miracle outfit fixer, but could
not come up with it anywhere.
Not to worry. In the deep recesses of my
memory, a fashion tip I’d once heard surfaced: If
you’re in a pinch for a bottom-smoother, simply cut
the legs off of a pair of panty hose and slide the top
part on for a perfect substitute.
I grabbed some scissors, sliced the legs away
from an old pair, and put them on. Fabulous idea—
I was set. And so proud of my innovation. But
perhaps I should point out that the title of this little
illustration should be “Things That Seemed like
Great Ideas at the Time But Did Not Live Up to
The modified panty hose indeed work great in
theory . . . for about the first hour. But after some
time elapses, the problems set in.
I had made it all the way through the ceremony
and into the reception when I realized that my
science wasn’t as sound as I’d assumed. As I stood
up to get more cheese from the appetizer table, the
cutoff edges of my faux SPANX rolled up to my
derriere like Cuban cigars, creating a visual
disaster zone. Way too much cheese, my friends.
Mortified, I stiffly made my way to the ladies’
room for an adjustment and decided to stand for the
rest of the reception. There would be no dancing
I learned, via personal humiliation, that there is
no substitute for the Real Thing.
Oh, the Bible has so much to say about the Real
Thing—the true kind of refuge that is found in its
pages. It’s one of those subjects that makes my ears
perk up when I hear it, maybe because I need it so
often. Refuge—something that brings comfort to the
soul—is one of our deepest needs as human
beings. We long for it. And when you consider why
we do the things we do, the need for refuge fuels
most of the activity in the world.
Webster’s dictionary defines refuge this way:
“protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship;
a source of help, relief, or comfort in times of
Refuge, in a practical sense, is
protection from outside forces, the “storms
Security: freedom from fear, which allows you to
being confident in your place in the
world; your contribution
Provision: having your physical, emotional, and
spiritual needs met
Belonging: knowing you are part of something
bigger than yourself
I thought of the times I’d experienced a vague
sense of unease and unsettledness that was hard to
put a finger on. And when weariness, like the kind
I had when Flash showed up on our doorstep, had
settled deeply in my bones. Something seemed to
be missing, but what? I was going through the
motions of parenting and working and serving, but
I felt like there was a hole in the middle of it all.
Perhaps it was the “significance” factor or the
aspect of “belonging” that I wasn’t experiencing,
and inside I simply longed for some kind of refuge.
And then there were other times in which the
circumstances of life were too painful to bear,
when the vague unease became absolute
desperation for comfort.
I was about to turn forty, and two faint pink lines
on a stick from a test kit told me I was pregnant—
ten years after our youngest child had been born,
fifteen and seventeen years after our daughters.
Once the surprise (and let’s be honest, panic) wore
off, excitement set in. This was the child we had
desired for so long, had hoped for, and had given
up on ever having.
It thrilled me that I would get to experience
mommyhood all over again! I loved those years
with little ones and could not believe we were
going to be blessed with a fourth baby. And both
my sister and sister-in-law were expecting babies
within days of my due date! What were the chances
of that happening? We surprised my mother with
back-to-back Mother’s Day phone calls telling her
our news. The whole family was elated.
And then our excitement was cut short.
“I’m so sorry,” the doctor said, tears filling her
eyes in sympathy as she moved the ultrasound
wand over my abdomen. My heart pounded out of
my chest as I clutched Tom’s hand in the small
examination room. We scanned the dark screen,
desperate to see any sign of movement, but there
was nothing. Just a tiny, lifeless form that had been
Just a few weeks before, in an effort to break
up the monotony of a long, hot summer day, I was
making a spontaneous run to the video store with
Grayson when our vehicle was hit head-on by a
distracted driver on a country road. We felt lucky
to walk away from the wreck unscratched, and I
immediately went to the doctor to make sure the
baby’s heartbeat was still there. What a relief to
hear it! But it didn’t last.
“Abruption of the placenta,” they called it—the
result of trauma. In sudden shock and grief, the
floor fell away from my feet, the room spinning
They give you twenty-four hours to absorb the
news before inducing labor. They tell you to go
home and rest, that it will all soon be over. They
tell you it is “nature’s way” and that you’ll be able
to have other babies, don’t worry. What they don’t
tell you is how hard you’ll cry, or how alone you’ll
feel, or that your heart will break in a million
pieces while you wait. They don’t tell you that
labor, when you know at the end of it you’ll have
no baby to bring home, is horrific. They don’t tell
you that when your milk comes in and there is no
baby to nurse, you’ll sit in the shower and sob until
you can’t sob anymore. They don’t tell you any of
But then, nothing can prepare you for this kind
of disappointment, this much heartache.
Tom and I got to see our little boy in the
delivery room. We named him Collin, and he was
beautiful. So utterly perfect. There was a small
funeral and a tiny casket under an awning in the
rain . . . and so many questions. I wished God had
left us well enough alone. We’d been content with
three wonderful, healthy children—why on earth
had He snatched Collin away so cruelly, only
pretending to give us another precious gift?
For months I could not stop the tears that would
come, unbidden, as I washed dishes or folded
clothes, or drove along on the country road where
the cars had collided and my happy little world
had ended. I couldn’t bear the holidays; the thought
of seeing my sister and sister-in-law’s pregnant
bellies was too much, so we stayed away. I felt a
constant lump in my throat, and I squeezed my eyes
shut so I wouldn’t think of the precious life—the
little fingers and toes and belly button—that we
would never know.
I needed refuge. Comfort for the anguish that
I clung to Psalm 34:18—“The LORD is close to
the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits
are crushed”—as well as Psalm 145:14—“The
LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are
bowed down” (NIV). Jesus, please. Please be
close to me. Most days I could not sense Him
anywhere. But there was something that had
occurred during the long night before I was
scheduled for labor that gave me the tiniest
glimmer of hope, a trace of refuge that somehow
carried me. It was unexplainable.
It happened when the old clock radio next to
my bed clicked on at a time no one had set it for.
As I struggled to figure out why the radio was on at
this strange hour, a song by Fernando Ortega began
to play. “Jesus, King of Angels” poured over me
like warm honey. That’s the only way I can
describe it. I weighed a thousand pounds and could
not move as the words gently dripped down into
my soul and pooled there.
The lyrics reminded me that the infinite God of
the universe is mindful of each sparrow that falls.
My baby. Oh, my little one. He was mindful of all
the anxious thoughts that filled me, and He would
be with me and keep me in His peace. The final
notes of the guitar faded.
Tears, and more tears. My pillow was soaked
with them. I lay in the predawn gray hours and
ached for the baby I was about to deliver, the one I
would never get to know. I dreaded the hours,
days, and weeks that were to come. And yet my
heart replayed the song hundreds of times as the
dark days passed, a reminder that His presence
was with me, even when I could not feel Him or
understand the whys.
There was a hint of a promise that one day I
would again rise to speak the goodness of His
name, and there was comfort, even in my ashes.
The recurring melody pulled me those last few feet
into the shelter that was just beyond me. I was
warm and safe and dry, even in the midst of
Just like Flash on that cold, icy night.
I went to the window, which was now glazed with
a fine sheet of ice. Through it, I could see the
amber glow of the stall lights shining through the
darkness and spilling onto the frozen ground
beyond. And I knew in my heart that I was being
pulled close once again.
Psalm 91:1-2 says,
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the
This I declare about the LORD:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
I tucked in tightly under His shadow. Chose to
trust in His care. Leaned into His comfort.
God’s presence is always with us, even when
we can’t feel or see Him. Even when we can’t
understand our circumstances. And though we
might try a million other ways to fill our voids and
find shelter from our storms, there is no substitute
for the real thing. Only God can be our true source
How many times do we stand outside in the
cold when shelter is so close at hand? Sometimes
all it takes is a few more steps—and then we are in
His arms, encircled in His care and carried by His
He has all the fresh towels and blankets we
Know where to find refuge.
True sanctuary is found in God alone.
It was early morning when Bridgette called. After
the formal chitchat about how-are-the-kids-andhow-is-Hay-soos (eye roll), she got to her point.
“I’ve got a wonderful opportunity for your
talents,” she said. “Please pardon my huffing and
puffing. I’m trying to get my power walk in while I
“No problem,” I replied. I was still in my
bathrobe, but that wouldn’t keep me from
discussing business. I poured a second cup of
coffee and grabbed a chocolate chip cookie, the
breakfast of champions.
It seemed that she and Steve had been hired to
design and oversee the finish-out of a corporate
building in Fort Worth, a project that would
include a restaurant and call center.
“This would be per-fect for you and Tom,”
Bridgette remarked with enthusiasm. “It’s just one
big, blank canvas, and your creativity will make it
come to life. It needs custom finishes, artwork,
signage, and furniture. And, by the way, we’d like
to hire you to head up the FF&E.”
Bridgette continued on, discussing issues and
describing her vision for the space, her effusive
voice filling my ear. But I wasn’t following it. I
was still stuck on “FF&E.” FF&E? Never heard of
it. Were they actual letters, or a word spelled
effeffeny? I didn’t want to appear foolish, so I
played along while she threw out other trade
acronyms she obviously assumed I knew. I caught
what I could and furiously scribbled notes so I
could look things up later.
“Wow, sounds like a great project,” I said
confidently. “We’d love to be part of it!”
Bridgette’s energy and excitement were
contagious, and somehow even her use of inside
industry terms made me feel ready to take on the
world. Our mural business was still bumping
along, and this was exactly the break we’d been
waiting for. We set a time to meet at the building
site and then hung up.
My heart sank. The reality of having to present
the ideas in person to the client suddenly hit me.
What was I thinking? This job was way beyond
the scope of anything we’d ever done, and I didn’t
understand even half of what Bridgette was talking
about. Not only was this project going forward in a
language I didn’t understand . . . I also didn’t have
the wardrobe for it. Years of painting baby
nurseries and cramped bathrooms had hardly
prepared me for effeffeny, or whatever it was. It
sounded so corporate and professional. This
would not end well, I just knew it. My stomach
turned at the thought.
Meanwhile, Tom was calling our place “some
kind of circus,” and he wasn’t too far off in his
assessment. It seemed every animal in the county
made its way onto our property at one time or
another: raccoons who regularly dined on Beau’s
dog food, opossums who loved picking apart our
trash, mice running amok, coyotes, bobcats, snakes,
stray dogs and cows . . . all looking for mischief,
and they all seemed to find us.
In fact, shortly before Flash had arrived on the
scene, we were awakened from sleep by four
loose horses traipsing through our yard at midnight,
followed by people in pickup trucks who were
trying to round them up. Maybe it was the whoops,
hollers, and blaring music that spooked the
renegades, or perhaps it was the spinning tires, or
the sound of beer bottles being thrown, or the crazy
gunfire aimed skyward that made the horses run
wildly in circles. Hard to tell. All we knew was
that later, when a stray donkey showed up, it
seemed like just another act in an animal circus
By the time spring rolled around, Flash had
become friends with the rather large and
cumbersome cattle in the next pasture. As we
educated ourselves about donkeys, we learned they
are social creatures who are best kept with other
donkeys. Unfortunately, that was not anywhere in
our budget. Flash would have to fly solo for a
In the absence of another donkey, they might
make do with a cow, horse, sheep, or goat.
Anything but a dog, at least in Flash’s case. Dogs
(and coyotes) are donkeys’ natural enemies, which
explained a whole lot about Flash and Beau’s
chilly relationship. Still in a barking/kicking
standoff with one another, each day found Flash at
the back fence, preferring to fraternize with the fat
bovines on the other side than with a slobbery,
exuberant Lab. While the cows seemed mostly
indifferent—lying down or standing with their
heads through the fence for the “better” grass on
our side—Flash hung out near them like a
comfortable old companion.
The days were warming, and there was a slow,
easy pace to life in the pasture. I wished I could
say the same for life on the “people” side of the
fence. The stream of marauding animals only
complicated the juggling act of work and family.
There was nothing like picking up the contents of
an overturned garbage can after a gang of raccoons
had picked through it, while still trying to make it
to the day’s job site on time. Country life, while
much prettier than suburban life, takes a whole lot
more work to maintain.
Finally, a weekend arrived that wasn’t filled
with hockey games and trips to Home Depot for
project supplies. We could catch up on some of our
own honey-dos for a change. I stood at the kitchen
sink and plunged my hands into the sudsy water to
tackle the pile of dishes from the night before.
Washing dishes didn’t seem quite so bad when
I had time to look out the window and watch
Grayson untangle his fishing pole and sort the
tackle box in the front yard. Beau lay beside him
and yawned, clearly relaxed by the sound of
spinners, jigs, and spooners being organized in the
hard plastic container. Grayson closed the lid, and
the large dog snapped to attention, instantly ready
for a walk to the pond with his boy.
Pole over shoulder, tackle box in hand, dog at
side. Thank You, God, for this.
I reached for a plate and dunked it into the
water, still gazing through the window, past the
yard to the wildflowers beyond. Suddenly, the
moment was interrupted by three gorgeous horses
who emerged from the woods and trotted into the
front field. It was as if they materialized right
before my eyes, Star Trek style.
Once in the clearing, they lowered their heads
to graze, tails swishing and manes tossing. Young
males, they exemplified equine perfection: a black
horse with a white blaze down its nose; a chestnut
with white socks and a long, dark mane and tail;
and a paint with brown and white markings. My
dish scrubbing immediately ceased as I leaned
forward to take in the stunning beauty of these
As a child, I’d been so horse-crazy that I drove
my parents nuts. Daily, I scoured the local
newspaper in search of the perfect horse to put in
our backyard. I was sure I’d find one that looked
like Little Joe’s on Bonanza, a beautiful paint that
would be mine, all mine. I had it all planned out:
We would spend lazy afternoons together—me
braiding his tail and brushing him until he gleamed,
and him carrying me over the countryside in full
gallop. I would be beautiful and courageous atop
my steed named Apache (Patch for short).
Unfortunately, as a preacher’s family, we lived
in town, and later we moved to Mexico City as
missionaries—so neither location was suitable for
keeping equines. My fantasy of having a horse had
faded into quiet wistfulness as I grew up, but
seeing these animals suddenly appear reminded me
of my latent desire. Too bad all we have is a dusty
“Come take a look at this!” I called to Tom and
Meghan, flinging suds as I motioned with wet
hands. They hurried to the window for a peek at
our latest four-legged guests.
“Those are Russell’s horses.” Tom identified
them at first glance with a low, appreciative
whistle. “Aren’t they something!” He paused for a
moment in admiration. “I’ve got his work number.
I’ll give him a call to let him know they’re here.
But first I’ll get them locked up in our pasture for
Infinitely easier than catching one smallish
donkey, Tom handily coaxed the three horses into
following his oat-filled bucket. Piece of cake.
Meghan opened the gate as they arrived and
quickly shut it behind them with a clang of the
chain on the metal crossbar. Tom and Meghan
returned to the house so Tom could notify the
“Russell can’t get here with his trailer until
after work,” Tom said, holding a business card
with the number scrawled on it. He set his cell
phone down and continued. “Looks like Flash will
get to have company for the rest of the afternoon.”
“This could be interesting! I wonder how he’ll
feel about sharing his space with these guys,” I
responded. I slipped into flip-flops and headed to
the gate to see what would happen.
And what a sight to behold.
The afternoon sun cast a golden glow over the
pasture and created a storybook scene in which the
stallions took center stage. Prancing and playing,
they seemed to dance effortlessly across the field.
It was a horse ballet!
The sun glistened off their rippling muscles as
they tossed their heads and galloped through the
tall grass. Their shapely legs carried them around
and around, while their manes and tails flowed out
behind them in raw beauty. The strength and
perfection of these creatures was a joy to watch.
We rested our chests against the gate, elbows out
and a foot on the lowest rung, and enjoyed the
Just then, a movement from the corner of the
pasture caught our attention.
Arrested from the spot near his beloved cows
by this sudden intrusion of the equines, he shook
his long ears as if trying to wake himself up.
Bending around like a contortionist to scratch his
rear end with his teeth, he brought a back foot up
and set it down with a thud. We watched him flex
his lips as the new company’s arrival began to
register in his brain. He blinked his black lashes
until finally alert, then did a double take. Flash
looked at the horses, and then back to the cows.
Horses, cows. Horses. Cows.
Yep, horses. Definitely horses.
And without a backward glance, he ditched the
cows for the newcomers.
Just like that, the cows were dead to him. He
trotted over to meet his new posse.
Flash’s sparse mane bristled back and forth as
his choppy gait carried him to the trio. He pulled
up next to the shiny black leader and raised his
giant head in greeting. The horse turned his
graceful neck to see the short donkey arrive and
gave a snort. Ha! As if motioning to his friends, he
nodded toward the opposite end of the pasture, and
the three were off in a cloud of dust and hooves—
only this time they were followed by Flash, who
looked hopelessly outgunned and outclassed.
Next to the cows, Flash had seemed like a
regal ruler of the landscape. His intelligent eyes
and quick wit endeared him to the mindless, cudchewing bovines who kept him company each
afternoon. But now, with the arrival of the three
ballerinos, Flash suddenly had some shortcomings,
starting with his stature. Such stubby legs! And his
head’s proportion was conspicuously out of
whack. My word, so huge! And the ears—oh, the
But Flash did not care. He shifted into high
gear and headed after the group, now circling at the
far end of the pasture. Bucking and braying as he
went, he joined up and fell into step with their
show. They paused at his arrival, deciding whether
or not to let this newcomer enter. Please? Flash
seemed to say with his ears, all forward and
hopeful. Someone whinnied in reply. One of them
broke rank and allowed Flash in.
And in that instant, he was one of them.
The horses pranced.
The horses reared.
The horses tossed their manes.
Flash tossed—well, tried to toss—his mane.
The horses glistened.
Okay. Flash didn’t glisten. In fact, he
magnetically collected all the kicked-up dust into
his fuzzy gray coat.
But no matter. Flash was having the time of his
life. He wheeled and turned and danced and
cavorted. He chased and nuzzled and pawed and
reared. He was ridiculous in his earnestness, but
he was part of the horse ballet—and his little heart
beat faster with each plié and spin.
Flash had burst into life, and every equine cell
in his body was ablaze. The soul of a
thoroughbred in the body of a shaggy donkey.
What a picture; what a day. This was living, and
I’d never seen him look so endearing. The setting
sun outlined his form in golden fringe as his pace
slowed to a graceful adagio around the three
horses. Circling, spinning, moving. The cows
looked on in disbelief. What had happened to their
quiet, unassuming friend? They hardly recognized
him with his new air of confidence and all.
Evening fell like a gossamer curtain over the
field, and Russell arrived with his dual truck and
horse trailer to load up the gorgeous guests and
take them home. With a slam of the trailer door and
a roar of diesel, they were gone, and Flash stood at
the gate with ears pricked and trembling. His
nostrils flared, and his sides heaved as he stifled
his bellows. He watched the trailer turn the corner
and disappear down the driveway. Something had
happened to him that day, and even he knew it.
He was changed.
He was bigger, stronger, and more powerful
He showed confidence.
He held his head higher.
He carried himself boldly.
He’d become fearless.
And all because he’d run with horses.
It was as though he had suddenly realized his
own greatness. As if someone had told him that
donkeys and horses were nearly identical in
genetic makeup. That they shared the same
chromosomes—sixty-two of them, in fact. The only
difference between donkeys and horses is an extra
set of two chromosomes that horses carry. An extra
set that Flash didn’t need in the least.
I thought about Flash and his visitors long
Maybe he’d been told all his life that he’d
never amount to anything because he lacked the
two units that would make him great. Maybe he
spent all his time thinking about how his mane
didn’t blow in the wind and how his gait was
bumpy and how silly he’d look if he tried running.
Maybe he’d always compared himself with horses
and come up short every time. Maybe nobody ever
told him that he has 97 percent of the same
chromosomes as those horses . . . or that the horses
needed two less to be just like him.
Maybe nobody ever told him that he has all the
chromosomes he needs to be a perfect donkey.
I wondered if, until now, Flash had been
focused on the two he lacked, rather than on the
sixty-two he had. I wondered if he’d told himself,
as I had: If only I’d finished my college degree.
I wondered if he’d said: I’m not talented
enough to run with the big boys. My ears are too
big, my head too heavy, my legs too short, my bray
I wasn’t born into money. Or looks. Or
I’m not graceful. I can’t prance. I don’t glisten.
I don’t have business training. I’m too old. I
drive an ancient Ford Explorer. I never took art
Looking at his lack had kept Flash with the
cows—those lackluster, mediocre characters who
sat and wished for better grass and more gumption.
Once again I found myself mirrored in this
winsome donkey of mine. But this time, I saw what
a change of perspective could do. Perhaps I
needed to start focusing on my sixty-two, rather
than the two. Aw, Flash. You’re a genius.
Of course, it’s one thing to think something and
quite another thing to actually do it. The project
with Bridgette was officially underway, and it
immediately tested my fledgling sense of
“Be there at 1:00,” Bridgette told me as we
wrapped up another phone call about the interior
design of the space. “We’ll be in the conference
room, and I’ve given you thirty minutes on the
agenda to make a presentation to the board and the
Oh dear. That would have been a good moment
to tell Bridgette that I have a debilitating fear of
speaking in conference rooms to boards and
contractors. Also to groups of two or more. It’s
this thing where my throat closes up and my mouth
gets all dry and my vision goes blurry, just before I
black out. I briefly imagined what it would be like
to hit my head on the table as I was going down
and then be laid up in a hospital with a skull injury
for several weeks and only be able to eat Jell-O
for every meal. The silver lining in that whole
scenario was that I wouldn’t have to make my
presentation, and also I might possibly lose five
pounds and not have to wear faux SPANX
I wished I’d said all that, right then and there.
But Bridgette was so persuasive and charming that
for a moment I felt all confident, and I let myself
get swept up in her energy. I danced, just a little
bit, and it felt good. But maybe I should call her
back and tell her I’d made a huge mistake and
would not be able to make it to the meeting on
account of my illness, or perhaps a broken leg. I
could probably arrange an accident, or at least
make a fake cast. I’m good at crafts. Anything to
get out of this whole looming effeffeny catastrophe.
No. I had to go through with this. And it was
then that I decided, shakily, to run with horses.
Enough with the cows. I wanted to try glistening
But it would take some work.
I found a drafting table on a curbside for
twenty-five dollars, and Tom cleared a spot for it
in the loft that overlooks the back room. We moved
an old computer, brought in some lamps, and put a
chair in place. I bought a portable filing box and
started making good use of Internet searches,
starting with “FF&E”: Furniture, Fixtures, and
Aha! So that’s what it means! I’m in charge of
procuring furniture, fixtures, and equipment! I
spent an inordinate amount of time searching “How
to Give a Winning Presentation” and “Fear of
Public Speaking.” I made a trip to the department
store for some appropriate business attire (30
percent off) and picked up a briefcase at the thrift
shop. I asked for Photoshop help from our kids. I
became familiar with architectural drawings. Hair
highlights would have to wait—rats!
But I was ready. And I got down to business.
Tom and I both dug in and came up with ideas that
stretched us, made us create new kinds of art, and
caused us to see just how much we could do once
we stopped focusing on why we couldn’t do it.
And even though you could say we’d already
taken our share of chances along the way (i.e.,
ditching regular jobs for a dreamy artistic one),
we’d also let ourselves get comfortable in the
types of projects we went for. The kinds of clients
we thought we were good enough for. The jobs that
didn’t require making presentations and proposals
on design boards in conference rooms to important
people. We’d gotten passive in our approach and
forgotten the power of putting ourselves out there
on a bigger stage. We played small. Safe.
We’d counted the two chromosomes we lacked
as more important than the sixty-two we had, and it
had kept us in a place of mediocrity.
Flash had us beat by a mile.
You see, when someone opens a gate and gives
you a shot at running with horses, the choice is
yours. You can stay where you’re at—comfortable,
unchallenged, and wishing your life away—or you
can step forward and decide that this is your
moment. You can dance on your stubby little legs
and collect everyone else’s dust and maybe look
foolish doing it. But you’re doing it! That’s the
point. You find your thoroughbred heart in there
somewhere, and you take the chance. You choose
it. And you run with it.
“As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he,” says
Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV). I wonder how many limits
you’ve put on yourself by simply thinking
incorrectly. By focusing on past failures, all the
gifts and talents you think you don’t have, and the
abilities you believe everyone else has, you keep
yourself in a position of not being ready when
opportunity comes knocking. You choose cows
over horses because cows are safe and accepting
and think you’re really awesome. It’s so sweet. But
they keep you by the fence, watching life from the
sidelines. Chewing cud, offering opinions, and
giving commentary on the ones who are out there
getting something done.
You don’t ever do anything that makes your
heart race or your palms get sweaty, or that
involves the risk of hitting your head on the way
down. You stay busy and work hard and never
have to consider that you’re living in fear of being
your best self.
Running with horses, on the other hand, means
that you have to face your fears. The fear of
looking foolish, the fear of failing big, the fear of
speaking in public, of learning new software, of
going beyond your comfort zone into the unknown.
Maybe even the fear of your own success. It means
that you count your sixty-two as enough for the
task and then set your heart on excellence—being
the best you can be.
Running with horses is risky. And I admired
Flash for his plucky decision to up his game. It
inspired me to risk blacking out during my
presentation and to choose wide-legged trousers so
no one would see my knees knock. Yes, my vision
was a little blurry, and my mouth went dry, but
somehow I survived my thirty minutes in that
conference room. I didn’t remember anything about
it afterward, and that’s beside the point. I may have
even drooled a little bit. I can’t think about that.
Here’s what matters. I came to see how one
single fear, the fear of public speaking, kept me
from moving forward in my professional and
personal life. How many ways can a person avoid
leading a group discussion or teaching a class or
making a presentation? I’d come up with a hundred
different ones throughout my life in order to give
my fear, one set of two chromosomes, a bigger
place than the sixty-two. And it kept me from doing
my best work, because no one ever gets asked to
present mediocre ideas.
I decided to change all of that. I would no
longer let fear be the reason to say no to something.
If fear was the only thing that stood between me
and a new opportunity, then the answer would have
to be yes. (Jumping out of airplanes
notwithstanding.) And I would use excellence as
my weapon of choice to defeat the fear that wanted
to paralyze me. Rather than focusing on the fear
itself, I’d focus on doing—and being—excellent in
my approach. I’d make the most of my sixty-two
and run with those horses. Whatever happened
next, well, I’d deal with it.
Excellence—going the extra mile, learning all
you can, doing things better than you thought you
could—brings confidence that trumps fear. It opens
up doors and creates opportunities that mediocrity
and fear never can. And it works on every level—
not just in business.
What would happen if we stopped fearing
having a dysfunctional family and simply focused
on having an excellent family life? If we stopped
wishing we’d had decent role models and just
became ones ourselves?
Imagine if we quit worrying about losing
weight and focused instead on being in excellent
health. We’d choose foods and make lifestyle
choices that would energize us so we could rock
What if, rather than bemoaning a lack of deep
friendships in our lives, we worked at being
excellent friends to others?
Rather than letting ourselves be convinced that
we aren’t smart enough for that job promotion or
that degree, what if we focused on gaining the
skills and knowledge to make it happen?
Instead of sitting at the back of the room where
we can’t be noticed, what if we found seats at the
front and raised our hands to ask questions?
Or rather than wishing we were born with
artistic genes, what if we picked up a paintbrush or
camera and found that creative skills can be
learned? Maybe we’ll never be Picassos or Ansel
Adamses, but it doesn’t matter. We can achieve far
more by doing than by simply watching.
Doing makes you try harder, reach further, and
achieve more than you thought you could. Action
propels you toward excellence and makes the
Yes, when you run with horses, you run the risk
of stumbling and looking foolish. . . . But oh, what
a way to go. There is greatness inside of you,
looking for a chance to burst into life and kick up
some dust. You will be stretched and challenged
and pushed because the bar has been raised. You’ll
have to reach deep to find what’s inside you.
But you are up to it. Remember your sixty-two.
The sixty-two that make you the perfect donkey.
Just like Flash. Just like me.
Run with horses.
The pursuit of excellence conquers fear.
Flash’s social life was looking up. Not long after
his momentous dance with the elegant horses, some
new people moved into the ranch behind us. A
portion of their sprawling land abutted the north
end of Flash’s pasture on one side, while the cows’
fence bordered the south end. This arrangement
gave the ever-curious Flash a perfect vantage point
to see what was going on around him.
One day, we noticed some horses grazing in the
north pasture. Flash now had his pick of whom
he’d like to spend his lazy afternoons with—the
horses or the cows. I wasn’t surprised at his
decision; Flash’s newfound confidence made him
ally squarely with the horses.
“This will have to satisfy Flash’s social needs
for now,” Tom said as he watched them touch
noses over the fence. “I’m a little relieved,
actually. All the benefits of having more animals
without the work and expense.”
Flash was happy as could be with this new
arrangement. He lifted his pliable upper lip to
show his teeth, rocking his head from side to side
in greeting. Did it bother him that he had a leaf
between his front teeth? Nope. Not in the least. He
just smiled away, fully confident of the effect of his
donkey charm on the mares next door, who seemed
amused but thoroughly unimpressed.
“Honey, let me help you finish loading the
truck,” I offered, grabbing a plastic bin filled with
paints and brushes. Tom was departing for a work
marathon to complete the installation of the art for
Bridgette’s corporate project. It looked like it was
going to take an all-nighter to meet the deadline.
Bridgette and Steve had championed our skills and
convinced the project managers that we could not
only create and install custom artwork but also
design signage and wayfinding for the spaces as
As we had suspected, the job was indeed
beyond our previous experience, and it required
some on-the-job training to pull it off. But the
scope of the project made us find some talent we
didn’t know we’d had. We leaned on our daughter
and new son-in-law to give us those crash courses
in Photoshop and learned graphic design as we
went along. The medium was new, but the
principles and the skills we’d honed over years of
creating mural art were the same. There was an
excitement to the work—a sink-or-swim feeling
that carried us through the weeks of design and
installation. We were, indeed, running with horses.
That night, we had decided to divide and
conquer the workload, so I stayed at our home
office and poured myself an extra cup of coffee to
work on some last-minute drawings that were
needed. By 1:00 a.m., I was bleary but determined
Then, without warning, the bright red and blue
lights of a squad car pierced the darkness outside
the window. My heart stopped for a second as I
assessed the situation. No cars ever drive up our
remote driveway late at night, let alone a police
vehicle! This could not be good. I peered through
the glass as two sheriff’s deputies hoisted
themselves out of the front seat and came up the
“Howdy, ma’am,” one of the men said as I
opened the door a crack. In my mind I could see
the headline—“Woman Slain by Phony Sheriffs
Overnight”—followed by a story with a stern
warning to women to not open their doors for just
anyone who flashes a badge.
As if on cue, the officers flashed their badges,
and I felt certain they were probably murderers—
but I went ahead and opened the door wider to get
it over with. The two men were exactly what you
might picture Texas county sheriff’s deputies
looking like: imposing and serious, with crew cuts,
and with builds that hinted at both weightlifting and
doughnuts. Their starched uniforms were pulled
taut across their chests, and suddenly I felt more
threatened by an impending button pop-off than the
Colt .45s in their holsters. Plus, their car looked
somewhat legit with the lights and all.
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” the lead deputy
said. “I’ll cut right to the chase.” He paused for a
moment. “Uh, you own a donkey?”
Sir, you’re pulling up at this hour, with lights
flashing, to ask me if I own a donkey?
Just then, a pickup truck roared up the
driveway and came to a stop behind the squad car.
Two vehicles in one night? This was some kind of
record. The truck door burst open, and out
stumbled a man, a waft of beer and stale cigars
hanging on him.
“Yes, yes, I do,” I replied, narrowing my eyes
and thinking what a good setup this was. The fake
officers disarm me with their badges while the
boss pulls up to finish the job. I was a goner, for
sure. If only I’d had time to leave a note for the
“Well, this gentleman here,” said the deputy,
motioning over his shoulder, “says you got a
problem on your hands.”
I looked questioningly over to the new guy,
who stepped forward, apparently to tell me all
about it. It was then that I wondered about a justice
system in which some kind of “donkey problem” is
deemed greater than the fact that this man may have
driven under the influence to inform me in person.
What kind of society is this, anyway? And why
aren’t the officers arresting this man?
“Yore donkey . . . ,” he slurred, pointing his
finger in my face. “Yore donkey got up into my
corral and got at my mare. I’d been keepin’ her
away from my stallions, and then yore sorry little
donkey broke in and got to her.” He swayed
toward me and continued. “Yeah, he got to her, all
right. By the time I figured it out and found ’em,
they was layin’ down, smokin’ a cigarette. The
deed had been done.”
I blinked at him in horror as he capped off his
story. “Lady, yore gonna have a baby mule on yore
hands, ’cause that’s what you get when you cross a
donkey with a horse. A baby mule!” He kicked at
some gravel in disgust and let his words hang in
There was an awkward pause as I struggled for
an appropriate response. Something about Flash
being an “immature” male and incapable of
procreation. Something about how he was too
young for this kind of monkey business. Wait. Had
maturity happened while we’d been up to our
necks in our new project, not paying attention to
the passage of time and adolescence? Uh-oh.
The deputy cleared his throat and asked, “You
gonna go get him tonight then?”
I turned to him and said, “Tonight? I can’t drag
him home in the middle of the night! Can’t this wait
until morning? The ‘deed’ has been done, so what’s
the hurry?” Also, I was in my slippers.
The deputy looked at the man. The horse owner
shrugged, the fight suddenly gone out of him. He
got back in his truck, slumped behind the steering
wheel, and said out the door, “Just get him
tomorrow; it’s already too late.”
Morning dawned, and Tom fell into bed, exhausted
from the all-night art installation. I decided right
then to deal with the donkey situation on my own,
so I kept quiet about Flash’s escapade, tucked Tom
in, and tiptoed out. I would need tools, so I headed
for the local feed store.
“Give me the largest halter you’ve got,” I said
to the lady at the register. I slapped my hand down
on the counter and looked around the joint like I
knew what I was doing.
“Sure. Whatcha got, a hefty Belgian?” she
asked, snapping her gum and indicating his height
with her hand over her head.
I sighed. “No. No, just a smallish donkey . . .
with a gigantic head.” I held my hand chest-high.
“I’ve got to get him home from my neighbor’s
house, so I’ll need some oats and a lead rope as
Just then, my cell phone rang. It was my friend
Priscilla. She and I had met a few years earlier
when she’d found my business card and hired me
to paint her baby’s nursery. We hit it off
immediately and spent so much time talking with
each other that the one-week job took about three
weeks to complete. Our differences in age,
vocation, ethnicity, and life season didn’t matter
one bit as we sat on that nursery room floor and
dreamed up a beautiful space for the new baby.
Later, even though I had retreated into my work
and family responsibilities, she kept after me.
Gradually, through her determined effort to break
through my wall of busyness, we became real
friends, and over time I had come to count her as
family. She now had two babies in tow, and I
hoped to convince her that she and her husband
needed to move to the country to raise their family.
I thought a house on our quiet road would be a
perfect place for them.
“What are you doing?” she asked. I started to
give her the lowdown, but before I could finish,
she said, “I’m on my way,” and hung up. Priscilla
was always up for an adventure, and what better
way to initiate her into country life than to chase
down a loose farm animal?
The August air was stifling by the time we
donned tennis shoes and got ourselves organized. It
was going to be a hot one. Accompanied by the
deafening sound of cicadas overhead, Priscilla and
I made our way to the pasture’s back gate, which
had been ripped from its hinges by my precious
little donkey. Mercy!
We walked farther to find a broken fence post,
wires dangling. A little farther, and another broken
fence. Dear me. I dreaded to see what kind of state
Flash would be in after all this. We finally found
him holed up in the corral next to his ladylove,
beat up from his night of charging through barbed
wire fences and foisting his affection upon her.
Just one look at him told me he was not going
to come easily. He had the same hardened donkey
stare as the first night we’d found him—“Make
me,” it simply said.
So we haltered him up and started coaxing.
Flash would have none of it. And who could
blame him? The leggy mare he’d fallen for was
adorable. Chocolate brown in color with a black
mane and tail, she was an exotic vixen, and he was
a lovesick donkey-boy. He was hopelessly, madly,
genuinely in love with her. She, on the other hand,
was not so much in love with him but clearly in
love with being adored. With her head tossing and
hooves prancing, she accepted this lopsided
relationship with her body language. That was all
Flash needed to see; he was fully committed to
making the tenuous bond work. Now, with head
low and blubbering lips pulled back, he sullenly
brayed his opposition to our mission to move him.
Flash refused to leave his girlfriend, whom we
now called “Maria,” after the female lead in West
Side Story. At the prospect of being forced apart,
she decided she’d make it work as well. Maria
whinnied at him and paced back and forth in her
corral as we inched him away from her. Hours of
pushing, pulling, cajoling, entreating, and offering
treats yielded only limited progress. We were still
on the neighbor’s property, just halfway to the back
gate, and standing at an impasse in the blistering
“We’ve tried everything,” Priscilla said,
wiping the perspiration from her forehead. “The
only thing we haven’t tried is dropping the rope to
see if he’ll come on his own.” She reminded me
that, under normal circumstances, Flash follows us
around like a puppy dog. He can’t stand to be left
“True,” I said, unconvinced but willing to try
anything at this point. “We might as well give it a
go. What do we have to lose?”
So we dropped the rope and turned to head
back to our place. We took teeny little pretend
steps, glancing over our shoulders to see what
Flash would do.
“And we’re walking away. We’re walking, and
we’re leaving . . .” I narrated our movements for
good measure, just in case Flash didn’t notice that
we were leaving him.
“And we’re walking . . .”
To our amazement, he thought about it for only
a moment, then picked up his small hooves and
followed. On his own. No carrot, no stick. Just
I guess as long as he thought it was his own
idea, he was willing to cooperate.
Flash stepped nonchalantly behind us the
remaining distance, as if we were out on a Sunday
stroll. Perhaps he knew it was simply time to go
home. Or perhaps he was plotting his return.
Whatever the case, we hurriedly jury-rigged the
gate in place behind us, and Priscilla stopped to
admire the strength and determination it had taken
to break it down in the first place. “Wow, that guy
sure found his passion. He knew what he wanted
and didn’t let anything stand in his way,” she
commented. “I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t
seen it with my own eyes.”
Like he knew we were talking about him, Flash
seemed to shrug his narrow donkey shoulders with
modesty and lowered his head into the grass to
munch away, his foray into romance over with for
now. Beau trotted out to offer his opinion about
Flash’s escapade, barking his moral indignation
from behind our legs, but Flash simply ignored the
Priscilla and I made our way back to the house
for some sweet tea and air-conditioning, relieved
to have Flash back in the fold where he belonged. I
pulled two glasses from the cupboard, then found a
pen and hastily scrawled “find your passion” on an
old envelope that was sitting on the counter. I
thought I might like to muse about it later, but of
course I promptly forgot about it. For quite a
But the funny thing about writing something
down, even if you forget that you ever wrote it, is
that the message stays with you long afterward.
The envelope eventually went the way of gathered
trash, yet the mental note attached to it followed
me around and turned up in odd moments. Middle
of the night. Halfway through a shower. Driving to
the home improvement store.
“Find your passion.”
Flash had certainly found his passion. There
was a sheriff’s report (and a broken gate) to prove
it. I’d pictured his midnight rendezvous with the
pretty little mare as a humorous anecdote to tell at
a party, an icebreaker of a story that was sure to
get a laugh. Flash was exceeding our expectations
as a conversation piece, and I felt really proud of
him for that, even if the circumstances were a bit
But that note stuck with me.
Did I have a passion big enough to pursue with
the same dogged determination Flash had? It was
kind of a daunting thought, especially when so
much of my life seemed muddled and unclear. As I
could see it, I had several passions, all competing
for my attention and not necessarily working
together in one beautiful, synergistic purpose as I
imagined they should.
Perhaps making a list would help. I brought out
my notebook, turned to a fresh page, and paused.
Finally, I wrote,
My Passions — Rachel Ridge
(Always write your name at the top.)
1. Faith — my core beliefs
I put this one first because I figured that’s what
good Christians are supposed to do. I remembered
sitting in Sunday school and seeing circles drawn
on an overhead projector image, with the center
circle being Jesus Christ, and the larger circles
around it representing other parts of your life,
almost like ripples. Totally made sense. Yes, this
should be the first thing I list, even though I sort
of think it ought to go without saying. But it
would feel funny to leave it off. Or would it?
I imagined those circles again and wondered
what would happen if I took faith out of the center.
What would I put in its place? Suddenly, seeing
life without a moral compass and an abiding
relationship with God at its core looked like a
hopeless abyss. If I thought life was muddled and
confused before, now it would be completely
Truthfully, as of late it felt more like a value
than a passion, but when push came to shove, if the
definition for passion was something like “strong
energy or emotion that compels you,” then faith
would qualify. I was still a bit unclear about how it
should actually look (i.e., if I were truly
passionate, shouldn’t I be in full-time service?).
But I kept it at the top and moved on to number
two. Maybe this little exercise would lead me to
2. My family
This one was easy. I found this passion the day
we brought our first baby home from the hospital
and became a family unit. I lay on the bed next to
the most perfect pink bundle I’d ever seen, and I
knew instantly that everything was different. As I
smoothed the tiny ruffles on the dress her daddy
had bought her, I vowed to be the best mother I
could possibly be. I would love and cherish her,
lead and protect her—and the babies that would
come after her—no matter what.
Passion burst into flame and colored every life
decision afterward: where we would live, what
we would do, what kinds of food we’d eat, how
we’d spend our time and money. Parenting wasn’t
a hobby or passing fancy. It took center stage as a
passion worth pursuing, even through the setbacks
(like forgetting to pick up a kid from school on his
first day of sixth grade, losing patience with
whining toddlers and teenagers, and wanting to run
out the door at times).
Deep in my heart, I wanted to make our home
an unforgettable place. A place that would ground
our kids for life, make them feel loved, and give
them a sense of belonging. I wanted our home and
family, however imperfect, to be a sanctuary.
3. Creating — making art and stuff
(I decorated this point with doodles for
emphasis, and also because I doodle when I think
And here is where Flash’s pursuit of his
passion really spoke to me. It was on the level of
that outside circle used in the overhead projector
image, that part of me that looked beyond the “done
deals” of faith and family and wondered about
things like interests and purpose and, I don’t know,
experiencing joy. I thought back to seventh grade,
when my journey to discovering a passion for
creating art died a sudden death before it even had
a chance to live.
It was my first day of art class—the elective I’d
been waiting for ever since seeing the thrown
pottery jugs, papier-mâché figures, and charcoal
still lifes on display in the hallways of my junior
high. “Make Art,” said the sign above them, and I
knew in my heart that I was born to do just that. I’d
always loved colors and nature and crayons and
glue. To think I would finally get to take a real art
class! I had already pictured a blue ribbon hanging
from one of my paintings in the hallway and a
write-up in the school newspaper.
We perched on stools, our easels arranged in a
square facing a table in the center of the room. A
large clay vase was placed on the table. We were
instructed to pick up our pencils and draw the
container without looking at the paper secured to
“This is called blind contour drawing,” said
Mr. Hastings, the art teacher. “It is essential to
everything else we will learn in this class. Begin.”
He abruptly sat down at his desk, opened a book,
and left us to our work.
All the other kids brought their pencils up and
began to draw, steadfastly staring at the vase
without glancing at their papers. I heard the sound
of charcoal points on manila, stool legs squeaking
on industrial tile floors, the ticking of the large
clock above the door. And I froze. The vase swam
before me. My heart began to pound, and I felt my
skin start to flush. My hand shook as I looked at the
lip of the vase and tried to make my hand follow
its simple shape.
But I couldn’t help it: I peeked at the paper
beneath my pencil and was appalled at the
misshapen form burgeoning there. I erased and
started over, but the horrific mess was still visible,
now half-smeared and half-erased. Walking to the
supply area for new paper, I noticed the incredible
success my classmates were enjoying in their very
Twice more to the supply cabinet for fresh
paper. Still a mess. As the others began to finish
their masterpieces one by one, the classroom
chatter got louder and more distracting until I
simply gave up trying to concentrate and pretended
to join in the banter.
The bell rang, and the room emptied. I gathered
my books and stood next to Mr. Hastings’ desk.
Perhaps if I could get a little help, or at least a
quick pointer, I’d be able to figure it out. I looked
at the collages displayed just over his shoulder and
couldn’t wait to move on to those! The way the
colors and shapes melded together to create
spectacular scenes made me practically giddy with
excitement. But first, I needed assistance.
“Young lady,” Mr. Hastings said as he scowled
at me over his glasses in response to my request,
“if you can’t do this first simple lesson, then I
suggest you drop the class. You have no business
I felt my heart drop into my shoes.
Embarrassed, ashamed. Mortified by his
indifferent judgment. “But, I . . .” I stammered, but
he was already back to reading, the conversation
finished. I could feel my eyes fill up and the room
tilt. With one last, longing glance at the collages, I
closed the door—not just on the class, but on
anything creative. Anything artsy. Certainly
anything involving pencil and paper. He was right:
I had no business being there. I was a failure
before I had even started. I was crushed.
The vivid details of that moment, down to the
smells of oil paints, turpentine, and pottery slurry,
became fixed in my memory. I learned to avoid
creative projects of any kind—and I watched from
the sidelines as classmates made scenic sets for
plays, history dioramas, and cool collages. I would
instead focus my attention on home ec, which it
turned out I was also terrible at. But it was the
elective I took in place of art—so practical, so
sensible—and I would not pick up a paintbrush
until I was well into my thirties.
How I wish now that Mr. Hastings had taken
just three minutes of his time to encourage me to
stick with it. To tell me that the whole point of the
exercise was not perfection, but practice. To
gently say, “I see you have a hunger for making
things. Let me show you what you can do.”
It took me more than two decades to rediscover
my childhood passion and reach a conclusion that
he could have easily pointed out in those moments
after class. “Make Art” means so much more than
blind contour drawing. It means “Create Something
Beautiful.” There are hundreds of forms of art—
most of which don’t require pencil and paper—and
unlimited ways to create meaningful, beautiful
things that people will appreciate and treasure. But
I didn’t know that, couldn’t know that, because the
door was closed to me that day.
I lost something important in one single
moment. A budding, vibrant light was snuffed out.
And it took three kids, an overworked husband,
and a desperate desire to find something I could
enjoy for me to find it again. I signed up for a tole
painting class in a local craft store, simply as a
way to get out of the house for a couple of hours a
week. But with one dip of the brush into paint,
something in my soul sparked back to life.
And so I had found a third passion: “Creating
Something Beautiful.” Or as I liked to call it,
“Making Art and Stuff.” It was like coming home. I
didn’t plan on trying to make a career out of it. I
just needed to hold things in my hands that I had
made. That I had decorated. That I had made
And it was wondrous.
Whew. I took a break from all that thinking and
went to the barn. Flash stood under the shade of the
sloping roof like a donkey statue. Perfectly still,
except for the occasional swish of that wispy tail.
His eyes were half-closed and his ears drooped
downward, indicating that it was nap time, no
doubt his third of the day.
With a click of my tongue, his head came up
and his nostrils began to work. Ears turned
forward. He nickered softly. Flash waited for my
approach, then slowly rubbed his head on me as I
reached around to scratch the warm patch
underneath his mane. The scabs from the barbed
wire were still visible, reminders of his dedicated
quest through fences for his mare. I could see why
she’d come around and fallen for him!
Passion is like a magnetic force that draws
others in. Its energy not only compels you to act but
also elicits a response from everything around you.
I pulled a few burrs from Flash’s mane and looked
into his brown eyes, still sleepy from his
interrupted nap. He didn’t exactly look like a
magnetic force at the moment, but it was like he
knew. His determination spoke volumes, and it
made me start to filter my scattered thoughts into
something concrete. Something that made sense and
There was one last thing to add to my list, but I
didn’t know quite how to word it:
4. Helping others find and create
I started to realize that my struggle to find
peace and beauty in the middle of all my busyness
wasn’t unique to me. Others craved the same things
I did. It seemed like each project Tom and I
worked on had an underlying theme—to create a
sense of sanctuary for our clients through art and
design. But there was more to it than that.
Sometimes we could see that art and design were
cosmetic Band-Aids for deeper problems:
dysfunctional family structures, unbalanced value
systems, too many activities, maxed-out finances.
You see a whole lot when you’re in dozens and
dozens of homes for extended periods of time, and
some of it is heartbreaking. You see that a pretty
mural can’t fix a broken marriage, or prevent
aching loneliness, or help someone sleep better at
night. And I wondered if, in a roundabout way,
God had put a passion for beauty in my heart for a
greater purpose. More than just paying the bills.
More than just a creative outlet. More than just
making pretty things.
But for something eternal.
Eric Liddell, the Olympian who inspired the
movie Chariots of Fire, says in the film, “God
made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
I often felt a sense of God’s pleasure when I
painted, or when I began to write my thoughts
down on paper and saw beauty unfold in my
words. There was a mantle of peace and
satisfaction that warmed me down to my toes and
caused me to wake up each morning eager to get
going, excited to see what the day would hold. I’d
begun to see that I was made to create things, and
that doing so was an extension of God’s own
character flowing through me. Feeling God’s
pleasure in such a simple way made me want to
share it with others.
My love for art was quietly birthing a love for
“Find your passion.” The scribbled words
were more than a worthy goal. I could not have
known, in my twenties or even in my thirties, how
passion would find me instead. Sometimes it takes
a circuitous route, back to your childhood, to
remember what brought you joy—before anyone
told you that you couldn’t do it, or that you weren’t
good enough, or that it wasn’t practical. Before
that voice in your head told you to close the door
and take home economics instead.
Sometimes you bump into your passion when
you’re looking for something else, and suddenly it
all becomes clear when you feel God’s pleasure as
you create or give or learn. And sometimes you
just have to break down some fences and bust
some gates off their hinges in order to catch the
prize on the other side. And when you do, you
realize that discovering your passion isn’t an end
in itself, but the key.
The key to finding your purpose.
Find your passion.
Passion leads to purpose.
I stood outside the stately door of the aging
mansion and pushed the bell. The faint sound of
Westminster chimes filtered through the panes of
the side windows. Longest door chime ever. I
don’t know how people stand it. “Just a minute,”
came a voice on the other side of the door. The
lady of the house jiggled the handle up and down
as she struggled to unlock it.
The wait gave me a chance to take a breath and
collect myself before meeting this prospective
customer. I pulled my blazer down to straighten it
and shook my bangs out of my eyes. Inhale. Now
exhale. Our project with Bridgette and Steve had
led to further work at the corporate site, but it had
recently ended. Now I needed to fill our schedule
once again. So here I was.
I took stock of my surroundings. The home,
which had been featured in design magazines in the
1970s, was once a showstopper in the midst of the
old-moneyed part of Fort Worth. But forty years
had taken their toll, and the old girl looked
unfashionably shabby next to the sprawling new
mansions that were going in nearby.
Peeling paint on the wood door and trim, along
with sagging gutters along the roofline, made the
house look tired, and even the stiff boxwood
hedges felt out of touch with modern style. Still,
this was exactly the type of neighborhood we liked
to work in: It had people who appreciated fine
things—and who had money to spend.
The designer on this project, who had put us in
touch with the homeowner, was new to me. I’d
never met him before, but I appreciated that he’d
seen our work somewhere and felt we would be a
good fit for his clients. He explained they were in
the process of updating their home and needed us
to provide some beautiful finishes for the kitchen
cabinetry. “There might also be a few minor
repairs,” he said. And then he’d hung up abruptly
after giving me the address. A little odd, but hey,
I wasn’t complaining.
I rented a shiny new car, impressive enough to
befit the sales call.
“Here we are!” said the lady, finally throwing
the door open, releasing a smoke-filled haze into
the outside air. “Watch your step.” She pressed her
slippered foot over the threshold to keep it from
popping up and took a puff of her lipstick-stained
cigarette. It was difficult to tell her age, but I
guessed, oh, mid-seventies, with a little bit of
work done to put her squarely in her late sixties.
“We had a guy working on this door, and he never
came back to finish.” She shook her head
disgustedly. “You just can’t depend on people
“I know, people these days, right?” I nodded
sympathetically and followed her into the dim
entryway. She scooped up her black-and-white
shih tzu, who was barking and baring tiny white
fangs at me in welcome, and pulled him in close to
her flowing housedress.
“Now, before we get to those cabinets, I want
you to take a look at this water-damaged wall and
give me a bid on fixing it, then painting a mural
over the fix to disguise it.”
I heard her say this, but I could barely tear my
eyes away from the scene in front of me. A
multitude of bears—scores and scores of
collectible teddy bears—lined every wall, step,
piece of furniture, and bookshelf. Bears in
wedding dresses, bears in overalls, bears reading
books, big bears, little bears, bears in rocking
chairs, bears in frilly Victorian outfits, bears with
monocles, bears with baby bears. Bears and more
bears. It was a veritable bear bonanza.
“I collect bears,” the lady said modestly,
pressing her jet-black hair into its elaborate updo.
“And modern Asian art, as well as commemorative
plates. And anything with elephants on it.” She
motioned, spokesmodel style, to the sunken living
room, where her collections were displayed in
massive, ridiculous vignettes of utter tastelessness.
It was as if the Home Shopping Network had
unloaded all of its unclaimed merchandise right
there. I felt an involuntary laugh about to erupt, but
I remained professional.
“Lovely, just lovely. Almost takes your breath
away.” I busily pulled out my measuring tape and
got to work. All those glassy bear eyes watching,
watching. My neck prickled. And I knew
instinctively, even as I measured, that she only
wanted a price from me and did not plan to have us
fix the wall or paint a mural over it at all. Tire
kicker. You learn to recognize them quickly. People
who don’t care that it takes hours to look at each
project, come up with a solution, create a design
and a sketch, then present a bid . . . all without
them ever planning to purchase from you. Not that I
mind—I’m just saying.
We made our way to the kitchen, where to my
surprise the cabinetry was freshly finished with a
Country French, antiqued treatment. “You want to
change this?” I asked.
“No, just fix it,” she replied. She pointed to a
very small area near the sink that needed attention.
“I keep calling the painter to come out and finish
this, and I’ve just given up. Obviously, he is not a
very dependable person.” She launched into a
conspiratorial rant about how difficult it was to get
anyone to do a good job, the way things used to be
done, and how terrible it was that no one even
answered their phones anymore.
“I’ll have to prep the wood and match the
paint,” I said, interrupting her lengthy remarks and
starting to feel just a teeny bit put out for driving
all this way to bid on such a minor repair. “It’s a
very small area, but it won’t be easy to get it to
look perfect.” I’d have to recoup my time
“I know you can do it,” said the homeowner. “I
just can’t trust anyone else.” The cigarette glowed.
“Now, you need to see the guest bath and tell me
what you can do in there. The wallpaper guy didn’t
pull off all the old paper before he quit, and I
wonder—you can just texture right over it and
make it look really luxurious, can’t you?” What
was left of the gold wallpaper, with red-and-black
flocking, burned my eyeballs with its groovy ’70s
pattern. It was hard to think straight. Perhaps the
wallpaper guy had been overcome with nausea.
“What are your ideas?” she demanded. The
dog in the crook of her arm quivered nervously
with a continuous growl, chasing off any creative
thought I might have had. Easy now, Fluffy. But I
graciously spent the next fifteen minutes discussing
ideas with her for the guest bathroom, which I
knew was another tire being kicked.
My eyeball problem was giving way to a
massive headache, but the tour was just beginning.
From the guest bath, we trudged through strewn
laundry to the master bath, where the plumbers had
left their tools and everything, presumably for a
lunch break. But that was two weeks ago. I began
to see a pattern here. No one ever comes back.
My pounding head, the awful fluorescent lights,
her gravelly voice going on and on about the
plumbers . . . I zoned out for a moment or five,
which was unfortunate, because I did not see the
other shih tzu coming, full force, to attack the back
of my ankle. Ack! I shook him off and tried to act
casual about inspecting the bite mark. Bleeding!
Are you kidding me? That wretched little dog had
punctured a vein with his needle teeth. That’s when
I stopped pretending to smile and just gritted my
teeth for the remainder of the tour.
Please, dear Lord, make this end.
But God, in His inscrutable wisdom, was
clearly not interested in swift intervention. He was
going to leave me hanging. On toward the master
bedroom we went. I could hear children down the
hall singing the Barney theme song and ventured
some small talk.
“Oh, how sweet. Are those your grandchildren
“No, not grandchildren,” said my hostess. She
flung open a door to a huge walk-in closet.
Three large gray birds, in three enormous dusty
cages, all bobbed their heads, their beady eyes
glued to a TV screen and singing with reedy
voices, “I love you, you love me, we’re a hap-py
fam-i-ly . . .”
“They love this show!” she exclaimed. “I keep
it on 24-7, just for them.” I brushed a floating
feather from my nose and instantly realized that
someone had put drugs in my drive-through coffee,
and I was hallucinating this whole thing. Suddenly,
the singing parrots made perfect sense. Of course.
That feather wasn’t even real, was it? Hysteria
bubbled up, along with a cold sweat. So this is
what it feels like to lose it. Bu-whahahahaha!
If I had had plumber’s tools, I would have
dropped them and run, but instead I clutched my
black satchel and snapped my notebook shut. I
turned to make my exit, but before I could make a
clean getaway, she kept the party going with one
“I want you to meet my husband,” she
announced, and like a lamb to the slaughter, all I
could do was follow helplessly to the next room.
“Frank! This is Rachel! Frank! This is the
artist!” my tour guide rasped as we burst through
the door. Shrouded in blue cigarette smoke, Frank,
a shrunken little man, sat deep in the recesses of a
faded floral couch, hooked up to an oxygen tank.
The tank was at one knee, an ashtray on the other,
just above a large leg bandage. He lifted his
perfectly bald head in greeting and sputtered
something unintelligible, his words drowned out
by the Barney chorus and barking shih tzus. In that
instant, I knew that I, too, would never come back.
“Ohmygoodness, look at the time!” I pretended
to look at my watch and wheeled around. I limped
back through the house on my one good ankle,
dragging my bloody stump behind me, while the
lady shuffled to keep up, explaining the problems
with home health care in minute detail. Something
about Frank’s leg wound not healing properly, and
would I take a look at it and tell her what I thought.
My thought at that moment? Why me?
We made it to the door. Finally! But it wouldn’t
open. So I waited in desperation while she jiggled
the doorknob for a full minute before releasing me
from the netherworld of bears and disappearing
Air! Fresh air! My rental car! I take back
everything I ever said about finding a quiet love
for people. My heart was a giant hole of nothing.
And possibly horror.
I called Tom the minute I got out of the
“We are getting regular jobs,” I said in no
uncertain terms. “You cannot believe what just
happened to me.” I laid rubber on the road as I
peeled onto the freeway. “Also, and I’m not joking,
I think I may have been drugged.”
My description of the event took most of the
drive home. When I finally arrived, a shower
removed the stale smoke from my hair. The clothes
could be laundered. But I could not shake the
The problem was, we needed the money, and I
knew we had no choice but to go back. We’d have
to work with shriveled-up Frank and the singing
parrots, rabid shih tzus, and awful smoke. And all
that talking! My head throbbed.
Tom guided me to the couch and handed me a
steaming cup of tea, along with a square of dark
chocolate (with sea salt and caramel—so healing).
“Have this,” he said, “and then let’s get you into
bed. There you go, baby.” I looked at this guy who
after twenty-five years of marriage knew I needed
to hear that everything was going to be all right.
“We can manage without this job,” he lied. And I
loved him for it.
I slept off the dreadful experience (or detoxed?—
whatever), and when morning came, Tom brought
me coffee and handed me my shoes. “Let’s get
Grayson off to school and then go for a little
walk.” By now Meghan was in college, and it was
easy to get one kid out the door with a sack lunch.
This was good: I needed easy.
The air had just a hint of fall in it, and a slight
breeze rustled the dry grasses in the field as we
took each other’s hand and slipped outside.
Neither of us needed to say anything grand, which
is one of the very best things about being together
We let ourselves through the gate and walked
into the pasture, our steps instinctively taking us to
one of Flash’s trails. About twelve inches in width,
the path was perfectly groomed by his set of
hooves and just wide enough for single file. Tom
dropped back behind me, our fingers releasing.
The trail meandered toward the barn along the
fence line for fifty yards or so before dividing into
two. One of the branches led on to the barn, while
the other angled off across the field. We chose the
one angling off and followed it around to where it
intersected with another of Flash’s trails. Taking a
right, we headed through the back pasture toward
the woods, our feet still following the furrow that
was carved through the grass and tall weeds.
“I’ll bet this place looks crazy from the air!” I
shielded my eyes from the morning sun and looked
eastward across the field. It was crisscrossed with
his paths in some kind of pattern only a donkey
could make sense of. Each corner of the field was
connected by a trail, with intersecting, veering
lines going this way and that. None was straight,
but each was like a gently undulating, dry riverbed
created by his moseying walking style.
“Hard to believe he can do enough plodding to
keep these so well maintained,” Tom said,
admiring Flash’s work ethic. “Look, this one goes
from the woods to the barn, with exits in case he
changes his mind!” The main arteries were well
worn and deep, but even the secondary paths
looked oft used.
We glanced up just in time to see Flash emerge
from the woods, where he loved to sleep at night.
True to form, he used the most direct trail route to
reach us. We watched his hooves plod, plod, plod
toward us and saw that they dragged a bit of dirt
with each knock-kneed step.
Flash came to a stop by Tom, nosing his
pockets for a treat. Tom produced a Tic Tac and
palmed it for Flash’s soft, thick tongue to grab, and
we laughed when he drooled at its mintyness. We
listened to him crunch it, the sound echoing in that
big old head. Then I sighed and looked at Tom, not
wanting to talk about that job but knowing we
probably should. I wanted to quit this whole thing,
so I said as much.
“Rachel, we aren’t going to take that project,
so stop worrying about it. We’ll be fine. We’ve
always said ‘Not all business is good business,’
and this is a perfect example. Something else will
take its place. You’ll see.”
Tom threw an arm around Flash’s neck and
gave his friend a good knuckle rub on his fuzzy
forehead. The donkey turned his head into Tom’s
chest and vigorously rubbed up and down, leaving
a dusty print on his dark shirt. Looking over
Flash’s ears at me, Tom continued. “Besides, not to
be corny or anything, but I think we just need to
keep plodding on.”
“Oh, ha-ha-ha,” I laughed, holding my stomach
in feigned mirth. “Aren’t you clever!”
“No, I’m serious.” Tom’s smile became
earnest. “We need to remember that we’re in this
for the long haul, and that the journey is just as
important as the destination. Look at how far
we’ve come and how many good things have
happened along the way. Look at our kids, and how
we’re living here now, fighting for something
worthwhile. Look at the fact that we’re standing in
a pasture with a donkey on a weekday morning,
while the rest of the world is sitting in traffic to get
to their desk jobs. We are doing something we
love. Yeah, we’ve had our insane moments, but I
wouldn’t trade anything for where we are right
I looked around at all those trails, made one
sedate step at a time, by a donkey who never really
seemed to pay attention to where he was headed,
and I considered what Tom had said. Maybe he had
Plod, plod, plod. That was exactly what we
were doing. Progress was so slow. It didn’t appear
like we were heading anywhere. Success was
nowhere on the horizon, and our tempo seemed to
drag. But at least we were moving. We weren’t
sitting still. We were taking steps, forming habits,
creating lanes. And all those lanes were
intersecting, weaving, making way for life to
happen. It didn’t all rest on one job. Hmmm.
We were walking now, single file again. Tom,
me, Flash. You never really like to be the one right
in front of Flash because he has no concept of
personal space. He puts his nose right up by your
back and playfully nibbles at your clothing as you
move along. He really needs to work on that.
Just as I arched my back in anticipation of his
nudge, I heard hooves pause behind me. I turned in
time to watch Flash lower his nose to the ground.
We’d walked directly through his favorite roll
spot, where he loves to bathe himself in dirt. It’s a
wide circle, worn clean of grass and weeds, right
down to the soft, loose soil beneath.
Flash’s roll spots—hidden jewels in a pasture
comprised largely of Texas blackland soil (much
too clumpy) and limestone rock (not enough dust)
—are well chosen for their quality of sandy dirt,
and he enjoys the ritual of bathing in them like you
Now trancelike, with half-closed eyes and
flattened ears, he circled several times, his muzzle
leaving a groove in the fine sand. His front legs
seemed to buckle, and with a deep exhale he
lowered himself to the ground and kicked up a
giant plume of dust with his back feet as he rolled
Belly up, he rolled from side to side in violent
motions punctuated by gas and groans. He rubbed
his back into the ground with relish and finally
came to a stop with legs splayed out, tail rapidly
sweeping the dirt. One more roll. He heaved a
happy sigh and looked up at us over his dust
mustache. I was ready to hear him say, “Thanks for
waiting, guys. That felt great.”
Flash threw his front feet forward and pulled
himself up, covered in dirt from ears to rump, just
the way he likes it. The layer of dust would help
repel the flies and mosquitoes and protect him
from the sun—important quality-of-life issues for
creatures who, for obvious reasons, would have
difficulty applying sunscreen or insect spray by
We continued on our way, finally stopping at
the water spigot near the barn, where Beau was
waiting for us. He’d opted not to walk with his
rival, but he didn’t seem to mind that we had done
so. “I’ll take you guys to the house,” his expression
said as he wagged the tip of his tail at us.
With his shoulder to Flash, his body language
clearly excluded the donkey from the conversation.
The two tag-teamed our walks, passing us off like
batons, with Flash taking the pasture zone and
Beau in charge of the yard. However awkward, it
seemed to work for them.
Tom topped off the bucket beneath the faucet
while the sun warmed the four of us. I had never
considered Flash to be a trailblazer, even though
we’d seen him run with horses and romance a
beautiful mare. He certainly had experienced some
big, shining moments. But his characteristic gait
was s.l.o.w. He didn’t hurry, and he seemed to step
methodically. He rarely even looked up as he
And it dawned on me then that there was
something important in his trails. They were daily
efforts that created structure and made pathways
for others to follow. And maybe just as noteworthy,
they intertwined to create an intricate pattern that
didn’t always make sense from up close, but could
easily be seen from another perspective.
I did a mental flyover, imagining my life as
Flash’s. (I would definitely do something about the
buckteeth and big-ear situation.) I looked down at
my own pathways to see if I could find any patterns
—any definitive trails that I could identify.
At first glance it looked just like Flash’s
haphazard pasture lines, but as I pulled my lens
back further, I began to see how all those threads
were interconnecting, moving, and weaving. Like
an unfinished tapestry, with unraveled edges, but
with the beginnings of something beautiful taking
I saw how the path of my childhood as that
awkward missionary kid had led to young
adulthood and Bible college. And how the path of
Bible college had led to meeting my husband and
thinking we would be courageous humanitarians in
some far-off corner of the globe. As
twentysomethings, we just knew we would change
the world with our zeal and dedication. Jesus and
us and the gospel! But somehow life and kids and
work had changed those plans, and the trail took an
For so many years we felt that our path was
“less than” those of more dedicated servants, who
gave it all to follow higher callings. While we
lived in suburbia and enjoyed the everyday
luxuries of running water, flushing toilets, and
Walmart, they were putting their lives on the line in
grass huts somewhere. Are we doing enough? Are
we sellouts? Are we selfish to pursue a dream
that uses our creative gifts? We kept treading.
Diapers, Sunday school, work, offering plate.
Faith had often been presented as an either-or
proposition: Either you are a 100 percent willing
vessel or a halfhearted church attendee. A minister
or a pew sitter. A doer or a spectator. An on-fire
zealot or a pallid Christian. There wasn’t much
middle ground to speak of. It took years of
plodding to realize that there was, after all, a place
for us, and it was not in a manufactured state of
guilt, but in a grace-filled space within His care.
Faith, we learned, is not an occupation, but a
lifestyle. It is a matter of the heart that
encompasses everything. Step by faltering step, we
had made a trail from the woods to the barn, from
hyperactive duty to genuine worship. Circling
around and coming back. From work . . . to grace
. . . to offering.
Making dinner, taking kids to piano lessons,
changing the oil. Finding that God is in our work
and our play and our family. In our hockey games
and Bible studies, our bedtime prayers and
errands. He is in our sketches and paintbrushes and
dreams. He is in our showing up each day and
lacing up our shoes and being fully present in
whatever situations we find ourselves. He is in our
Walking, stepping, plodding. Doing the next
From the weight of thinking we needed to have
all the answers in our zealous youth, to the
darkness of having none—not a single one—in our
moments of despair. Like when we lost Collin. Or
when we had to choose which bills to pay. Getting
lost, and feeling our way.
And one day, waking up to embrace the
freedom of the mystery. Savoring the not knowing.
Resting in faith. Being in awe of a God who sees
and knows, and who waits. It all happens in such
incremental moments, as you work out your life
into some kind of reflection of Him in your
everyday world. You are making trails, even when
you don’t know quite where you are heading.
And all the tangled knots, the hard places of
your journey, become dots on the map. They are
interspersed with the stretches of plains, the
mountains, and the joyous milestones, all of it
coursing into a magnificent pattern borne of slow
steps and determined feet.
Each marker holds its story. “Remember that
time?” you say, and you laugh or fade off into quiet
reverie, retracing your steps and shaking your
head. You see how each place you mark makes
way for a new trail to be blazed. Yes, some of the
trails peter out, and you have to back up and start
over. Some of them are easier than others. And
some don’t make any sense at all, at least from
your perspective. The point is, you are moving.
Not standing still. You are putting one foot in front
of the other, and as you do, somehow . . . God is
Step, step, plod, step.
He puts people in your path—like Priscilla,
who entered my life with a phone call inquiring
about a nursery mural, and who never left. With her
endless encouragement and generous friendship,
she changed my course forever. “Want to see a
movie?” she’d ask, and it was like a lifeline when
I was most lonely.
And Bridgette. Our Southern belle neighbor,
who was ever growing on me with her “Well hi,
y’all”s and her delicious gumbo that sometimes
arrived outside our front door along with a kind
note. She still called Flash THAT NAME, but it
bothered me less and less these days.
Trail markers, northern stars.
Psalm 32:8 says, “I will guide you along the
best pathway for your life. I will advise you and
watch over you.” How incredible to know that His
hand is leading and His eye is watching over us.
And Proverbs 16:9 states, “We can make our
plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
As I waited for Flash’s bucket to fill, I
remembered the time I was at Chick-fil-A with
Grayson on a particularly stressful day. We’d just
left a dentist appointment that took forever and cost
some exorbitant sum, and I was in a hurry to get
back to work to make up lost time. I swung into the
drive-through lane and placed our order for lifesustaining chicken nuggets, waffle fries, and sweet
tea. The young lady on the other side of the
intercom was incredibly polite, and I was even
more impressed with her when we reached the
window. She took my money, gave us our food,
told me it was a pleasure to serve us . . . all while
employing such intentional eye contact with me that
I made particular note of it to Grayson.
“See, now that is how teenagers should
interact with adults. Making eye contact is so
important! I hope you’ll remember to do that, Gray.
You’ll go far in life if you do.” Hey, you can’t let a
teachable moment go to waste.
As I handed Grayson his food, I happened to
catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror.
What? Suddenly I knew exactly why the girl at the
window had looked at me so intently. The left lens
of my sunglasses had fallen out—I’d been talking
to her with only one tinted lens!
“Good grief, Grayson! How long have I been
driving around like this?” I demanded of my son,
whose mouth was already stuffed with waffle fries.
I pointed at my missing lens and glared at him.
Through his chipmunk cheeks, he mumbled
something about not being able to see that side of
my head from the passenger seat. Glancing over, he
nearly choked as he spit out the fries and howled in
laughter. Not a shred of compassion, that kid.
How could I not have noticed that I was
missing a lens? How could I not “see” something
so conspicuous? I realized later that I was just too
close to the situation—literally. (It didn’t help that
I was distracted and worried at the time.) But my
mismatched lenses were only too obvious to
someone looking from another perspective.
Looking out from my broken viewpoint didn’t
reveal the truth; it was only from a distance that
reality was clearly seen.
I wondered, how often do we fail to see the big
picture? How often do we look at present
circumstances and make decisions based on what
we see and feel today? We forget that it’s in the
walking, in the daily tasks, that the work of grace
gets done. Sometimes we just have to step back in
order to see it.
Flash’s coarse hair along the cross on his back
already felt hot in the morning sun. He plunged his
lips into the cool water and drank deeply from the
full black bucket. His sturdy neck rippled with
each swallow, his nostrils opening wide, then
closing. He finally brought his head up, water
dribbling from the corners of his mouth, and
looked at me. Through long eyelashes, his darkly
rimmed eyes held my gaze. He blinked and brought
his wet nose up to my face to sniff my cheek.
In that moment, I was filled with gratitude for
this homeless donkey and for all his crazy trails.
And I thanked God for all the times during my
journey that I’d begged for rescue, for change, for
intervention—and God in His inscrutable wisdom
had left me just where I was.
Because it was in the waiting, and the
wondering, and the plodding that I had to do the
most trusting. And found the most grace.
You can’t always see the destination, but
perseverance will take you there.
He is with you each step of the way.
Be a trailblazer.
Persistence makes pathways for grace to follow.
Can I get you a cup of coffee? No? How about
some lemonade? It’s sugar-free.” Bridgette ushered
me into her ultrastylish home office for a design
meeting, but first, her Southern hospitality took
over. She adjusted the round glasses on her nose
and smiled. “You just set right here and let me get
you something.” Bridgette said “here,” like
“heeah,” which always made me smile.
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” I declined the
refreshment and sat down. My Midwestern
sensibilities and Norwegian roots required me to
refuse all first and second offers, on account of
that’s how we do it. It goes against our stoic grain
to put anyone out. We don’t want to be a bother.
Really, we don’t. We couldn’t.
Unless, of course, they make a third offer.
Then we can consider it.
“Water, then? It’s no trouble,” Bridgette
insisted. “But the lemonade is delicious, and I’ve
already got it made.” The pitcher was hovering
over the glass, Bridgette’s eyes on me, awaiting my
response. I was no match for this “steel magnolia”
and gave in.
“Well, since you’ve already made it . . .”
Gracious acceptance was my only recourse in this
situation. She poured it over ice (again, too much
trouble, but she already had ice out) and set the
glass down on a coaster in front of me.
“How about some cheese and crackers?” I
could see that Bridgette was going to make this
“Oh thank you, but, no. I just had a late lunch
and couldn’t eat a bite.” I held my hand up in polite
refusal. But she was already bringing a small tray
with an array of cheeses, a selection of crackers,
and clusters of grapes.
“You’ve simply got to try this Brie,” Bridgette
said. I noticed that it was topped with some kind of
raspberry marmalade, oozing down the sides in a
decadent display of epicurean goodness. This lady
didn’t play fair.
“Oh my. That’s too pretty to eat. I might need to
just Instagram it instead.” I could feel my mouth
watering. Raspberries are my favorite. Also any
kind of cheese.
Bridgette took a cracker and dipped it into the
soft wedge to tempt me. “It’s from Costco, and we
bought so much, more than Steve and I could
possibly eat. Please help us eat some of it up!”
As I thought about it, lunch was several hours
ago, and it only made sense to have an afternoon
snack. And she’d gone to all this work to put the
“I really shouldn’t.” I was still reluctant but
hated to insult her hospitality. “I’ll just have one or
Heavenly. She had so much of it, maybe three
or four bites, or ten, would take some off her
hands. It was the least I could do.
I decided that only classy people happen to
have Brie (and gourmet marmalade) on hand for
last-minute meetings. Bridgette somehow made me
feel like I was doing her a favor by eating as much
as I could. I don’t know if Southern women go to
school to master the art of persuasion or what, but
she had a summa cum laude degree in it. I could
learn something from her.
Bridgette had a new client who needed artwork
in his luxury condo in downtown Dallas, and she
wanted to go over the design plan for the whole
space before we were scheduled to go to the
location together later in the week.
I sipped my lemonade as I took out a notepad
and started looking at the paint and fabric swatches
she had chosen while piped-in music drifted
through the eclectic office that looked part
downtown loft, part Texas country, and part urban
renewal. Galvanized metal blended seamlessly
with stained concrete floors, modern lighting, sleek
workspaces, and well-chosen antiques. I loved the
old wrought iron stair rail and sliding barn door.
Fabulous touches. A library of architectural books
and samples filled an entire wall, and a massive
bank conference table, used mainly for Ping-Pong,
held center stage. You couldn’t help but admire the
panache with which Bridgette and Steve merged
their work and home lives.
Over the months of working together on
various projects, I had come to appreciate
Bridgette’s talent for seeing possibilities in
everything. Oh, she’s very good. Case in point was
this office. She and Steve had recently bought the
property that Flash’s cow friends had lived on and
moved from the cottage near us into a barn.
Seriously, who moves into a cow barn? Well, only
people who can reimagine, repurpose, and reuse
anything and everything to convert it into an
incredible home and office space. What was once
just a big metal structure had become a functional
and inviting living and working environment that
anyone would envy.
It was no wonder Bridgette was successful. I
could see that now. She could take any old item
and make it into art or a functional piece of
furniture. She and Steve could design a whole
building on the back of a napkin. It almost made me
sick, but I was comforted by the fact that they
loved what we could bring to their projects
artistically. And as it turned out, we worked well
“Say, have you seen how big the dark mare
next door is getting?” Bridgette finished fussing
over the refreshments and pulled up a chair. “When
do you think her baby is due?”
“I have no clue,” I said. “But her belly is huge!
It looks like she might explode any day.”
It was true. Maria, the beautiful ebony horse
that Flash had crashed through fences and gates for,
was definitely expecting a foal. There could be no
doubt. We watched her girth expand from week to
week as she went from sleek vixen to big mama.
No longer trotting around the pasture with her band
of friends, she now lumbered slowly, as if mindful
of the new life inside her.
Flash had not made any more attempts to break
out, but he lingered daily near the back gate and
nuzzled with her when he could. It was a sweet
sight, but boy, we hoped he was not the party
responsible for her ballooning weight and thick
ankles. The band of horses in the pasture included
two stallions, so chances were good that he was
off the hook on this one.
“Any idea if Hay-soos is the father?” Bridgette
shot me a wink. She’d heard about Flash’s
rendezvous with the cutie, and it was something of
a famous joke by now.
“Bridgette, you do know his name is Flash,
don’t you?” I laughed. This had gone on long
“Of course I do, but that’s just my lil’ pet name
for him.” Doggone it, she looked so sincere, I
couldn’t be mad about it anymore. Besides, it
really didn’t matter what she called him. It only
mattered who owned him, right? He belonged to
me, so what difference did it make? None
whatsoever. This conversation was far easier than
I had thought it would be. Why had I feared it so
much? Maybe I was growing or something.
“From the size of her, I’d say it’s more likely
that one of those big stallions over there is the
stud,” I said. “I sure hope so. The last thing we
need is a custody situation.” With each day that
passed, I worried that our neighbor would show up
with papers and a paternity suit. He’d probably
have the sheriffs with him and everything. Please,
Lord, let this foal be a horse and not a mule.
“You’d better keep your fingers crossed,”
Bridgette cautioned with a smile.
“Believe me, I am. Anyway, we’re planning to
have Flash ‘fixed,’ so we should be able to put this
behind us.” I grimaced at the thought of the
impending operation as I picked up my pen and
We focused on the business at hand. I looked at
the plans and took notes, squinting my eyes and
staring off into the distance as I imagined the
options for the space. The biggest challenge was to
create an art piece using a specific shade of brown
for a twenty-foot-high wall. Because elevators and
hallways would interrupt the space, something on
such a massive scale would need to be installed in
pieces, yet feel seamless. Between the two of us,
we had made a good start on the overall project.
But I knew it would take a really special idea for
the owner of the luxury apartment to say, “Wow!
After our meeting, I walked home, a flowering
perennial from Bridgette’s garden perched atop my
stack of samples. Not a bad commute, when the
only other traffic is cottontail rabbits who scurry
out of the way.
I stepped carefully over the cattle guard
between our properties, and Flash met me by the
gatepost. “Hey there, Donkey Boy.” I set my things
down and reached out to scratch under his scruffy
chin, working my way up his face to his ears. Dust
from his last dirt bath wafted up into the air and
settled back down. “So what’s that baby gonna be,
huh?” I asked him, but he didn’t say. Instead, he
turned his body around until his rear end was
facing me, and then backed up so I couldn’t miss
“Nice,” I said. “You won’t talk to me, but
you’ll let me scratch your rear. I get it.” Flash
might be an animal of few words, but he certainly
knows how to communicate when he wants to. And
he loves having his backside—the only place he
can’t reach with his teeth—rubbed. He turned to
look back at me, with a “well-what-are-wewaiting-for” expression, and relaxed his back hoof
in anticipation of a massage.
So I obliged, chuckling out loud at the
incongruity of standing in a field, rubbing a dusty
donkey’s backside after a fancy business meeting
to discuss a luxury condo design over Brie and
crackers. Flash had really come a long way since
he first arrived, so scared and broken in those
early days. I thought about how he hadn’t wanted
us to touch him, how he had shied away when we
came to tend to his wounds and had kept a wary
eye out for any sudden movement.
Looking over Flash’s hips to the field beyond, I
remembered how Tom had set up that camp chair
in the middle of it. He’d been so patient,
pretending to ignore Flash by engrossing himself in
a book, or by “bird-watching,” all the while
allowing the donkey to become accustomed to his
presence. Flash had inched his way closer and
closer, fearing mistreatment, but receiving instead
gentle words and kind handling. First, a rub on his
nose. Then, a hand on his neck. He had stood,
trembling, as Tom felt his way down the coarse
hair, across his chest and over his shoulders.
His fear had gradually given way to trust, and
he repaid Tom by becoming his loyal companion.
He followed him everywhere, always loitering
near Tom’s work area, curious about anything he
did. Affectionate and playful, Flash loved to lean
into him, nibble at his water bottle, and sniff his
Flash would have let me scratch his bum all
afternoon, but I had other things to do. With a final
dusty pat and a hug around the neck, I headed back
to the house.
“Here’s what I’ve come up with,” I reported to
Tom after seeing the condo later that week. “How
about a Venetian plaster finish on two-foot square
panels, mounted in a grid pattern over the whole
wall? We could use a stencil technique to emboss
some Latin phrases that would run up and down the
panels to visually connect them.” I believed it
solved every issue beautifully, and I was pretty
proud of it.
“Hmmm . . .” Tom thought about it for a few
moments and then said slowly, “I think we can do
better.” He took out a piece of graph paper. “I like
the idea of panels, and if I’ve done the math
correctly, it will take forty-five squares to cover
that massive wall. But what if we emboss
individual words that describe a ‘Life Well Lived’
on each panel? To really knock it out of the park,
we could use a different language for each word,
which would reflect both the travels of the client
and his values.”
Yep, it was better. In fact, it was brilliant. We
presented the idea, and the client loved it.
With approval granted for the design, Tom
perfected the plaster finish technique, while I
researched words to describe elements of a welllived life. Now this is the kind of art I adore,
because it combines the aesthetic with a
meaningful message. It made me pause and reflect
on what a well-lived life really looks like.
Is it about success? Relationships?
Experiences? Character? Faith? What would make
someone say about another, “This person really
knows how to live life well”? The concept for the
art had been a simple one, really. But its profound
questions resonated with me as I pondered the
characteristics that have marked humanity’s
aspirations throughout history.
In the end, we used words like these:
Each element of the art piece required time.
Time to decide on just the right word, time to
translate it into another language, time to choose a
font, time to lay it out, time to apply it to each
panel. I found that when I handled a word like love
or gratitude or joy that long, I meditated on it
throughout the day, even when I wasn’t working on
it. I felt intentional with my energies as I worked,
talked with the kids, did laundry, and bought
Can a person have joy while scrubbing a
toilet? Can you experience love while spreading
peanut butter on a sandwich? Gratitude when your
head hits the pillow? I was beginning to think that
perhaps living well—in any circumstance—might
be possible, if your heart is in the right place.
The condo project would take several weeks to
complete. Bridgette and I conferred regularly and
took a couple of shopping excursions to purchase
decor. Our common mission was so enjoyable that
sometimes I even forgot we were working.
Imagine me, laughing it up with the CEO of a
prestigious design firm! Yet here we were, having
a ball digging through thrift shops and antique
stores as we sought treasures for our client’s home.
One day, Bridgette called with some exciting
“Did you see the new foal?” she asked. “I just
caught a glimpse of it out my window!”
“No!” I answered breathlessly. “It’s here?
What does it look like?” Then worriedly I
inquired, “Does it look like a mule?”
“I couldn’t tell. It was staying pretty close to
I threw down the phone and ran out the door,
grabbing Grayson by the arm as I passed him in the
“The baby! Maria’s had her baby!” I huffed.
Now outside, we opened the gate and took off
across the field toward the fence, with Beau
joining in to see what the fuss was about. We
arrived at the back gate and climbed onto the
lowest crosspiece to get a good view. Leaning
forward into the sunlight, we could see the horses
grazing midfield. I spotted little legs hidden behind
the black mare as she nibbled grass. Everything
was quiet except for the rustle of leaves stirred by
Move aside, Maria! We willed her to turn. We
could see a small tail swishing near her, but the
baby’s form was obscured by her frame.
At Grayson’s whistle, the horses’ heads came
up and turned toward us. They paused; then the
leader, a large copper stallion, started forward.
The rest followed suit, with the mare and her baby
bringing up the rear. Still can’t see!
Fifteen yards now, nearly close enough to
view. Almost . . . almost there. The group stopped
just beyond us, clumped together around their
newest member, before slowly fanning out. C’mon,
c’mon . . . We held our breath. At last the mare
broke from the group and gently nudged the baby at
her side, as mothers often do . . . as if to urge him,
“Say hello to these people, Son.” He tumbled
forward, blinking at us in surprise.
Finally, our first glimpse of the foal.
Oh honey. Just look at you.
Our eyes took in the perfection before us, and
we exhaled, the air passing slowly through our lips
as we took him in.
You look just like your mama . . . and your
You’re dark brown, with unmistakable
A distinct gray muzzle.
Softly circled eyes.
Ears that are much too long.
Your mane is all bristly.
Your tail is funny.
Your head is just a little too big.
Darling baby, you are a mule! A beautiful
And your daddy is that smug-looking donkey
in the next pasture.
One look was all we needed. The strong family
resemblance vanquished all doubt. We had a mule
baby on our hands. And Flash was the father.
The foal’s long legs carried him toward us
before he suddenly realized that his mother had
stopped several feet back. He leaped as if his legs
were made of springs and quickly hopped to her
side. Turning shyly to look at us, his eyes were
inquisitive and eager in a face that was a perfect
blend of Flash and his ladylove.
“Come! Come here,” we called to the group as
they made their way through the grass to our open
hands. Then the foal and his mama hung back,
reluctant to get too close. It looked like the baby
was just a few days old, its legs far too long for its
body, but otherwise robust and healthy. What a
miracle he was! His tiny tail bobbed back and
forth as he decided to remain out of our reach.
Oh, he was cute. And now I figured we’d get a
visit from the sheriff’s department, demanding that
responsibility be taken. There was no denying the
truth before us: Everything on the inside of that
baby showed on the outside. He had donkey blood
in his veins, and it endeared him to us more than
any thoroughbred breeding could have.
We slipped to the fence whenever we could to
watch his progress as he filled out and grew into
his long legs. Always bashful around us, he never
ventured far from his mama’s eyes. Flash’s laissezfaire parenting style left the day-to-day care to the
ebony mare while he observed from a distance the
darling baby that bore his markings. He looked on
indulgently while the mule leaped over imaginary
obstacles and kicked up his heels with
rambunctious energy. Maria seemed quite content
with this arrangement, looking after the needs of
her growing foal without interference from the
opinionated donkey next door.
Everyone who saw him seemed to fall under
his charm, including his mama’s owner, who
joined the ranks of those smitten by such a perfect
mule. Much to our delight, he decided to keep him
after all. We could continue to see him anytime we
The summer flew by as we worked on the luxury
condo. Bridgette and I had one last meeting to
wrap up the details. We sat in her office amid
stacks of files and samples and her colored
markers and architectural plans. I felt fortunate that
someone of her professional stature would be
willing to take me under her wing and teach me
how to take things further.
I’d learned so much already: how to create
design boards, how to make presentations, and
how to read construction documents. I was picking
up the terms: FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures, and
Equipment—my first!), RFQ (Request For Quote),
charette (an intense collaborative session), lights
(windowpanes), chamfer (to round off), and
ingress/egress (in/out), to name a few. I was out of
my league but trying hard to look as pulled together
and confident as Bridgette.
I looked at the punch list in my hand. “Tom and
I will be on-site when the chandelier gets
installed,” I told Bridgette. “I think that’s the last
thing to be done.” The condo had turned out even
better than we had hoped. It was thoroughly urbancontemporary, with a touch of Texas rustic flair.
The art piece that graced the massive wall was a
stunning focal point for the entire space, and it was
gratifying to see how it had all come together.
“Great.” Bridgette checked off her notes. And
then there was a little pause. “So . . . Rachel, how
do you do it?” she asked, returning her orange
marker to its case and resting her chin in her hand.
“Do what?” I was puzzled by her sudden
“You know.” She seemed to be searching for
the right words. “How do you . . . have such a
beautiful family in the middle of everything you are
doing?” I looked up and saw a serious expression
on her face. “I mean, you and Tom have so much
going on, and yet you make it seem so easy to love
each other. You have good relationships with your
kids, and you’re so at peace all the time.”
Bridgette stopped for a moment and then added
slowly, “Steve and I used to drive past your house
when we lived in the cottage, and sometimes we
could see inside your windows. It always looked
so warm and wonderful in there. It’s made me
wonder how you’ve done it.”
I dropped my pen with a clatter, speechless at
this revelation. But it was her next statement that
nearly made me fall off my chair.
“You seem so perfect, and it’s hard not to be
intimidated by you.”
Intimidated? By me? I couldn’t be hearing
right. This, from the beautiful, impeccable,
successful Bridgette. The woman I idolized as
having it all, who could eat raspberry jam–topped
Brie and crackers, balance her business and
personal lives, and still maintain a twenty-fourinch waist.
In a moment of clarity, I realized that Bridgette
saw all the good and pretty parts of my life, not all
the ugly ones I was trying to hide. I had convinced
myself that she noticed my mom jeans and our old
truck and my lack of professional polish, so in my
insecurity I put up a wall that projected I had it all
together. I didn’t want her—or anyone else—to see
my struggles and failures, so I kept her at arm’s
length and tried to look self-assured and
impenetrable. Safe—from a distance.
This was my modus operandi: friendly, but
friendless. Except for Priscilla, there were very
few people I let in. Few saw the real me, with my
flaws and wrinkles. It was a pattern I’d started as a
gawky teenager, so insecure and snaggletoothed
and unfashionable next to the popular girls and
successful athletes in high school.
Back then I’d learned to be funny and
gregarious, hiding my introverted self behind a
confident mask so that I’d fit in without risking
rejection. It was history repeating itself—only now
instead of cheerleaders, I substituted other women
I deemed better, smarter, prettier, and more
accomplished. Bridgette was all of those things.
Best not to let her see what’s on the inside.
But the charade suddenly made me feel lonely.
Bridgette’s question opened my eyes. I had
been jealous of her perfection, and all the while
she was envious of mine. Yet neither one of us was
truly what the other thought. Both of us had false
perceptions based on our own insecurities. Sitting
here, our elbows nearly touching on the table, my
defenses began to melt, and I realized something I
hadn’t recognized before: We were no longer just
two women from opposite backgrounds. We were
in a sisterhood of fear and comparison that kept us
in a place of mistrust and loneliness. We held
ourselves up to one other and always came up
short. Each of us taking our weakest points and
comparing them to the other’s strongest. Each of us
hiding behind our strengths and wearing them like
“Oh, Bridgette, if you only knew the truth—
how much I’ve struggled to be a good mom and
have a good marriage with the challenges we face.
Maybe I made it look easy because that’s what I
wanted you to see. The truth is, I fail way more
often than I succeed. I don’t multitask well, and I’m
always juggling more than I can handle. My pants
are hemmed with duct tape. I can never find
matching socks. I’m disorganized and distracted.” I
sighed. “All this time, I’ve been intimidated by
you. I was convinced I could never measure up to
how smart and competent and talented you are.”
Vulnerable, exposed. But finally genuine and
real. I had put my heart out there, and now I held
my breath. Please don’t hurt me.
To my relief, she cradled it gently.
“Wow.” Bridgette pulled the word out like soft
taffy. “I think we have a lot to learn from each
other.” I nodded, swallowing the lump in my
“Tell me more about that duct tape trick.” She
chuckled. “I’ve got some pants that need
Twilight was falling as Bridgette and I stepped
outside onto the porch. It was time for me to head
home. The late spring air was cool on my skin,
belying the warmth that usually ushered itself in
this time of year. I could see the horses grazing in
the adjacent pasture, just a few yards north of
Bridgette’s house. Their soft nickers and blowing
sounds told me they were thinking about heading
back to their own barn for the night. Just then, a
little set of long ears came forward to check out the
movement in the yard. Little baby. How I adore
your mixed-up gene pool.
Bridgette pulled her beaded scarf around her
shoulders and pointed out a lone bloom amid the
spent greens of earlier flowers. “Look at my last
purple iris. All the other ones bloomed weeks ago,
and this one finally opened up yesterday! It’s all by
itself. Idn’t it gorgeous?”
“Beautiful!” I admired the frilly petals of the
last iris, standing so tall and proud. “Gotta love the
late bloomer.” We laughed.
And then I turned to her and whispered, “I think
I’m a late bloomer, Bridgette. I feel like I’m late to
everything . . . late to figuring things out, late to
friendships, late to finding my whole purpose in
life.” I took a breath. “But maybe that’s okay if
what I’ll get in the end is a spectacular finish like
“Well, me too,” Bridgette said. “Me too, girl.
Better to bloom late, than to never bloom, right?”
We smiled at each other in the gathering
darkness and high-fived over our heads, fingers
catching as our hands dropped. How could it have
taken me so long to see this jewel of a friend right
under my nose? Perhaps she’d been offering her
friendship all along, and I was too busy being stoic
and self-sufficient. Too worried she’d discover my
flaws and reject me. Declining the first and second
offers on account of that’s how I do it. Circling,
fearing mistreatment, but receiving kindness
instead. I had been so foolish.
Thank You, God, for third chances, and
oftentimes more. And for Southern steel
magnolias like Bridgette.
She had helped me understand something
important. A life well lived is about character—
that’s true. It’s when what’s on the inside—love,
generosity, faith, joy, and all that good stuff—
shows on the outside. But it’s also about the people
whose lives you are a part of. Those you let in . . .
those whom you allow to see your most vulnerable
part—the side that isn’t perfect, doesn’t have it
together, doesn’t have everything figured out. It’s
when you quit comparing and stop hiding that you
start to bloom.
I saw that character really means nothing
without people to share it with. When it comes
down to it, character is really only as good as the
relationships around you. Honesty, love,
generosity, and truth must have an object, or they
remain theories rather than becoming realities in
our lives. Proverbs 22:1 says, “Choose a good
reputation over great riches; being held in high
esteem is better than silver or gold.” It’s in your
friendships, your community, and your family that
character makes all the difference.
Maybe a life well lived is about wearing your
heart on your sleeve, your donkey soul on the
outside, just like our little mule next door, with his
distinct light muzzle and softly circled eyes. He
couldn’t hide his shady paternity, even if he wanted
to. But because of it, we love him all the more.
Ears too big, tail too odd . . . oh dear baby.
It’s letting the love and the fear, the joy and the
sorrows, the confidence and the insecurities—all
of it, every bit of it—show without shame. It’s
reaching out and learning to trust in the kindness
that’s around you, and allowing others to know the
And that’s when genuine love happens. Better
late than never.
Wear your donkey heart on your sleeve.
A well-lived life is an authentic life.
Drought. The year Flash arrived, Texas was hit
hard by its worst dry spell since the 1950s.
Ranchers were forced to sell off herds, and
farmers lost entire crops from the lack of rainfall.
Reservoirs were hitting rock bottom, exposing old
tires and radiators in their fissured lake beds. It
seemed that on every street corner and in every
barbershop, coffee shop, and convenience store,
casual conversation was marked by weather
“It’s the La Niña effect,” a wiry rancher told
me over his Styrofoam coffee cup in the church
foyer. “That’s when the colder air and water in the
Pacific cause drier conditions in the central plains
and southwestern parts of the country. If we could
just get that jet stream to move . . .” He explained
that what we really needed was El Niño—the
opposite of La Niña—to dump boatloads of rain on
Others were certain that sinister conspiracies
were at work.
“Definitely the government,” said a friend who
was known to get inside information from Internet
sources. “Well, not exactly the government. It’s a
secret organization, which is run by the
government, to control radio frequency waves in
order to change the weather.” She elaborated at
length on the high-altitude chemical vapors
intentionally created by aircraft to alter weather
patterns worldwide. Interesting. While this theory
didn’t explain the purpose of such nefarious
governmental interference, it did make for lively
“Global warming,” said another friend. “The
greenhouse gases are ruining the planet. Just look
at the pollution in Asia and you can see why we
Still others proclaimed the drought to be the
result of righteous judgment, a serious accusation
against the state that regards itself as the buckle on
the Bible Belt. This one seemed curious to me.
Perhaps instead it was our self-righteousness—and
not the outright sin and debauchery more prevalent
in other geographical areas—that was to blame.
Still, it was probably a good idea to do some soulsearching anyway. The governor called for
statewide vigils, and people everywhere prayed
for rain. We needed it badly.
Flash showed up just as rainfall totals were
starting to plummet. By the time we realized the
drought wasn’t going anywhere, he was part of the
family, and no matter what it cost in hay and care,
he was here to stay.
He was the only one who seemed oblivious to
the troubles around him, and I loved hanging out
with him as the sun would set on another arid day. I
brushed his sleek summer coat and applied fly
repellent. Picked dirt out of his hooves and
carefully cleaned around his eyes. It seemed Flash
suffered from the same allergies that we did, and
his eyes would get watery from dust and pollen.
Flash’s contented demeanor and quiet appreciation
for the tender care always brought me a sense of
calm as Tom and I continued trying to patch
together a living and finish raising our kids in the
midst of the Great Recession.
You had to hand it to Flash: He maintained a
busy schedule. If he could have typed up a daily todo list, I am certain it would have looked
something like this:
1. Wake up among the cedar trees.
2. Enjoy the morning quiet.
3. Wander to the back pasture.
4. Follow the trail to the barn and check on
5. Eat hay.
6. Solve world problems.
8. Check resident mesquite trees for leaves.
9. Find delicate flowers to nibble.
10. Mosey to front pasture.
1 . Scratch body parts on fence posts.
12. Socialize with neighbors over fence.
13. Munch on tree bark and weeds.
14. Stand near bois d’arc tree and wait for
someone to pick up fruit and throw it to me.
15. Bray. (For best results, do this without
17. Check on “people activity” near gate.
18. Loiter near barn.
19. Take a dirt bath in favorite roll spot.
20. Poop in designated piles. (Do several times a
day, not particularly scheduled.)
22. Call it a day.
Flash’s days were so full, it’s a wonder he fit it
After checking on the water level in his bucket
and finding Flash finishing up #2 (enjoy the
morning quiet) and starting on #3 (wander to the
back pasture), I packed a sack lunch and grabbed
my earbuds so I could head to a mural project. Tom
loaded my ladders and paint supplies. He would
spend the day working with his father on a little
side business that brought in some extra income.
The day promised to be an interesting one, as I’d
never painted a scene on a wall of a room that
housed an indoor swimming pool and felt excited
about the prospect.
“Remember, Lauren and Robert and Meghan
and Nathan will be home for the weekend,” Tom
said as he kissed my forehead through the open
Explorer window. “Try and wrap it up early so we
can order pizza and get a movie going.”
“Can’t wait,” I said. Nothing sounded better
than a weekend of comfort food and hanging out
together. Maybe I could get the mural laid out and
the underpainting done by the end of the afternoon.
Ignoring the check-engine light that had been lit
up on the dashboard for weeks, I put the Explorer
into reverse. A loud squeak emanated from the
front end as I rolled backward. Well, this was
new. My excitement for the day disappeared in an
instant. I hit the brakes, and Tom and I grimaced at
each other as our eyes met.
Well? my face said.
No time to look at it, his expression replied.
My eyes narrowed. I hate this bucket of bolts.
I know. He shrugged in sympathy, palms raised.
“Come around the house and park in back, next to
the yellow Jag.” My client’s sultry voice oozed
through the entry speaker as the heavy iron gate
swung open. I pulled through the arches onto the
expansive property and found a spot to park near
the fleet of vehicles in the detached six-car garage.
No matter how slowly I crept along, that squeak
from the Explorer echoed off the courtyard walls
as I rattled the vehicle into place. Lovely.
A yellow Jaguar, a blue Mercedes, a
HUMMER, a convertible BMW, and a black Lexus
were neatly lined up and polished in their spaces.
I’m so glad I got a car wash on the way—not that
it makes much difference.
The homeowner was the wife of a man who
had acquired his wealth in the oil business. As we
headed for the pool, she pointed out all the
treasures she’d amassed from her overseas travels.
“You’ve probably never been to China, but I
fell in love with Asian arts and crafts and brought
some large pieces home with me. They cost a
fortune to ship, but they’re worth it.” Her
monologue was punctuated with odd inflections
that felt like tiny pinpricks under my skin, and we
were only minutes into the day.
She introduced me to the other service people
on-site: the car detail guy, the cleaning lady, the
window guy, the fireplace guy. I quickly
discovered that she’d hired me as much for
conversation as for painting. Unfortunately, I had
not included “talking” in my estimate, so I was
quite anxious to stick to the part where a
paintbrush was in hand. All the kids would be
There was not a minute to spare. I surveyed the
scope of the project while looking over my
shoulder as she ushered me along. Because first I
would need a tour through the new east wing and
indoor tennis courts, apparently to properly
understand the feel of the home.
Finally we reached the end, and I was
dismissed to begin my real job. “I’ll let you get to
it,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I’ve got
some online shopping to do in the other room.”
The humid pool room was also home to an
indoor garden. My mural would cover one of the
walls, to give the illusion that an Asian “garden”
continued on into the distance. Crammed with
tropical plants, moss-covered rocks, and imported
statues, there wasn’t one level spot on the floor for
my ladder. No place to set my tools. Dear me, it’s
like a sauna in here. I could feel a trickle of sweat
make its way down my neck, and I knew my work
was cut out for me.
As I unpacked my supplies, it was hard to
shake that check-engine light and the humiliating
squeak that had announced my arrival at this
sprawling North Dallas manor. I should be
grateful for this project, but man! It was tough to
feel thankful after parking next to that yellow Jag.
And all those comments that made me feel
subservient. . . . I didn’t know what to make of
them, but they didn’t help my mood. I was irritated.
Plugging in my earbuds, I tuned my iPod to
worship music in hopes that it would improve my
outlook. Listening to Chris Tomlin sing “My
Chains Are Gone,” I felt my pulse begin to subside
to a normal level as I focused on the words and let
the melody wash over me. I pulled out my
sketches, already soggy from the humidity, and
began to plot the mural design onto the wall.
Around lunchtime, my stomach was rumbling
and my arms were aching when I heard a distant,
muted pounding on a window. I turned on my
unsteady ladder to see the lady mouthing something
urgent to me and pointing to the door that opened
into their game room. I removed my earbuds and
climbed down as she went around to open the door
to my sauna.
I stepped into the air-conditioned room in a
cloud of moisture and caught a glimpse of myself
in the mirror above the bar. Oh for crying out
loud. No! My hair was stuck to my head like a
greasy squirrel, mascara circled my eyes and ran
down my cheek, and a green mustache graced my
upper lip where I’d smudged paint. I looked like a
Goth-inspired bag lady. And I was pretty confident
that my deodorant had failed. It was the full
package of Awful.
My client, on the other hand, smelled of freesia
and oil money. In her manicured fingers was a
catalog of the latest Mercedes models, which she
laid open on the table next to us.
“I desperately need your help,” she implored.
“You have an artistic eye. I can’t decide which
Mercedes to buy: the classic dark-gray sedan or
the hot little red convertible. Which do you think
makes the best statement?” She blinked at me with
her flawless makeup and waited.
I looked back at her with my raccoon eyes and
my drippy hair, clenching my paint-covered fingers
behind my back.
And I felt about an inch tall.
I was angry. I felt belittled and small and
ungrateful. I was sweaty and bitter.
Um, have ya seen my awesome vehicle out
there? Do you really think I’m qualified to tell
you which car makes the best statement?
How about the one that doesn’t squeak? Yeah,
that one. Pick that one.
But I pointed to the red coupe with my knuckle
and heard myself say, “Oh, take the red one! It’s
sporty and flashy and fun!” Did my laugh sound
natural and light? Because I really wanted to sound
natural and light.
The rest of the conversation blurred, along
with the final hours of roughing-in the painting. As
I threw my brushes and tools together to go home,
she insisted that I take everything out again to touch
up a furniture piece she needed for a party that
weekend. In my mind, it was another strange stab
to put me in my place and keep me longer than I
Squeaking home (without air-conditioning, I
might add) in the red Explorer that made a real
statement, I lashed out at God for His lack of care.
Weeks between projects and then to get this one,
working for someone with a sense of superiority?
I knew the economy was hurting everyone, not just
the farmers and ranchers and artists, but I expected
a little better treatment here. I was sick of this
recession. I was tired of cutting expenses, beaten
down by that orange light blinking at me. And my
hair still stuck to my head, although now matted
into a crispy mess. If ever I needed those
highlights, it was now. It’s just that there was never
quite enough. Never enough money, never enough
time, never enough success, never enough of
anything to go around.
When I finally arrived home, I turned off the engine
and sat in the driveway for a moment. Flash was at
the fence to greet me, sides heaving as he aired up
for a loud bellow. Not now, Flash. Spare me. I
sighed through puffed cheeks but got out of the car
to see him anyway. The kids were waiting inside,
but I needed a few moments to decompress—and
hey, why not get blasted by a donkey foghorn while
I was at it? I covered my ears in anticipation.
Flash’s lips pulled back and his head came
forward as he released the bray in an explosion of
HEE-haw, HEE-haw, HEE-haw!
He subsided momentarily, then let forth again.
HEE-haw, HEE-haw, HEE-haw!
“Good to see you, too, buddy.” My shoulders
were slumped in defeat, but sadly Flash is clueless
when it comes to reading body language and paid
no attention to my need to regroup.
He looked expectantly at me, then pointedly at
the green horse apples on the ground near my feet. I
noticed he’d positioned himself strategically near
the bois d’arc (pronounced “bo-dark”) tree just
outside his fence. Most people call this kind of tree
a hedgerow tree or horse apple tree because of its
odd lime-green fruit, which look like oversized,
pebbly tennis balls.
They’re rock hard and worthless to humans, but
horses and donkeys love them. Flash has perfected
the art of eating one, which requires holding it
against the ground with his mouth while biting off a
hunk with his teeth. He then chews the sticky
mouthful, with green slobber dribbling out,
smacking his lips with relish.
Ahem. Rachel, look at me. Yes. Now look at
the ground right there. He cocked his head, and
his eyes sent invisible arrows to the fruit. I could
not miss his intent.
Obediently, I picked up a horse apple and
chucked it over the fence to him. It rolled to a stop
near his front feet. His head lunged and he dug into
it greedily, the juice squirting out as he bit down. I
leaned against the tree and watched him chew the
woody pulp with his eyes half-closed in delight.
He polished it off in two more chomps and
immediately implored me for more. A fresh one
crashed to the ground with a thud, so I picked it up
and held it just beyond him.
“What? You want this, huh? Huh?”
I couldn’t help but smile a little at Flash’s
expression. His lips are so nimble, I swear he
could pick a lock with them. He raised one side of
his upper lip and flared his nostril, as if he knew I
was teasing him. A swift nod of his head told me to
get serious and hand it over.
“Okay, okay. Here you go.” He took it from my
hand and set it down on the ground with his teeth.
Then, like the gentleman he could be, he brought
his head up to say thank you. I rubbed the insides
of his ears with my fingers, and he was only too
happy to put off eating until the attention was over.
I looked around at his barren pasture and marveled
at how he managed to thrive with so little grass
growing from the parched ground.
It’s remarkable, really. Flash finds edible
delicacies everywhere. He eats weeds that would
insult horses, and he favors dry native grasses that
even cows turn up their noses at. Made for the
desert, the donkey is undaunted by drought—a
natural browser who chooses leaves, bark, thistles,
and brush when easy grazing isn’t available.
I love watching Flash single out the specific
plants he likes, no matter how small, and remove
them from the surrounding growth with the skill of
a surgeon. He selects blades of grass, bites them in
half, and eats his favorite parts, like a connoisseur
Flash finds particular delight in the leafy
fronds of mesquite trees that grow in and around
his pasture. Somehow he is able to avoid the
gigantic thorns as he grasps a small branch with his
teeth, like a Spanish flamenco dancer with a rose.
Then he slides his mouth down to the end, stripping
the leaves as he goes along. You’d think he was
popping caviar into his mouth, he enjoys it so much
. . . with nary a scratch ending up on those big lips.
Between his daily to-do list, his appetite for
weeds and leaves, and the servings of hay in the
barn, Flash was living like a king. Well, I was glad
somebody was around here. What a character.
With my mood lifting, I gave Flash a farewell
kiss on the nose and joined the family inside.
Lauren and Robert; Meghan and her new fiancé,
Nathan; and Grayson all cheered as I walked in the
“Now the party can start!” They knew how to
make me feel good, and I shed the last vestige of
bitterness over my day as they enveloped me in
The morning coffee gave off its life-sustaining
aroma as I puttered around the kitchen in my robe.
Pizza boxes littered the counter, along with the
dishes that had been left in disarray the night
before. None of us had wanted to miss the movie
by taking time to clean up. I’d enjoy a cup of coffee
before the crew awoke and before embarking on
the cleaning effort.
My cell phone interrupted the quiet moment. So
early on a Saturday? It was Bridgette, calling from
her family home in Louisiana, and something in her
voice sounded off.
“What’s going on, Bridgette?” I asked, and I
heard her take a shaky breath on the other end.
“Rachel,” she said. And I knew instantly that it
couldn’t be good.
“I found a lump.”
The words no one ever wants to hear.
The words no one ever wants to say.
A lump? Please, God, no.
My heart stopped, and I reached for the kitchen
counter as my knees buckled. “No. No! What?
How? Bridgette, are you okay?”
“They are doing a biopsy, and hopefully it’s
nothing. It’s probably nothing, right? But I can’t tell
Mama yet because of her heart condition, and I
don’t want to tell my kids until after I know
something for sure.” Her voice wobbled. “I just
. . . I just wanted you to know. You’re the only one
outside my family who I can call right now. I need
you to know what’s happening. I need you to pray.”
Tears of fear and anger. Not Bridgette. Not my
steel magnolia. Not this woman who had given
Flash a different name, who shared her perennials
and forged an unexpected friendship with me, the
girl who didn’t think she needed a friend. I refused
to believe it.
But the cancer was real. And it was big. And
there were surgeries, and chemo and radiation. She
was sick, and her tiny figure got even tinier as she
lost weight during her treatment. Her hair came out
in clumps until she shaved it all off.
And through all of it, Bridgette was the one
who was strong. Tom and I brought chicken dinners
and flowers and made cards, but it felt so meager
in the face of something this enormous. Mostly, we
prayed. Please, dear Jesus. Heal her. Do a
miracle. We wanted an instant zap. A beam from
heaven to take away the cancer in one big blaze of
But it seemed that her miracle would unfold in
the long, slow journey of modern science and
hospital waiting rooms. Her recovery would
eventually be found in the care of excellent doctors
and nurses and drug therapies. In the end, we
didn’t care what form the healing took, and we felt
grateful for each step toward remission.
In the middle of her months of treatment, we
started a new design project together. I watched as
something like light emanated from Bridgette in a
way I’d never seen before. There she stood, bald
as a billiard, conducting meetings and drawing up
plans and executing her designs. She’d clutch a
chair during a hot flash, peel off a layer of
clothing, wipe her neck, and just keep going.
She surrounded herself with family and friends
and drank in every Scripture about healing. She
danced with Steve on the job-site floor and wore
bright, gigantic earrings and colorful scarves. It
was like she squeezed all the goodness of life into
each precious day. She had never been more
beautiful or radiant. And I loved her all the more.
“Rachel, you cannot believe how liberating it
is to be completely bald,” Bridgette told me one
day. The wigs that she’d so carefully selected, and
was so certain she’d wear, made her scalp itch.
She said she felt fake when she wore them. So she
decided to meet the world sans hair. “I never
realized how good it would feel to let go of all that
pride that was so wrapped up in my hair, and to
just say, ‘This is who I am.’” She threw her arms
wide and raised her face skyward, open and free,
thankful for life, and for breathing and loving. She
grabbed my hand and whispered, “God is so
Bridgette, like Flash, found a way to thrive in
the midst of her drought. It put my problems into a
new perspective. Both Bridgette and Flash seemed
to have discovered the secret to living in
abundance, despite the odds against them.
Watching them, I knew I had some soul-searching
“Stand where fruit is falling,” I wrote in my
journal that summer. I didn’t know why that phrase
caught in my mind, but it did. Those worthless
horse apples that littered the yard—they became
treasures to a donkey stuck in a barren landscape.
And the weeds and leaves that everyone else
overlooked—they were sustenance and life to him.
Somewhere, somehow, in the middle of drought,
abundance could be found. And I had nearly
missed it, because I was looking for easy grazing.
I thought back to the yellow Jag client, the lady
who had everything money could buy. Now that I
was past feeling like a feverish, greasy squirrel
and had invested in some waterproof mascara,
I could think a little more clearly about that whole
From the moment I’d driven through the
imposing gate and pulled up next to the fleet of
luxury vehicles, I’d focused on all the shiny
material things in front of me. I was occupied with
thoughts of orthodontia, car repair, and the cost of
hamburger. It’s ground meat, people. Not steak! I
certainly wasn’t living in abundance, but I
suddenly realized that the wife I so envied, who
felt the need to jab the less fortunates at every turn,
Had I glimpsed disappointment in her face—
there, amid her beautiful surroundings? I wondered
if the stepchildren she mentioned resented her, and
if she wished her husband were home more often.
She filled her days with shopping, rearranging,
lunches, and parties, but beneath it all, there was
fear that everything would disappear with the onset
of age and wrinkles.
She was grasping at a lifestyle that should have
brought peace, but instead it only heightened her
insecurity. People who have enough never need to
point out everyone else’s lack. I could see that
now. Abundant living must be about something
deeper and more lasting than a bank account.
I headed to the pasture with my notebook and
Bible, this time wanting to get to the heart of this
idea of living in abundance. The dried mesquite
pods that swayed in the hot wind sounded like
Mexican maracas as I dusted off the green camp
chair near the fire pit.
Right on cue, Flash approached and nuzzled my
shoulder, then lingered nearby to keep me
company. He delved into the small stand of trees
and found a branch, shoulder height, that he could
rub against. Working clockwise around his frame,
he scratched every inch at that level before moving
on to a taller branch for his head and neck. I guess
this time he actually read my body language that
said “I’m deep in thought” and figured he’d take
care of his own needs.
I felt like the person in Proverbs 6:6 who was
told, “Go to the ant . . . consider its ways and be
wise” (NIV). Only I was going to the donkey, the
ancient animal who happened to show up in many
significant stories recorded in the Bible, as well
as in the lives of this average family in Texas. Was
it coincidence? I began to think maybe it wasn’t.
So how was it that Flash always had enough? What
was his secret of abundance?
My eyes found Habakkuk 3:17-19, which
describes a desolate scene:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty . . .
Wow, now that’s drought. Sounds familiar.
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! [emphasis
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
Clearly, these verses are saying that joy and
strength are found in God. Even when there is
drought. Despite all the odds against them. In the
face of despair. In the midst of your troubles. Okay,
I could see that. But how, exactly, does it work?
A hot breath of wind curled the pages, and I
smoothed them back down. Flash abandoned the
self-serve scratching post and stepped close to my
chair to sniff the book in my lap. I knew he
couldn’t read, but he pretended to anyway, his lips
moving ever so slightly as if forming the words. I
nudged him and asked, “What do you think, Flash?
Is there an answer in there?”
He flapped his ears as if to say, “See for
yourself. I can’t do your work for you.” At this, I
pushed his head out of the way to look for a clue—
and found it next to the “yet.”
“Yet I will” told me what I needed to know.
I must choose it.
I must choose to rejoice.
I must choose gratitude.
I must choose to look to Him for strength.
I must choose to find fruit.
It is a matter of my will.
This whole abundance thing starts with a
decision to see the goodness around you and give
thanks in your circumstances. First Thessalonians
5:18 says, “No matter what happens, always be
thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong
to Christ Jesus” (TLB). It is in being fully present
and fully engaged in the act of gratitude that joy can
be released in and around you. Intentional
thanksgiving is when you humbly receive what
God graciously gives you and offer praise to Him
in return, creating a grand circle of abundance.
Flash’s to-do list is a simplified form of
abundant living. He awakens each morning under
the cedars and enjoys the gift of a new day. He
moseys to the barn to see what has been provided.
He looks for sustenance in unexpected places. He
eats hardship for breakfast. He takes the things that
are disdained by others and relishes the nutrients
he finds. He asks for help from his community. He
strategically positions himself for fruit. He lives in
the moment. He poops conscientiously. He is
grateful for simple pleasures. He chooses
And none of it is dependent on material wealth,
or even health, as Bridgette showed me. She
wrestled with the fear that came with the cancer,
the weakness that followed the surgeries, and the
exhaustion that radiation brought. And through it
all, she found a way to see God’s love in every
step of her journey. She chose to treasure the gifts
that accompanied the pain: the gifts of friendship,
of family, and of daily graces. She even treasured
the gift of freedom that came with her loss of hair.
If that’s not living in abundance, I don’t know what
“Stand where fruit is falling” means this:
“Position yourself where the good stuff is.” Find
the goodness and get there. Just get there. Because
the goodness can only come when you’re standing
in the right place. . . .
I was starting to see the picture now. All of it
is a decision. A choice to savor the grace of each
moment and to experience abundance in the very
act of gratitude.
I smiled as I thought of Tom taking my hand in
the Home Depot parking lot one Tuesday afternoon
and twirling me around and into a dip, for no
reason at all. I thought of the kids and the pizza
boxes, and piling in on the couch to watch movies
and enjoy popcorn and milk shakes together. The
squeaky front end of the Explorer announcing my
conspicuous arrival at the yellow Jag mansion.
The honor of bringing baked chicken to
Bridgette, who beat her cancer in high style, with
her big earrings and irrepressible joy. The laundry
and the bills and the dailiness of living, all
mingled with the sparkles of evening fireflies, the
morning coffee, and the camp chairs set around a
fire pit, in a pasture where a donkey lingers.
You can stand where fruit is falling. On a hot
August day, in the middle of drought, there is fruit
that looks like worthless, hard-as-rock oddities of
But it is so. Much. More. Than that.
It is the “yet” that sets joy atop a mountain of
trials, and plants a flag of triumph there for all to
see. It is the “even though” that sees past the empty
stalls and dried-up fields and vines with no grapes,
and sets its sights on a Savior who is always
enough. It is the arrow that points to a God whose
lavish grace gives and sustains life, and makes our
feet dance upon the heights. It is the “I will” that
chooses daily gratitude, and a heart that rejoices in
It is the secret of abundance.
Stand where fruit is falling.
The secret of abundance is in choosing gratitude.
Your donkey is being a pest,” Tom announced as he
wiped his boots on the mat outside the kitchen
door. “I can’t get anything done with him looking
over my shoulder so closely.”
He stepped inside to wash up for lunch,
frustrated that he hadn’t gotten more accomplished
on his barn remodeling project. He was converting
two stalls into an enclosed workspace, and the
morning’s goal of laying a subfloor had not ended
I finished making a ham sandwich and opened
a bag of chips. It hadn’t escaped my notice that
Tom had referred to Flash as “your donkey.” Uhhuh. It’s just like when one parent tries to shift the
responsibility for discipline to the other parent.
“Your son needs a good talking to.” Or “Your
daughter exceeded her texting limit.” It’s a subtle
way of saying, “It’s your turn to take care of this.”
So, like every good parent, I got defensive.
“He’s just curious, that’s all,” I said, excusing
Flash’s behavior. “You know he has to see
everything that’s going on. Plus, you’re his leader,
and he wants to be near you, so we should cut him
Don’t get me wrong; I love that donkey to
death, but I’m not taking the fall for any mischief he
pulls in the barn.
“Well, he’s no help whatsoever,” Tom replied.
“He hasn’t done a lick of work since he’s been
here, and now he’s keeping me from doing mine.”
His expression was one of mock disgust, and I
detected indulgence in his voice. Big softy.
The fact is, Flash’s personal work ethic does
leave something to be desired. As impressive as
his pasture trails are, they are about the only thing
he’s actually worked at since he arrived on our
doorstep. But even that job is suspect, because we
know there is food, or water, or a roll in the dust at
the end of each of his paths. Not exactly what
you’d call an altruistic effort.
No, I’d say that Flash thinks of himself as more
of a supervisor than a worker. He definitely has
management potential—I’ll give him that much—
although his people skills could use some help.
He’s a bit of a micromanager. And this is where
we run into problems.
Case in point was this stall-to-workspace
project in our barn, where the only door in this
open-concept structure is for the tack room. The
stalls are partitions, and the remaining area is
covered but open to the pasture, giving Flash free
access whenever he wants. Flash took it upon
himself to personally oversee the entire renovation
by standing directly in Tom’s way at every turn.
He staked out the area between Tom and his
tools, turning his head this way and that to inspect
each hammer blow and wood cut. Swishing his tail
and sniffing the box of screws, he knocked over the
drill and stepped on the measuring tape. He lapped
at Tom’s water bottle and devoured the crumbs
from a granola bar. And he farted way too often for
“Back up, Flash ol’ buddy.” Tom pushed him a
step backward so he could reach his carpenter’s
level. Flash complied for a minute but was simply
incapable of letting Tom do the next part on his
own. Crouched over the floor joist to secure a new
beam into place, Tom felt Flash’s warm breath
near his ear. The “supervisor’s” muzzle hairs
tickled the nape of Tom’s neck as he measured. Not
satisfied with his vantage point, Flash inched
closer and hung his head over Tom’s shoulder for
an even better look. He offered his opinion with a
slight shake of his lips. Up a little higher on the
right, he seemed to say.
“Hey, how am I supposed to get anything done
with you resting your head on me?” Tom reached
an arm around Flash’s neck and gave his nose a rub
with the other hand. “What I really need you to do
is carry a load of lumber from the truck to the
barn.” At such a ludicrous suggestion, Flash
cocked his ears sideways with a look that said,
“You’re kidding, right?”
Tom eased his body from beneath Flash’s head
and stood up to get some supplies that were stored
in the tack room. Opening the door to the narrow
room and stepping inside, he found what he needed
on the back wall.
Before Tom had a chance to turn around, four
hooves had stepped up into the space behind him,
the clunks echoing on the wood floor.
“Seriously, Flash?” Tom slowly turned, arms
up over his head in the tight spot. Flash’s body
trapped Tom against the shelves, his forehead
planted into Tom’s chest. “I’m just getting an
extension cord. You don’t need to check up on me.”
He pressed on Flash’s shoulders to get him to back
out. There could be no turning around in there.
He’d have to exit rump first.
Flash didn’t budge. He just stood there in
silence, blinking straight ahead. Clearly, he didn’t
trust Tom’s selection of the twenty-foot cord. The
utter burden of having to manage every single
move that occurred around here made him sigh in
deep resignation. Oh, the incompetence.
“Okay, you win. I’ll grab the fifty-footer.” Tom
pulled the longer cord from the shelf and slung it
over his shoulder. “Happy now?”
Reluctantly, Flash clunked backward, off the
step, and into the open barn, knocking over a can of
paint in the process.
“So much for being a service animal.” Tom
teased him with an elbow nudge, righted the can,
and returned to his work. “You’re absolutely
A service animal! Hey!
Inspired by Tom’s suggestion that Flash might
be able to carry a load of lumber, I embarked on
some research to see just what a donkey could be
capable of. To my surprise, and despite Flash’s
less-than-stellar example, I learned that donkeys
are the number-one service animal on the planet.
Millions of donkeys around the globe do the
hard work of hauling, plowing, carrying, milling,
and pulling—jobs that people in developing
economies rely on for their livelihoods. Donkeys
are the John Deere tractors, the delivery vans, the
family cars, the Ram trucks, and the lowly servants
of the Third World.
Photos of donkeys laden with heavy loads and
looking as if they had stepped from the pages of
ancient literature filled my Google searches. It’s as
if time stood still for these gentle beasts of burden,
and for the people in poor countries whose daily
survival depended on them. Even here in America,
donkeys are still used for riding, packing, and
Flash had no idea how easy he had it on our
little acreage, what with his supervisory position
and all. It was high time he learned what he was
“Mom, our friend Barbara is not doing well.”
Meghan tucked a stray red curl into her loose bun
and bit her lip in worry. “They’ve brought hospice
in to take care of her.”
“Oh, I’m so, so sorry.” I knew how difficult
this was for Meghan and Nathan, who were now
married, and their small community of friends.
Nathan had befriended Barbara several years
earlier when she would regularly sit in his table
section at the restaurant where he worked during
Barbara was a lonely, physically challenged
woman who needed someone to talk to and
occasional help with errands and tasks around her
apartment. Nathan, Meghan, and their friends had
made themselves available to assist her when she
Barbara had no living relatives, and as her
health began to decline, she came to depend on the
weekly rides to the grocery store and coffee shop
that the friends provided. In a short period of time,
she became unable to work and was forced to live
in a small hotel room, nearly destitute. At fiftyfive, Barbara had aged beyond her years, and she
was understandably bitter over her situation.
“Well, she . . . can be difficult,” was how
Meghan described her once. “But that’s just
Barbara. She’s had a hard life.” It was a kind way
of saying that Barbara was not an easy person to
love. She had long lists of things she wanted help
with, but she wasn’t always appreciative of the
assistance she received.
By now, the group of friends had graduated
from college and embarked on new careers. It
became more challenging to meet her needs amid
their growing responsibilities, and Barbara herself
was more cantankerous than ever. Daily chores
became unmanageable. Tasks like getting dressed,
taking care of personal hygiene, and preparing
meals were nearly impossible for her.
The friends juggled their own busy schedules
and did their best to help Barbara with the most
basic needs. Meghan arranged home health care,
scheduled social visits, and even assumed official
power of attorney, all as she started her first year
as an elementary music teacher. We worried that it
was too much for such a young woman to handle.
But Meghan and her friends were all in. They
had taken on Barbara as a personal mission of
mercy—and found themselves loving this difficult
woman whom the world had all but forgotten.
When she could no longer get out of bed, the state
stepped in and moved her to a nursing home. And
now, hospice had arrived.
Meghan began to make arrangements for
Barbara’s imminent passing, but there were
questions. When a person is a ward of the state,
who takes responsibility for her body when she
passes? Where is she buried if there is no one who
will visit her grave? What do you do with her
belongings and personal treasures when there is no
family member to take them? Who will perform a
funeral for someone who cannot get out to attend
church? And who will come to a service for
someone who lived in such isolation?
There was no one else.
This group of friends would see Barbara
through to the end.
Sadly, she died as she had lived—alone,
except for the company of the hospice nurse since
no one else could get there in time.
Barbara’s memorial service was held in a tiny
chapel on a university campus. Tucked under
gigantic oak trees, the stone structure was hushed
as a handful of people—the former college kids—
filed in. A table in the foyer held carefully
displayed photos and mementos from Barbara’s
life: her favorite coffee cup, the hat she liked to
wear, a poem she loved.
Meghan had collected personal items from her
hospice room and agonized over what to keep.
There was no family member to give anything to.
No relative who would treasure a memory or smile
at a faded photo. There was just a small group of
young people—a little oasis of love in a life that
had been hard.
Tom and I sat in the second pew and watched
as one of the girls set up a floral arrangement she’d
made; another handed out a printed program. Then
it was time to begin. Two of Barbara’s friends led
the sparse assembly in songs with a guitar
accompaniment. There in that simple chapel,
“Amazing Grace” had never sounded sweeter,
resonating on the stone walls and then fading into
the winter air. Meghan gave a eulogy, and Nathan
spoke. Thoughtful words, carefully chosen, filled
with affirmation and honor.
We were there to remember someone whom the
world outside had already passed by. A life that
had become very, very small at the end. A life that,
some would say, held little meaning. But somehow,
this assembled group of grace-filled friends had
validated her existence by serving her in love.
They had gone out of their way, making personal
sacrifices and giving of themselves, because they
believed that serving is what they were made for.
Barbara’s life, and death, mattered to them.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound . . .
For days afterward, we went about our work
with quiet hearts, deeply impacted by the love
we’d witnessed at the simple service for this
woman. It felt sacred, and words seemed
frivolous, unnecessary. I filled Flash’s hayrack
with his daily ration, held his face in my hands,
and scratched under his chin. He seemed to
understand my reluctance to talk and sighed gently
as if to fill the spaces left empty of my normal
That same week, we were stunned to hear the
news that two residents of our town—Chris Kyle
and his friend Chad Litttlefield—had been killed
while they were trying to help someone in the
community. Our local area was grieving the loss of
these outstanding men.
Suddenly for us, Barbara’s passing was thrown
into stark contrast with Kyle’s death. The famed
US Navy SEAL who had become a national hero
was the epitome of service to his country. His
bestselling book and movie, American Sniper,
details his life and commitment to freedom. Selfsacrifice, dedication, honor . . . his life was
marked by these attributes, and it touched everyone
around him, including our own family. Kyle had
given a couple of talks at Grayson’s high school,
which was also Kyle’s alma mater. Kyle had
inspired the kids to become the best they could be
and to serve their country unselfishly.
We couldn’t believe someone who had
achieved such greatness could be from our obscure
Texas town. He was just a guy from the class of
1992 who’d found what he was good at—and went
on to become the most decorated sniper in
American history. He was a larger-than-life hero.
And now, his life had been cut short.
The funeral was televised from Cowboys
Stadium in nearby Arlington, Texas, and we sat at
home in tears as we watched the ceremony. A flagdraped coffin, carried by Navy SEALs, slowly
made its way to the front and was set amid dozens
of floral arrangements. The familiar strains of
“Amazing Grace,” sung by country singer Randy
Travis, echoed through the enormous structure. In
moving tribute, decorated generals spoke, friends
offered eulogies, and his wife, Taya, shared her
The following day, we joined tens of thousands
of mourners lined up along the highway between
Dallas and Austin to pay our respects. Facing a
chilling rain and gusty winds, we held a flag as the
long procession of government dignitaries, Navy
SEALs, police and fire departments, family and
friends all passed by in silence. Helicopters flew
overhead as news crews captured the scenes of
enormous flags hung across bridges and
overpasses, and the people, young and old, who
turned out to honor the slain hero.
The passing of these two individuals within
such a short span of time could not have been more
striking. They were so very different . . . and yet
there was a strand that connected them—a common
thread beneath the surface that haunted me. One,
who was honored by thousands, was remembered
for his unparalleled service. The other, who was
honored by a tiny handful, was remembered for
what she could not give. One served many; the
other was served by a few.
Two gifts of service.
It got me pondering.
Though one gave and the other received, it was
service that gave each life meaning.
I needed to talk things over with Flash, and he
sensed my readiness to discuss what had
transpired. As a member of a breed made for
service, I figured he might have some insight,
despite his lack of actual experience. Pulling up a
chair in the barn on a cool February afternoon,
with a Styrofoam cup of coffee in hand, sounded
like just the ticket to enlightenment.
As Flash nosed his way toward me in hopes of
receiving an apple slice along with the
conversation, I was reminded of the donkeys who
had turned up in my Internet searches—the ones
who looked like they’d stepped off the pages of
ancient history books. Saddled with loads piled
high, pulling heavy carts, or carrying sun-wizened
men in turbans, their nimble hooves seemed to
echo through time and land—plop—right in the
The Bible records donkeys as being valuable
assets. (No pun intended.) A man’s worth, back in
the day, was measured in land, cattle, sheep, goats,
and donkeys. A bit more cumbersome than today’s
“what’s in your wallet” method of transactions,
donkeys were a hot trade commodity, and it was
always a good idea to have a couple dozen in your
back pocket, so to speak. I can only imagine
women approaching their husbands about some
new drapery fabric, on sale for a limited time, as
traveling merchants came through town.
“Honey, it will only cost three donkeys! That’s
a whole donkey off the regular price!”
Twenty-five percent off has always been great
incentive to buy. Some things never change.
I started noticing every mention of donkeys in
scriptural text. Listed in terms of wealth,
ceremonially set apart, ridden by historic
characters . . . donkeys are woven into the fabric of
biblical life. A tool for everyday work, a prop in a
narrative story, a symbol for royalty. From
Abraham to Jesus, donkeys served. One even
spoke out loud!
The donkey who bore Mary, the mother of
Jesus, is one who served in complete obscurity. In
fact, he is not even mentioned in the Gospels. But
the eighty-mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem
would likely only have been possible with the help
of a sturdy donkey, and tradition tells us that Mary
made the uncomfortable trip atop the back of one
such animal. I imagine Mary’s backache was no
different from mine, making a walk to the pantry
for a midnight snack nearly impossible, let alone a
journey by foot to a distant town. A ride on the
bony back of a donkey would have been a
welcome alternative to a painful pregnant waddle
through the difficult terrain.
As I looked at Flash, I pictured that Christmas
donkey in my mind. When Joseph saddled him up
and tied extra padding down for Mary’s ride, the
donkey could not have known he would be making
the trip of a lifetime. When he stopped to graze by
the side of the road and was urged onward by an
anxious husband, the animal couldn’t have
imagined that his journey would end in a stable
filled with holiness, angelic choirs, oblivious
cattle, and a baby wrapped in a handmade blanket.
Well, maybe he’d have guessed about the
“oblivious cattle” part. I mean . . . cattle, right?
But he could not have known that the entire course
of history was turning a page, and he was part of
No. He simply walked.
He did what was asked.
He followed Joseph for eighty miles. His
halter, made of rough twine, probably rubbed his
nose as he carried the coming Savior and His
young mama. This donkey trodded along the rocky
trails, the cobblestoned roads, and the dusty paths
to ferry the precious cargo that would change the
He did what donkeys do best: He served.
How just like God to use another donkey,
thirty-three years later, to bring the Savior-King
through Jerusalem on another amazing journey.
Handpicked by Jesus, this donkey could not have
known that the job for which he was chosen would
bring grace and forgiveness. He carried Jesus
through the uneven streets, stepping carefully over
cloaks and palm branches, to the final, climactic
scene of Redemption.
Hailed, celebrated, famous for his role, this
Palm Sunday donkey is forever remembered
whenever the story is told.
But he did nothing out of the ordinary, for a
He did what was asked.
He simply did what donkeys do best: He
Jesus’ remarkable life was bookended by two
donkey rides. Imagine that. The first took place in
obscurity, to a tiny stable in a little town. It ended
with a baby’s cry, some swaddling clothes, and a
gaggle of shepherds who came in from the fields
for a glimpse of the Promised One.
The last took place amid cheering throngs and
against a backdrop of Passover and deep social
unrest. It brought all of human history to a single,
pivotal point on the time line of eternity. This ride
ended with a cry from a cross—“It is finished!”—
and an empty tomb.
I was struck by the poetic drama of it all.
Amazed by the vivid realization that God uses
ordinary means to do extraordinary feats. There, in
the barn with my coffee and the donkey who thinks
he’s midlevel management at the very least, I was
bowled over by the service these lowliest of
creatures had rendered to bring about this story.
It’s as if God chose to unfold His plan using the
most humble tools available so He could reach
humankind with His gift of grace.
I set my cup down and began to pull out
brushes, rollers, and wood stain so I could work
on some signposts we were making for one of the
campuses of a large corporation. Sometimes I think
best when my hands are busy. I positioned the paint
tray and poured in the dark espresso-colored stain.
Flash watched my every move with inquisitive
eyes, then stepped forward to inspect the color in
the tray. With his nose just above the stain, he
seemed to give me the okay to proceed. If only
hooves had thumbs! (We take being able to give a
“thumbs-up” so for granted, don’t we? Imagine
how hard it would be to function with hooves for
hands. And texting? Impossible.)
Flash approved the stack of four-by-four posts
that were awaiting stain and assembly, but found
fault with the rope that had tied them together,
which was now carelessly tossed aside. He picked
it up with his teeth and shook it vigorously in front
of me. He was right: Ropes shouldn’t be left
around, waiting for someone to trip on them.
Chastened, I took the rope from his mouth, looped
it around my arm, and hung it on a nail.
Post after post. It felt like the job of staining
them took forever. But Flash hung in there, keeping
me company and offering silent suggestions. A tail
swish here, an ear twitch there. He guzzled the last
sip of my coffee, then stepped on the Styrofoam
cup when he was through. He bit off a chunk of the
cup and let it dangle from his lips in comic relief. I
can’t say he was a whole lot of help with my
project, but I began to see something about him that
made me understand this idea of serving.
Tom’s joking comment was all wrong: Flash
wasn’t completely worthless.
He was just serving in other ways.
Flash was serving up some of the best sermons
I’d ever heard . . . all without saying a single
Those biblical donkeys. Meghan and her
friends. Chris Kyle. Ordinary characters from
ordinary towns, whose service to others made
them extraordinary. Humble ones who had found
what they were made to do. They served in
obscurity, looked for no personal glory, and simply
gave of themselves.
They did what was asked.
They did what donkeys and people do best:
In the process of serving, they bestowed value
on those they served.
And in the act of giving, they changed the
world. They became part of God’s unfolding,
I realized that God takes regular people—
unassuming individuals who are willing to play
supporting roles—and uses them in His grand story
that’s being played out on eternity’s stage. He takes
those who are willing to be saddled up, loaded
down, and given the task of serving, and He puts
them in places where their abilities can best be
Maybe you’re not asked to do something
noteworthy or remarkable. Maybe you are simply
called to walk alongside someone for eighty miles.
To be a friend to someone who needs a friend. Or
to do that one kind thing that no one will ever know
you did. Maybe it’s washing a needy woman’s
laundry. Maybe it’s helping her shower. Maybe it’s
arranging flowers at a small funeral in a tiny
chapel. Maybe it’s working at a post overseas,
away from family and friends, for months on end.
Maybe it’s changing diapers, washing dishes,
helping with homework, being a scout leader, or
mowing an elderly neighbor’s yard.
This is what we are made for.
And I could see it so clearly.
Being part of His grace story means allowing
your life to be bookended by two donkey rides.
You enter and you exit, in humble service. It means
that you are defined by what you give, not by what
you have. Your life is marked not by talent, but by
commitment. Not by beauty, but by sturdy hooves
and a willing heart.
“Be a service animal. You are made to serve in
I wrote the words in my journal, my fingers
espresso-colored from the project I had just
finished. I knew it would take days for the stain to
work itself out from under my fingernails. Oh well.
I turned my hands over and raised my palms up in a
silent prayer. Flash stepped forward to see if there
was anything edible cupped inside, then looked up
at me in inquiry.
“Baby, there’s nothing here for you.” I shook
my head and paused for a moment, wondering if
he’d understand. “I’m . . . I’m giving these hands to
God right now.” Rough and stained, small and
empty. But ready to work, willing to give. Flash
nuzzled my palms and nodded in agreement, his
brown eyes upon me and soft ears pricked
forward. He blinked his dark lashes, and I put my
arms around his neck.
This donkey. This service animal. This God
who whispered through him.
“Let me serve others in love, the way I was
made to do.” My prayer floated past the corrugated
metal roof and gnarled tree branches and into the
winter sky above.
Be a service animal.
You are made to serve in love.
There was change in the wind. Not nickels and
dimes floating through the air, because imagine
how much it would hurt if you got pelted by
No, the type of change that blew in was
different. It felt like a chilly March morning, all
gray and damp, when you’re outside in your jacket
with your fingers tucked into your sleeves and
shoulders hunched with chin down against the
wind. And out of nowhere, there is a flicker of
dappled sunlight that falls on your furrowed
forehead, and it feels warm for a tiny moment
before skittering away. Did I really feel that? Or
did I imagine it? No, those clouds are too heavy
for the sun to break through.
But then, a bit later, you feel that sun on your
face again, this time for a couple of seconds, just
long enough for you to uncurl your fingers to try to
catch it before it’s gone. It, too, darts away, but you
know you felt it. You had to squint in the
brightness, and now there is a funny pattern on the
insides of your eyelids from the unexpected shaft
of light. And even though the rest of the day is still
gray and damp and chilly, you feel a tiny bit
hopeful and happy inside because you experienced
those two fleeting moments (well, maybe just one
because the first one could have been your
Suddenly you think about Easter eggs and the
fact that you haven’t used up all the firewood and
haven’t worn your cute boots enough this winter.
You realize you should have put tulip bulbs in the
refrigerator weeks ago, and it’s already too late if
you want to have blooms this year. The Christmas
wreath that somehow never got packed up with the
rest of the holiday decor (you were okay with
leaving it out because it seemed “wintery” and not
too “Christmasy,” and you also didn’t feel like
climbing into the attic to put it away) now seems
horribly out of place. Spring is upon us. We can’t
have a fake pine wreath on the door!
You think about all this, even though it’s just as
cold and miserable out as it was ten minutes ago.
You couldn’t wait for a hint of sunshine and a
break in the clouds to signal a new season, but now
that it’s here, you realize you aren’t even close to
being ready for it.
That’s what one waft of change (maybe two,
depending on how you count them) can do.
I stood at the kitchen window and watched
Grayson hit golf balls into the field just beyond the
front yard. He lined up his driver, shifting weight
between feet and taking a couple of short swings to
center the ball on his club. His tongue worked his
lower lip in concentration. His arms swung the
club back in classic golf form. Whack! The ball
flew out over the tall grass and into the oaks along
the dry creek bed.
Beau, who once loved retrieving balls, sat in
quiet repose nearby, content with being an
armchair athlete these days. His hips and declining
eyesight kept him sidelined, but he never
complained. Both Gray and Beau were getting
older, but only one of them was getting bigger and
stronger with each year. The other took to napping
and tail wagging as forms of exercise. Grayson
reached down and tried to talk Beau into fetching,
but he wasn’t too keen on leaving his comfy spot
on the grass to futilely search for a ball in the
“I think I’m going to set up a practice area for
Gray in the barn.” Tom’s voice drifted over my
shoulder as he came up behind me to see what was
happening. “He’s really motivated to get good at it,
and he wants to practice his swing as much as he
can. But he’s losing so many balls in the field out
there, and it’s frustrating trying to find them.” He
scratched his chin. “I’ve got some netting that we
could hang across the opening. Then all we’d
really need to do is make a little tee-off area, and
we’d be set.”
This sounded simple enough, so the boys went
to work. Of course, Flash was on hand to oversee
the project. No telling how they would have
messed it up otherwise. He watched as they raised
the netting into place and secured it on the top and
sides. Half of the three-sided barn was open but
covered by the tin roof; this would allow Grayson
to stand inside, out of the elements, to practice.
Flash had little to say about the proceedings,
although we noted his agitation when the teeing
green was placed in the center of the open area. A
piece of plywood covered with artificial turf, it
would make a good place for Grayson to work on
his swing. Flash sniffed the surface and nibbled at
the corner with his teeth.
“Flash, that’s not real grass, you silly.” We
chuckled at him and then became slightly puzzled
when his front hoof came down on it with a thud.
He blew hard through his nostrils and stamped
“Hey, buddy,” Tom soothed him. He moved
close to Flash and ran his hand along his back, then
leaned on his shoulders to get him to step back.
Tom looked him in the eye. “You’re not telling me
you’re objecting to the golf stuff in here, are you?”
Flash shook his ears as if to show his
indifference and then turned on his heel and
moseyed out. I guess he was just having some fun
Anxious to try out his new practice area,
Grayson awoke early the next morning to get a few
swings in before school. How handy to have
everything all set up! He hurried out to the barn.
Minutes later he was back, a strange look on
his face. “Mom, the barn has been vandalized! You
need to come and see this.”
I followed him outside and stopped in my
tracks at the sight.
The turf-covered plywood tee had been
destroyed. It was dragged off to the side, dented
and covered with dirt. In its place, someone had
cleared the layers of loose dirt and wood shavings,
exposing the hard ground. The netting had been
torn on one side and was hanging limply from the
upper beam. An overturned chair lay in the corner.
It looked as if a tornado had blown through.
But the coup de grâce was right in front of us.
It was a pile of donkey poop, smack in the middle
of the dirt floor.
A calling card, if you will.
This was the work of one angry donkey.
It suddenly came to me. Oh my. Just like the
Christmas boxes. How could we have forgotten?
A few years earlier, after the holidays, I had
packed up the decorations and put the boxes in the
barn’s open area for temporary storage. Flash had
waited until he thought no one was looking before
attacking the boxes. We heard the sound of
cardboard breaking and the tinkling of ornaments
being smashed before we realized what was
happening. Good-bye, 1989 Hallmark Snoopy
ornament and untold number of lights.
And then there was the Workbench Fiasco.
How quickly it had been erased from our
memories. But now that you mention it, who could
forget the mayhem that ensued when a worktable
was introduced to the stall area before the barn
renovation took place? The stall was unused.
Flash’s name was not over the door. Nobody had
claim to it. It was a perfectly logical place to set
up shop for the various projects we had going on.
That is, logical to everyone except a certain
long-eared, opinionated member of the equine
family, who shall go unnamed. The table was at the
perfect height for a large, fuzzy muzzle to sniff and
inspect everything. One easy swipe of the nose,
and it could all be overturned and knocked to the
ground. The tools, the wood, the papers, the
measuring tape, the work gloves. In and out, a
smooth operation by an experienced vandal.
And how is it that we did not consider the New
Fence Situation? Tom tried repeatedly to run a new
fence around a small section of the pasture in
which he had created a hockey training area for the
teams he coached. He made stations out of
synthetic ice that had been donated to him so the
players could practice shooting pucks in what is
called “dryland training.” He did not need a sixhundred-pound donkey walking across the
synthetic ice or pooping in inconvenient locations.
Or moving the synthetic ice sheets or nibbling at
the targets. But somehow Flash managed to sneak
through the barricades and magically appear out of
nowhere in the cordoned-off area. He’d
nonchalantly graze, as if nothing were out of the
ordinary. If he couldn’t stop the change from
happening, at least he could pretend it didn’t affect
Then there was the Utility Trailer Incident,
which we won’t go into here, except to quietly
mention that Flash didn’t appreciate having it
parked near his favorite roll spot in the pasture.
And also that he “unloaded” (which, in this
instance, means “forcibly removed by means of
chomping into, dragging, and dumping out”) the
contents of the trailer to get to the bag of feed at the
It’s safe to say that Flash welcomes change,
just as long as nothing is different or altered in any
“Too much change for one day.” Hands in
pockets, Tom assessed the golf carnage and
delivered his pronouncement. “We should have
done this gradually.” He pulled the tattered tee
platform from beneath the dirt to mend it and
stapled the net back in place. I shoveled the
“calling card.” We would try again.
Next day, same thing. Tee kicked and buried
under dirt, net torn down, roll spot cleared, chair
overturned, poop pile front and center. At least
Flash was consistent. And, apparently, regular.
Oddly, he always looked just as surprised as
everyone else each morning when we came in to
inspect the damage.
“Don’t look at me,” he shrugged with a phhhht,
his lips vibrating like a motorboat. As if there
could be anyone else. There was no remorse. Only
a slight twitch of his large ears that belied his smug
claim of innocence.
We continued in this pattern on and off for days
until the destruction gradually ceased. Flash never
really liked the golf equipment in there, but after a
while he was content with merely kicking dirt over
the tee and walking over it whenever he felt like it
to show his disdain for the changes. He wanted
everything to stay exactly as it had been, with
himself in control of his little world.
And I couldn’t blame him. I felt the same way.
Because things were shifting in my little world
outside the barn. Somehow, Grayson grew taller
than me, and I wasn’t sure when that had happened,
exactly. His feet hung off the end of his bed at
night, and when I tucked him in, I noticed how his
frame now filled the full-size mattress. He would
be heading off to college soon, and there were
applications to fill out, tests to take, and lots of
new things to experience. I was excited for him but
suddenly felt uncertain about who I’d be without
children under my care. My chest was heavy and
light at the same time.
Lauren and Robert were hoping to start a
family soon, and my head nearly exploded at the
thought. It was just a few years ago that I had
grieved over the loss of Collin and desperately
wanted to fill the vacancy in my heart with a new
baby, and now . . . now my oldest child was
thinking of having babies of her own.
Meghan, grown and married, was teaching
elementary music. Such happy, wonderful changes,
but if I’d had a box to stomp on or a chair to
overturn, I might have done it.
A shaft of sunlight on a furrowed brow. Fingers
clenched in sleeves, refusing to unfurl.
An e-mail landed in my in-box. It was from a
complete stranger, asking if I would be interested
in speaking at her church’s women’s retreat in
“I’ve been reading your blog, and your words
have touched me. I wonder if you might come and
share with my ladies this fall,” she wrote. I reread
it several times to make sure I understood the
request. Because I wanted to be certain that the
terror I felt was well grounded.
Run with horses, Rachel. Run with horses. Or
So, of course, I immediately put the e-mail
aside. I formulated my gracious decline. “Thank
you for your lovely invitation, but I am currently
paralyzed from the eyes down, and I’m also busy
that weekend, and every other weekend, with a
I could never stand up and speak to a group of
women. Remember the drooling and the blacking
out in the business meeting? I’m still not over it.
Plus, I have nothing to say. Blogging is one thing,
namely baring your soul to the world from behind a
computer screen. I’d been writing online for years,
something I’d come to love as a creative outlet and
as a way to help others find a sense of sanctuary in
their busy lives. I had no problem with that.
Speaking is another thing, namely sharing your
expertise with people who are actually present in
the room, staring back at you and taking notes. I’m
pretty much terrified of that.
The familiar voices began whispering: You’re
a failure. A fraud. You don’t have anything to share
out loud. You’re too unworthy. You’re not good
Remember your name. Remember whose you
are. Wait. What’s your name again?
“I would like to talk more with you about your
event,” I typed back. Not exactly a no, but also not
a yes. A noncommittal reply might buy me some
time. Perhaps the lady would go away.
“When may I call you?” came the response.
She wasn’t going away.
“Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. would work great!”
Why I was using an exclamation point was beyond
me. What I really wanted to do was run and hide.
Find your refuge in Me. You can hide in the
shelter of My wings.
As we began having phone conversations about
the event, I found myself turning to the pages of my
journals and blog posts and sorting through old,
scribbled notes. Even as the ground beneath my
feet felt shaky, I started to see some messages
within the scribbles. A phrase here, a Scripture
there, a donkey story in a margin of a notebook.
Say yes, Rachel. Don’t let fear keep you from
moving forward. Keep putting one foot in front of
the other. Blaze a new trail.
A date was set and airline tickets purchased. I
committed to it, and there could be no turning back.
But there was still regular work to be done.
Ladders to haul, sketches to draw, projects to
complete, bills to pay, dinners to make. The clouds
above were still heavy, but I knew I’d felt a ray of
warmth on my face that made me think a new
season might be ahead. Or did I imagine it?
The retreat went well, I thought. I had prepared
like crazy for my speaking sessions and obsessed
over my hair. Obviously, the timing of root touchups is crucial. You cannot afford to underplan this.
And because my hair looked so good, I hoped it
made up for what I lacked in smooth sentence
transitions. I returned home with a pocket full of
sweet thank-you notes and a little taste of
And there were bigger opportunities. Some
months later, I found myself sitting across the table
from a top talent manager in Nashville. I’d been
invited there to discuss representation and to
explore the prospects of starting a speaking tour,
marketing my art, and writing a book. Me.
Seriously? My head spun with ideas and
possibilities! What an incredible turn of events.
But this time, I totally botched it. I didn’t return
phone calls, missed a deadline, and avoided
making the commitment. In short, I choked. “This
won’t work if I want it for you more than you want
it for you,” the talent manager told me. And I knew
she was right.
It’s funny how you yearn for change, for
something new, for a lucky chance, for an end to
the monotony, for life as you know it to just stop, to
just go away . . . and then when that change comes,
you start backpedaling and pulling out every
reason you want things to stay the same. You think
of all the ways you’re not ready. You think of all
the things you’ll miss. You even do things to
sabotage moving forward.
I remember as a kid sitting in the “way back”
seat of the family station wagon, a car that was
roughly the length of an ocean liner, with faux
wood paneling on the sides. We loved the fact that
it had automatic windows and was the perfect
shade of avocado green.
The “way back” seat was the one that got
pulled up from the storage area in the rear and
faced backward. I can still feel the sensation of
barreling toward a destination I could not see
while watching through the back window as the
road fell away behind us. The dashed lane markers
seemed to emerge from somewhere below, all huge
and oversized, then quickly get smaller and smaller
until they disappeared as tiny dots into nothingness.
It felt like time travel, but with motion sickness.
Everyone knows it’s a terrible idea to ride in a
vehicle backward. Don’t even think about reading
a book, unless you have a barf bag handy.
But moving toward a destination you can’t see?
Watching the past, where you’ve been, fall away?
Even as new seasons of opportunities and personal
growth were around the bend, I wanted to hold on
to everything I had, everything I’d known. This life
—this beautiful, messy life—was changing once
again, and there was so much I hadn’t done in this
Grayson’s last years at home felt bittersweet.
When we’d moved to this funky barn house, he was
eight. Eight! A kid with an orthodontic appliance
and a penchant for building model airplanes.
Lauren and Meghan were in high school and
fixated on their hair (I don’t know where they got
that), choir, youth group, and a dizzying schedule of
activities. Flash arrived just as they were leaving,
and I came to believe he was a little gift from
above to occupy my mind and assuage the mamaache.
Now the girls had made it all the way through
college and into new marriages, and Grayson was
heading off to study aerospace engineering . . . and
I couldn’t be more proud. Or more brokenhearted.
How many times had I wished I could walk
down the driveway, away from motherhood and
work projects and all the laundry? How many
tense discussions had Tom and I had over
household rules, chores, activities, haircuts, and
homework that made me want to run away? How
often had I complained about the Explorer and the
workload and the burden of shaping young lives,
which always felt more like herding cats than
Now, motherhood was falling away behind me,
and I was hurtling toward a destination I couldn’t
see. A great unknown. I wasn’t prepared for
parenthood to disappear as a tiny dot into
nothingness. I hadn’t even started their scrapbooks
yet! And I had forgotten to show Grayson how to
fold fitted sheets. My earlier confidence that I
would accomplish these things before the kids left
now made me feel awfully presumptuous.
And to top it all off, the horses next door
disappeared. Flash’s baby mama, his darling little
mule, and the rest of the group just up and moved
off with their owner somewhere. No! I leaned on
the gate, still wired shut from the night Flash had
broken the hinge, and scanned the field for any
trace of them. Nothing. It felt strange and empty,
like one more thing had slipped through my grasp.
The gate protested my weight with a squeak, as
if telling me to move on. But one look at Flash’s
expression told me that moving on wouldn’t be so
easy. They’d been such ideal companions for him,
hanging their heads over the fence and shooting the
breeze with him each day. Now who would Flash
have? Certainly not Beau, the object of his
unaffection. Something would have to be done, but
I didn't want to consider that now.
A puff of wind, change in the air. A phone call
to come and speak. An invitation to write for a
high-profile blog. A botched chance at stardom. An
opportunity for our business to change. Kids
driving off with a trunk full of belongings. A month
in which projects took place in front of a computer
screen instead of on a ladder with a paintbrush in
Still juggling, still keeping as many balls in the
air as you can, because you never know when
you’ll need one of them. You think you have an
idea how everything is going to turn out, and in a
moment of clarity find out you’re riding backward
and someone else is driving the station wagon. You
fight for control. Stomp a box. Leave a calling
And in the end, you let go.
Suddenly, all the lessons I had learned from
Flash came flooding in. Refuge, remembering your
name, running with horses, wearing your donkey
heart on your sleeve, finding your passion, serving
others. . . .
All along, God had been quietly teaching me
through a charming, bucktoothed, opinionated,
sweet donkey. And now He was guiding me—us—
through more changes. Would I keep kicking and
resist anything altered or different, or would I
learn to apply the lessons and adjust my old ways
of thinking? Would I open my arms to new
experiences, or be so focused on the present and
the past that I’d miss them?
My little notes, on scraps of paper here and
there, were being challenged to come to life . . . to
become real. To take on skin and bones, and
breathe in air, and become more than cute axioms
taped to my desk. If God was real and true, and
deeply involved with the details of my life, then all
of this was for something. Nothing would be
But only if I chose to embrace a new season.
Flash figured out that throwing a temper
tantrum and destroying the things he could not
change were futile attempts to control his little
world. Once he realized that there was nothing to
fear, and that good things could come from the
changes he resisted, he settled down. He learned
that the changes, like the golf and hockey areas and
the workshop, brought people into his world. And
more people equaled more attention. More
attention equaled a happy donkey. He just couldn’t
see it at the time. Oddly, getting his ears scratched
more often helped him come around to this deep
spiritual truth: Change is a good thing.
Much of the time, the changes we face feel like
little more than nearly imperceptible puffs of wind.
C. S. Lewis once said, “Isn’t it funny how day by
day nothing changes, but when you look back,
everything is different.” The incremental shifts, the
tiny tectonic movements, the way your kid’s face
loses that baby softness and becomes lean and
chiseled, without your even noticing until you
watch him sleep one night. The way you give
everything you have to life and think it’s nothing
much to offer, but there it is. Take it. And the way
it starts coming back to you.
The patterns on the insides of your eyelids tell
you the sun has poked through the clouds, for just a
moment, and there is change in the air.
You must unfurl your fingers to catch the first
Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from
“Sorry about Beau.” Grayson shrugged
apologetically and motioned with his head to the
dripping yellow Lab. I slid the glass door open to
greet them in the breezeway, and a muggy blast of
summer air pushed its way in as I stepped outside.
Beau planted his feet, shaking pond water from his
body in a violent vibration that started at his nose
and ended at the tip of his thick tail. He sneezed
and looked up at me with an expression of sheer
“I had him in the boat with me, but he jumped
into the water to cool off and then went for a
swim,” Gray explained, setting his tackle box
down and untying his muddy shoes. “You know
how he is.”
“Oh brother. Beau, you’re going to smell for
two days.” I chided the dog, but he didn’t seem the
least bit concerned with my scolding. He lumbered
to his water dish and lapped at it noisily before
flopping down on the cool cement floor. He
sounded like a sponge hitting pavement, the water
splattering outward from his saturated fur coat.
He’s going to be stiff for days, too, I thought.
Dear old Beau. But maybe the swim was good for
his arthritis. I was happy that he had enjoyed some
physical activity—something he’d always loved as
a younger dog.
For years, Beau’s powerful physique made him
the perfect country companion: He regularly raced
the Explorer up the driveway, clocking an easy
twenty miles per hour on the quarter-mile run to the
house. He loped along by the right front tire, pink
tongue flapping from the side of his mouth, until the
sound of the gas being applied caused him to
engage his afterburners. Head tucked and tongue
retracted, his mighty front paws pulled the earth
beneath him, and his muscular hind legs propelled
him forward in a golden blur. The race always
ended in a tie, Beau braking to wag his entire body
in excited welcome.
The dog could keep fetching sticks tossed into
the pond long after your arm could possibly
continue throwing. He’d leap into the water with a
giant ka-ploosh, swim out to the stick, pick it up
with his teeth, and circle back around toward
shore. Sometimes he’d just paddle around the pond
with the stick, as if he was so happy to be fetching
that he didn’t know what to do with himself except
take a couple of extra laps. If you depleted your
supply of sticks (or if your arm gave out,
whichever came first), he’d grab a giant log
floating in the water and bring it to you. His love
of water also made him a natural hunting dog. He
could sit motionless in a duck blind for hours, then
swim through icy water to retrieve fallen birds.
Beau took it upon himself to guard the entire
property with his daily circuits along the fence
lines, his nose and tail working from side to side,
and making use of his bottomless bladder by
marking his territory with boundless enthusiasm.
He chased off wandering dogs and coyotes, scared
up birds, and sent bunnies scurrying into their
holes; but then he would come back and graciously
allow the girls’ kittens to pounce all over him and
play with his tail.
Beau, one hundred pounds of friendly, covered
in nearly white, shedding fur, had once been an
“outside only” dog, and I liked it that way. But
somehow, he had finagled his way indoors during
the coldest nights of winter and the hottest days of
summer . . . and gradually, everything in between.
His wet black nose and pleading brown eyes were
difficult to resist, and since he was good about
staying off the carpeted areas of the house, we
allowed him in.
Well, I take that back. He wasn’t that good
about staying off the carpeted areas. He was very
good about staying downstairs—on the carpet, of
course. And he was only good about the
downstairs part until one October night, about a
year after we’d moved in.
“Tommy, wake up!” I shook Tom awake at the
sound of a peculiar noise coming from the other
room. Something, or someone, was moving around
Grayson’s bedroom in the middle of the night. My
hands clutched Tom’s arm. An intruder? A burglar?
We held our breath and listened a moment
longer, our heartbeats pounding in our ears. Tom
slowly slid out of bed and crept to the door. He
stepped through the small hallway at the top of the
stairs and paused at Grayson’s door to peer inside.
I heard him let out his breath.
“Rachel, it’s okay,” he whispered. “Come in
here.” I flipped the covers back to follow him.
The moonlight filtered through Grayson’s
window blinds, revealing the silhouette of our
intruder, who was standing next to the bed of our
then nine-year-old son. It was Beau. With his nose
just inches from Grayson’s face, he watched the
boy breathe, his chest rising and falling. In. Out. In.
Out. The tip of the dog’s tail moved slightly, letting
us know that he was aware of our presence, but his
resolute profile didn’t waver an inch.
“What’s going on, Beau?” He’d never
challenged our downstairs-only rule before. Tom
patted the dog’s head and reached forward to
straighten Grayson’s pillow. He turned to me in
“Gray’s burning up,” Tom said, feeling his
forehead and pulling off the blankets. I ran to get
cool washcloths and medicine to bring his fever
The next morning, a trip to the doctor’s office
and X-rays at the hospital revealed pneumonia in
Grayson’s lungs. We’d known that Grayson didn’t
feel well when we put him to bed that night, but we
had no idea how serious his illness was. Yet
somehow, Beau sensed it. For the next three nights,
the dog remained at his bedside until the
antibiotics began to work and the worst was over.
His buddy needed him.
I guess we figured Beau had earned the right to
go upstairs and sleep wherever he wanted. Mostly,
he chose to curl up on the small hooked rug next to
Grayson’s bed, right where the boy’s hand could
reach down and scratch his blocky head, causing
the dog’s heavy tail to thump on the floor at odd
hours of the night.
I looked at Beau now, soggy and happy from his
afternoon swim. “Walk with me to the barn,” I
called to him. “It will help you dry off and keep
you from stiffening up.” He pulled himself up, his
hind legs reluctant, and gave another vigorous
shake before accompanying me to the gate.
Lifting the heavy chain from the nail, I pushed
the metal gate open and stepped into the pasture.
The ground was hard and dry under my feet, and
the sparse summer grass clung to the cracked earth
for dear life. Beau stopped at the fence post and sat
down, refusing to go any farther. He was at The
The Line had been drawn from day one of
Flash’s residency, and it followed the fence
exactly. The pie-shaped pasture on one side of the
fence was Flash’s territory, with the remaining
land on the other side belonging to Beau. Made of
wood posts connected by galvanized wire mesh,
the fence provided the legal framework for the two
animals to work within. Beau was respecting his
“You stay on your side, and I’ll stay on mine”
were the general terms of agreement the two
abided by. But there were exceptions, such as these
laid out by Flash:
1. Dog may enter pasture when accompanied by
2. Dog may not drink from donkey’s water bucket.
3. Dog may sit in barn, but only if accompanied
4. Dog may not bark, whine, or look appealing
while donkey completes his interaction with
5. Dog is not permitted to make eye contact with
Beau, for his part, had his own stipulations:
1. Donkey may not bray in dog’s presence.
2. Donkey must be on a lead at all times when
outside pasture territory.
3. Donkey may not kick or bite, but may sniff and
stand quietly in dog’s presence.
4. Donkey may graze in the yard, under strict
supervision by humans, and only when tied
to a stake.
5. Donkey may make eye contact with dog, on a
6. Donkey may not eat dog food. (To my knowledge,
this was never an actual issue, but Beau felt
strongly about his food, so . . . you know.)
“Oh, come on, boy.” I reasoned with him at
The Line. “I’ll be right with you the whole time.
It’s okay.” At my reassurance, Beau resumed his
walk to the barn and sniffed out a perfect spot to sit
and watch the evening proceedings. Tom was
already there, cleaning out Flash’s stall and putting
a flake of fresh hay in the feeding rack.
“So what’s the deal with these two, anyway?”
Tom asked as he set a new bag of wood shavings
on the ground. I picked up a rake that leaned
against the plywood wall and watched as Flash
sauntered in to check out our activity.
“I don’t know. I don’t get it,” I said, setting the
rake aside and rubbing Flash’s forehead.
Clumps of dirt and blades of dried grass clung
to his coat from his last dust roll, giving him a
rugged, tousled appearance. As much as he likes
being brushed and fussed over, I must say he wears
the rough outdoorsman look best.
With a nod of his head, the donkey dismissed
Beau from his vantage point in the corner and then
positioned himself directly in front of me. The
yellow Lab, his head low and eyes averted
according to code, made a wide circle past Flash
and took a seat under the shade of a mesquite tree
just beyond the barn. He gave a resigned yawn and
lowered himself to the ground, settling his head on
his front legs. Satisfied that the dog was out of
range, Flash swished his tail and inquired about a
I pulled a few burrs from his mane and then
stepped toward the tack room to grab a small
cookie from a jar just inside the door. Animal
crackers—Flash’s favorite. He eagerly poked his
head in, blocking my exit as his mouth moved in
“Back up, Flash,” I said. “You need to be a
gentleman.” I waited until he stepped backward,
then opened my palm with the treat inside. It was
gone in an instant, Flash’s deft top lip picking up
the cookie in a swift movement. He was already
looking for more before he even swallowed it. I
acquiesced with a second cookie. Okay, a third one
too. But that’s all. I mean it. Really, I do. No
“I think they got off to a rocky start and never
really recovered,” I said, turning to Tom, who was
now dumping the shavings into the stall. “Beau is
still bent out of shape over Flash trying to kick him
that first day.”
“That’s a long time to hold a grudge,” Tom
replied thoughtfully. “I find it hard to believe they
aren’t the best of friends by now. I mean, there’s
absolutely no reason they can’t get along. They’re
both friendly, loyal, sweet, and lovable.” He
counted their attributes off with his fingers.
“Right,” I laughed, “just not to each other!” I
looked at the dog, nearly dry in the late afternoon
heat. “I wonder if Beau feels resentful about Flash
taking over the pasture. I think he wishes he had
this area back in his control.”
“Well, Beau does take his guard duties very
seriously. Remember how he used to walk the
perimeter of the entire property each day? He
never includes the pasture anymore. He leaves that
part up to Flash to take care of. Maybe he feels
Flash isn’t doing a good enough job.”
“You’d think he’d be grateful to the donkey for
taking it off his hands, er . . . paws . . . whatever.
With Beau’s hips bothering him these days, he can
barely get all the way around his own area, let
alone the pasture. It’s taking him longer and longer
to complete his rounds, poor guy.”
I pulled the rake across the clean stall material
to even it out. There isn’t a better smell than wood
chips and hay, mingled with manure, cedar, and
“Flash hasn’t helped the situation, though,”
Tom said wryly. He crumpled the bag of wood
shavings and moved over to the donkey. “Most of
the time, he treats Beau like he barely exists. I
mean, he’s happy to let the dog hang out at a
distance, and he doesn’t seem to care that we pay
attention to him. But you never really see him act
friendly with him, either. There’s definitely a wall
“It’s like they’re indifferent toward each
other,” I concluded. “I think they decided early on
that they would coexist and cooperate, like how
they tag-team our walks, yet not become
emotionally involved with each other.”
Tom cocked an eyebrow. “Emotionally
involved? Right, Dr. Phil. I don’t know how
‘emotionally involved’ a donkey can be.” Just then
Flash rubbed his ears on Tom’s arm and gave him a
soulful look. Tom wrapped Flash’s neck in a hug,
his cheek resting on the knob of his head.
“Uh-huh. Well, he’s certainly emotionally
involved with you,” I observed. “Look at him. He
“What, this? Nah, this is just us messing
around.” He gave Flash a playful push to prove it.
Flash returned the affection by leaning back into
him, knocking Tom off balance and garnering a
snicker out of me. I could have sworn Flash
From his isolation spot, Beau whined in
jealousy. He loved nothing better than a bit of
roughhousing, and it hurt his feelings not to be
invited to play.
“What a shame. Beau is such a great dog, and
Flash is a perfect donkey. Think of all they’re
missing! Do you think there is any hope for
friendship between them?”
Beau struggled to his feet, and I could see he
was already stiff from overdoing it in the pond.
His right back leg didn’t want to cooperate with
his forward motion, and it sort of hung suspended
for the first few steps back to the house. Although
he’d never admit it, roughhousing would have been
out of the question anyway.
That night, Beau made it only halfway up the
steps to Grayson’s room. The landing would have
to do for now, and he lowered himself down with a
groan. Back end collapsing, front end following
suit. Black nose on giant paws. The faint aroma of
eau de pond.
I wish now that Last Times would come with
big signs that say, “This is the Last Time.” Then
you would know that you should savor them, no
matter how inconsequential they are. Like the last
time you put sugar in your tea before you swore off
sweets, or the last time you used a push mower, or
the last time you tucked extra underwear in your
kid’s backpack, just in case. You might have
stopped to just feel the moment, breathe it in, and
let it get fixed in your memory like a Polaroid
The last time you rocked your baby to sleep.
The last time you stepped on a Lego piece in the
middle of the night. The last time you tasted your
grandmother’s rhubarb pie. The last time you
kissed your father good night. If you had known it
was the last time, you would have closed your eyes
and said to yourself, I must remember this. I must
remember the smell of this kitchen and this coffee
and this pie. I must remember this scratchy
flannel shirt and this smell of Old Spice. I must
remember the feel of this downy head on my
shoulder, and this milky breath and these tiny
fingers curled around a blankie.
You’d say, I must remember this dog, and how
he slept on a hooked rug next to a boy’s bed.
Instead, you rush on. You think there will be a
hundred other times, exactly like this one, and you
look at your watch or mutter some annoyance or
answer the phone or become distracted in some
way. You don’t fix it in your mind, you don’t stop,
and you don’t feel it. Because why should you
when there will be other chances, and life is so
busy, and there are so many things to do? You’ll
savor it next time, or maybe the time after that one.
You didn’t realize at the moment that this—this
would be the last time. It wouldn’t be coming
around again. And you missed it.
I missed it.
That’s how I felt about the last time Beau curled up
next to Grayson’s bed. It had come and gone
without me even realizing it. Gray was almost
grown-up, and it seemed like the lamp on his
nightstand was always on much later than mine as
he worked on calculus equations and physics
problems for the next day’s homework assignment.
“What time do you need to get up in the morning?”
I’d ask, already thinking about tomorrow’s tasks as
I kissed his head and picked up socks from the
When the landing on the stairs became the new
place Beau liked to sleep, I figured it was because
he received a pat on the head from every person
who passed by. I didn’t really stop to think that
he’d never make it to the second floor again and
into the boy’s room for another night. Or that soon,
he’d only make it to the rug by the fireplace
because climbing to the landing halfway up the
stairs would be too much work for those arthritisridden legs.
When the day came where Beau went outside
and surveyed the property from the edge of the
yard instead of walking the fence line and marking
his whole territory, I never really imagined he had
permanently retired from his sentinel duties.
Lately, he simply watched the Explorer make its
way up the driveway, choosing to greet us at the
door rather than meet us on the road and race us
home. I guess I missed the last run, too.
“Hey, Old Guy,” we called him. Beau was hard
of hearing and not able to see well, but his tail still
worked beautifully—thump, thump, thump.
Sensing a simple turn of the head in his direction,
he’d start thumping his tail in anticipation of
attention. By now, we were regularly hosing him
off outside. The smell was exactly what you’d
expect from an incontinent dog—and that’s when
all the Last Times began to dawn on us.
“Hey, Old Guy, let’s go get the mail,” I said,
looking for a reason to get him up from his bed in
the kitchen. “It will be good for you to get a little
exercise.” It took a while to convince him to leave
his soft cushion, but he managed to make his way
to the door and over the threshold. Immediately I
could see that a half-mile round-trip walk to the
mailbox would be too much.
“On second thought, let’s just check on Flash’s
water instead.” We switched course and turned
toward the gate. Flash was at his salt block, which
sits in the shade of the cedar trees that line the
fence. His tongue methodically worked over the
red-colored brick of minerals, his eyes half-closed
as he licked. At the sound of our feet, he looked up
and immediately made his way toward us. He met
Beau and me at the fence post, where the dog
tucked his tail and sat sideways on his best leg.
The passage of time seemed to be softening the
donkey’s attitude as well as his rules. As I paused
to lift the chain, he lowered his oversize head to
Beau’s level. Flash’s big brown eyes rested on the
dog’s soft eyes, now cloudy with age, and they
held each other’s gaze for a long moment. The
donkey’s nostrils opened wide as he gently sniffed
at the dog, who brought his nose up to the white
muzzle that reached across the divide. Four hooves
on one side of The Line, four paws on the other.
Two sets of ears pricked forward. Two noses,
meeting in the middle.
“Well, how about that?” I whispered. Wonders
never cease. I eased the gate open to step inside,
then nudged Flash over so I could open it wide
enough for the dog to go through. Beau hesitated,
then crossed The Line and turned to the donkey, tail
slowly wagging. Flash gave him an amiable nod,
ears turning, eyes welcoming, and together the
three of us headed to the water bucket—at the
halting pace of a gimpy Lab. A thaw had begun.
For as often as you wish you could know when
something is the Last Time, you’ll find a way to
pretend that a Real Last Time isn’t one. Years
earlier, when I’d said good-bye to my grandfather,
who was in a wheelchair and suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease, I pretended that I’d be back
to the nursing home real soon. It isn’t the last time,
I said to myself. I’ll be back and we’ll talk about
baseball, and he’ll show me some moves he
learned as a catcher, and we will plan to make
lutefisk and lefse, his favorite Norwegian
When we locked the door to our house in the
city for the last time, we acted as if we were going
on vacation. “Did we turn off the water? Check to
see that the lights were off? Is the back gate
closed? Now, let’s go have some fun on the beach,
or in the mountains.” We tried not to look in the
rearview mirror as we left the neighborhood
where our kids had spent their early childhood
years. “We’ll take lots of pictures while we’re
away,” we said, “and then we’ll return and pick up
right where we left off. Everybody buckled in?”
When each of the kids drove off to college,
down the driveway in a cloud of dust, we tried to
pretend they were just going to the store, maybe to
get some milk or a loaf of bread. They’ll be right
back, we told ourselves, swallowing the lumps in
our throats and fighting back tears. Silly to cry
over a trip to the store. Just busy yourself in the
kitchen or something, and they’ll be back in a
Oh, who are we kidding?
This is the last time, and things will never be
the same. It’s the truth. I fumble for a tissue and
blow my nose. The tears fall, and my bones feel
like mush. My head hurts. I hate facing the reality
that something precious is gone.
I didn’t think I was the type to grieve over a dog.
After all, I was the one who complained about all
the dog hair and all the dirt those paws brought in.
The nose prints on the glass door annoyed me. I
was so tired of cleaning up after him. And then
there were the big blue pads, lined with plastic on
one side, absorbent paper on the other. The leaky,
elderly dog made the whole house smell. But I
loved that dog, and I loved how he was woven into
our family history. I loved that he was always there
for us. None of us could imagine life without him,
and here I was, grieving already.
When the inevitable finally came, Tom dug a
grave for the yellow Lab and set white stones all
around to mark it. I didn’t watch him dig it, and I
didn’t want to see the fresh mound of earth. I
wanted to pretend Beau was down at the pond for
an afternoon swim, and that he’d be hungry for
dinner and that I’d grouse about him smelling like
pond water. But eventually, I made my way to the
clearing under the trees to pay my respects and say
good-bye. Grayson, Lauren, and Meghan each did
the same, on their own time and in their own ways.
Tom cried for days, he took it so hard. Mercy, I
love that man.
Then it was Flash’s turn. We haltered him up
and clipped on the lead in silence. He walked
readily alongside us, eager for a stroll in the world
beyond his pasture. We’d been working on
improving his skills on a lead, and we were
pleased with his progress. Halfway to Beau’s
grave, he became engrossed in the grass and took a
detour into the yard. Perhaps he wanted to pretend
it was just another practice walk, and not a last
good-bye. I couldn’t blame him; I knew just how
he felt. “Come on, buddy. Let’s keep going,” Tom
said, giving a gentle tug on the rope before they
continued on together. I followed quietly behind,
wanting to give Flash space to take it in.
Flash approached the circle of stones with
some reluctance, then brought his head down to
smell the new mound. His deep exhale blew the
loose soil, and the tiny leaves that had fallen there
fluttered up and settled back down. I didn’t expect
him to say much, and true to form, he didn’t. He
blinked and turned his ears, then shifted his weight
off his back hoof and rested it. From the look of his
posture, we would be here awhile. As it should be.
Tom wiped his cheek with his sleeve as he
squatted down next to the donkey’s head. Flash
Flash and Beau didn’t have a whole lot in
common except a love for their people—us.
Maybe that was enough. Enough to push them past
their petty differences and make them set aside
their pride. Maybe they sensed that Last Times
were upon them and decided they’d been feuding
I remembered how Beau had accompanied
Flash on guard duty in the pasture that last summer.
Flash kept his pace slow for the once-powerful
dog who needed to rest every so often before
proceeding on. Beau reveled in the morning
breezes that blew across the field, his tail wagging
and his nose taking in every scent. Flash nibbled
on the dry grass as he waited for his friend to mark
a new spot or follow a bunny trail. “Take your
time,” he said with his ears. The donkey never
rushed him. Beau repaid his kindness by keeping
him company at feeding time and by humoring the
occasional brays that once drove him crazy. He
remained nearby like an old companion, graciously
accepting Flash’s opinions and offering a few of
Forgiveness—friendship—had been long in
coming, but it arrived just in time. As they held one
another’s gaze, their eyes said it all:
“I’m sorry I kicked at you.”
“I’m sorry I offended you with my
“I was wrong to keep you out.”
“I never meant to bother you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t let you drink from my
“I’m sorry I drank out of it when you weren’t
looking. And licked the edge.”
It seems like it’s always the small stuff that
keeps us apart. The tiny infractions that become
larger than life as they fester over time. Lines get
drawn. Sides are taken. Heels dig in. “You stay on
your side, and I’ll stay on mine.” “Here are my
rules, and don’t you dare break them.” “This is my
territory, and you’d better not enter.”
How often do I behave exactly as these two
animals had—allowing myself to become offended
over some little event . . . getting angry over
something insignificant? Just the tip of the
iceberg, I say inwardly. Don’t give an inch. It’s
the principle of the thing.
And on principle, I refuse to forgive. I
withhold love. Judge another. Draw that line.
What a shame.
There at Beau’s grave, I looked at Flash, with
his lower lip drooping and expression sorrowful.
His hair was starting to thicken with the
approaching autumn season, and it made his face
look fuller, fatter. He was lucky that his Last Times
with Beau had come with signs. He’d been able to
make amends and enjoy their remaining time
together. In that moment, I loved Flash more than
ever for personifying forgiveness and acceptance
and tenderness. And I loved him for mourning the
passing of his friend. It went straight to my heart.
Ephesians 4:2 says this: “Always be humble
and gentle. Be patient with each other, making
allowance for each other’s faults because of your
We are imperfect creatures, all of us. What a
shame to waste our time on trivial differences and
self-made rules rather than savoring forgiveness
and love and enjoying the richness they bring. We
should take someone’s hand. We should look our
loved ones in the eyes. We should hold a gaze and
say the words “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” and
“I forgive you.” We should. We must. And we must
also say the words “I love you” while we still can.
This time may be the last chance we’ll ever have,
but we won’t know it until it is gone.
Don’t miss it.
Make things right with others.
Don’t miss your chance to forgive, accept, and love.
My heart pounded with anxiety as I typed the
words and formatted them in the biggest, boldest
font I could fit on a page. The coffee I’d gulped
down earlier that day churned in my stomach as I
added my phone number and printed off the flyers
to staple to telephone poles. I should have eaten a
piece of toast, but the thought of food now made
me feel sick, given the situation. My hands shook
as I gathered the papers from the printer and
grabbed my stapler.
Flash was gone.
Oh, where was he?
We had no idea. I couldn’t believe this had
happened. Our donkey was lost. Posting signs to
nearby poles was the only thing left I could think of
to help us locate Flash and bring him home.
I went over the last twenty-four hours. Weather
reports had warned of overnight storms, so we’d
spent the evening putting lawn chairs inside,
making sure windows were closed, and securing
anything we thought might blow away. This is
when being married to a true Northerner with a
siege mentality is exceptionally advantageous.
I had put some extra hay in Flash’s hayrack and
given him a good-night pat, but I left the stall door
open so he could spend the night wherever he
wanted. He still preferred the creek bed in the
woods to the noisy metal barn, especially during
storms. By now he knew where to stay sheltered,
and though I had offered my sensible advice to stay
inside the structure, I didn’t worry about him.
As promised, the night brought gusty winds and
driving rain. Tom and I lay in bed and tried to
sleep while we listened to the roof make cracking
noises and endured the sounds of branches
scraping the windows. “Isn’t a fit night out for man
nor beast!” Tom quipped in his best Yukon
Cornelius voice, and we laughed at the time,
feeling happy we’d prepared for it.
Only now it didn’t seem so funny. By morning’s
light, we had found downed branches strewn
around the property, trash cans overturned, and
worst of all, a pasture gate blown off its hinges
into the muddy ground. Uh-oh.
Tom and I clomped through the black clay,
which stuck to the bottoms of our boots and added
an inch to our overall heights. We put the gate back
into place and secured it with rope.
“Hopefully Flash didn’t notice the gate down
and decide to get out. Any sign of hoofprints?” I
asked, peering at the ground around the gate. To
our relief, we couldn’t see a single one, and we
breathed a premature sigh of happiness. At least
Flash is all right, we thought. Just to be on the
safe side, we decided to split up and check the rest
of the gates and fences. I headed off toward the
barn to set out some morning hay and called for
him to come for breakfast.
But no Flash came. I waited. Called again.
Waited some more.
“Are you sure there weren’t any hoofprints?” I
queried Tom in the house, then insisted he go back
and inspect one more time.
“Nothing, Rachel,” Tom assured me. “But that
doesn’t mean anything. It would be just typical,
wouldn’t it? Hoofprints are no indication of
whether he got out through there or not. Think
about how often he materializes on this side of the
fence in the hockey area. I don’t know how he does
it, but somehow he does.”
Good point. In addition to the hockey areas,
Flash was also famous for making our rope
barricades across the barn openings quite
irrelevant. Whenever we needed Flash to mind his
own business and stay out of our way, we pulled a
multilayered, crosshatched system of ropes across
the expanse and secured them with a series of eye
hooks and carabiners. Too low to the ground to go
under, too high to go over, too solid to go through.
That is, for anyone and anything except Flash.
He always got through.
But we never actually saw him do it. That was
the mystery. We could be nearby, engrossed in
some barn activity, when suddenly there was
Flash. Just nonchalantly scratching some imaginary
itch with his teeth. Then he’d look up, all like, Oh
hey, what are YOU doing here? I’m just itchy . . .
just scratchin’ my itch.
To be honest, it was a little creepy.
Was this disappearance another one of his
tricks? We had a full day of work ahead and no
time to go chasing down an elusive donkey. I
called our client and explained that hopefully this
wouldn’t take long; we would arrive just a little
later than planned to finish her kitchen backsplash.
The lady was understanding, although I did have to
repeat, “My donkey, yes, that’s right, my donkey
has gone missing. No, not my doggie. My donkey,
as in HEE-haw donkey!” I don’t know why that
was so hard to understand.
Back outside, Tom and I combed the immediate
area. We worked our way from the back of the
property, through the yard near the house, and into
the woods in front. The problem with—sorry, one
of the problems with—a brownish-gray donkey is
that he blends right into the brush.
We had already learned from experience in the
back woods that you could be looking right at him
and not see him. He loved to make us call him until
we were exasperated. All the while, he was
silently biding his time from four feet away, still as
a statue, and then he’d startle us by moving at full
speed. Whoa, now! Nostrils flared, with a wildeyed look, he’d nearly plow us over, barely able to
contain his excitement for having pulled a fast one.
He’d stop short at the last second, quivering in
delight. I’ve read that donkeys’ depth perception is
hampered by their wide-set eyes, and I believe it.
He always seemed surprised to come upon us so
We called and whistled. (Well, Tom whistled.
I’ve never gotten the hang of it.) We shook
containers of oats.
Nothing. He’d better not be right under our
noses this whole time. I’ll kill him.
We met at the road and then split up again. Tom
went east, and I went west along the narrow lane.
Calling, whistling (again, not me), and making
enticing noises with our buckets. About a half mile
down the road, my phone rang. It was Tom.
“This is pointless. He could be anywhere. I
think we’d better notify the sheriff’s department,”
Tom said. “That way, if someone reports that
they’ve found him, they’ll know to call us.” I
agreed it was a good approach but secretly hoped
our call wouldn’t be answered by either of the
sheriffs who were around the last time he busted
out. I didn’t want Flash to be the poster child for
“donkey problems.” You know how people like to
But, as fate would have it . . .
“You the donkey people?” It was the deputy
from the night of the romantic rendezvous. Sigh. I
went ahead and explained our situation. “We’ll
call you if we hear anything,” he said. “Don’t
worry, we know where you live.”
I knew he was writing this on Flash’s
permanent record, but what choice did we have?
We needed his help. By the time I hung up the
phone, the coffee I had drunk earlier was making
my stomach hurt. Reality started to hit me.
What if Flash never comes back? What if we
never find him? What if someone steals him?
Could it really be that, in just a few years’ time, I’d
become so attached to this long-eared character
that the thought of losing him now broke my heart?
The depth of my emotions caught me off guard.
Don’t be silly, Rachel. He’s just a donkey. But I
knew he’d become much more than that.
As I gathered up the stack of flyers, the words
MISSING DONKEY shouted at me. I momentarily
silenced them with prayer.
“God, I know You have much bigger problems
to solve today. I know there are wars and famines
and people who have serious needs. But would
You please help us find Flash? I love him. I
believe You gave him to us for a reason. He has
been such a blessing. A sweet, crazy blessing.
Please bring him home.”
I called our client once again and canceled our
project for the day, not wanting to be on the
opposite side of Dallas if the phone rang. I’m sure
she could hear the worry in my voice, and she
As the minutes ticked by, I vaguely
remembered an account in the Bible about some
missing donkeys. Maybe it would help to read it.
After a little digging, I found it in the book of
1 Samuel. I settled in to take my mind off the
Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father,
1 S AM U E L 9 : 3 , E S V
I sat up from my cushioned slouch and did a
double take. I could instantly relate. Somehow, I
knew this was going to be a good narrative.
Kish, a wealthy man in Israel, instructs his son,
Saul, to take a servant and go find a wandering
band of donkeys. It probably was not a huge
request. The donkeys were likely allowed to graze
freely—and, hey, how far can donkeys go,
anyway? Pssh. This job just goes along with being
a son of a rich guy, and maybe Kish thought a little
day trip would be a good experience for him. So
Saul and the servant start looking.
They look high and low, up and down and all
around, but they cannot find the donkeys anywhere.
They keep widening their circle until they’ve
traveled around the entire area. Eventually, their
simple task has turned into a three-day, grueling
search . . . and still nothing. They’ve exhausted all
of the countryside in their tribe’s land and
probably are debating whether to scour the
This was sounding familiar.
Saul finally gives up and says to his servant,
“We’d better head home. I’m sure my father isn’t
concerned about the donkeys anymore. But he’s
probably wondering what happened to us.”
Somehow, I think Saul may have added a few
choice adjectives before the word donkeys, but the
Scripture writer wisely leaves them out.
The servant has a last-minute, brilliant idea.
“Hey! Before we leave, let’s go to the next town
where a revered prophet lives. Maybe he’ll know
where the donkeys have wandered to.”
Just as they are passing through the gates of the
village to find this prophet, who should be coming
toward them but the very man they are looking for
—Samuel. They are literally about to bump into
It is a holy intersection. Saul is at the right
place at just the right time. On the previous day,
while Saul and the servant were still out in the
middle of nowhere looking for those donkeys, God
had spoken to Samuel and told him to be on the
lookout for this same young man. He gave Samuel
an important task—to anoint Saul the king of Israel.
When the two meet, Samuel invites Saul to eat
with him, promising to tell Saul the following
morning what he and his servant wanted to know.
And then he adds something strange. “By the way
. . . about those missing donkeys. Someone found
them and returned them to your father, so you don’t
need to worry anymore.”
Wait. I looked up from the open pages and
squinted my eyes at a distant point in puzzlement. I
thought the one thing Saul wanted to know was
the whereabouts of the donkeys. But the prophet
just told him they’d been found. So . . . that
should be all there is to it. It seems to me like
Saul just learned the thing he wanted to know—
that the donkeys had been found.
Apparently God had something else in mind.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. Saul only thought
this journey was about donkeys. But it was really
about so much more.
In these short paragraphs, I saw that God used
the problem of rounding up a band of renegade
donkeys to put Saul on a collision course with
destiny. God moved Saul from his own little
world, by means of a frustrating mission, into a
place of encounter. A place where God was going
to do something extraordinary. This journey, Saul
learned, was never about the donkeys.
I sat on the couch, with my phone in one hand
and Bible in the other, hoping someone would call
me with Flash’s whereabouts. But the minutes
ticked by in silence, so I kept reading. I thought
maybe I was getting to the best part and tried to
focus on the words on the page instead of thinking
about Flash. Out there all alone. With no one to
I willed my heart to stop its anxious pace.
The story wraps up with a final scene. The next
day, Samuel takes Saul aside and tells him the true
reason for his roundup task. He anoints his head
with oil, tells him he is going to be king, and
reveals what will happen on his way home. He
says to Saul, “From this moment on, you’ll be
changed into a different person.” After some final
instructions, Samuel sends him on his way. As Saul
turns and starts to leave, something amazing
happens: God gives him a new heart.
Saul’s life was forever changed in that moment.
His heart was new. He was different. In that
instant, he went from being “that tall kid” from an
obscure family to being the king of an entire nation.
From wet-behind-the-ears bumpkin to powerful
leader. He moved from doubt to faith, fear to
courage, insecurity to confidence. It was a historymaking intersection of obedience and destiny that
all started with . . . a donkey problem.
Saul’s willingness to take on the unglamorous
job of finding some wayward animals put him in
the perfect spot for Samuel to find him. It took Saul
out of his comfort zone and put him into a place of
heart change. God was working behind the scenes
the whole time, orchestrating and creating “chance
opportunities” that led Saul straight into his
purpose and calling.
He was transformed.
Lost donkeys. God’s purposes. A date with
destiny. I wondered if God might still be in the
business of using such humble means for a greater
If only I had a donkey.
Because mine was still missing.
I had fretted when Flash arrived in our lives as
a lost donkey, and now it appeared that he’d leave
in the same manner. I didn’t like the awful irony of
it. Not after all we’d been through together.
I thought of his ears—those beautiful ears. And
the way his nostrils flared when he was excited
about getting a snack. His crazy bray, heard less
often these days, but endearing in its earnestness. I
loved how he sometimes bucked for joy when we
called him in from the field for dinner, and how he
liked to follow me around on my exercise walks
around his pasture.
I would miss him so terribly if he never came
back. My mind was already playing a highlight reel
of all of Flash’s golden moments, accompanied by
Green Day’s “Time of Your Life.”
Oh, the stories I recalled.
Like the time Flash showed up in the barn with
a haircut. A haircut! Somehow, some way, his
mane had been trimmed into a choppy mohawk.
One day he just walked up to the gate with a
We couldn’t imagine how it had happened, or
more disconcerting, who would sneak into our
pasture with scissors to chop off his mane. Or why.
Why would someone give my donkey spiked
We went over the possible scenarios and
suspects. Bridgette and Steve, as far as we knew,
were out of town. We eliminated them right off the
bat, even though we could see how the importance
of good hair, at least for a Southern woman, would
be ample motivation.
The only other adjoining property was the baby
mama’s pasture. Perhaps months of watching the
pretty little mare become the size of a barge had
caused her owner to nurse a grudge, which
culminated in taking some scissors to Flash’s mane
in an act of rage. Like a subtle but crazed message
to say, “I’m watching you.” It seemed like a strange
way to get a message across, but you never know. I
mean, he could just call us. We’re in the phone
Maybe some scissors-happy kid wandered by,
and seeing a hapless victim across the fence,
decided, “Why not?” Perhaps cutting Flash’s mane
into ragged strokes fulfilled some kind of dream
for him. It could happen.
Or had Flash himself hired someone to come in
and give him a new “metro” look? Was he tired of
his hipster hair that said, “I can’t remember the last
time I had a haircut, but since this look is now
mainstream with donkeys, it’s not cool anymore”?
It seemed a plausible explanation, given his love
for plaid and vinyl records.
Could it be aliens? Nah. Surely not.
It was like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
For weeks, we dragged every guest out to see
Flash’s ridiculous hairdo. We speculated and
laughed at the idea that someone would have
nothing better to do than trim Flash’s mane and then
sort of “forget” to tell us. But there had to be some
A couple of months later, when Bridgette and
Steve returned from a long vacation and we were
catching up, I managed to casually work in the
question, “Say, do you know anything about Flash’s
haircut?” They did.
Bridgette’s son, Heath, had been visiting just
before they went out of town together, and he had
gone over to pet Flash. Flash had rolled in a burr
patch, filling his mane with the thorny stickers. So,
Heath helpfully cut the burrs out . . . aaand forgot
to tell us.
The Mystery of the Phantom Barber solved.
It was only slightly disappointing to learn it
wasn’t aliens after all.
But this wasn’t the only mystery Flash had been
involved with. There was also the Miracle of the
Blue Hoof. That was the time when—
Just then, my cell phone rang. It was the sheriff
with some news. “Yes? Go on!” Somebody had
found a random donkey wandering around and had
put him in their pasture for safekeeping. Could it
be Flash? It must be. Please, let it be Flash. The
property was about a mile away, down our twisty
road through the woods, over a single-lane bridge,
and past a couple of neighborhoods.
I imagined Flash moseying along, searching for
that next blade of delicious grass, not realizing he
was getting farther and farther from home. I could
picture him looking up and not recognizing his
surroundings. He must be so scared and lonely! My
dear Flash. I felt a small spark of hope as I laced
up my shoes and grabbed the truck keys.
The sheriff met Tom and me at the location and
gave us that “you again” nod of recognition. I
noticed he had a clipboard and was taking notes. I
silently willed Flash, if indeed this was Flash, to
behave himself in the presence of the law. I
certainly didn’t want to see his mug shot hanging
on the bulletin board of the local convenience
Mr. Sheriff escorted us around the house and
back to the pasture to see if this stray donkey was
ours. My legs felt like jelly as I held my breath.
It was him!
His head was over the gate, looking straight at
us with his ears pricked forward, just as if he’d
been waiting there the entire time. There were the
two telltale scars, like choppy lines across his
nose. There was the deep scar across his chest and
the one on his left shoulder. The small hooves and
long, wispy tail. The chocolate-colored cross on
his shoulders. The stripe down the center of his
back to his tail. The rubbery lips and eager brown
eyes. Relief poured over me as I took in every inch
“Is this your animal?” the officer inquired,
bushy eyebrows up and pen poised.
“Yessir,” we replied in unison, reaching over
the gate and caressing his white muzzle. “Yes, this
is Flash. This is our donkey.” Flash pressed
himself close and cocked his head to the side with
eyes closed, clearly happy to see us.
“Well, that’s some donkey you’ve got there.”
The sheriff smiled, putting the pen in his pocket.
“I’ll let y’all take it from here.” He turned to leave,
then paused and looked back. “Most strays around
here don’t have anyone who cares enough to come
looking for them. I’m glad this one has a good
“Well, he’s part of our family,” Tom replied. “I
wouldn’t have believed we’d love a donkey this
much, but he’s pretty special.” He pulled out the
halter and lead rope while I wrapped my arms
around Flash’s neck and squeezed him tightly. I
loved his donkey smell—a mixture of dust, grass,
sweat, and gentleness.
With a tip of his hat, the sheriff left us to the
task of getting Flash home. Maybe he’d come
willingly this time.
I have no idea how Saul thought that he and one
helper could get a whole band of wandering
donkeys home from the countryside, because Tom
and I couldn’t get one stray donkey to move twenty
feet. Flash dug in his heels and refused to come
along. Maybe he was just putting on a show for the
horses on the property, trying to impress them with
his power to impede. Maybe he wasn’t done with
Whatever the case, after an hour of coaxing,
offering oats, and waiting for him to decide, we
were only a stone’s throw into our one-mile walk.
The sun was starting to set, and Flash was in no
hurry to cooperate, despite the fact he was being
rescued once again.
“Your donkey needs obedience school,” Tom
said, adjusting the lead rope in his hands.
“Duly noted.” I rolled my eyes at him over
Flash’s rump from my position at the rear. If we
could ever get him home, I’d look right into that.
Obviously, we still needed help with our special,
The homeowner saw our predicament and
offered the use of his horse trailer. Slowly, we
urged Flash into it, successful at last. We drove
back home, and as we pulled into our pasture and
unloaded him, we felt an acute sense of gratitude.
Tom was right. Flash wasn’t “just a donkey” to us
anymore. He was part of the family. He was ours.
And, he was a sign. Okay, maybe not a sign, but a
reminder of something. A reminder of God’s
providence and care.
I watched Flash pause and take in the scene of
his familiar pasture. He breathed the air and
sniffed the wildflowers. He nibbled on the tender
shoots of grass that poked up from the moist
ground, giving a deep sigh as his lips found the
next bite. Despite his reluctance to travel, Flash
was glad to be back where he belonged. Safe
within our care once again. I lingered near him and
raised a silent prayer of thanks.
Then it hit me. How many times had I stood in
the middle of this very field and talked to God?
How many times had I asked for help? Looked up
in the sky and prayed for a sign? How many times
had I searched Scripture for a message that would
meet my need? And how often had God let my gaze
fall back upon this stray donkey and given me a
picture of His grace and love and guidance? This
lost donkey had brought me to a place of encounter
with Him more times than I could count.
As a result, I was different. My heart had been
transformed. My life was changed.
I closed my eyes for a moment and thought
about Saul and how a problem with donkeys had
brought him to his destiny. And I wondered about
all the “donkey problems” I faced in life. The
times I thought, If I can just figure out what I’m
good at, or, If I could just change this
relationship, or, If I could make a whole gob of
I realized how often I made the mistake of
thinking that fixing things was what the journey
was all about. If I can only “find these donkeys,”
solve the issue, and get past this problem,
everything will work out. I’ll go back to my
normal life in my little town in obscurity and live
happily ever after.
Maybe we all do this. We wander all over the
figurative countryside trying to solve our donkey
problems. Our financial setbacks. Our hurting
marriages. Our parenting issues. Our soul-killing
jobs. Rocky relationships. Ill health. Insecurities.
Fears. Doubts. We begin to think we’re on a
hopeless mission and there is no end in sight. We
feel like we have failed. We think we are
insignificant. We think God does not see or notice
us. We become frustrated with the task.
But what we don’t realize is that, even while
we’re out there in the middle of Nowhereville like
Saul was, God has already been at work. In fact,
Nowhereville is just where we are supposed to be.
I started to see that all of our donkey problems,
our hard situations, are the very things God uses to
get us to a place of encounter. A place where our
hearts are made new. Like Saul, we’ve come to the
end of everything we can think of to do, and we’ve
given up. And then we give it one last chance, one
more shot, and boom. That’s the moment God
shows up. When we’re out of our comfort zones,
have used up all of our resources, and are at the
end of all hope.
That’s exactly the place where He meets us.
That’s just where He’d met me so many times
before. And I suddenly knew that it was through
my circumstances that God had changed me. I’d
gone from a starry-eyed dreamer to a wiser,
seasoned woman who wasn’t afraid of hard work
and overcoming obstacles. I went from fear of
failing to confidence in His grace. From one who
simply read about God’s strength in weakness to
one who experienced it firsthand. From someone
who despised the struggles to one who embraced
the lessons found in them. All the situations I tried
to fix were simply His means to get me to where
He wanted me to be.
I stepped close to Flash and leaned my weight
on his shoulders, my arms crossed and chin resting
on my hands. “Hey, Donkey Boy. My Flashy.”
He brought his head up and turned to
acknowledge me, his ears swinging around at the
sound of my whisper. The sinking sun made his
eyes look warm and understanding as I stroked his
smooth brown coat and traced the dark cross on his
back with my finger. His mane ruffled in the
breeze, the coarse multicolored hair tickling my
arm as I circled his neck one more time. Flash
blew softly through his lips in a contented
This journey is never about lost donkeys.
Instead, it’s always about heart change. It’s about
transformation. It’s about God showing up and
making us new.
A date with destiny.
Your journey isn’t about fixing donkey
It’s about transformation.
We had nearly lost Flash, the donkey who had
entered our lives as a stray diversion in our busy,
Whew. I’m so glad he’s back home!
Feeling gratitude all the way down to my toes,
I made sure the pasture gate was closed and the
chain was secured. Flash had been following my
every move since we returned and now poked his
nose over the top rung of the gate for a parting kiss.
I laughed at the way his bottom lip jutted to the
side as he rested his chin on the gate and gave me
that irresistible donkey gaze. You know, the one
that implores you for just a bit more attention—and
a possible last handout.
“Silly boy.” I leaned forward and pressed my
lips to his soft muzzle and patted the sweet spot on
his nose. “Go on, now.” He swung his head up and
paused, turning his ears toward me just in case I’d
change my mind about leaving. Then he swished
his tail and moseyed toward the woods.
Back inside the house, I made a beeline for my
office. I grabbed the stack of “Missing Donkey”
flyers I’d made, crumpled them, and threw the
wadded papers away. Just for good measure,
I knotted the trash bag and drove it to the end of the
driveway, even though it was a whole day before
the garbage collection. I wanted those signs out of
the house so I wouldn’t be reminded of how close
we had come to losing our four-legged family
Stepping out of the Explorer, I tossed the bag to
the edge of the road and ceremoniously wiped my
hands of it. Done! But as I turned to get back into
the truck, I had second thoughts. I untied the bag
and pulled out a rumpled page, smoothing it on my
leg. Perhaps it would be good to keep one as a
reminder after all. I held the flyer in my hand as I
sat behind the steering wheel, parked in nearly the
same spot as that first night when Flash had shown
What a journey it had been so far!
Dusk had fallen, and as I looked through the
windshield at the muddy driveway, my mind
relived that cold, bumpy drive home from a job
that wouldn’t pay our bills. That night, all I had
wanted was a warm shower and an end to the
struggles we were facing. My heart was too heavy
and I was too tired to pray, but somehow, God had
There, in our headlights, was a mangy donkey.
He looked at us, and we peered back at him,
the dust swirling about his feet like smoke in a
stage show. Grass protruded from his lips. He
The donkey did not look like a miracle. He
looked like a lot of trouble.
It would have been the easiest thing in the
world to simply ignore him, drive up to the house,
get ready for bed, and then pull the covers over our
heads. Tom and I were tired and discouraged. We
weren’t speaking to each other. We just wanted to
put the day behind us and had every reason to keep
going past him. And had we driven on by, I might
never have given much thought about a chance
encounter with a lowly beast in the road. “Huh, a
donkey. That was weird.” He would have been the
footnote on a tale of a horrid day.
But Tom’s seat belt was already unbuckled,
and he opened the door. And with one tired sigh
and a decision to get out, the game changed.
We thought we were rescuing a donkey that
But the reality is, God had sent a lost donkey to
help rescue us.
We were the ones needing help. We were the
ones who needed to know we were not alone. That
God had not forgotten us. That He had a purpose
for us. That we mattered to Him.
We needed to know God was with us, and that
we could still rely on Him. We needed to know He
could reach down and make something good
happen, and that He could still speak to ordinary
people like us.
So He put a donkey in the driveway.
And we could have driven right by.
But we would have missed the very thing we
We could not have imagined the answer to our
prayers would come in such an unexpected,
inconceivable package. Isn’t it God’s style to
provide something wondrous, something
newsworthy, something with a little glamour to
astound us? That’s what I would have envisioned.
A package with fuzzy ears, an enormous head, big
teeth, and a loud bray? Hardly. But then, God has a
sense of humor. Perhaps He knew that it would
take a reluctant, lost donkey to illustrate His
message to reluctant, lost people like us.
He gave us Flash. Through Flash’s example,
we learned how to live abundantly in our
circumstances, with gratitude and joy. He reminded
us to keep breaking down fences to find our
passion, and we learned to run with horses and
find satisfaction through serving others with love.
He taught us to wear our donkey hearts on our
sleeves and open up to the world around us. He
reminded us to not be afraid of change . . . to let go
of the past and embrace possibilities. His donkey
trails pointed out that our plodding was really
going somewhere after all. He showed us how to
make the most of the days we are given. Such
Flash, in his own inimitable way, taught us how
God interacts with His people. I found He uses the
everyday parts of our lives to illuminate spiritual
truths and to draw us close to Him. I think maybe
I’d forgotten that. God’s voice is echoed in the
stoplights, the grocery store runs, the walks in the
park, and the chatter around the dinner table. He
calls to us as we do the laundry and the dishes,
balance checkbooks, and read bedtime stories.
Do you hear Him? He is in chance encounters
with unlikely characters. His presence is nearer
than we can imagine. His hand is never far, and
His Spirit hovers over us as we go about our daily
Sometimes, we just need to pay attention.
Listen. Observe. Be still.
Unbuckle our seat belts and get out of the car
when we’d rather drive on past.
This is what a stray donkey taught us.
But most important, Flash reminded us of
God’s infinite, unfathomable love. He reminded us
that He takes worthless, unworthy, unwilling
people and sets His heart on them. On us. On you
and me. His love makes us valuable, worthy, and
beautiful. He heals our scars, He provides for our
needs, and He gives us more than we could ask for.
We are His.
We belong to Him.
He calls us by name, and He brings us safely
Lessons from Flash
Remember your name.
Know whose you are.
Know where to find refuge.
True sanctuary is found in God alone.
Run with horses.
The pursuit of excellence conquers fear.
Find your passion.
Passion leads to purpose.
Be a trailblazer.
Persistence makes pathways for grace to follow.
Wear your donkey heart on your
A well-lived life is an authentic life.
Stand where fruit is falling.
The secret of abundance is in choosing gratitude.
Be a service animal.
You are made to serve in love.
Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from
Make things right with others.
Don’t miss your chance to forgive, accept, and love.
Your journey isn’t about fixing donkey
It’s about transformation.
Q&A with Rachel Anne
What made you decide to write about Flash?
Flash is such a charming, endearing character, how
could I not write about him? Seriously, I began to
notice that I had these little scribbled notes and
observations about him in my journals . . . things
that began to develop into threads of
understanding. I started to see him as my own
personal object lesson! I guess I’m a visual
learner, and this is how God makes things connect
with me. When I wrote about Flash on my blog and
saw how he resonated with my readers, it seemed
clear to me that he should be the catalyst for the
You mention in the book that part of your
growing-up years were spent as a missionary kid
in Mexico. What was your childhood like? How
did your early experiences shape you to be ready
for anything life throws your way—whether it’s
starting your own business or discovering a
donkey in your driveway?
Growing up as a missionary kid really did prepare
me for being open to new experiences. I loved the
colorful culture I was exposed to—the people and
the language (and the donkeys) gave me an
appreciation for a simpler lifestyle than we
typically experience in the United States. I think
I’ve always longed to recreate that with my own
family. Living in a foreign country, my parents
modeled a view of looking at interruptions as
possibilities and seeing inconveniences as
opportunities for God to work, and I am deeply
grateful for their example. I believe I could have
easily missed Flash’s lessons without that mind-set
Donkeys are often labeled “stubborn” and
“ornery.” Yet Flash seems to immediately win
the heart of (almost) everyone he meets. Why do
you think we respond so strongly to him? Do you
think all donkeys have people magnetism?
I do think that donkeys are particularly endearing
to people! First of all, there’s the cuteness factor.
Those ears! Those noses! But also, I think there is
a humility and gentleness they exude that draws
people in. They are extremely social and loyal,
two qualities that make for good relationships of
any kind. Flash has a huge personality that people
respond to, and his adventures make everyone say,
The “stubborn” stereotype is one that we
“donkey people” are very sensitive to, and we try
to educate others about it. Donkeys aren’t actually
stubborn; they are cautious by nature and will
hesitate (or refuse) to do anything they are unsure
of. Rather than bolting from a frightening situation
like a horse might, they will stop and think about it.
They must trust their owner or handler completely
in order to do what is being asked of them. Too
often, a handler becomes frustrated and will
mistreat a donkey, which only creates distrust and
exacerbates the “stubborn” myth.
You share in the book about an art teacher who
discouraged you at a young age, and as a result
it took you years to own your artistic gifts. How
did that experience change you? If you ran into
that teacher today and got up enough nerve to
say anything, what would it be? Did your
experience affect the way you guided your own
children to discover their interests?
What a sad moment that was! Looking back now, I
can only imagine that the teacher may have been
preoccupied or may have simply been caught in a
bad moment, which had an unintended negative
impact on me as an insecure seventh grader. I don’t
harbor any ill will toward him now, and saying
anything to him would not change the past.
That experience has made me very aware of
how powerful our words can be, and I’ve tried to
be a positive encourager for my own kids as
they’ve discovered their interests. I always had art
supplies, tools, paper, and bits and pieces of things
on hand so they could invent and create whenever
they wanted. Today, Lauren is a graphic designer,
Meghan is a music teacher, and Grayson is on the
path to becoming an aerospace engineer—so
they’ve definitely found their niches!
Since Flash joined your family, you’ve become
an advocate for donkey rescue and care
worldwide. What have you learned about the
importance and social value of donkeys,
specifically in developing countries? How can
others get involved to help?
I’m so glad you asked! Having Flash has opened
my eyes to the great impact donkeys still have on
the world, and also the immense need for rescue
and welfare. We live in such a modern society here
in the United States that we rarely even see a
donkey as a pet, let alone as a working animal. Yet
there are more than fifty million donkeys in the
world, most of whom do the hard work that
sustains families and whole communities. Often,
these animals are overworked and suffer poor
health, which decreases their life spans and their
ability to help the people who need them.
One organization whose mission is to aid the
welfare of donkeys, horses, and mules is THE
BROOKE in the United Kingdom (thebrooke.org).
They help some of the poorest communities in the
world by providing programs and treatment for
their working equines.
THE DONKEY SANCTUARY in the United
Kingdom (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk) is
well known for its work with donkeys. They foster
and adopt donkeys in need and participate in
animal welfare work around the world.
SAMARITAN’S PURSE (samaritanspurse.org)
provides donkeys (and other livestock) to rural
families who need them, particularly in Latin
America, Africa, and Asia. Donkeys can pull
plows and wagons, haul products, carry water, and
provide transportation. They make a huge
difference in people’s economic lives by allowing
them to earn a living and create a future for
themselves. I love that.
PEACEFUL VALLEY DONKEY RESCUE in San
Angelo, Texas (donkeyrescue.org), is one example
of a donkey rescue organization and has facilities
around the United States for rescuing,
rehabilitating, and finding new homes for donkeys.
I’ve personally visited their facility and even
adopted a new donkey friend for Flash from them!
They do incredible work for the “forgotten”
donkeys of America.
You can help any of these organizations with
monetary donations, and some are looking for
hands-on volunteers or people who want to foster
or adopt donkeys. They make excellent pets and
companions, so you should think about getting one!
In this book, you share with great candor and
vulnerability about overcoming your fear of
taking risks on new opportunities. What are you
doing now that you never would have dreamed
of doing before Flash came into your life?
Well, writing a book about a donkey, for one thing!
Flash has taught me that my “sixty-two
chromosomes” are enough to allow me to “run
with horses”! I think of that phrase often,
especially as I’m presented with projects and
opportunities that scare me, such as speaking to
groups and writing a children’s book, as I’m doing
now. Facing fear is hard, but it’s worth it.
The story of Flash spans some difficult and
tumultuous times for your family. Is there a
specific quote, thought, or Scripture verse that
sustained you throughout?
No matter what happens, it seems I always come
back to Psalm 90:17, which has become my life
Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands.
P S AL M 9 0 : 1 7 , N K J V
I created a huge print of this Scripture for our
living room so we could see it every day. It was
(and is) my prayer for our days—that we would
experience God’s beauty and favor, and that He
would take the work of our hands and make
something good happen. Sometimes just breathing
this verse as a prayer was all I could do in the
midst of my struggles, and I believe God has really
been faithful to answer it.
At its core, what would you say the story of
Flash is about?
I believe the story of Flash, my raggedy stray
donkey, and of our family who took him in, is a
story about God showing up in everyone’s lives in
unexpected ways. It’s about being aware that
wisdom truly “shouts in the streets” as Proverbs
1:20 describes, and that what we need to do is
learn to listen.
I think most of us simply miss the fact that He
is reaching out to us, because we’re looking for
great beams of light and angelic choirs to announce
something grandiose. We forget to look at the
everyday interruptions, the ordinary occurrences,
and the tasks that fill our lives as opportunities to
experience God’s love and care. I hope that all
who read the book will look at their lives in a
fresh way and see that the “donkeys” that show up
are actually extraordinary gifts in disguise.
What’s new with Flash and your family since
you completed the book?
I’m so excited to say that Flash has a new buddy—
Henderson (aka Henry). He is an adorable
minidonkey that we adopted last year. His name
comes from the original log-in at the rescue
facility, where he was identified as “Henderson
#10,” the tenth donkey in a roundup in Henderson
County, Texas. We simply had to keep the name!
He and Flash do everything together, vying for
attention (and treats) and generally just enjoying
each other’s company. It’s so fun to see them
Our daughters, Lauren and Meghan, have each
had a baby girl, and our son, Grayson, is finishing
up his studies at Texas A&M. Life has changed a
lot in the past year or two, and I think I’ve adjusted
to it now. I’m writing a children’s book and
creating art in my studio—two things I love to do.
I’m also busy on Pinterest pinning photos of the
vintage camper I’m dreaming of having one day!
P.S.—Flash started obedience school (otherwise
known as donkey-owner training). He is learning
to walk on a lead, follow commands, and be
loaded into a trailer. He is a (mostly) willing and
happy student. I’ll keep you posted on his progress.
This may take a while.
Follow Flash on FlashTheDonkey.com,
Facebook.com/FlashTheDonkey, and Twitter
In bringing this book to life, I’m deeply indebted to
many people who have made it possible . . .
Priscilla Shirer, my dear, precious friend.
Thank you for hiring me to paint Jackson’s nursery
so long ago. It was a phone call that changed my
life. You continually bless me with your
encouragement, your insights, and your spur-of-themoment movie invitations. You are the world’s
best cheerleader. And Bible teacher.
Bridgette Hawks, my friend and Southern
belle. Thank you for letting me share the tender
parts of our story, and for being a late bloomer
with me. I’m grateful you put that ad in the paper
for the charming farmhouse. When we answered it,
we got way more than a house—we got an amazing
friendship with you and Steve. What a gift.
Ruth Samsel, my incredible agent. Your energy
and excitement for Flash made this whole project
fun. I knew from your first text that we would make
a great team. You seem to know just when to push
me, and just when to send a little care package to
keep my spirits up. It’s an honor to be part of
William K. Jensen Literary Agency.
Sarah Atkinson, my acquisitions editor at
Tyndale Momentum, who fell hard for Flash from
the first moment she heard of him. Your
commitment to seeing this story become a real
book made me believe in it. Thank you to the
talented team at Tyndale House Publishers for all
of your hard work: Jan Long Harris, Sharon
Leavitt, Jillian VandeWege, Nancy Clausen,
Cassidy Gage, Maggie Rowe, and Stephen Vosloo.
It really tickled me to think about you sitting
around together at the office, talking about my
donkey. Oh, how I wish Flash could have known
he was being discussed in conference rooms—by
important people! Then again, he’d never let me
Bonne Steffen, my editor who made my
manuscript sparkle. Sorry for all the sentences that
started with And and But. But somehow you helped
me make changes that kept my voice, only better.
And you let me keep a few of my “choice” words.
You are a master.
Melody Johnson, aka The Donkey Whisperer.
Thank you for your expertise and help with Flash
along the way.
I’m grateful for my parents, Tom and Anne
Rasmussen, who taught me to see past the
“interruptions” in life to find what God might be
doing behind the scenes. Your faith and example
still inspire me every single day. Thank you for
your prayers and love.
Lauren and Robert Penn, Meghan and Nathan
Miller, and Grayson Ridge: You guys always make
me feel on top of the world with your excitement
for this book, and for my dreams. I’m very blessed,
and more than a little lucky, to be your mom.
Tommy: Thank you for stopping to help a stray
donkey one night. It’s just so typical of you, and
one more reason I love you more than words can
Lastly, Flash. Thanks for showing up when you
did. You were just what we needed.
Scan the QR code
with your phone or
visit the link below
for a special
message to book
groups from Rachel
1. Have you had a “donkey in the driveway”
moment—a time when something unexpected
disrupted your life and routine? What was it,
and how did you respond?
2. The county sheriff dismisses Flash as
“worthless.” Do you agree that a living
creature can be worthless? Why or why not?
Consider some examples from history, the
Bible, or your own experiences in which a
person (or creature) unvalued by society
came to make an impact on the world. What
characteristics (if any) do they share?
3. Flash’s “ears were a key part of his
communication—a silent form of expression
that delighted us.” What could the Ridges tell
about Flash’s mood by watching his ears?
Think of a friend or family member to whom
you’re close. What nonverbal cues might you
notice that show what that person is feeling—
things a casual acquaintance might miss?
4. In chapter 2, Rachel contrasts the names she
calls herself (e.g., inadequate, afraid, failure)
with the names God gives her (e.g., precious,
found, enough). What would your own names
be? Write the God-given names on a card and
place it where you can see it every day.
5. Think of a time when you, like Flash
shivering outside his barn or Rachel suffering
a tragic loss, have needed shelter. What were
the circumstances? Where was your refuge—
the place or people who brought you in out of
the cold? What did you learn about yourself,
God, and your relationships from that difficult
6. What changed for Flash after he had the
opportunity to run with horses? What longings
or new adventures do you want to pursue in
your own life? Does something need to
change in your circumstances to make these
dreams a reality—and can you begin running
after them in some way today?
7. One of Rachel’s childhood teachers
discouraged her in a way that made a big
impact on her life and future. Think back to
your own childhood: Did you have a teacher
or role model who either affirmed or
dismissed your dreams? If the former, how
did that encouragement shape your life? If the
latter, what changed when you were told you
couldn’t do it? In what ways does Rachel’s
own story show that it’s never too late to try
8. What characteristics do Rachel and Tom
show in their endeavors—whether it’s
learning the ropes at a new business, facing
life’s challenges, or adopting a stray donkey?
Where in the process do they most struggle,
and where do you see them thrive?
9. Consider the many different friendships
Rachel describes in the book. Which one
resonates with you most and why? If you were
to write your life story, which of your own
friendships would be most significant to
include? How have you learned from each
other and grown together?
10. Think of your own pet, either one you have
now or a beloved one from your past. If he or
she had a “To-Do” list like Flash’s, what
would be included on it? How has this
animal, quirks and all, enriched your life—
either through joy or sorrow?
11. “It’s safe to say that Flash welcomes change,”
Rachel says, “just as long as nothing is
different or altered in any way.” How does
his attitude toward change contrast with that
of others in the book—Rachel and Tom,
Bridgette, even Beau? Who are you
personally most like and why?
12. What are some unique things that animals can
teach us about love?
About the Author
While tole painting Christmas gifts one year,
RACHEL ANNE RIDGE discovered a love for
art and inadvertently launched a new career. In
1999, she took her paintbrushes and began creating
murals and faux finishes in the booming Dallas–
Fort Worth area. When the small business started
growing, her husband, Tom, joined her. Together,
they have expanded into large-scale corporate art,
graphic design, wayfinding, and custom artwork.
Along the way, they have raised three children;
journeyed through loss, failures, and successes;
and adopted a stray donkey who showed up on
their doorstep and never left.
Rachel began blogging as a means of sharing
daily encouragement with other women. Writing
about her efforts to create a “soft place to land” for
her busy family made a natural connection with an
online community of readers who love her gentle
wisdom and humor. Since 2006,
HomeSanctuary.com has been her blog home, and
you can also keep up with her at
Rachel wrote for and managed Priscilla
Shirer’s blog, GoingBeyond.com, for two years
and contributes to other blogs on the topics of
parenting, organization, faith, and creativity. She is
an engaging speaker who loves to share funny,
often poignant stories that touch the heart and
reveal God’s love in unexpected ways.
Rachel lives in Texas with her husband, Tom,
and now, two donkeys.