This is the way of it, my friend – if I have told you this is a blue moon blog, then you may assuredly expect another post hot on its heels to defy it. This post is a fluke, is what I’m saying. Though perhaps another will follow fast to defy that statement, too. We’ll see.


Anyway, I want to tell you about the old mule that lived in my neighborhood growing up. Our neighborhood, before it was a neighborhood, had been a corn and bean farm for many years until a developer came through and sectioned it into plots. We were one of the early settlers in the division, and so for some time a thick field of grass and grain flanked us on both sides. But, more to the point, there are two long gravel drives past the end of our lot in the back, and one of them ends at a very small barn and house. An older man owned it at the time, and it was a bit run down, but he rented the stalls to a couple of horses and a donkey. I only ever saw the donkey outside, in the field by the barn. He was grey and lonely. I know this because whenever we’d sneak back to see him, he’d get himself into a jolly gallop alongside us and beg to be pet. At any given time, we could hear him from inside our house. A long, low and woeful bray echoing straight through all the neighborhood homes. It might be the first sound I would hear in a morning.


Silly to say, but I loved that old donkey. (As I loved nearly every animal I ever came across.) One day, one year, I woke up and realized it had been a long time since I’d heard its bray, and I wonder a little at how it died. I hope loved, and a little less lonely, in the end.



A very sweet friend brought us dinner the other night. It was a still-steaming roast with long, thin onions and a lovely sort of gravy; there was fresh steamed broccoli (I know because she never does the frozen stuff) and sweet potato tater tots that she baked, mashed, shaped, froze, and then threw into the air fryer (bless her). I know they were good. I believe it assuredly because I have never had a bad morsel of food from her - but honest to goodness I could not taste a bit of it. A friend, who also recently had Covid, wrote on Facebook the day before Thanksgiving that the texture of the food her sister had promised to bring her “had better be on point,” and let it be, let it be, because yesterday my Chipotle bowl was a bland as sand but the texture was la perfection. (I should mention that my morning coffee has somehow retained a modicum of taste and it is the blessing of the week.)


Well, we’re on the brink of getting our house, which is the fulfillment of many years hard work and the blessing of friends. It is, also, lots and lots of answered prayer. Two years living with my parents, from a month after we got pregnant to a year and a half after our boy was speeding around the house clutching Hot Wheels. A half-year living in the lower apartment of a friend’s house, a snug one-bedroom that probably used to be the parlor back in the 1800s, and which immediately felt like home to all of us.


Good friends and loving family will never go out of style, and I hope you have a handful of both. I was watching an episode of Boy Meets World a few weeks ago where Cory and Topanga had just gotten married and were facing the cold reality of things. Their friends, assuming they’d made plans to live elsewhere, had moved them out of their apartment. Their only option was the dark, stained, foul-water-in-the-pipes married dormitory where they could hear couples squalling and babies wailing as they walked in. They rushed to Corry’s parents in horror. We can’t live there! They protested. It’s horrible and the water is brown! But the parents were resolute – ya gotta make it on your own, kids. So, they crawl back to their dark place and resolve to make it nice. And they do. It’s all very Disney and lovely; they decide to slap some paint on the walls and it looks like a Better Homes and Gardens flat by the end. This is well and good. Cody even tells me the parents did the right thing, so maybe my experience is coloring outside the lines a little. Sometimes the kids do have to grow up on their own. But mom, pop, if your donkey has fallen into a ditch, do let down a ladder. Some ditches are deeper than others, as we know. The donkey will be very grateful. And, after it all, if she wants to let out a happy bray, after all her sorrowing ones, then let her - in all its reverberating, baritone glory - and know it’s a happy song sung just for you.



If you grew up believing in God, perhaps you remember praying some funny things. Like, squinting your eyes shut on the top of the swing set and begging to fly, before skeptically jumping off, and landing in a huff on the ground. (Maybe not enough faith, you thought.) Or, huddled in the garage, in the cold, by the robins eggs you’d placed under the desk light that always got ridiculously hot and worked perfect for a makeshift hot lamp. You prayed – let them hatch. You watched them like a pot on the stove. And one time you walked in and one egg was cracked in a “V” down the center. You held your breath; a tiny yellow beak was just visible in the crevice. But, baby was stone cold and gone to sleep because the lamp wasn’t that hot, child, though you tried your best.


I remember wishing for a pizza, once, when I was seven or so. I walked to the big cement-block structure enclosing the communal garbage, and right there, on the top of the ledge, was a tiny, plastic, supreme pizza. I still have it, somewhere.


There’s so much whimsy and wishfulness and true, honest miracles when we’re children. Not that they stop. We know, with our child-faith, that God can do anything. We use prayer like a needle, dipping it in different desires and seeing which will produce the reaction. We misunderstand the mustard seed, maybe, and will ourselves to muster faith – and with the sapling that ensues, we expect a miracle. I picture God sitting beside us, smiling a little, maybe even chuckling, as we take these toddling steps. We want to be with our Maker, but we’re still figuring out how. (Not that this stops, either.)


These things feel a little tender to talk about. Maybe this wasn’t the case for you, and faith has been hard. Maybe it was easy, and then the tide of pain and life and disappointment washed the dam down and downed the village, too. Our adult-faith won’t ever be the same as being ten on top of a swing set – even for those of us who’ve sat there, it's different now. But we don’t have to age out of the system. The faith need not fade. It’s bolder now; the stakes are higher. Swing sets and baby birds make way for cancer and job applications and a place to rest your head at night. But we know we can ask for help now. The taste we knew as sweet is now robust. We know that muster is not the same as mustard and that even better than flying, is hearing a small, very quiet whisper – and that the God who is so very big and sometimes seems so far away, knows your name, and He even lets you know it.

Really, this blog is only updated once in a blue moon. I make it all kinds of sweet nothing promises, but blue moon it is. Though perhaps this year has had better reason than most. A lot of its real estate has been taken up with house hunting (see what I did there?), and at long last we are a week away from closing. Little man says “neeew house!” with a particularly high noted staccato at the end; he likes the little canoe-windmill that sits atop one of the fence poles, so I’ve lovingly named it “the house at little canoe” (though Cody says he will just call it “house,” which is a little boring to me, but to each their own).


We have had Covid for a week now, and so have been cut off from all thing pretty entirely, though the boy and I did escape to our yard one day last week. A two-year-old must run. Little man was especially pent up after so many days inside with very little to do. So, he was a little wild. By which I mean, he was running everywhere with little regard to what I was saying or asking. (Which mattered especially that day because he’d accidentally thrown me off balance the day prior, bruising my tailbone that I’d broken years before. I was, er, pretty tender in the rear.)


While I was still some feet behind, he rushed the gate that led to the front yard, where I did not want him to go, and got the latch open - even though I said his name in the most you-best-walk-on-eggshells kinda way – and was off lickity split into the front yard. My friend and upstairs neighbor was just coming out to her front porch at that moment. It was unfortunate, to say the least. I was grabbing at little man’s hood, trying desperately not to bend very much and so send that blessed knife-pain up my backside, but mainly concerned that he not get near her. I got hold of his hood in time and he cried to beat the band. Freedom lost! And when he was so close to climbing the porch, too.


I sent up a weary look at my friend, whereupon she informed me that I’d dropped my phone in the scramble. Blast. The boy was still crying and playing caught-fish-on-the-line, flopping himself for dear life in my arms, so we had to have one of those heart-to-hearts right there on the sidewalk. The friend had gone inside, so I thought we were alone. I was saying, exasperatedly, “there is just no need for this. No more of this – no more!” as if that was the final note on everything. Finishing this, I turned the boy and me around to go back inside (thinking grouchily of what a horrible idea it was to go outside with a bum backside) when I saw my other neighbor on her front porch. (The whole world is always available to see our “moments,” ya know?)


Well, we were beyond ceremonious chat at that point, so I got straight to the point, the boy running ahead and playing in the bushes: “Helen, I think we have Covid so I won’t stay to talk.”


“I know, honey,” she intoned behind her mask; and then, as I slung my boy under my arm, “run, run, run!”


There’s been a discomfort that’s sat in my heart since February. KJ Ramsey is the first person (I think) to put into words for me the essence of bodily trust and the way it either conflicts or converges with the narratives we tell ourselves mentally. She writes, “Noticing our distress rather than dismissing or ignoring it is the first way we can respond to God’s invitation into the canyon of wholeness” (This Too Shall Last, 110-111). And then later, “Walk into the barren, empty places of your pain, because this is where God will fill you with himself. This liminal space is where we hate to go but where God is always leading us. Don’t run from what does not make sense or try to explain it away. Dissonance is the birthplace of all abiding Christian hope. Embrace mystery as the place God dwells. Embrace your suffering as the paradoxical place where you will be made whole” (115).


We are internally divided creatures, much of the time – the mind making its beliefs and the body scripting its. A few years ago, I stood in front of my college class and confidently shoved aside my mental fear. I was teaching the class with a classmate and we were, eh, twenty minutes in, when my hearing sort of went hollow, like I had a tin can held up to it. And then my vision telescoped and started screwing shut, and I could hear myself saying – stoically, like Plato before an assembly - that I was going to pass out. The class jolted and got that classic look of horror you see on scary movie posters; most of them jumped up together to help, which was very nice and humiliating at once. One girl helped lower me to the ground before I fell there.


The body knows the truth, sometimes before we do. It’s a friend - a dang honest one.


Well, when there was talk of bringing in the National Guard back in February, something in my body changed. Maybe you can resonate. It wasn’t even the near panic attack that made me feel like Darth Vader was lifting me off my feet by my throat, crushing vital things with invisible force. My fear of death came forward. I have through the years very forcefully put it off in my mind. Swept the crumbs off the table. And here the crumbs have made a very sorry cake and I’ve been sustained of it this year.


Hebrews says God’s children have been set free from the fear of death. I love that. I wrestle it to the ground for blessing, like Jacob did in the wilderness. I beg it, “bless me! Enter my body and give me rest!” It seems a process. I’m not even sure it always means what I think it does. Life sure wants to stick.


It’s all like Emily Dickinson’s poem - and I’m going to quote the whole thing like the fangirl I am.


“Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves And Immortality. We slowly drove, he knew no haste, And I had put away My labor, and my leisure too, For his civility. We passed the school where children played, Their lessons scarcely done; We passed the fields of gazing grain, We passed the setting sun. We paused before a house that seemed A swelling of the ground; The roof was scarcely visible, The cornice but a mound. Since then 'tis centuries; but each Feels shorter than the day I first surmised the horses' heads Were toward eternity.”


A carriage won’t hold a tempest of fear, but it will hold the hand of a friend in good faith. A true friend is Rest, whenever it comes, to the one who is already resting in God. Doesn’t seem so frightening this way. Can’t be, not entirely, though the body will still stiffen at the thought.



Now the one good thing, which was promised in the title. If you want a good read slipped into your inbox every once in a while, (and much more frequently than I write, myself) then hie you over to the Blind Mule blog, where Sarah Willard writes. You won’t be sorry. She writes on life and little and big things, but whatever she writes, she’ll lull you into that inner place of “home-ness” that we are always trying to get ourselves back into. I stop and read her writing every time I see it light upon my inbox, and I can’t say that about any other writer. Seriously, go straight there and subscribe. I don’t know her personally, but I always get such a feeling of faithfulness from her writing that I feel sure she is the faith-fullest of people.


There is a spider in the kitchen window, and Cody has named him Peter. Primarily, I think he has done it to create some kind of sympathy in me for him (if that were possible) because the ol’ boy has a hearty appetite and a skilled web for the catching. (I can’t deny this, and I don’t – he’s a good spider if ever there could be, though I still maintain they came after the Fall.) He has long, spindly legs and a very round, darkly marbled body, which gives me shivers just to write. But here we are. I call him by his name and discuss him with the baby over breakfast, so I guess Cody has won. The name has given him something of a sweetness, when I think of him - named after Spiderman and assuming that heroic characteristic, killing the flies and the beetles. Until I see him – and he makes me shiver again. But I will say, it’s only that thin pane of glass that protects him. If the fellow gets a wandering eye for the kitchen, he’ll just have to go.

There’s no deeper discourse in this than a begrudged kinship. And there’s no reason for telling you, other than to let you know my husband has cheeky devices for swaying me, and we’ve a new friend, like it or not.


There is something really special about hearing stories in the teller’s voice. My Grandma’s, for instance; she has a subtle Appalachian drawl, which I never noticed growing up, too close to her to hear it. It’s in everything she says, though, and sometimes it’s what she says more than how she says it. She chuckled when she recalled how her car broke down once, when she was in her twenties. She had to relay to the mechanics how she’d “pooshed” the car, and they kept asking her “what? You did what?” - making all kinds of opportunity to hear her accent more and get in a little laugh.

It wasn’t until I was grown and married to my own West Virginian that I realized she was from that part of the country. (Often, it’s not until we’re grown that we realize adults have stories too, and are not just spending their lives storying us.) Two years ago, she and Grandpa sat down with me and a voice recorder and told me about their lives. I treasure that recording – a 45-minute soundbite of my people telling their stories.

Grandma was a nurse. She worked in and around the land she was raised, some of which meant traveling, sometimes a hundred miles a day. Think if I’d have broken down, she wondered while telling me. All that back-country road. And then, at the end of a day, she’d have to sterilize and sharpen her needles by hand, when they were giving immunizations.

She talks of deep and quiet hill country, where some things took a while to trickle back to, which were flowing rivers for some, and a creeping creek for them. She remembers people getting sick. Tuberculosis was spreading through families fast, and it was hard, sometimes impossible work getting them to receive treatment. One woman received a court order to be committed after she spread the sickness to her little girl and still declined treatment – an elder nurse’s desperate hope of saving the rest of the family. Grandma said it was like beating her head against the wall.

She remembers being called in to a school once. The girls had been taking one of the students into the bathroom and forcibly running her under the shower. Grandma wouldn’t say, but the girl must have just started to be a woman, and didn’t know how. “It should have been handled different,” she said. Her job was to call on the girl’s family and help things out if she could. She said, as she was going into the hollow to visit, there was the girl’s dad, having seen her at a distance, waiting with a shotgun. “What those girls did was wrong,” he said. “I know,” she said. And that was it. She wanted to talk, he didn’t, and she had to walk away. “Wasn’t nothing I could do.”

I wonder about her. Not knowing and unable to know, suffering the ill attempts of school girls to cleanse her into a knowledge that no one but a nurse would talk about. About him. A protective father barricading his daughter from the wrong person. So many complicated intentions in this world, so many layers to stories - and all affecting someone else.

Saving people is a messy work. Not that we can, but that we try. Not that we should or shouldn’t, but that we do. A friend and I were talking, and we were bemoaning this a little. Love will say some offensive things, now and again. And what is it to do when the beloved responds – no thanks, I’m good – right to love’s face?

Everyone has drawn their line in the sand, marking just how far they’ll push their point on another. There are very many lines, I’m learning. One pulls his stick through the shore at the first declination he receives, staving off any more attempts after that. Another will attempt again and again, long after anyone believes she should. It is easy to understand that the fool cannot be swayed, but harder to pick out the fool. We watch a friend or neighbor spinning their web for nothing. We feel compelled to their salvation, without the mighty right arm to save or the burden of perfect justice. We do not want them to fail, or else feel compelled to speak because of the weight their fault bears on us.

God told Samuel, they’re not rejecting you, but Me. And thus it happens so often. Not against our personal opinions – though we muddy this boundary – but against God’s truth.

He says to live with others as peaceably as possible. I always find that as possible a great comfort. Because sometimes it’s just not up to you, and you had to speak your piece, and now you have to let go - or else keep forging a little against the fire. Peace be with you in that, my friends. And go gently. I am not a confronter, but I appreciate you vocal folk as having hold of the harder love, to both receive and to give.



The other morning, with a friend’s babe tucked onto my lap, sleeping, I found a book she’d been reading on her end table and flipped it open. It was The Read-Aloud Family. It’s about the transformative beauty of cultivating a love of reading into our kids. How reading to them, even once they can read for themselves, creates something special, which is best curated with patience and a lap and our undivided attention. I didn’t read much of it, in that keyhole of time, but I can light a candle for the cause. My mother used to read to me, and I can testify to its magic. Under the oak in the park, she’d weave stories out of the grass around us. She’d read us Tolkien and Lewis at home, picture books in the gazebo by the library. Her voice became my own confidence for story-making. A swung-wide gate for active imagination. And, which is more important, the assurance of her time, which I can never remember questioning.

In the book, the author quotes N. D. Wilson, who writes:

“Watching one’s small humans age and grow up packs a serious punch. It’s like being stuck in a dream unable to speak, like being a ghost that can see but not touch, like standing on a huge grate while a storm rains oiled diamonds, like collecting feathers in a storm. Parents in love with their children are all amnesiacs, trying to remember, trying to cherish moments, ghosts trying to hold the world.”

I hated this, when first I read it - my own boy still young, our days tripping over their own feet as they run fast away from us. This Ecclesiastic futility. His book is called Death by Living, so I’m not sure that it grows upward toward optimism. But, nestled into the first chapter of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, I think the point is to try. To be there, be present. To, God willing, write as long and as faithfully as we can upon their blank pages, even as they begin filling despite us. To cherish. Which is to say, to love God and love others, the foundation for everything.