Learning to Pray

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.

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