I study it, now that it is too late, the dark jewel of an eye, huge and liquid and gleaming.  There are furrows in the grass where his sharp hooves tore the earth a moment ago when he fell.

He is a giant, five times my size, with power to launch himself over obstacles and return gracefully to earth, often wagging his head as if to say, is there nothing higher?  His shining coat glows red in the sun and his thundering hoofbeats send vibrations through the dirt.

He knows his strength and my weakness.  He knows me to carry treats in my pocket and when I don’t deliver, he merrily knocks me backward with a flick of his massive head.  He could easily destroy me, and yet I put my daughter on his back.  We are safe because he chooses for us to be safe.

But things have gone badly for Danny.  Two weeks ago, he began kicking at his side and twisting his head to see what was biting him there.  We brought doctors and medicine, and for a few days he seemed to be himself again, but the blood test said cancer.  On Thursday morning, I found him in agony, his coat sodden with sweat and grime, trotting desperately around the pasture, trying to outrun his cruel and invisible enemy.

We called the vet and trudged into the pasture, carried his halter this one last time.  Even now, in his misery, he is careful of us, careful not to step on us or knock us down as we clumsily try to corral him, and he urgently tries to escape. 

We took a job at the barn, my daughter and I, when we bought Danny.  We feed and water the horses, lead them from their pastures to their stalls. I knew little about horses when we began, but I always admired them.  If they had been winged horses, they would have seemed only slightly more mythical to me.  

How have such creatures come to exist, so graceful and immense, so fearsome when they choose to fight, yet who set aside their great strength to obey us?  And how is it that we find ourselves in such a world as this, so richly carpeted in green, extravagant in air and light, filled with beings more diverse and majestic than we could imagine?  If you say this is all a happy accident, I will wonder if you’re paying attention because we spend our lives trying to make good things and we know it is hard. Luck does not make horseshoes, let alone horses, let alone verdant worlds.

Well, Grace has somehow gotten in front of Danny and, rather than trample her, he jerks to a stop and she quickly slips on the halter.  We lead him to a quiet place.  She wraps her arms around his head and talks to him as the vet pulls something from his pocket. 

A few minutes later, Danny is gone and I am looking at the furrows in the grass where he fell and the great jewel of an eye that has gone dull.  Grace spreads herself over his still body and weeps and I try to understand why I feel I have lost a friend. 

Only a horse.  Only an animal that flew without wings, on whose back Grace flew, too, the wind whipping through her hair, knowing he would use his strength to bring her safely home. Only a horse, but I would give much to look in his eye again. 


She sneaks into the room, leans over the bed and studies the little face, listens to him breathe. He seems ok, so she moves to the next bed, and then the next, and then the next, then she lets out a sigh and slips away, back to her own dark room. She closes her eyes but does not let go of the world, dozes off for a few minutes until the alarm in her mind sounds and she opens her eyes, rolls out of bed, does it all over again, hour after hour until the morning comes.

It has been this way for four years, since the day the quadruplets were born – the day much of her old life ended. And it was quite a life – a job she loved, her third master’s degree almost complete… and she slept through the night. Well, that was then… Her eyes open. Another trip to the kids’ room. She stares longest at Kolten, whose life has been especially hard. Already, he’s been through liver failure, through desperate surgeries that saved his life but, in the process, removed most of his intestine and most of his ability to receive nutrition. Even worse were the months she spent pleading for those surgeries, refused by doctors who thought he would die on their operating table.

Kolten weighed only two pounds when he was born – far too small – but he was twice as big as his brother. Doctors looking into her womb saw the littlest one as a lost cause and wanted to remove him but, no, she said, and she hovers over him now, runs her fingers over his dark hair. Sweet Mason. She checks on her sleeping daughters, Ava and Mila, then goes back to bed for a while.

Shayla could probably do anything she wanted to do, and this is what she chooses. Her degrees are not in medicine, but she seems to know every drug and doctor and test and procedure that might help her kids get better. She trained to be a counselor, but life changed her job description. “I’m a huge fighter now”, she says, laughing, and you wonder how such a transformation occurs. Not so long ago, she was a little girl who loved the north woods, the dappled light under the tall trees, the fragrant soil, the freedom and silence and solitude. So unlike a hospital…

Margaret’s story is not so different. For her, as a kid, it was all about horses and the fun of a big family. She didn’t give much thought to marriage, let alone the possibility of laying her life aside to care for a sick child. But she grew up, got married, and her life changed – specifically, on the tenth day after her daughter was born, when they found a malignant tumor in her neck.

For Margaret and Shayla, the birth of their kids brought a sudden end to the quiet and simplicity they had loved, an abrupt relocation into a stainless-steel world of harsh lights and long halls, fragrant antiseptics, the noise and bustle and seeming imprisonment of life in a hospital.

At first, it was too much. “I felt so fragile and weak,” Margaret said. “When a doctor was coming down the hall, I would go the other way and let her dad handle things. But day by day, I got stronger and more independent and, together, we fought for not just Megan’s life, but for her quality of life, too.”

Margaret’s ordeal is behind her now. Her daughter survived the terrifying surgeries and gained strength, grew up and pushed on through college and a master’s degree. Shayla’s fight continues today and is far from over.

At Wings of Mercy, we often talk about kids and airplanes, but this month we’re especially thinking about the incredible people we call moms – about Margaret and Shayla and all the rest; mothers of sick kids and mothers of healthy kids; little girls who grow up and lay their lives aside to build a safe place for their children, who pray and protect and give comfort even when they have themselves run dry.

We often talk about places we go, but this month we’re thinking about where we began; the womb in which God formed us; the extraordinary person who – with love like his own – gave herself for us. Thank you, mothers. You are worthy of greater honor than we can give.

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139

Follow the Meads’ journey here: https://www.facebook.com/meadquads

For more of Margaret and Megan’s story, see https://www.facebook.com/…/a.33162194691…/2189682794445952/…