A Penny Horse and Full Bucket

Jul 31, 2013

A play day. That’s what we needed.

Two months into summer, and my children turned into monkeys on speed. I couldn’t take it anymore. To make matters worse, I’d been working too much. I knew better, of course. But you know how a to-do list can take hostages. With the start of a new school year just weeks away, I needed to reclaim our fading summer. Give the monkeys—and me—a diversion. A fun one.

So I got up early last Thursday morning, holed up in my office, and tackled my to-do list before the dawn. By lunch, I’d accomplished a near full work day. Closing my laptop, I shut my office door.

Enough work. Time to play.

“Kiddos, I have a surprise for you!”

Cheers erupted. “A surprise? For us?” Skipping, dancing and all sorts of merriment ensued.

They adore surprises.

“Hurry, get your shoes on! We’ll leave in just a minute.”


You’re the best, Mommy!

Thank you!


What followed wasn’t extraordinary. Time at the park, a short walk, lunch at Chick-fil-a, and an hour on the indoor playland. Still, a child’s dream afternoon. Ordinary, but abundant.

On our way home, satisfied from several hours of quality time together, we made a quick stop at the grocery store. Ten minutes, tops, and then the check-out lane.

That’s when it happened.

A few feet away sat a penny horse. The kind you see at grocery stores everywhere. A boy, probably five or six years old, rode the horse with a penny from his mom. Not exactly a thrill ride, but my children watched with envy.

“Can I ride the horse, Mommy?”

For the briefest moment, I hesitated. What would it hurt? But we’d already lingered at Chick-fil-a too long, and I hadn’t yet made dinner. And if I did it for one, I’d have to do it for three.

“No, not this time. We have to get home. Maybe next time.”

That’s when all the good things I’d poured into the day spilled out the bottom like a bucket with a hole.

“Ahhhh. NO FAIR! We never get to do anything fun!” An oscar-worthy pouting fest.

You should know that within my calm, smiley mommy exterior lives a tired, grouchy hag. Most days, she stays locked in dark, hidden places. But at moments like these, when I feel unappreciated and criticized, she busts out and delivers a doozy.

“Really? Never do anything fun? What do you think I’ve been doing FOR THE PAST FOUR HOURS?!?!?!”

I payed for our groceries, pointed the monkeys to the car, and muttered under my breath.

For the love. All I do is GIVE, GIVE, GIVE. And no matter how much I pour in, you’re a cavernous black hole swallowing all my best gifts. Spoiled. That’s what you are. Spoiled and ungrateful. 

(Not my best moment, I know. But it was the hag, not me, remember?)

Now, I don’t make a habit of seeing visions. But, if God has eyebrows, he looked me square and raised one.


He didn’t have to say a word for me to get his gist.

I’m surrounded by evidence of how much I’ve been given. A family. Home. Food to eat. Eyes that see. Friends who love me, and allow me to love them in return. A sun that warms my back. A tree the blooms every spring with flowers. Everywhere, life.

But instead of celebrating, I still find reasons to whine.

“No fair!” I cry.

There, standing in the grocery store, I saw the truth, stark and embarrassing:

Every time I look at someone or something with a heart that covets and complains, I punch a wide and deep hole in the bucket holding everything I already have.

Pouting over a penny horse when I’ve been given the lottery.

Spoiled? Yes, I am. Shamefully so. If God never gave me another thing, I’d still be holding a full bucket. Sloshing, overflowing.

No fair? Definitely. Because there is absolutely nothing fair about a God who holds the world and chooses to share it with me.

So today I’m saying “no” to the penny horse. “No” to all the temptations to mourn what I lack and long for what I wish would be. Instead, I’m giving thanks for life, as it is, in all its imperfection. Even whining, monkey children.

A beautiful, sloshing bucket of ordinary goodness.

I find myself full.

What’s filling your bucket today? I’ll start. It’s my birthday, and I’m celebrating the gift of one more year of life. 



  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Hi Michelle,

    My birthday was Sunday! And I was celebrating 6 1/2 years since I was supposedly getting one more year to live (two neurosurgeons had told me that) and Jesus traded that prognosis for one by an expert brain surgeon who, according to him, gave me 30 more years (I was 56 at the time). But still…I whine. I find all kinds of things I’m not satisfied with. I work hard to build a future that may not be the one God has for me in the first place. It’s pathetic, really. But then God gives me the eyebrow too…like he did yesterday morning when I was reading Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study on Gideon. It was an “Ouch!” moment. But it was oh, so good.

    • Michele

      Happy birthday, Linda. Hope you had a wonderful day celebrating your LIFE! Thankful for you.

  2. Alice Arment

    Celebrating with tears of joy having my beautiful daughter for 38 glorious years! Celebrating having two beautiful teenage grandchildren! Celebrating 40+ years of marriage to a man who loves me in all my messiness! Life is sometimes stinky but God is always a beautiful fragrant presence in my life! Happy glorious birthday dear friend!

    • Michele

      Oh, Alice. I don’t know how you do it, but you keep smiling and praising in spite of all you’ve lost. You inspire me. A full bucket, indeed.

  3. Deanna Trethewey

    What a wonderful reminder, even for this Mimi!! I need to continually remember to thank God for everything, the good, the bad, or whatever the circumstances AND stop the whining.

    • Michele

      We do have much to be thankful for, don’t we? I don’t think the occasional whine is the issue. The fact that I camp out there, that’s the problem. 🙂

  4. anita and jay dawes

    thoroughly enjoyed your post today and am forced to admit that I personally tend to forget or ignore all the things I really am grateful for. Thanks to all the people like you who care enough to remind me!

    • Michele

      Thank you, Anita. I need the reminder nearly every day!

  5. Jon D Harrison

    I think I’ll be laughing all day at “Monkey Children on Speed.”

    Then the message hit me right in the gut. Wow. I’ve been here too. If only “fill in the blank” would happen…How sad when I’m so blessed, that blessings are an expected norm.

    Like expecting the closest parking space to the store to be waiting right there for me everytime I arrive.

    Thanks for this powerful message – It will be bouncing around my head the rest of the day, no doubt.
    P.S. Happy Brthday!

    • Michele

      🙂 Love the parking space analogy, Jon. That’s exactly it … a sense of entitlement instead of a constant sense of gratitude. One drains, the other fills.

  6. Libby Butero

    A very humble reflection here in this post. Thank you for sharing. He lifts us up doesn’t he, to live congnance of our weakness, finding strength in those moments of inspiration. This post is a classic.


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