Holy Stones and Horny Toads

Who knew the small stone would ricochet off the rockface? Before I hurled it, my imagination assured me it would shatter into pieces to mirror the condition of my heart. Instead, the ricochet honors my teetering emotions in the tension of joy and sorrow. 

“Perhaps I should have brought goggles to accompany my mask.” A whisper of sarcasm escapes my mouth into the vast expanse of hot, humid, and sweat-producing air that radiates from the dry riverbed below. Sitting atop a boulder the size of which I felt would bear the weight of burden in my body, heart, and soul, I take a deep breath and cough from the dusty drought in my throat.

Water. Sips of water. My eyes follow the rivulet barely flowing as it disappears into cracks in the slabs of gray rock laying along the river floor. A small mountain of stacked stones is within my reach. I collected them earlier while hiking the riverbed. Small and medium rocks, symbols for each of my disappointments, and a single thick flat one for the base, large enough to hold weight of much loss.

Pleased with my leaning tower of precariously poised stones, I take the first stone in hand and lob it at the cliff wall. One at a time, I clench each rock in my fist, voice my disappointment, and hurl its weight with the energy it deserves. Clacks of rock hitting rock echo my heart’s resistance.   

Until this day, pen and ink had been sufficient to release my emotions onto paper in my purple journal. But what I discovered in the midst of my written lament was this: the ink in my pen was not heavy enough to honor the weight of the burden in my heart.

One more rock. Compassionate thoughts begin caressing my heart with the courage to wrestle and risk a lament. Faces of my female companions, my posse, come to mind. It is as if each of them sit next to me in sisterhood on the boulder, their collective presence rooting me on.

“God, have mercy. Please Jesus.”

“Is anything too big for me?”

The familiar written words are ones I had written and put in my breast pocket years ago while enduring the touch-and-go trauma of my loved one.

“God. I can’t feel pain.” Sigh.

My tears and my throat are parched.

“How can I release my rage if I can’t feel it? God. Really. I’m numb and worn, withered yet willing to live a life I didn’t sign up for.”

“The disappointments are gnashing and the losses gnawing at my heart.”

“Father God, I need your strength in this call to labor in love, and Mother God, I need your nurture amid this excruciating pain.”

“Jesus. Please!”

One rock, one word. Jesus.

Inhale. Hot air fills my lungs, and I hold it longer and deeper than I ever imagined possible. Using both of my hands, I lift the final stone onto my lap.

A slight, sudden movement in my peripheral vision wrenches a gasp from my lungs, disrupting my lament. Barely discernible, the plump and pudgy body of a horny toad lies inches from me, camouflaged and blended into the grays of the boulder.

Startled, still, and motionless, we both sit waiting and watching in the dare until finally I poke at it with the rounded corner of my flat stone in an attempt to prod its sluggish body to come alive. Finally, it wobbles away, haphazard and in search of new territory. I can’t help but smile.

In that moment, I remember the horny toads in stories of generations. My brothers, sisters, and I would capture them while hiking around “Gila monster lake” when I was a young girl. The memory lingers as grace unfolds the faces of each of our children skipping rocks of their own and the growth of my heart in the mercy of play as I risked in unexpected and sometimes anxious moments of wrestling frogs out of pockets, turtles in canoes, snakes in Pringles cans, and lizards on earlobes. 

Laughter and lament while living in the midst of collective pain and suffering are absolutely necessary.

I imagine a teeter totter with play sitting on one end seesawing with pain on the other. Exhausting but worth the wait for Hope to bring us all back to balance.

My tears begin to trickle down my cheeks, wandering through the cracks of my laugh-line wrinkles and disappearing into the corners of my mouth. The saltwater tastes vintage and intimate. Resistant rage tended to with fierce compassion and lovingkindness can birth sorrow into a river of tears. It is in this river Hope comes to seize our hearts with love, faithfully leading us onward and upward together.

Spent and feeling empty, I lie back on the boulder, feeling as flat as my last stone. Relieved and ready to rise, I stand up and reach to pick up the gray foundation rock. My determination to throw it is interrupted by a crane gliding into view, its wings wide and dependent on the air I am breathing.

My foundation stone sits next to my bed in wait of a mystery still unfolding. Taped to one side are the words of my lament, and taped to the other side a list of gratitude. My heart holds both as I wait for Hope.


Ellen Oelsen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband of thirty years. She is a mother of four children and one grandchild. She is a spiritual counselor with Restoration Counseling, and her hobbies include cooking, nature, reading, plays, and two-stepping. She delights in offering hospitality of the heart and creating spaces of care, rest, play, and reflection to inspire hope. She is beginning to expose the writer within her.