Three Against the Elements

Background Note: My family and I live in rural New Mexico, surrounded by animals and big skies. Mountains dot the edge of the world for us. It’s beautiful here but not always easy. Still, the rural life sheds a steady light on the ultimate Source from which we draw our strength. 

cold-barnyard-horse-featured-w480x300“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high breaks upon us…” (Luke 1:78).

The season of Christmas cheer hung in the air. But all I felt was dread.

It came over me as the thermometer held at 5 degrees and the wind chill sent temperatures far below that. Growing up in Iowa, I’m used to running through the cold from the house to the car. But I’m still not accustomed to doing daily barnyard chores in this kind of weather. Nor have I accepted the fact that animals in our care could die as a result of such extreme cold.

Here in New Mexico, our horses, goats, chickens and barnyard cats aren’t accustomed to long periods of below freezing weather. But it had been frigid for five days.

I went outside, hoping to do a quick job of feeding. But the two old horses and the donkey seemed to be moving more gingerly than normal. I studied their legs only to discover they were walking on stilts made of ice. And they did not look surefooted.

The oldest horse is 32 and she was clearly uncomfortable. As I reached a brush up under the blanket across her back, she flattened her ears and sent a hoof jabbing in my direction. I dodged to escape being hit. The old girl has never done such a thing before. Clearly, she needed help.

The sun was coming up over the horizon and I thought about God’s Light… It is both guidance and loving warmth. Although in this moment, the sunlight was not generating  heat it still seemed reassuring.

I ran inside for help. Although the children sometimes avoid doing animal chores in bad weather, if they think I’ll do it for them, this time they sprang into action. My husband, Jurgen, who can’t go outside to help anymore because of health issues, started to search the internet for ideas on how to unthaw the horses’ feet.

Peter, age 15, went from the house to the barnyard carrying 30 gallons of hot water to thaw the water troughs and pour on the ground beneath the animals’ feet. Brigit, age 12, held out the hoof scraper and told the horses and the donkey, “I win arguments with equines, so don’t even try giving me trouble when I pick up your feet!”

In the frigid weather, with our hands turning numb, we chopped away at ice. The wind was biting. Brigit’s hat fell off as she worked. I scooped out hoof lotion with bare fingers since it had turned to thick sludge.

Our equines don’t like the smell of the lotion and they don’t like water around their feet. Anxiety rose in my throat as I remembered occasions when the horses have overreacted. One time a horse pulled against the rope tied from her halter to the fence. As the rope came loose she fell backwards. That’s over 1200 pounds of falling terror.

As if she read my mind, Brigit said, “Sing Mom, while I work. That will make us all calm down.” And so it did. I sang “Amazing Grace” because God’s grace is amazing. It was truly an experience of Grace to feel our family working as a team on behalf of our animals.

I could feel the Light now because we were united in purpose. There was a glow of love and unity warming our barnyard. And I remembered that other barnyard, where a family in desperate need of warmth, glowed with inner Light. Surrounded by lowly animals they reach across all the ages to send Love into the world.

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By Judith Costello

Judith Costello, MA, OCDS was a Catholic Worker and a catechist as a young adult. Then the feminist movement called to her during the 1970s-1990s and she fell away from the faith. She was sure, during those years that being a "good person" was all that God expects of us. Over the years, pride and politics took her farther and farther from the truth that God asks us to live in virtue, offer sacrifices, and come closer to Him in the sacraments.

After a divorce, Judith met a man who encouraged her to to Come Home. Judith and Jurgen now live on a small farm with two teenagers and lots of animals. Along with the children, Judith is active in the Church as a catechist, lector and sacristan. They take care of Jurgen who is now in poor health. Judith is a secular Carmelite and author of two books on Prayer and Mariology. She writes curriculum lessons for Her artwork in featured at and on Facebook. Judith blogs at

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