You have no reason to hear a word I say. Believe me, I understand that. After all, you’re making sunrises and spinning solar systems; I live in a trailer.

Dear God:

It’s been awhile since we last talked. And I know you’re busy. But I have something I’d like to ask, if you have a second.

Please—and I really mean this—let the kid I saw in Walmart play baseball this year. You know the kid I’m talking about. He was wearing a surgical mask. He is small and bony.

He’s not well.

I heard him ask his mother about playing baseball.

His mother answered, “The doctor says you gotta wait until you’re better, sweetie.”

“Please, Mom,” he said.

Listen, I know there are droughts, famines, wars, and one billion people suffering from pop country music. But that boy wants to play ball, God. He was almost begging.

Please. Just do some magic. Make his body work again. If you could just surprise him. That’s all I ask.

Also, bless every person who feels unloved. Bless each soul who feels alone. Bless the ones who feel overlooked. And make the Atlanta Braves not suck this year.

Baseball, God. That’s what I’m getting

at. You know how much it meant to me over the years. After my father died, it’s one of the things that kept me going.

A few more things: help Miss Bonnie. Her husband of forty-nine years was everything to her before he died. She’s a wreck. Look in on her if you get a chance.

Help Skittles, the dog, find an owner. She was found behind Piggly-Wiggly. But then, of course, you know the story already.

Thank you for cheese. What a great idea that was. And for my friends—even the ones I haven’t met yet.

Thanks for Daddy. I only knew him twelve years before he ended his own life, but I feel lucky to have known him at all. Some kids never know their fathers.

And for my mother, who raised us on a shoestring…

You wake in a hospital room. The white lights hurt your eyes. Your father is beside your bed, so is your sister. They’ve been crying so hard their eyes are puffy.

You are spitting blood. That’s all you know. At this exact moment, you are trapped in a wrecked vehicle, and there is blood in your mouth.

You’re a college girl, on your way home for the weekend. It was raining. You lost control. Then a crash. Tumbling. Falling. Downward.

Now you can’t move your legs. You’re pinned by a steering wheel. Your pulse is weak. The thumping in your head is like a marching band.

You’re drifting in and out of consciousness.

Your memories are replaying. It’s funny what you remember when you’re dying. Not the things you’d expect. You remember things long forgotten.

Your little sister’s Christmas musical. A hand-painted Easter egg. Macaroni and cheese your mother used to cook.

The way you felt after your mother died.

You remember raising your sister. You remember changing her diapers. Cooking for your father.

And in your final moments, you think about your mother.

You didn’t know her past the fourth grade. You don’t remember much about her at this age.

Only what you saw in photos.

You used to dress in her clothes when you were a little girl because you missed her. You’ve missed her for a whole lifetime.

But your father and your sister needed you to be strong. So you pretended. Still, you were only faking.

Now you are upside-down in your own vehicle. An airbag in your face. Red everywhere. You’re dying.

You’re scared. You use your voice.

“Mama,” you say.

You’re not sure who you’re saying it to. It’s coming from your gut somewhere. You say it again.

And you see her. She is a woman you know. She is familiar.

She’s here to save you. She works the door open. This is a strong person, you’re thinking. She cuts your seatbelt with a pocketknife. She frees you.

The walls are lined with baskets of T-shirts, racks of button-downs, sneakers, little-girl dresses, little-boy jeans, winter coats, hats, and toys.

Auburn, Alabama—a nice day. A busy town. College kids wander the sidewalks. A rusted truck with hay bales sits beside me at a stoplight.

Pictures of eagles and tigers in every shop window. Orange and blue all over.

At the intersection of College and Magnolia is Toomer’s Drugs. A throwback to the old world. Their lemonade is a spiritual experience.

A few minutes away is the East Alabama Pediatric Dentistry clinic, on North Dean. It’s a nice-looking building with even nicer people.

The waiting room is full. A Hispanic family with six kids. A mother and her two-year-old. A father and his rowdy sons. Children swinging feet. This room is anything but quiet.

“We get’em from all over,” says Doctor Keri. “Because we’re one of the only offices who take Medicaid.”

Patients visit from as far away as Dothan. Needy patients. Hundreds of stories walk through these doors, each one is a heartbreaker.

We’re talking true poverty. Grade-schoolers with missing teeth. Eight-year-olds with handfuls of cavities. Disabilities. Mental illness. Childhood cancer.

You name it.

But there’s also something special in this place. You can feel it in the waiting room.

The door to the back swings open. A small boy runs into the waiting room, toward his mother.

The Hispanic woman holds his chin and inspects his smile. She says, “Esa sonrisa.”

Which roughly translates into: “I love you so much it hurts.”

There is a sign on the wall in the waiting room. It reads: “Free coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.”

I ask about the sign.

“Oh that,” the receptionist says. “That’s our clothing closet. It’s all Mo’s doing.”

Meet Mo Malphrus.

She works here . She’s a certified sweetheart. Her voice is pure Cajun, her eyes are sharp, her lipstick is neon pink. Hugging her is like hugging your Aunt Bunny.

Mo leads me to a…

But life doesn’t always go the way you think it will.

Jacksonville, Florida—a car accident. A crushed car, sideways in the median. Years ago. She saw the car and pulled over

She jogged toward it. It was instinct. She opened the door. The man wasn’t breathing.

She had been working part-time at a pre-school. Pre-schools have mandatory CPR certification classes. Only a few days earlier, she had practiced resuscitating dummies in a church fellowship hall.

She pulled the man out of the battered vehicle. She found his breastbone. Thirty compressions. Two rescue breaths.

He’s alive today. A father of four. He keeps in touch.

Athens, Georgia—nineteen-year-old Billy didn’t want to get into a fistfight. He’d never been in a fight before. He saw a younger kid being beaten by two large boys. He couldn’t stay out of it.

Billy, who’d never thrown a punch in his life, pushed himself into the conflict. He fended off the two attackers, but not without being beaten-up.

Billy took the kid to the emergency room. They became fast friends. He brought the kid home

to meet his parents. The boy told them he’d been living with his uncle—who neglected him.

Billy’s parents invited the kid live with them. They fixed the guest bedroom. They bought him a Playstation. They fed him. They made him one of their own.

When Billy got married, the kid was his best man. When Billy had his first son, the kid became a godfather.

When the kid wore a cap and gown to receive a diploma, seven people stood and clapped for him.

Hoover, Alabama—Leigh Ann was your classic shut-in. She was too old and feeble to go anywhere.

Most days, she sat in a recliner watching her stories on TV. Sometimes she forgot to feed herself. She had nobody. She’d been lonely ever since her husband passed. Leigh Ann had no children.

One day, a young man who…

I found a two-legged frog in the creek, as a boy. That was a good day. No. It was a great day. It’s not every day you find a frog with only one set of legs.

Before I tell you about Ben, he asked for me to tell you the story about a two-legged frog first. Ben is a young man who rides a wheelchair. He likes chocolate, football, girls, and frogs.

So the frog story:

I found a two-legged frog in the creek, as a boy. That was a good day. No. It was a great day. It’s not every day you find a frog with only one set of legs.

I saw the frog leaping on a bank of clay. I chased him. He didn’t run. He wasn’t afraid. I named him Otis.

I put Otis in a shoebox lined with grass and brought him to my father.

Daddy held the frog up to the light. Otis didn’t try to leap out of his hands. He placed Otis on his workbench. Otis sat, blinking.

“You can’t keep Otis in a shoebox,” Daddy said. “It’d be a crime against nature.”


“Because, Otis is what you call a genuine miracle.”

Otis didn’t look like a genuine miracle to me. He

couldn’t jump very high. Instead, he’d slide forward, using his back legs to push himself.

Because of this, I reasoned that we should definitely let Otis sleepover, to further reflect on how he could be my pet forever.

“No,” said Daddy. “Better let him go, so more people can see a genuine miracle. That's why he was made."

I wasn’t crazy about this idea, but we let him go anyway. Otis jumped through the grass toward parts unknown. I thought that would be the last anyone ever saw of Miraculous Otis. But it wasn’t.

My friend Billy found Otis in the same creek once. So did my friend Jessie, Tony, Ricky, and Allen. Otis became genuinely famous among the fourth grade.

Anyway, now I’ll tell you a little about Ben.

When I first met him, he was riding…

But there’s something else you ought to know. Sometimes, it surprises you. Sometimes, without warning, you meet beautiful people.


I’m a senior in high school and this has definitely been the hardest year I’ve had. Mostly, because of a boy who’s hurt me. How do I make it to graduation when everything around me is going wrong?



I don’t know. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is: I’m the wrong guy to ask.

When I was your age, I had a girlfriend who was much like your mouth-breather boyfriend. She came from a family with more money than Betty Crocker.

She was a go-saddle-my-horse-Charles kind of girl. And I was the kind of guy who drove a pickup with a homemade rear bumper.

Anyway, her father was a golfer. He took me golfing once. I showed up in jeans and sneakers. He took one look at me and a piece of his soul died.

I do not golf.

He ushered me into a golf-pro shop to buy me plaid pants and a pink shirt. You will note that I’m a redhead. And

according to my mother, some redheads should not wear pink unless they want to look like a puddle of lukewarm sheep vomit.

Still, I did everything I could to impress this girl. Pink and all.

One night, I even agreed to join her family for supper at the country club.

To beautify myself, I recruited the expert help of distinguished socialite and celebrated high-society blueblood, my friend Chubbs.

Chubbs is the son of a small-engine mechanic. He helped dress me using items from his father’s wardrobe.

We borrowed his father’s sportcoat, which was eighteen sizes too big. The sleeves were too long, so we rolled them up and secured them with rubber bands and duct tape.

I wore the fanciest shoes I owned—red Nikes. Chubbs slicked my hair using unrefined paste floor wax.

When Chubbs was satisfied…

I’m only scratching the surface. There are bigger and better stories about things he’s done. Most stories nobody knows, not even his wife—who told these to me.

They don’t know when he started, but somewhere along the way he did. Maybe it began when he’d give handfuls of money to the homeless man at the Circle K.

Every morning after filling his car, he’d give spare change to the man with the wiry beard. A few bucks here. A few there.

They became friends. Their conversations got longer. Good talks were appreciated by both parties.

One day, he decided to take the man to lunch. They ate sandwiches on a curb. It did something to him.

Soon, he was looking for people to give money to. Anyone. Then there were the flat tire changes.

That all started by accident. The first time he pulled over it was for a woman and her newborn. Something made him do it.

He took care of her car while she rocked her baby. She was late for work. She tried to pay him. Instead, he paid her.

It embarrassed the woman.

“This isn’t a gift,” he pointed out.

“It’s a thank-you.”

“For what?”

“For being a good mother.”

From then on, he carried orange cones in his trunk and a hydraulic jack. Sometimes, he changed three tires a week. Sometimes more. Changing tires became his thing.

Then there was the time at the fast-food restaurant. He was there to get a to-go supper with his wife, on their way out of town.

He noticed a family enter behind him. There were six or seven of them, dressed in faded clothes. He couldn’t quit looking at them.

When he paid the cashier for his order, he left two hundred dollars and whispered, “See that family? Tell’em their meal is free BEFORE they order.”

“But,” said the cashier. “You gave me too much.”

“Keep it,” he said.

He slipped out the side door.

And that’s how he…