“Mom, if you had a pony when you were a little girl, how come I don’t have one?” my daughter Lydia once asked.

“Well,” I said. “We live in a city. We don’t have room for a pony. Plus they cost a lot of money. So, if you really want one, you’ll have to ask God.”

“Ask God” is my go-to answer whenever my children request something I can’t provide. Not that I believe God is a genie in a bottle, but I’ve seen surprising answers to prayer–usually not the way I expect.

The answers build my faith in a loving God who cares about me. Personally. Like last week, when I stood in the fall sunlight outside a rough-beamed barn watching nine-year-old Lydia grin as she posted around an outdoor ring on the back of a jaunty black American quarter horse.

Skinny legs hugged the horse’s sides. Blond ponytail swung beneath a black helmet. Lydia looked as thrilled as I felt watching her. Not just because she was on the back of a horse for the fourth in a series of lessons I bought late this summer. But also because of the skinny-legged, blond haired eight-year-old bouncing alongside her.

Maggie, the daughter of one of my dearest friends, looks much the way my own best friend Kristen did when I was growing up on a farm in Oregon. When Kristen and I weren’t taking turns riding my chubby Welsh-hackney, we trolloped around on imaginary horses the same way Maggie and Lydia can be seen racing around on hobby horses through our back woods.

My friend, Beth, and I signed our daughters up together at Sable Oak, just five minutes from my house, as a way to save money. But seeing them ride together was also more fun–so much more that one lesson quickly led to one more. So, there Lydia and Maggie were, riding around the ring in all their girlhood glory. Prayer answered.

No, we still can’t afford for Lydia to have her own pony. I’m not even sure we’ll be able to afford many more lessons before the golden light of Maine in fall gives way to the stark, heavy snows of winter. But I’ll be saving money so she can start again in the spring. Maybe I’ll even saddle up and ride beside her.

Words cannot express the rightness I felt that first day I brought her to the barn–the smell of hay, the pleasantness of a warm muzzle pressed against my hand, the swirling dust suspended in a shaft of light like an answered prayer.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows,” James 1:17.

What spoken or unspoken prayers have you seen God answer? Do you often find answers other than what you were expecting?