Donkey Oatie (say that out loud or you’ll miss it) stumbled off the truck onto the Landham farm in all his golden glory: a miniature sicilian, gaunt, knock-kneed, long eared, and tiny. Born as the runt of the herd, he had a wound on his side, and a chip on his shoulder.
As fate would have it, young Oatie arrived on the leading edge of the Landham’s vacation. In need of a caretaker/ amateur vet/ lover of all things feathered, furred, or leafed, they invited me to house sit for a week.
At 25, I was desperately missing the horses of my childhood, so the thought of a week tending a pitiful, wounded baby donkey was something like the offer of a flight to Hawaii.
Farmer Christi did not need to be asked twice.
Oatie and I began our relationship on a fresh and dewy Thursday morning.
The “pasture” where he was staying looked more like something to be summited than something on which to graze. All rock and dirt on a 35% slope, no sick donkey was going to grow fat off it.
I searched for the richest stand of grass I could find, and settled on an unfenced quarter acre in front of the house. To keep Oatie contained, I had to run a high line between two trees, and then connect a sliding rope down to his halter, so that he could move back and forth on the the 30 feet of line at his leisure.
With lead rope in hand, I sauntered up to the three foot tall (ears included) Oatie and slid the halter over his head. Turning to walk , I expected him to come…silence. No patter of little hoofed feet. I pulled, I clucked, I asked, I begged, I cajoled. But Oatie was unassailable.
He pulled against the line so hard that he choked in his halter and passed out. Tiny body….full sized assitude. Oatie clearly was not halter broken.
15 years of horsing had taught me a thing or two, and this was now a personal challenge. After 48 hours and a few schemes, Oatie was willing to stand tied and to be led a little. Convinced that he was ready, I led him down the slope and attached his halter to the sliding line. He was standing belly deep in some of the most beautiful grass this world has on offer.
I backed up the slope and sat down with a sigh of satisfaction to watch my little patient plunge into the gift with joy and gratitude….but that is not at all what happened.
Oatie began his Cirque du Soleil audition: bucking, rearing, fighting, churning, pulling, twisting, kicking up huge clods of the beautiful grass I had so carefully offered. I was incensed.
As the hours mounted, so did my anger. I finally shouted from the top of the hill, “Little ass! Put your head down and eat!!!”
No sooner had the words left my mouth but they flew back into my heart. I was in a position of needing to hear from the Lord. Struggling through a hard journey into the nighttime of the soul, I was frustrated, anxious, angry that I was getting “nothing” from God. No sense of pleasure at His nearness, no experience of His voice.
But His words came to me clear, “Little ass, put your head down and eat”. There was nothing but tender invitation, and fatherly affection in it. He was smiling; I knew it.
“Stop fighting the line. Stop bucking and rearing, and accept the joy and closeness on offer.”
“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread,and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,and delight yourself in abundance. “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live…”
Isaiah’s words became my roadmap out of isolation.
There’s a big difference between studying the Waters and drinking them down. There’s a wide gulf between analysis and rest, between drudgery and delight, between striving and communion.
My bucking and rearing had come in the thought that I had to chase God, to wrangle Him right to find His nearness- that our closeness depended on me. The quickest way to trample the gift is to forget the promise, to snuggle close with unbelief.
What opens our eyes to the truth that we’re soul deep in the richest joy and “abundant fare” to be found is the singular thought, “I am loved”. Not that I have to pull God down and force His eyes to look in mine and His heart to open (because I can’t), but that He’s already done it for me. If my eyes were opened, I’d find myself already on His lap, wrapped in His embrace. Safe, snug, warm, held, beloved.
I’ve found that when I get sideways in my spirit, it’s never that the richness is unavailable, it’s that I’ve reasoned from the wrong starting point. Divine rest is a short mental shift away: two steps out of “I’ve got to find God”, and one into “He’s already found me”.
photo provided by Lily M.