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The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances
By Rachel Anne Ridge, Bonne Steffen
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Rachel Anne Ridge
All rights reserved.
An Unexpected Guest
Tom hit the brakes and brought our ten-year-old Explorer to an abrupt stop on the gravel. The dust from the tires blew past us and swirled around the animal in our headlights, much like smoke in a stage show.
It was a donkey. In the middle of our driveway.
"What in the world?" my husband muttered as we peered through the windshield at the creature with gigantic ears, caught midchew and looking every bit as surprised as we did. Just twenty feet in front of our bumper, he blinked hard into the bright beams, grass protruding from both sides of his mouth and those unmistakable ears pricked forward. We stared at him as he swallowed his mouthful and stared back at us. Then the ears swiveled around, and he did an about-face, heading for the shadows.
I turned to Tom, my nylon jacket rustling against the seat belt.
"Hey, that's a ... that's a ..."
"Donkey," he finished for me. I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them quickly, just to be sure. Yep, still there. Still a donkey. "What on earth is a donkey doing here?"
Tom leaned forward and squinted through the darkness at the lumpy shape, which now feasted on a clump of early spring grass beyond the headlights. Tom rubbed his chin, assessing the situation. He put the vehicle in "Park" and reached a conclusion before I could say anything else.
"Somebody is going to run into that guy if we don't catch him," he said, almost too tired to get the words out. The narrow, meandering lanes through the Texas countryside, a shadowy March night, speeding locals, and a donkey on the loose ... it was an accident waiting to happen. And neither an accident nor a donkey roundup was on the list of things we wanted to deal with at the end of a long, hard day.
"Just let him be," I reasoned. "I'm sure someone is out looking for him, and they'll find him and take him home." I watched as the stray donkey plunged his head into another clump, tore off the grass, and munched away. A neighbor's floodlight now illuminated him, and I could see he was scratched up pretty badly. Maybe he'd already been in an accident. He probably did need our help, but still ... all I could think about was taking a warm shower and crawling into my pajamas. It was well past 9:00 p.m., and we hadn't seen our kids since breakfast. We were exhausted and ready to put this awful day behind us.
I thought back to that morning. It began with the discovery of our client's girdle and brassiere, heaped in a pile on her bathroom floor. Yes, let's start there. The sturdy shapewear was an awkward obstacle right in the middle of the room, hampering our "glamorous" handiwork as we decorated the cramped space with an Italian countryside scene and became intimate friends with the toilet in the process of working around it. Tom finally used a paint stick to scoop up the undergarments, holding them at arm's length and looking away out of gentlemanly respect as he placed them on the tub ledge so he could continue the commode masterpiece. Good grief, it's hot in here. Why is the thermostat set so high? And why does underwear need so much structure?
The day ended under the ceiling dome of the home's foyer, balancing on extension ladders and sweating profusely while we plied our brushes, adding "just a few more details" requested by the client at the last minute to a painting we'd already finished—well beyond the scope of our agreement. Somewhere in between these two events came the horrifying realization that this mural project would not pay the rent.
We were living our dream. Only it had become a nightmare.
Tom and I barely spoke to one another as we loaded up our ladders and artist supplies to head home. Our kids, the two who remained under our roof, had eaten cereal for dinner without us and were hopefully doing something constructive without supervision. I had some reassurance that homework was underway after making several calls from my precarious perch in the foyer, carefully inching the cell phone from my right pocket to my left ear without disturbing my balance. Like every working parent, I wouldn't know for sure until I got home and saw proof.
Grayson, our twelve-year-old son, could be easily distracted by an elaborate Lego project or model airplane, two of his current passions besides ice hockey. Meghan, a senior in high school, might have spent the whole evening on the phone, or writing music for her band, or picking out tomorrow's outfit. Our oldest daughter, Lauren, was in the middle of her first year at a nearby university, studying graphic design and planning a wedding with her high school sweetheart. Between the kids' activities and our workload, life spun like a wobbly top most days. I couldn't help the sigh that escaped my lips.
I pressed my forehead against the cold passenger window in the Explorer and let fatigue wash over me. This wasn't exactly how I'd envisioned our following-the-dream adventure playing out. We had come to the part they don't tell you about in the motivational books and seminars—the part about how in the midst of living out your passion and going for all the marbles, you still need to eat and pay the rent. Life has a way of kicking your dream in the pants. Add to the equation orthodontia for the kids and coming up with college tuition, and you've got something called a painful reality check.
Driving the potholed roads, Tom and I had retreated into our separate worlds of silent defeat and mutual blame. We both needed warm showers and a good night's sleep so we could face our situation with some objectivity in the morning. But as we turned the Ford onto our dirt-and-gravel driveway for the final, dusty quarter mile to our home, there, illuminated by the headlights, was the donkey.
We watched him a few minutes more; then Tom turned off the engine and opened the door. "This won't take long, Rachel," he said over his shoulder. "Stay right there and keep an eye on him, and I'll be right back with a rope to catch him. We'll put him in our pasture tonight and find his owners tomorrow. I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt by running into him with a car."
Obediently, I sat and watched the donkey continue his voracious feast on the roadside grass. What a pointless animal, I thought, but, kind of cute. As promised, Tom quickly returned with a nylon rope—and a bucket. The donkey, though suspicious of this human stranger, immediately became interested in the contents of the container that Tom shook ever so alluringly, and he stepped closer to inspect it. Oats!
It was then we made the overconfident assumption that "this is gonna be easy."
A classic rookie mistake.
Hey, getting a stray donkey interested in oats is simple. Getting him roped and convincing him to follow is ... not so much. Tom, a tough outdoorsman with a soft spot for anything in need, seemed to be up for the task in spite of the long day of work he'd had. Cautiously, he closed in on the nervous donkey and gently looped the rope over his gigantic head and around his neck. In a calm voice, Tom urged him to cooperate and flashed a premature thumbs-up at the first tentative steps. See, it was going to be easy after all!
"Yay!" I mimed, with a dramatic happy face and my own thumbs-up in reply. I believed the dim moonlight called for some overacting to properly convey my encouragement. Suddenly, the small hooves stopped and dug in. The little guy leaned back and refused to take another step.
Tom coaxed and gave a gentle tug on the rope. The donkey balked.
Tom gave him nibbles of oats. He took two steps forward ... yes! Then five steps to the side ... no! Tom pulled. The donkey pulled harder in the opposite direction. Clearly, this was not working as we had hoped.
Tom called me from the sidelines into active duty. He gave me the rope and went behind the donkey. With a deep breath, Tom pushed. I pulled.
Tom put his shoulder into the animal's rump, braced his feet, and pushed with his legs, while I pulled even harder.
Not an inch. We dropped our hands to our sides and began to strategize.
Tom had a brilliant idea. "Let's switch places," he suggested, but I was not so sure.
"He'd better not have gas!" I moved to the rear and planted my tennis shoes as far away as possible to stay clear of any kicks and possible flatulence, while Tom took hold of the rope at the donkey's head. Still no progress. The animal would not budge. He simply looked at us through heavy-lidded eyes as if to say, "Go ahead, keep trying. This is entertaining." He chewed on the oats like he had all the time in the world.
To our exasperation, all the coaxing, leading, pulling, enticing, and demanding resulted in the donkey only getting farther from our pasture gate than where we had started.
By now, the wind had picked up, and the branches on the trees swayed in an eerie dance that spooked the long-eared intruder. He bolted into a nearby yard, pulling Tom into a run alongside him, my poor husband hanging on to the rope for dear life. A bathrobe-clad neighbor came out to see the ruckus, and she and I stood with our backs to the wind as the cat-and-mouse game continued its spectacle. Three steps forward, two steps back. One step forward, three steps to the side. Cajoling, pushing, pleading, chasing. Mercy, it was hard not to laugh. But when I saw Tom rip the baseball cap off his head and throw it in frustration, I stifled my snicker. His small act of kindness had become a sheer battle of the wills. This. Was. War. Respectfully, I got back into the parked Explorer, pulled a granola bar from my purse, and settled in for the rest of the show.
I watched as they slowly made their way down the blacktop road and back toward our long driveway. A yard lamp backlit their bodies into black silhouettes, and it was then that I laughed out loud. There was Tom's dark shape, straining hard on the rope until his body practically paralleled the ground. And there stretched the donkey's dark shape, front legs locked, neck drawn forward, and back end sitting down in defiance. It looked just like an old velvet painting I'd once seen of a silhouetted boy and stubborn donkey in the same pose. How I wished I had bought that classic painting for this very moment in time.
Finally Tom found a rhythm the donkey could cooperate with, and the two moved down the driveway, which went across a pond's dam and through a tunnel of swaying trees. With one arm around his opponent's neck while talking quietly into one of those big ears, Tom leaned into the animal and knocked one knee out from under him. As the donkey tried to catch his balance, Tom took advantage of the forward movement and pulled him an extra couple of steps. By fits and starts, the duo arrived at the pasture, and Tom closed the gate on the skinny-rumped creature—three hours later.
"Done!" he said. "I can't wait to get rid of him tomorrow. That was one of the worst experiences of my life! We'll call the county sheriff first thing in the morning."
* * *
By the light of day, Tom and I, along with Meghan and Grayson, gathered in the pasture to take a good look at our unwilling guest.
He was a mess.
Mud and scabs caked his shaggy winter hair into an ugly, matted coat. Fresh gashes from barbed wire fences seemed to be everywhere, from head to hoof, oozing and bleeding. The scratches crisscrossed his face and legs, with a four-inch slice that went deep into the flesh of his barrel chest. The wounds needed immediate attention, so we cleaned and dressed them with ointment as the donkey trembled inside our three-sided barn. Although it seemed as if he knew our efforts were meant to help him, he allowed only brief touches before skittishly moving just beyond our reach. His lips quivered, and his tail swished nervously. We moved in slow motion, using hushed voices as we worked.
"It's okay, donkey. You're okay," we reassured him. What else had he experienced before his sudden arrival here? We wondered aloud about his past.
Under the mud, he was a light brownish-gray color, with a white muzzle that looked as if it had been dipped in a deep bucket of buttermilk. A matching creamy-white color circled his big brown eyes and covered the underside of his belly with soft hair. With faint stripes adorning sturdy legs, he stood no taller than four feet at the shoulder. How can an animal this compact be so difficult to manage? The daylight made him seem so ... well, compliant.
A wispy mane trickled down a broad neck, and his tail, unlike a horse's, was a strong shaft of muscle and bone with long strands of coarse hair starting partway down. A long, dark stripe down the center of his back began at his mane and disappeared into his tail. Up close, his ears were even bigger than I'd remembered from the night before. Thick and mobile, they were never pointing the same direction for very long. The caramel-colored fuzz that covered them was outlined by dark hair around the edges and tufted with cream on the insides. His straight black eyelashes made his eyes seem a little sad, or maybe it was just the way his large head drooped that gave him such a melancholy air.
"Oh look!" Grayson pointed out in delight from his perch on the fence. "He has a cross on his back!" A chocolate-brown pattern of hair emblazoned across his shoulders distinctly intersected the dark stripe down his back. Legend has it that every donkey bears the symbol of Christ, in honor of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem before His crucifixion. Seeing a donkey face-to-face for the first time certainly brought the biblical story to mind. Our eyes lingered on this marking and then wandered to his many wounds. He was, as we say in Texas, "tore up."
Tom put his arm across Grayson's shoulders as we made our way through the tall grass back to the house, while Meghan stayed to keep the donkey company. A creature lover since she was a toddler, Meghan once claimed the ability to talk to animals. Although this one was much larger than the hamsters and parakeets she'd communicated with before, he still looked as if he needed a friend.
She sat on a wooden step in the barn near the shy donkey, chin in hand, and listened to the birds sing in the rafters as she watched him. With wary eyes on her, the donkey kept his distance but lingered in the barn, rather than making for the pasture beyond. After some minutes had ticked by, he took one hesitant step toward the slim, redheaded girl, then paused as if thinking.
Then another step. A little closer.
A fly buzzed.
"It's okay, buddy," Meghan murmured. She turned a palm up in silent beckoning.
And another step.
A long minute. Ears twitching. Blowing hard. The chirping birds oblivious to the slow dance below.
"I won't hurt you."
"You're safe now."
A little closer still ... until his tentative nostrils touched her knees.
"It's all right."
He sniffed her scent and paused again. His long ears turned forward. Tail swished the fly. Finally, he closed his eyes and took one last step, resting his giant head in her lap with a deep donkey sigh. Meghan's hand came up and gently stroked his face and ears. She scratched his neck and whispered softly to him. His lower lip sagged sleepily as he relaxed for the first time since his arrival. The donkey and girl stayed just so for a long while, his head heavy on her legs as she caressed him and gently untangled his scraggly mane.
I was in the kitchen when Meghan came bursting through the door. "Oh Momma! He's sweet!" she exclaimed as she described the quiet moments in the barn. She finished with a breathless, "Can we keep him, pleeze??"
Drying my hands on a towel, I looked at her pleading expression. I should have known this was coming. Here we go. Don't you start begging for a donkey. Sweet or not, we knew he had to belong to someone. Surely. I mean, how can a person misplace a donkey, for heaven's sake? His owners must be looking for him.
"Meggie, you can't let yourself get attached to him. You know he's not going to be here long." I smoothed the disappointment from her forehead and continued. "He's going to be on his way just as soon as we find out where he belongs, and I don't want you to get your heart broken when he leaves."
"But what if nobody claims him?" she appealed. "Then can we keep him?"
"Honey, I don't think we are 'donkey people.' We don't know the first thing about them. We certainly don't have any use for one. And besides, I think you're getting ahead of yourself. We need to do what we can to find his home before we start making any plans." But in my mind, I'd already been wondering the same thing.
Just then, we heard noise from outside, near the pasture gate. We hurried to see what the fuss was about and found our yellow Lab, Beau, wagging his entire body as he barked and whined in excitement. A new friend! He could hardly contain his joy. The donkey, who had left the barn and ventured toward the house, looked up in surprise.
"Beau is anxious to say hello," Grayson said as he came from around the corner and attempted to grab Beau's collar to calm him. But the one-hundred-pound dog had already squeezed his slobbery self under the gate and loped across the open space to where the donkey stood, frozen in alarm. Beau's hefty tail worked from side to side as he approached the donkey with shameless curiosity and wiggly welcome.
Excerpted from Flash by Rachel Anne Ridge, Bonne Steffen. Copyright © 2015 Rachel Anne Ridge. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Priscilla Shirer, xiii,
Chapter 1 An Unexpected Guest, 1,
Chapter 2 What's in a Name?, 21,
Chapter 3 The Arctic Blast, 41,
Chapter 4 Flash Runs with Horses, 59,
Chapter 5 A Pasture Romance, 75,
Chapter 6 Sure and Steady Trails, 93,
Chapter 7 A Matter of Paternity, 111,
Chapter 8 When the Rain Stopped, 129,
Chapter 9 Barn Management, 149,
Chapter 10 Change Comes Calling, 165,
Chapter 11 Beau, 179,
Chapter 12 "That's Some Donkey", 197,
Chapter 13 An Unlikely Answer, 213,
Lessons from Flash, 218,
Q&A with Rachel Anne Ridge, 220,
Discussion Questions, 229,
About the Author, 232,
What People are Saying About This
This book is a delight; it’s an honest, funny, and encouraging reminder of the creative, loving ways that God pursues us, teaches us, and changes us. Granted, I never expected that I’d have so much in common with a donkey, but Flash has taught me more than I could have imagined. There’s not a doubt in my mind that you’re going to love this book, and when you finish reading it, you’re going to want to follow Flash’s lead and run with horses. Who knew that a donkey could be such a role model? Thanks, Rachel, for sharing these timeless lessons!
When I first heard that Rachel Ridge had written a book about her family’s donkey, Flash, I had no idea what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for such a delightful experience! I loved every page of Flash, and Rachel has such a gift for story telling that you can absolutely picture each scene. This book made me laugh at Flash’s antics and cry as I identified with the lessons He has taught her family about the way God loves us and sees us. This book will make you fall in love with our Savior all over again and, more than likely, make you hope you can have your own pet donkey someday.
Charming, poignant, funny, honestRachel Anne’s journey with Flash the donkey is pure reading pleasure as she shares her family’s misadventures with their four-legged friend. She opens her heart to us as well, helping us learn memorable lessons about doing life with more meaning and purpose. Flash is delightfully different. I loved it!
I loved this whimsical, vulnerable, and simply profound book! Rachel tells how a broken, lost, and stubborn animal awakened her awareness of God’s voice in her life. Her story gives hope to anyone who has ever felt inadequate or unseen. She takes the simple and makes it shine to encourage the reader to look with a fresh perspective at the potential God puts in each of us.
Flash is a marvelous, wonderful, funny, touching, and illuminating book. The author makes the good donkey Flash come alive on the pages. I agree with Rachel that God uses all sorts of thingsfrom dogs to donkeysto teach us more about himself, and all we have to do is pay attention.
I always stand amazed at God’s infinite creativity. When Rachel and Tom Ridge faced a financial crisis, I would have suggested a financial advisor or career counselor. God chose to send a homeless donkey. Farmers often abandon male donkeys during hard times because they are deemed “worthless.” God showed Rachel that this stubborn and irrepressible animal was far from worthless. Flash used his considerable donkey charm to teach the family lessons about service, faithfulness, purpose, passion, and second chances. God spoke through a donkey in the Old Testament. Hundreds of years later, He spoke again through a homeless donkey named Flash. You will laugh (often) at the antics of Flash. You will be touched by the authenticity of Rachel’s writing. And you will be amazed at the depth of the lessons God revealed through an abandoned donkey with big ears and a bigger heart.
Stories that teach spiritual lessons, delight with humor, and make me lean in closer to God’s heart are my favorites! And this unlikely treasure of a book does just that. You will fall in love with Flash and the way Rachel Anne processes their story together.
Bravo to Rachel Ridge for this beautifully written book that so eloquently reminds us that our everyday happenings in life can be great lessons and blessings in disguise from our Makereven in the form of a donkey! Her unique ability to paint this picture of love and compassion for one of God’s creatures in need, evolving into a new family member that unknowingly brings courage and empowerment to a woman with so much to give, will inspire anyone. Two things you will want when you turn the last page is a donkey in your yard and Rachel as one of your besties!
What in the world could a donkey teach me about life? Lots. Why? Because donkeys are simple creatures who live simple lives. Isn’t simplicity exactly what so many people are seeking to find amidst their busy and hectic existences? And the story is not just about the donkey. It’s about the author, Rachel Anne Ridge, who chooses to live a simple life, just a few yards down a simple road that she and I have shared for the last few years. In the pages of this book, you will findin the life of this woman and in the life of her surprise pet donkeythat simplicity is beautiful.
What a charming, endearing, numinous bookand donkey! From the first chapter, you will immediately fall in love with Rachel Anne Ridge and her beloved Flash. By the last line, your eyes will be opened to seeing the ways God shows up and reveals Himself in the most unexpectedand delightfulways.
A kick-in-the-pants read! Flash is memoir plus heartwarming and sometimes stressful animal story, mixed together with spiritual truth, all tempered with humor at just the right spots. Though I live in the suburbs, this made me want to disobey my neighborhood’s bylaws and get myself a donkey!
Rachel Ridge has a beautiful ability to take the common things of life (like words) and craft them in such a way that they flow like prose and poetry. Submerging yourself in Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances is to become lost in a beautiful gallery of her finest art. With each turn of the page, the master storyteller shares a glimpse of humor, revelation, and hope. Every seemingly simple vignette leads you to a sweet discovery of spiritual truth hidden within the gentle donkey’s tale of adventure. Each eye-opening escapade feels like a breath of fresh air and gives you a hint at the tenderness and transparency of Rachel’s heart. We’d all like to have a friend like Flash, faithful and true. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever needed a true-blue friend, a second chance, or a fresh perspective.
Reader, BEWARE! By the end of this book you will be searching for a donkey for your own personal growth! From now on, every time I see one of these marvelous creatures out in the field, I will think of Flash, and I am sure a smile or giggle will follow, for the burden of this burrow is laden with humor and wisdom. Rachel has dignified a lowly creature to the point that you think it almost necessary to fence in your yard, buy some hay, and wait for the lessons to begin. Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your personal stories, and thank you, Flash, for being such a humorous teacher!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Imagine, if you will, that feeling when someone asks you for a book recommendation. You pull one from the shelf, press it into their hand, and extol the virtues of the tale within, usually ending with the phrase “you have to read it!”. Alas, I cannot place my e-book into your hands, but it is with the same fervor that I highly recommend this work! I wasn’t expecting to be so impacted by this memoir. It sounded like a fun, interesting read, which it definitely is, but it also turned out to be exactly what I needed at the moment. A breath of fresh air, and new perspective on my day-to-day. Mrs. Ridge writes with a clarity of thought and voice that made this work an absolute treat to read. While you can finish reading in one sitting, the Bible truths Mrs. Ridge brings out, illustrated with life stories, will take you a while to mull over. I wrote down many quotes and takeaways. For example, “what I do comes from who I am, not the other way around,” and “Character is really only as good as the relationships around you. Honesty, love, generosity, and truth must have an object, or they remain theories rather than becoming realities in our lives.” Instead of just focusing on how to get out of the valley, back to the sunshine, Mrs. Ridge takes the time to look around at the valley, learning what it can teach her, and what she can take away for others. As she said, “God moved Saul from his own little world, by means of a frustrating mission, into a place of encounter.” If we only focus on getting out, getting over with, getting done in our lives, we may miss the bigger picture. I know I am fully guilty of focusing too much on what I do, and not who I am, and often, forgetting Whose I am. Stepping back and getting correct perspective has begun to change my day-to-day life for the better. I admit, I wasn’t expecting that from a story about a stray donkey! Flash is a character that will stick with you for a while! I appreciate Mrs. Ridge sharing him, her family, and part of their journey with us. I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.