Monday, July 28, 2014

HotRod, Jimmy and the Passion Play


These were such happy days of jumping, scampering and running across the pasture and then back again.  Mommy and her yummy, ever-present milk was never far away from his nuzzling nose and ever-hungry tummy.  His long legs didn’t have a care in this brand new world, which smelled of fresh green grass and hay.  What a wonderful place to live, this Planet Earth!

Carefree days passed into weeks and months.  HotRod’s appetite grew and he tasted of hay and some grain which were delicious.  He enjoyed closeness with his Mommy, but found that he was romping the pasture more and more and venturing farther away from her to make new friends with the equines in the pasture. 

Months and years passed, with too many experiences to remember.  On one bright Florida day, his food bucket was in a different place than usual.  He wondered why his dinner was in the horse trailer.  As he jumped inside and began to eat the tasty morsels, he heard the door shut and latch behind him and realized he was trapped!  His Mommy brayed to him from outside the trailer and he brayed back to her.  Once in the past, a donkey had talked to a man.  Oh how he wanted to tell his human that this was NOT acceptable and he wanted to be back in the pasture with his Mommy, but he realized that with only his donkey voice, no one would listen.  He hung his large head, too big for his body, and his ears, which were even bigger, were as low as they could go.  What was happening to him?

Suddenly the trailer began to move.  It didn’t go very far.  The door opened, and he thought he was free!  But no – all he could see was the inside of another horse trailer, with strangers inside!  They put a halter on his head with a lead rope, and led him over the divide into that other trailer, then shut and latched that door behind him.   A very long ride began, a smooth road and then a big freeway with loud trucks, cars and motorcycles everywhere.  After some hours, the trailer made a sharp right turn, driving over what felt like the roughest road ever.  Where was he being taken?  And where was his Mommy?!  He sure wanted to be next to her where he knew that everything would be all right.

The trailer finally stopped and the door opened.  He jumped out onto a green, velvety lawn, but that didn’t make him happy.  He just wanted his Mommy and she was nowhere in sight.  He called to her but there was no answer.  Instead he was met by the stares and whinnies of horses – strange ones that he had never seen before.  He didn’t see a donkey like himself anywhere.  What was this place?  HotRod was suddenly very homesick, and his big ears drooped again, as his big eyes closed with sadness.

He was placed into a corral by himself (as all newcomers to the Ranch are).  He could see the big horses across the fence in the large pasture and they were staring at him and he was staring back.  HotRod began to wonder – would he be able to run with them one day?  How about that large black horse who watched him from afar?  He really missed his Mommy and wondered if she was missing him too.  It was a very hard thing to be taken away from her. 

Every day, the new humans would come out many times to brush his coat and to give him treats, speaking to him softly and telling him that he was going to enjoy his new home.  It helped the lonely times pass, gave him something to look forward to, and he was comforted.

After a few days went by, one of the big horses was brought in to visit him.  That made his head perk up.  Star seemed especially excited to be in the corral and HotRod had to wonder why he couldn’t get away from him for even a moment.  However, it was nice to have a friend again and his head and ears were spending more time up than down in the droopy position.  Something in his heart told him that Star was as lonely as he was and that the two of them together would comfort each other.  They ate together, took turns sleeping and watching each other, and played together, quickly becoming very best friends.  HotRod found himself smiling again, and the longing thoughts of his Mommy began to happen less frequently. 

The humans decided to let Star and HotRod out into the pasture with the big herd of horses.  That large black horse who had been watching him from across the pasture, came running up.  Star, even though much smaller than Midnight, was very bold and made it clear to the much larger horse, that HotRod was “his” donkey and he was going to protect him at any cost.  HotRod, being a donkey, even though small, knew that God had created him to be very capable of taking care of himself.  He did have a very brave heart, but had to admit that it nice to have a good friend to be with.  It didn’t take too long before Star realized that he didn’t have to worry about HotRod, and their friendship ran deep and true, no matter who else in the herd came up to befriend him.

Days and weeks of grazing in green pastures with all the new friends ran into one another.   There was never any tension, just peace and contentment.  He loved it when they all would run in a big herd around the pasture, and even with his shorter legs, he didn’t have any trouble keeping up with even the fastest horses. 

After some months, another donkey arrived to live on the Ranch.  His name was Jimmy, and he was much lighter colored than HotRod, and the cross on his back was very bright.  Jimmy had belonged to the neighbor in the next pasture, so both donkeys, even though they had never really been together, had been able to watch each other through the fence, and felt like they already knew each other.  Jimmy was really friendly and the two donkeys had fun braying back and forth at each other.  Star welcomed Jimmy into the friendship, and the three were never far away from each other. 

Many times people would come to the Ranch who seemed to be lonely or hurt.  HotRod felt so sad when they would get out of their cars.  He saw their heads hanging low and remembered how sad he felt when he first came to the Ranch too, and his head felt like it would never be lifted again.  He felt so light and happy now and he wanted them to feel that way too.  He had realized that his Creator loved and cared for him and had put him in this special place so that he could be safe and so that he could show people that they were loved and could be secure too. 

One day a young girl came to the Ranch.  She hopped out of the car, then jumped back in, grabbed a cowgirl hat and plopped it on her head before closing the car door.  Was she going to come over to see him?  He sure hoped so!  He loved to meet new people and to feel their warm hands petting his soft nose.  Yes – she was walking his direction!  His friend Jimmy came up behind him and brayed softly.  She was going to pet them both.  How fun!  As the three met in the catch-pen, the lovely young girl sat down on a log.  Both donkeys leaned their heads down to her and she began to hug them both very close, first one and then another.  Were those tears flowing down her cheeks?  Yes, they were.  She was crying!  His thoughts went back to the time when he felt so lonely and he wondered if she was missing her Mommy too.  The thought made him nuzzle her cheek with his soft nose.  All he wanted to do was to let her know that it would be alright and he prayed that God would comfort her heart as she brushed and talked to them both.  The girl sat on the log for a long time with the two donkeys leaning in close, as she had one arm around each of them.  HotRod knew at that very moment why he was created and what his purpose was.  This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to him!  God had a plan for his life and it was right here on this very Ranch!

One day, their human seemed to be taking many more pictures of them than usual.  HotRod was used to having pictures taken and knew they would be put on social media along with an amusing story about what they had been doing that day, but this seemed different.  She was taking lots of pictures of them with the crosses on their backs.  Yes, Resurrection Day was coming – that must be it.  Both HotRod and Jimmy were put into a corral by themselves, without their ever-present buddy Star.  They were fed by themselves and put into the trailer every evening.  The boom box accompanied their time in the trailer, playing the same song over and over.  It was a beautiful song about how Jesus was riding a donkey into Jerusalem and the people were shouting “Hosanna!”  That sounded like the best fun a donkey could ever have!  How blessed that chosen donkey had to have been to carry the Son of God on his back, into the Holy City.  He hoped to meet that donkey one day and to hear every detail about that wonderful experience!

One day, the humans put both HotRod and Jimmy into the trailer, but this time it was different.  The trailer was hooked-up to a truck, and before he knew it, they were riding on that bumpy road again.  Where were they going this time?  At least they were together.  They both hoped they would return home to be with Star, who called to them as they rode farther away from the Ranch.  Still, they weren’t sure what to expect, or if they would ever see their beloved horse friends again.

Suddenly, what sights and sounds hit their senses!  From the bumpy dirt road, they had turned onto a nice smooth road, then a very busy freeway with big trucks and fast cars zooming by.  There were lights and stops, and people walking by.  When the trailer finally came to a stop a short while later, they looked outside and realized they were in the heart of downtown Jacksonville, Florida.  Everything was almost too much for two country donkeys to take in!

People came over and peered into the trailer.  They were exclaiming, “Look – there are donkeys in here!”  After a little while, Jimmy was let out of the trailer onto the sidewalk by the big church.  Strange-looking characters bustled around – everyone was in such different clothing, even their very own humans were in costume.  Men and women were wearing long gowns with sashes around their waists and scarves on their heads, and they all had big smiles on their faces.  HotRod stayed in the trailer as they led Jimmy out.  They told HotRod that they would bring Jimmy back in just a few minutes.  He would have to wait to find out where Jimmy was going and what he was going to be doing.  Cameras and phones were snapping pictures of them on every side – whatever it was looked like it would be fun!

As Jimmy was led to the doorway of the church, HotRod strained his neck to see.  Oh how he wished he was taller so he could see over the partition in the trailer!  There were yet more people dressed in the funny clothing with grins, and they were encouraging Jimmy to enter into the building.  The purple horse blanket was put on Jimmy’s back, and HotRod could see that the people were holding palm branches in their hands.  Didn’t those fronds looked delicious?  He heard his tummy rumble, knowing that he hadn’t eaten since dinner last night.  What was it the humans had said – the donkeys couldn’t eat or drink for a little while because they shouldn’t pee or poop when they were inside the special place?  He licked his lips and realized how hungry and thirsty he was, and grew anxious for his people to make good on that promise of delicious food and clean water that he was accustomed to having!  What a great life he had, and that realization gave him great comfort.

As HotRod continued to watch from across the street, he watched the crowd suddenly part the way for a man – obviously a very special man, who was receiving all the attention.  Who could he be?  As he kept looking, he saw the man sit on Jimmy’s back and they disappeared through the door into the building.

As he had been promised, it was only a few minutes and Jimmy returned to the horse trailer.  He jumped back in so fast, it seemed like he had seen a ghost!  What on earth had happened to scare him so much?  HotRod was going to have to wait to find out, because before he could even ask Jimmy about his experience, HotRod was taken out of the trailer with the promise that he would be back in just a few minutes himself.   Apparently he was about to find out!

HotRod was taken across the street to the same doorway through which he had seen Jimmy disappear, with that same man on his back.  He sure wished he could have had just a minute to ask Jimmy about what to expect in there and most importantly, who that man was. 

Suddenly HotRod heard music – the same song the two donkeys had heard played at home on the boombox, as they had eaten their dinner together in the trailer these past few weeks.  This time there were people dancing with bright lights everywhere he looked.  He too had that special man on his back.  The load seemed very light, and he realized that the men on each side were helping to hold up the one who was on his back.  That was so nice!  (Donkeys can only carry 1/3 of their weight, and most don’t weigh more than 300-400 pounds).  HotRod knew he was not a big donkey, and realized that since Jimmy was larger, it explained why his turn had been first).  HotRod appreciated that extra help and wondered if they had also helped Jimmy with the load. 

As HotRod’s own human led him into the church and down the aisle, he was not afraid, because he trusted his humans.  He knew that he had been loved and gently cared-for over the past 16 or so months that he had lived with them, and that there was nothing to fear, as long as both his people were with him.  A number of children who visited the Ranch had safely ridden on his back, but this was the first time he’d had an adult human on his back – they had not asked that of him at the Ranch.  There was something different about this – very different.   This special man was very important – could it be?...

As HotRod walked down the aisle the music got louder, much louder than it had ever been at home.  The lights were even brighter, the longer he walked, and there was a crowd of people pressing in on him on every side, waving palm branches, clothes and shouting, “JESUS is coming, JESUS is coming!”  Whaaat?  He had JESUS on his back?!  So THAT is Who the special Man was.  WOW!!!!

How many times had he wondered how it must have felt for that chosen donkey to carry the Son of God on his back, down the hill from Bethany on the Mount of Olives, through the Garden of Gethsemane, the Kidron Valley, and then up the path into God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  This was so exciting!  He realized in his heart that this was not really Jesus on his back, but it was so much fun to pretend, and how blessed he felt to realize that he had been chosen to be the donkey for “Jesus” to ride in the Passion Play at church.  What an important part of the worship.

HotRod was told that he needed to be a very good donkey for every performance, and his role in the Play was a very serious one.  He decided that he would be the very best donkey that he could be, which wasn’t always easy to do.  He finally understood why his tummy had been rumbling and realized that dinner would be waiting for him very soon.  That knowledge made him very happy.  Having a full tummy is very important to a little donkey!

He proudly marched all the way down the long aisle to the platform, and then back out of the church, through the doorway through which he had entered.  He returned to the trailer, and could barely catch his breath.  Yes – he made it without a single pee or poop!  He told Jimmy about all that had happened.  Jimmy told him that he was so excited for him and he knew how wonderful it had been.  Jimmy, being a young donkey, had made it as far as he could down the aisle, but got scared by the bright lights and all the people.  He knew the song very well too, and was so happy to carry “Jesus” on his back for a little while, but he had “frozen” in his tracks partway down the aisle, and just couldn’t move.  Everyone told him that it was okay and maybe he could try it again next year.   That made him feel better, and he was very happy for his best friend, who wasn’t scared at all.

Meanwhile, he too had a very important job to do for the rest of the week, as he would stand outside the church, inviting people to come inside, and would be the donkey that people could take pictures with on their cameras and phones to post on Facebook or take home to show their friends and family.  He was so relieved.  HotRod said that he was excited to perform in the church, so much so that he could barely keep from running down the aisle.  What a team! 

Yes, it was a lot of work, and yet so much fun to take both donkeys down to church for five additional performances that week.  After the final performance of the Passion Play on Easter evening, both donkeys were brought home and let out to pasture to be with their very happy horse friends, who had missed them all week.  Of course Star and Midnight were most happy to be together with them again.  It appeared that they and the rest of the herd, received “blow-by-blow” descriptions of the entire week’s experiences when all were reunited again.  If you have never witnessed equine reunions, they are something to behold!

HotRod took about one week to fully wind down from the excitement.  He spent quite a few hours in the shed with his face in the back corner.  It looked like he was deep in thought and human attempts to pet him were met with far away stares.  Just as people have those pinnacle moments when our hearts soar and we participate in events that make us supremely happy, it was clear that HotRod had been excited about his divinely-appointed “job” depicting the chosen ride of the Son of God as He entered Jerusalem on the back of the lowly donkey.  He had much to contemplate and to “come down” from.  He knew that the real experience had to have been overwhelming, as donkeys are the smallest and most humble of all equines.  Just to think that the Creator of the Universe chose one of his own relatives to participate in this event of supreme joy and celebration was overwhelming!  It was definitely going to take some time for HotRod to “digest” the enormity of his role in the Play and to go back to just being a relaxed, donkey on the Ranch, again.

HotRod did indeed come “back” to the daily routine and his sweet smile returned.  He soon remembered his highly important job here at the Ranch.  As divinely-ordered as being in the Passion Play was, viewed by tens of thousands of people, over the week, HotRod and Jimmy, as well as the rest of the horse herd, do have daily roles that are just as important as the one performed by that colt in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  HotRod and Jimmy, as well as the rest of the Ranch equines, have been clearly chosen by the same Lord Jesus Christ, Creator of the Universe, to share the love of God with every person who comes to Cypress Swamp Ranch Jaxson’s Place.  And they know it! 

The most important mission of this Ranch is to share God’s love with every human heart who comes here, through the unconditional love they receive through the equines of CSRJP.   Every horse and donkey “staff member” was divinely brought to this Ranch.  Some were donated, because owners were no longer able to care for their physical needs, due to the economy or for other reasons.  Each horse and donkey here is filled with love and special care for those with hurting hearts, because of their own special needs and desires.  Each has his or her own story to tell to those who come to visit.  Since they too have had deep needs and longings, they are especially drawn to people who come here, sharing compassion and comfort with them in this dedicated place.

Cypress Swamp Ranch Jaxson’s Place is open to everyone of all ages, for horse encounters, ranging from the desire to see a horse in person, to those who wish to handle horses by petting, grooming, learning natural horsemanship on ground or in saddle, or to gain experience in all horse-related skills.  This is not a place for “pony rides” as many riding stables typically provide for a fee, but instead exists to tailor the individual needs of our guests. 

CSRJP provides specific horse encounters by appointment only, (see our website for scheduling information).  Each “encounter” is approximately 90 minutes in length and free of charge, although donations of any amount are gratefully accepted.  100% of all monetary gifts received go solely to the feeding, physical needs and care of the equine staff and are tax-deductible through the 501(c)3 status of CSRJP.

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Postscript:  The Legend of the Donkeys’ Cross and Leg Stripes
The donkey colt, who proudly carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, came to see his Lord and Creator as He hung on the cross of Calvary, outside the city wall.  The little equine wished he had been able to bear the burden of carrying that huge cross for his Lord, because everyone knows that donkeys are typically laden with loads – often more than they should carry.  The colt was broken-hearted and unable to continue to gaze at his Creator, Who was broken and bleeding for the sins of mankind.  He had to turn his back in grief.  Yet, he was unable to tear himself away from Golgotha, because he loved Jesus so much.  As a reward of the donkey’s humility, love and service, the King of Kings caused the shadow of the holy Cross to fall across the donkey’s back as a reminder forever.  This beautiful tribute is a reminder to everyone who sees a donkey, that God’s rich love blesses every heart who accepts His sacrifice, with forgiveness of sins now, and an eternal Home in Heaven with Him, forever.  The beautiful stripes that grace the donkeys’ legs reputedly marked him as he walked through the myriad of palm branches laid in the path of the triumphal journey to the Temple, as the joyful crowd cried “Hosanna” to the King of King and Lord of Lords, JESUS!  Even so, COME Lord Jesus!

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