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Donkey provides words, food for thought

March 7, 2019

Communication can be so hard.

I learned this six years ago, while my husband, Chuck, was in the hospital.

One day, I went to the hospital with a terrible taste in my mouth.

I jokingly told Chuck’s parents that I must have swallowed a box of moth balls in my sleep.

Chuck’s mom suggested I see a dentist.

So I went to see Dr. Emily McCarthy and learned that I’d cracked a perfectly good tooth in half — probably from gritting my teeth amid the stress.

The tooth would need to be pulled.

Emily said she’d get me into the office in during her lunch hour.

It was February 2013 and it was snowing that day.

I still remember Emily hurrying back and forth from another room where she was helping a male patient — and mine where she would pull my tooth.

After she finished the procedure, Emily packed the left side of my mouth with gauze and gave me a list of instructions.

When I wondered what I’d be able to eat, she told me to get a Frosty at the nearby Wendy’s restaurant.

The snow was coming down harder and I didn’t want to get out of my car so I decided to go through the drive-thru.

I didn’t stop to think how a mouth packed half full of gauze might affect my speech.

All I wanted was a medium chocolate Frosty.

I pulled up to the loud speaker.

“Welcome to Wendy’s. May I take your order?” came a friendly voice over the device.

I started to talk, but with my gauze-packed mouth it came out like this:

“I’d wike a mediuuum chocowat fraustee.”

The voice asked me to repeat the order, but it didn’t come out any better.

Finally, the voice asked me to pull around.

My husband, who’d once worked at a fast-food restaurant, told me about intoxicated people coming through the drive-thru and trying to place orders.

So I just had to explain myself.

A clerk opened the little window and I tried to tell her about my dental procedure.

But it came out like this:

“I had a toof pooed.”

The clerk gave me a puzzled look.

“You want another Frosty?” she asked.

“Nooooo,” I said, trying to explain again.

The clerk took my money and handed me the Frosty.

It was really snowing by now and I wondered if the clerk thought I was crazy for ordering ice cream in a blizzard.

During the recent blizzard, I was reminded of my less-than-eloquent speech.

And how sometimes — as humans — we just can’t express what we want to say.

At the same time, we can have trouble digesting what God is trying to tell us.

That’s why I appreciate the measures our Lord will take to get his message across.

Browse through the Bible and you can read about God speaking to Moses via a burning bush and to King David through a prophet named Nathan.

But one of the most creative ways God ever sent a message was through a talking donkey.

No, I’m not kidding.

We can find the story in the Old Testament book of Numbers, starting with chapter 22.

At this point in Bible history, Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt and they are wandering in the desert.

A man named Balaam was a Gentile, who might have been a true prophet in the beginning, but went astray and became involved in divination and sorcery.

And from what I read, it sounds like he got really greedy, too.

The story starts when the King of Moab — who fears the huge number of Israelites in the neighborhood — wants Balaam to put a curse on them.

God tells Balaam not to do that, but the king is persistent.

And sadly, like many of us, Balaam doesn’t take God’s first “no” as an answer and bugs him again about it.

God lets Balaam go on his way to the king.

So Balaam saddles his faithful donkey and takes off with a couple of servants, but God isn’t happy.

And the angel of the Lord blocks the way.

When the donkey sees the angel with a drawn sword in his hand, the animal — who perceives what Balaam can’t — leaves the road and heads off into a field.

Balaam hits the donkey to turn her to the road.

Poor donkey.

Then the angel of the Lord stands in a narrow path between vineyards with a wall on each side.

When the donkey sees the angel, she pushes against the wall and presses Balaam’s foot against it.

That had to hurt.

And Balaam hits the donkey again.

Then, the angel stands in a narrow place, where there’s no way to turn right or left.

When the donkey sees the angel, she lies down under Balaam.

Balaam is so mad — and so blind in more ways than one — that he hits the donkey again.

It’s enough to infuriate any animal lover.

But now God lets the donkey have her say.

“What have I done to make you beat me these three times?” the donkey asks.

You’d think Balaam would have been shocked to hear his donkey talk, but he’s obviously too angry to think clearly.

“You’ve made a fool out of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now!” Balaam roars.

The donkey keeps a cool head.

“Have I been in a habit of doing this to you?” the donkey asks.

Balaam says no.

Then God opens Balaam’s eyes and he sees the angel with the sword.

“The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times,” the angel says. “If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.”

Balaam finally gets a clue.

“I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me,” Balaam says. “Now if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”

But the Lord tells Balaam to go to the king and to speak only what God tells him to say.

Balaam will end up blessing — not cursing — the Israelites three times, much to the king’s chagrin.

Yet Balaam’s story doesn’t end there.

The New Testament book of Revelation tells how Balaam taught the Moabite king to entice the Israelites into immorality.

Balaam later gets killed by an Israelite sword.

Thousands of years later, Balaam’s story is a warning — reminding us of the dangers of greed and disobedience to God.

So what happened to his donkey?

I don’t know, but I hope she got to live a long, peaceful life — especially after putting up with Balaam and his bad attitude.

And while I think it would be cool if a donkey talked to me — I hope I’d never need a talking animal or a sword-wielding angel to get me back on the right path.

Speaking of angels, I’ve long appreciated the tender-hearted compassion of Emily and many other health care professionals who’ve shown great kindness to me throughout the years.

My mouth healed just fine after that procedure and I’ve eaten more Frostys since my drive-thru escapade six years ago.

But I still wonder what that poor clerk must have thought about a woman who probably had the goofiest accent she’d ever heard.

Tammy McKeighan is the news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith column.