We lost our cat last week.
I was at work and noticed that I’d missed several calls from home. With teen drivers and lots of afternoon movement – rides from school and to dance, etc. – I’m always nervous about them. I like to hear that they made it where they needed to make it, and I never ever like discovering that I missed phone call after phone call from them because I’m always afraid it might have been “the call”. You know, the one when I find out they didn’t make it where they needed to go and something bad has happened.
I returned the call and was answered by a breathless and crying Emma who couldn’t form words yet. Of course, adrenaline shot straight through my heart as I wondered if my babes were on the side of the road right now in the very accident I try not to let myself envision. As she gasped and tried to tell me what happened, I admit that I forecasted the worst possible scenario.
Finally, the story came out. The cat escaped. Our baby cat. The silly one that is such a snuggle-bug and has so much personality that we call him our “puppy cat”.
Her tears poured, and the sobbing continued. I admit that I felt a pang in my heart about it immediately as this is how I lost my sweet Ella several years ago. She left for a walk and never returned; whether she was eaten, hit by a car, or taken by a well-meaning person who found her, we will never know. But upon realizing that my actual children – not my furry children – were safe and well, I felt incredible relief.
Honey, don’t chase him into the woods. That’s a bad idea. He is a cat. He will probably come back, and I don’t want you girls disappearing into the woods trying to catch a cat and putting yourself at risk. When we get home, we will work together and search for him.
And search we did. All week. It’s amazing how – when you’re on the search for something small and white – just how many small, white things are littered in the neighboring fields and along nearby roads and highways. I assume it’s because our snow just finally melted last week and all the trash that was accumulated under a half year of snow is finally exposed.
Time and again, I would be searching and see something that could have been him and feel an instant of hope in my heart, all to feel the hope be dashed when the thing that could have been him ended up being a white plastic grocery bag instead.
One more, the little white thing I saw ended up being an actual white cat. Not even a mile from home. I stopped to check if it was our Finn and ended up getting attacked by a crazy German shepherd who bit me and has now put a fear of dogs in my heart where it would have never ever occurred to me to be scared. Hashtag: thankyouverymuch.
We did the posters and the phone calls and the in-person visit to all the neighboring farms. We joined the FB pages for lost animals and filed reports at city hall and all the local vets and humane societies. Still nothing.
I admit we were all feeling a little broken hearted about it. When I say we love our cats, I mean we l.o.v.e. our cats. They are like the small children that Bill and I never had together. We have biological children that we have blended and that’s been a rough journey – to get everyone to love each other and accept each other and be ok with the fact that we’ve created a new life out of the ashes that once were. But the cats are different. They’re easy and fun, and they make us loving and gentle and kind. They’ve taught all the kids to think through what a small creature who is unable to express himself in words is feeling and needing. I’ve often commented that the kitties have taught us all so much.
I know that might be a little over analytical, but hey, I’m Heather. If you don’t know that I do this about ev.ery.thing, then you don’t really know me. Ha!
Anyway, on Thursday night, Bill and Emma were on the road behind our house and who would you guess would be laying in the dark in the ditch? Little naughty Finnegan. Not even a hundred yards from home. Here we’ve all been crying all week and he apparently just went to the neighbor’s farm and had a little vacation. A vacation he seemed intent on continuing because that little rascal did NOT want to be caught.
In the freezing dark early night, there we were. Flashlights and pajamas and frozen fingers. We spread out and called and hunted and shook the kitty treats and nearly begged and pleaded with the open air that he would hear us and recognize us and come to one of us so we could take him home where he would be warm and fed and safe from predators and surrounded again by love and comfort.
He darted around us for an hour before we gave up. If a little cat does not want to be caught, heaven help you for trying. They are just so dang fast.
The next day, I watched at my window. I waited to catch just the fainted glimpse of something white moving around so I could resume my search in the daylight. I even put on my boots and walked through the woods – which was not fun after having been attacked by a dog for the first time in my life earlier that week.
Then in the evening, when Bill got home, he handed out head lamps and suggested we go find our Finn. As he was in our bedroom changing clothes, he glanced out the window and saw the very thing we were all looking for all week. The little stinker was sitting on a pile of rocks about 150 yards from our bedroom window.
In a flash, we were out the door.
We ran and ran till we could not run anymore. In and out of barns. Under combines. Up rock hills and into wood piles. Over fences and through the tiniest cracks under the old milking barn. Through the field. Running at top speed and hoping not to roll our ankles on the hardened stalks of last year’s harvest, we ran and ran and ran.
Finally, we cornered him in the old milking barn. I think that our fat indoor cat was really just too exhausted to continue his sprint. He sandwiched himself between an old piece of Styrofoam and the wall. With a blanket on each end blocking escape, we pulled the Styrofoam away from the wall and reached down and picked him up.
What happened next was completely unexpected.
This little critter that had us all panting for breath and covered in dirt and hay from his seeming desire to not be caught, suddenly knew who was holding him. He immediately stopped fighting, laid down his head, and started to purr.
It’s a funny thing when you realize that your beloved pet is really not human at all. If that makes sense to you, then you’re a real pet owner. The kind who sort of thinks of your pet as a human child who can’t talk and who does weird things like sniffing butts and eating poop from its litter box. Gross, but still human. Even though the fact that they aren’t human at all is wildly evident. What I really mean is that we think that they are wired even somewhat similarly to us humans. That when they are loved and given soft affection and a warm home and high quality food and clean water, that they will become attached to us the way we are to them and they will not wander. They won’t even wantto wander.
But when you’ve spent a week searching and an hour chasing a little animal that did.not.want.to.be.caught and then find it surrendering in the most infant-like way to the actual act of being caught, it occurs to you that what you’re dealing with is not human at all. There is nothing human about that interaction. That’s all 100% animal instinct. In fact, later in the evening, it occurred to me that wantmight not even be a thing to our little Finn. That he might just be controlled by instinctive things placed into him by his Creator that he neither could nor want to be in control of. Things like smells and hunger and the utter inability to allow himself to be caught by the very thing he so desperately needed to return to in order to be afforded the comforts and safety he has always known. And even weirder was how those instincts shifted in a split second to other instincts of trust and stillness once daddy had him in his arms.
I guess maybe that’s not so un-human after all, right?
I mean, in a weird way, I spend my days doing the same thing. Not on purpose, not because I wantto. But because my original nature tells me to do so.
Last week, every now and then, when I’d stand at my window, scanning the horizon for this one small flash of white that I so desperately hoped to see, my mind connected the experience to a Sunday-school story of a boy who ran away and broke his father’s heart. Taking for granted all the love and safety and protection and provision of the Father’s house, he went in search of something. Something different. Something that he thought was more. And he wasn’t really driven by good sense. He was driven by something much more base. Much more animal.
And so the story goes that the father would stand and scan the horizon every day, looking for just the faintest glimmer of the boy cresting a faraway hill. He would long and long for that boy to return. The same naughty one who bolted the second he could.
The story is, of course, a parable about God’s love for us. About how much he longs for us to be near him and to live in union with him and to partake in all the good things he has for us.
When the boy finally recognizes his bad state, he returns to the father. He expects to be allowed to be a slave, but he is reinstated as beloved son and heir.
My favorite part of the whole Bible is one little verse tucked away in this story. I can feel a lump forming in my throat just now as I prepare to write the words…
“And while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and had compassion and ran to him.”
No lengthy apologies or ardent appeals for mercy were needed. The love of the father was more than enough to overcome the bad choices of the son. All the father wanted was for his son to return to him. He was not driven by the neurotic ego’s need for the ill to be atoned and repented from. He was driven only by love.
If I could feel such emotions for a cat that is more of a creature of instinct than of real true reciprocated love for me, how much more does my heavenly father love me?
If I could stand at the window for seven days and breathe a million longing prayers for the return of a little cat that I adore, how much more does the God who made me long for my presence? How much more does he desire to see me whole and happy and safe and home?
Why do I get this backward so often? Why are the tapes in my head so thoroughly screwed up that it takes a cat running away and the real, true pain of his loss to strike my heart, and then this funny, crazy, wild chase of getting him back for the same old truth to click once again?
God loves me.
He wants me.
His plans for me are good.
His provision for me is real. Tangible.
I think so often of a childhood hymn that has been a favorite my whole life through…
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love.
Take my heart Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.
Every time I find myself somehow running – doing that thing where I leave the safety of my place in his presence, and I get lost on a trail bad brain synapses, like the trail of falling dominoes that is unstoppable once the first is set off – I find it almost impossible to stop. I run and I run and I work and I work. I labor to make sense of it all, and I hide to conceal my confusion. I forget all the times of previous faithfulness and wonder what sort of silly story I heard when I was a child about an unseen force that supposedly loves me and hung the stars in space and formed my heart with his breath and think the whole thing foolish. I forget how much sense it makes. I climb over rusty fences and crawl through dirt holes trying not to be found. I exhaust myself both mentally and emotionally trying to convince myself that this love-affair story of a man who hung on a cross to bring Nearness close is the cockamamie invention of lunatics, and run like mad finding ways that this simply does.not.make.sense.
And while I run, there stands my father, afar off. Scanning the horizons for… me.
Faithfully longing for my return.
To nourishment and comfort.
And the entire time I’m running, I can feel the sense that I’m being hunted. I can reject the entire thing and yet, at the very same time, I can know like I know the blood pounding through my own veins that, even in the moment of my denial and confusion, in that very second, I am being pursued. Sought after.
And when I am finally caught, I breathe hard and pant and drip sweat out my pores and simultaneously recognize this place as the place of peace and safety. The Really Real. The elusive reality that is so shockingly accurate that I can scarcely remember why I thought it foolish while I was running.
And it has happened again. This returning-to. This lost-being-found-being-lost-being-found.
I recognize the arms that hold me; the arms that caught me. The arms of my father. His scent is upon me, his voice reverberates in my heart, and all my instincts recognize him. And I stop. I finally surrender. I breathe, lay my head on his chest, and I can’t help but purr.