Lessons from an alley cat
A year ago this July, a cat started frequenting my house. Scared of people but starving and hurt, he decided he could brave one person if there was food to eat. He got close to me just once in the first month, leaving me to wonder if he was completely wild, had been abused, or had just been on his own most of his life. He seemed pretty young-maybe a year or two old.
Over the next two months, I sat outside at a distance while he ate. I talked to my own cat and petted him while this cat watched cautiously. Eventually he approached me. Every time I’d reach out to him or make a move toward him, he’d run. But if I just talked and waited, he’d come. Then one day he rubbed against me. Finally I could pet him… he’d accepted me as ‘safe’. Almost.
Tommy was terrified of any feeling of restraint. He would permit me to pet him, but not put my hand over him in any way. He wouldn’t sit on my lap or come inside. Everything needed to be on his terms. Still, when he came home with an abscessed paw, I knew I had to get him to the vet somehow. He couldn’t survive with that wound on his front foot-couldn’t fight or defend himself or hunt. So I caught him and took him in.
I warned the vet that I was bringing a cat who hadn’t had his shots and wasn’t quite tame. They didn’t quite believe me when they entered the exam room… Tommy had huddled against me in a tight ball and hidden in my arms. I hardly believed it myself. When I got him home he disappeared. I didn’t see him for several weeks. Then one day he showed back up, cautious again. We quickly worked back through the concept that “this person is safe”. Winter was coming. He needed to learn quickly if he was going to have decent shelter. Finally, he decided to try out “inside”. I stood with my front door open and let him go in and out until he knew he was free to come and go as he pleased–this was a place of shelter, not a trap. One day toward the end of those lessons, I laid down for a nap on the couch while he explored. He jumped up, laid down, and napped too.
Most people wouldn’t guess now that Tommy was ever a stray. He meows, he purrs, and he very comfortably lives as my inside/outside cat. He comes and goes pretty much as he pleases, but he pleases most often to stay close to home… or at least to the food dish.
Watching him change from fairly wild to tame, I’ve often thought of our relationship with God. We think we can do everything ourselves, but we’re starving. We won’t get close to the One who can help us, but in desperation we may get closer than we like. And discover He’s safe. I’ve heard people say that God didn’t do certain things for them or that they can’t feel Him, but I’ve wondered if He did, if they would, in their own state of wildness, run in their fear of being trapped. I’ve thought about how, when other things in life are scarier, those people still huddle up against God, praying sometimes for the first time in their lives, holding onto the One they’ve so often run from but Who is still the most familiar and least frightening and possibly safe thing in their situation. And how sometimes the scary things we think are God’s fault turn out to be the ways He’s helping us, healing us, and leading us to a safe place.
Tommy still acts wild sometimes. He enjoys being petted, but still doesn’t want to be held. He only recently started butting my hand when he wanted his ears scratched. He’s becoming more verbal, and he’s learning to purr. But for a very long time he was a silent cat. For a year now he’s refused to come in out of the rain if he’s soaking wet because he’s afraid he’ll get wetter running in than he would huddling, cold and miserable, under the steps ten feet away. Those are small reminders to me that he’s not quite tame. But almost.
Tommy came in during a storm last night. Wet, scared, sliding and skidding as he barrelled through the door, but he came. He was wild at one time. Last night he trusted my voice and had enough faith that the door would be open for him and there would be a dry, warm place inside (and some good food) that he tried it. Scared as he was, maybe he’s begun to realize fear doesn’t give us what we need. Love does that.
May we all shake our fears enough to discover we can run through our storms into our Father’s arms… and find exactly what we need.