If You Feed a Stray Cat

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Mary Sue and I share life with six cats. 

I almost wrote “own,” but as all feline-fanciers quickly discover, the cat-human connection is more like a partnership than ownership. 

Two of our cats live in our house, while the other four use our barn as their base of operations.  Most of them are named after vegetables, and all of them, as best we can tell, had a rough start to life.

Three of the barn cats – Sugar Beet, Gus (Asparagus is his full name), and Rudy (from Rutabaga) are superb mousers.  They were originally a homeless family (Sugar Beet is the mother of the other two) scratching out an existence as best they could in a nearby town.  Olive, our other barn cat, who is pushing 18 years old, is essentially in assisted living.  Last year I actually saw a mouse sitting in her food dish, chomping away, while she sat nearby watching contentedly.

Tater and Rebel get to crash on our bed and couch.  Tater was a neglected kitten, not many days from death, when we rescued her from a farm a few years ago.  Rebel, who is going through life without a vegetable name, was a “street kitty” found by our son and daughter-in-law near a tattoo parlor in Georgia.  Today they are both as fat and happy as Garfield.

Recently we’ve noticed that a male feral cat has discovered there are bountiful supplies of water, kibble, and leftover Fancy Feast in our barn.  Even though he’s intimidated by our presence, he may yet become part of the family.

I think about our cats whenever I remember how Anne Lamott described the means by which she came to trust Christ.

Lamott is not your typical spiritual writer.  She unflinchingly describes her struggles with alcoholism, depression, and being a single mom.

In her book Traveling Mercies she remembers the night she was lying in bed, recovering from a round of drinking and feeling miserable, when she suddenly began to suspect that she might not be alone:

After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone.

The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there – of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled.

I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends. I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with. Finally, I fell asleep and in the morning, he was gone.

The experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear… But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my house door whenever I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.

It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my house, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “[Okay,]. I quit.”

I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”

We won’t hold it against Anne that vets generally agree that milk isn’t a healthy option for kitties.   

Fast forward some three decades.  God and grace have continued to shape her spirit. 

Recently she shared this prayer that she admits she prays rather often:

Hi God,
I am just a mess.
It is all hopeless.
What else is new?
I would be sick of me if I were you.
But miraculously, you are not.
I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this.
Yet I believe that if I accept this and surrender, you will meet me wherever I am.
Wow, can this be true?
If so, how is this afternoon?  Say, two-ish?
Thank you in advance for your company and blessings.
You have never once let me down.

If you leave the door open and let God come in, you never know what might happen.

It just might change your life forever.