Lessons I Learned from a Dying Kitten

These past three days have been a whirlwind of emotion for my family.

On his way to work, my dad found a kitten abandoned in a Kroger parking lot. She could barely move, so he called my mom, who then told my siblings and I the news. We threw on some clothes and piled into the van, wary but full of hope. As soon as we arrived, I could tell something was wrong with the kitten’s forehead. It was swollen almost to the tip of her long ears and was soft to touch; I couldn’t feel a skull. She fell asleep instantly in my arms, and I stroked her fur and prayed over her little body.

She had to be fed by bottle every few hours and surprised us with a voracious appetite. Her heavy forehead seemed to throw off her balance, and she spent most of the first day in deep sleep. My mom did some research via Google and concluded that the kitten had hydrocephalus (fluid in the brain), a fatal condition. However, when we took her to the vet, he told us that it was probably just a concussion, which explained the swelling and the disoriented behavior (licking). He prescribed some mild antibiotics and asked us to check in soon.

I rose early the next morning and was happy to find the kitten sitting upright in the bed we made for her. She was energetic but a bit bumbly, exploring the room she was confined to headfirst.  That day was consumed by a cycle of care – feed the kitten, let the kitten nap, take the kitten out to romp and go potty, and repeat. She seemed to be doing much better, and it looked like she would find a new home pretty easily after her recovery – we had already gotten several enquiries. Of course, I wanted to keep her, but we already have a golden retriever the size of a pony, and the two weren’t compatible.

My favorite part of the care cycle was the nap. I loved to hold her and watch her sleep. She weighed almost nothing at 1.1 lbs and had beautiful silken fur with dark, jagged stripes. The markings around her eyes and nose made her look like a baby cheetah. She was a beautiful little animal.

This morning, my mom thought something seemed amiss. The kitten was very bity and kept using her claws during breakfast. Later, while I held her, she started seizing. I had just stroked the top of her head when she shot up, hair on end, and began hissing and hunching her back, legs and arms jerking and splaying, her tiny body wracked with spasmatic pain. It was truly horrible, and at first I didn’t know what was going on.

“Jesus, please don’t let her die, please don’t let her die.” Frantic words. Loud, wild sobbing. There was nothing I could do, nothing I could do but pray and watch.

Suddenly she fell limp onto my hand. But she was breathing. She was alive.

We rushed her to another animal clinic. The vet told my mom that the kitten had to be put down – she had no skull. The swelling was her brain. I held her one last time and cried harder than I ever had at any funeral. This was worse, somehow. I felt my face crumple and peel back into a wide, ridiculous smile, and I tried not to feel angry at God. Why is anger always my first response? Wasn’t it His mercy that lead the kitten to my dad? And we were able to make her last days comfortable, loving on her and providing her with a safe place to rest. These realities didn’t make goodbye any sweeter, though. Death is hell, and we were never meant to bear it before the fall of man.

I found these verses from the book of Job very comforting.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” -Job 12:7-10

Job lost his children, his livestock, his land, and his health, yet he continued to praise God’s name and refused to curse Him, despite the urging of his wife. He knew what he was talking about here.

I also love this quote from Wilson Rawl’s Where the Red Fern Grows.

I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”

She was worth it.

 

Opening to Grace

From my spot on our old quilt, I sipped tiny sips of scalding-hot cider and watched the mist lift from the mountains. Before me spread a dense ocean of trees, still green despite the nippy wind and frost on the grass, and there in a valley I could just make out a little white church house and a winding road. There was something so sweet and serene about this perspective, and I felt a peace, deeper and more joyful than anything I had ever felt before, settle on my shoulders and bleed through to my heart. Shalom. The muscles in my chest fell slack, and finally I was able to really breathe, in all senses of that word. It was a moment of rare perfection – something I will remember in days to come.

I have had few experiences in my life where I have felt the Spirit move in me. More often than not, I feel only frustration, or I am too distracted by other, more pressing matters (i.e. my appearance) to feel anything at all. It’s hard to focus. I have always had trouble keeping my mind on anything that wasn’t strictly entertaining or emotionally fulfilling, and sometimes sermons fall under that umbrella. Growing up a Christian is hard anywhere, but America is its own kind of difficult. Rather than spiritual warfare, Americans battle constant distraction. We accept abundance without a thought and sleepwalk through our spirituality like zombies. I think this is why the idea of the mission field is so appealing to me – I want to see and feel God.

Recently, in a sermon, my pastor made this point: to love God doesn’t necessarily mean to have warm, fuzzy feelings; it can simply mean to obey Him. While this reality is relieving, I also find it somewhat depressing. In any relationship, feelings are of central importance to me, and sometimes obeying God feels like taking orders from a stranger. I want warm, fuzzy feelings. I want to mean what I sing in praise and worship. I want to always recognize my need for a Savior, not only when I sin but when life is going well for me, too.

For years, my heart was closed to grace. I couldn’t see God working through the pain in my life, so I quit seeking Him and relied on my own feeble powers to solve my problems. Sometimes, when I listened to certain songs, the beauty would leave me with a terrible yearning, so strong it was almost painful. I longed to know the Maker of all beautiful things, but my efforts towards building a relationship with Him seemed thrown away. It was only when my sin had brought me to a very low point that something changed within me, and I realized the truth in what I had been told my whole life: the wages of sin is death. I couldn’t do it on my own anymore – didn’t want to. And oh, the wonderful calm that followed my surrender!

I still struggle every day with frustration and exhaustion, but I believe that God will purpose my struggling into something beautiful for His glory. And feelings will come in time, through prayer and obedience – this I believe, too.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11