this blog has moved to

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting It

            The other week I took my kids to The Dollar Store for the sole purpose of filling their shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. During the past few months, they had saved up a few dollars in a mason jar labeled “Christmas Giving”. As we strolled up and down the store aisles this is what I heard:
             “Ooooh… I want this!”

            “Mom, can you get me this for Christmas?”

            “Can I buy this? I have enough money!”

            My jaw tensed and then I heard my own, disarmingly shrill voice overpower theirs. “This is not about you. I do not want to hear one. more. word. about. you. Get it?

            And then I think I saw someone from church look away and duck down the next aisle. I’m not sure. I hope I didn’t. But I think I did.

            Here’s the thing. The sad, raw truth: I am exactly the same way. I’m just a little more quiet about my desires, a little more grown up about the relentless, internal struggle between what I want because I want it and what I know my money could accomplish in the bigger, grander picture. I want to fund a well in Africa, I really do, but I also want a new rug for our family room.
            God has been good this year. He’s good every year but this year we saw specific “goodness” in specific tangible ways. As a result we were thrilled to be able to give the families of the Compassion children we sponsor in India a more substantial gift than we have in the past. As I write this, the verse about not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing in regards to giving is battling it out against the verses that encourage us to spur each other on to good deeds. Can we share the joy we get from giving in a humble, non self-exalting way? I hope so. I suppose it’d take a whole sermon to reconcile these two principles but let me just say that we felt a rush of joy in the giving. We stood in the kitchen and whispered about what it would be like for these families to receive their gifts. Would they be surprised? What would they buy? What would they do with the money?
            “I hope they don’t think we’re just some rich Americans who think we’re better than everyone,” my husband said.
            We fell silent. I hoped they didn’t either. I hope, somehow, they know the pure joy we felt in being able to give. I hope they know what an honor it is to partner with them in this thing called life and that we, too, have been on the receiving end many, many times.
            I hope they have some inkling of the gift they’ve given us. That, truth be told, if we didn’t give our hearts may shrivel up into useless balls of self-absorption. You've heard it, I've heard it- 'tis better to give than receive... and "better" sure can can encompass a lot.
            When we came home from the Dollar Store the kids arranged the toys, stickers, school supplies and toiletries in their shoeboxes. Before we sealed the boxes for good, I handed one to each of my kids and told them to open them as if they were the recipients.
            My daughter effortlessly fell into the role. She gasped in delight as she opened her box. “Just what I’ve always wanted!”
            I hope so.
            I pray so. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Unexpected Miracles

(I'm pulling from the archives. "Unexpected Miracles" appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat, 2009)

            I have failed as a cat parent.  
My little cat Maisey, when she was just a smidgen over a year old, was going to be a mother. At first we weren’t sure.  Perhaps we were leaving a bit too much milk in her saucer and too many scraps of deli meat in her food dish, perhaps that was the reason for her suddenly ballooning mid-section. 
But my husband and I soon noticed that it wasn’t just her size that was changing, it was her attitude.  She no longer wanted to bat at the shoelace my four-year-old son Elijah dangled at her.  It seemed as if she hardly wanted to move at all.  Once a playful, romping, kitten, Maisey now took four or five lethargic steps and then flopped down like a beached whale and went to sleep.  When I picked her up to nuzzle her under my chin like she always loved, she would let out the faintest most pitiful, human-like groan.  I remembered similar groans escaping my lips when I was nine months pregnant. And it became painfully clear that sooner or later, she was going to lactate. 
But the most incriminating fact remained- I had let her out. More than once. Without a supervisor. Without a leash. Without being spayed.  I can hear Bob Barker’s chastisement now.
Yes, I have failed as a cat parent. And people let me know it, too.
“Didn’t you know that she had been in heat?” a friend of mine who volunteered at the humane society questioned.
“Well yes, but…”
“She was bound to get pregnant, with all the cats in the neighborhood.”
I called the humane society to check on their policy of accepting kittens.
“You didn’t get her spayed, huh?”
“No, I know I should have but I never got around to it…”
“Well, I guess it’s too late now.”
There was no mistaking the tsk tsk in her voice. 
And there was no stopping the inevitable. I did some research on the Internet and learned that cats liked privacy when their time came.  So we prepared a box for Maisey, lined with soft towels and old blankets on which she could labor and placed it in our basement bathroom.  I even plugged in a nightlight so the atmosphere would be soft and soothing instead of glaringly bright or pitch black. 
And then we began to watch her like a time bomb.
My Internet research had also informed me that many cats, right before they go into labor, become ultra affectionate. They purr, they cuddle, they want to be held.  It was a Sunday afternoon when suddenly our cat who had wanted nothing to do with us for the last four weeks thank-you-very-much appeared and sprang on my lap and purred with such vivacity that I knew it was time. 
My husband and I lead her to the basement and reminded her of her homey towel clad birthing box.  When the panting began we knew she meant business.  We walked with her down to the basement, turned the lights off, made sure the night-light was on and prepared to leave her alone.  We had no sooner put a foot on the basement steps when she began to meow, long and mournful.  She was right at our heels.  We led her back to her box but she refused.
“She wants to be with us,” my husband said.
“But that’s not what the Internet said.”
He gave me a look. During labor I hadn’t wanted any of the back rubs my pregnancy books promised I'd want.
I carried her labor box upstairs to our kitchen and set it in the corner.  She crawled inside.  I walked to the living room to tell Elijah what was happening.  She followed me.  I returned to the kitchen and knelt down beside the box.  She went back inside. 
“I think I’ll stay in her for awhile,” I called to my husband as I eased myself down to the tile floor. Throughout that night, the minute I stuck a toenail beyond the kitchen Maisey left her box and yowled.  She didn’t want to labor alone. Not that I could blame her.
She did not labor for long.  Her panting changed and I knew it would be soon.  My husband knelt down beside me.  My son crawled in my lap as I sat on the kitchen floor. We spotted the first little head, and then the body, and her first-born was out.
“It looks like a rat,” my son said as we watched Maisey instinctively clean her offspring.  The bath was cut short by the emergence of kitten number two.
“Isn’t that amazing,” I said to my son. 
It was impossible not to get caught up in the moment. To realize that’s how creatures come into the world, to ponder the design of it all, to marvel at the God-given instincts with which animals are equipped.  Planned or unplanned, the birth of anything is amazing.
“Is that what it was like when I was born?” my son asked.
“Sort of.  Except you weren’t quite as hairy.  And I didn’t lick you clean, the nurse gave you a bath.”
We witnessed number three emerge, then four and then five.  I began to get nervous.  But it was clear from Maisey’s expression that she was done as her scrawny, sightless offspring began to nurse. I reached my hand into the box and scratched her behind her ears.  Her purring grew louder and she only gazed at me when I touched each of her kittens with my index finger.  “Good job, Maisey,” I cooed.  “Good job.”
We hadn’t planned on having five, furry kittens that all needed good homes, but sharing the miracle of new life with my son is a memory I’ll never forget.