I didn’t especially NOT like cats – not the way my mother didn’t like cats. I mean, when a stray cat would accidently gain entrance into our kitchen screen door and mother would chase the poor thing all around the kitchen with a broom and the cat would get its claws hung in the screen while trying to make an escape and mother would keep swinging and swatting – I mean THAT is what I’d call a strong dislike. Me, I just didn’t particularly like them. But they sure were cute when they were little kittens. The tiny little mews that would let you know they were hungry…Those adorable little soft paws that hadn’t yet reached out to scratch you…Those closed eyes that would suddenly open after a few weeks…I mean what’s not to like about that?
Learning About Compassion
I remember a new-born litter I discovered out in the bushes behind the house. I may have been only four at the time – but I knew they needed help. They were so new. Eyes not yet opened – so incredibly tiny and soft. I scooped them up and brought them home. Daddy told me they were terribly sick and probably would not survive – but he helped me coax open those tiny pink mouths to feed them with a medicine dropper full of warm milk. He helped me wrap them in a warm blanket. He taught me that sometimes little animals just can’t survive without their mothers. My little kitten litter didn’t survive – but the memory of Dad seeing my love for these little helpless kittens, and of his nurturing the budding compassionate spirit within my heart has survived all my life.
Cats In Doll Clothes
By the time I was five, I thought all stray cats should come home and live at our house. (Of course, Mother felt differently about that matter). It wasn’t that I particularly liked cats…but you see, I loved adventure. Believe me when I tell you that dressing a stray cat in a doll dress and bonnet is high on the list of adventure. (And I probably have latent scars on my body to get an “amen” to this testimony).
During my fourth and fifth grades in elementary school we lived in what we called “The Ellis Estate.” Now that title sure did make us feel like fancy people. All it really meant was that we rented a house on a plot of ground, three miles from the city limits. We were surrounded by cornfields, horse pastures, and a grove of trees. That is the perfect formula for lots of stray cats. People seemed to think that where our long driveway at the bottom of the hill met Carter Road, was the perfect place to drop off unwanted cats. The cats invariably ended up at our back door with a sense of entitlement that it was our responsibility to give them food and shelter. Since they were good mousers, Mom allowed us to feed them – outside.
Ellis Estate Cemetery
The first one who appeared – we named George. George, not being granted status as family member had to discover his own nightly lodging. Unfortunately, he chose the warm motor of my mother’s car. That’s when we established the cat cemetery in the field behind the house. A steady stream of successors followed George, and the crosses in the cemetery bore tribute to the short lives they lived on “The Ellis Estate”. There was a marker for George I, George II, George III, and George IV. If we hadn’t moved to town when we did, the county might have required a permit for our cemetery.
Cat In The Bag
There are many people who after promising to keep a secret, “let the cat out of the bag.” However, in the fall of 1979, I truly did let the cat out of the bag. I didn’t KNOW it was a cat IN the bag. I only knew that as my baby boy in his stroller , and my two young daughters walked by, we saw the bag in motion. The sounds from the bag were – well, they were like a wild trapped animal. The compassion that had survived from my childhood kicked in, and I knew I MUST free this animal- whatever it was.
Here we were, two miles from town on a beautiful walk – alone on a country road. Feeling a bit frightened, I sent the girls ahead a short, but safe distance so I could untie the knot and then run – as fast as I could. What if the “creature” was dangerous? Yes, I know it sounds cowardly in hindsight, but after all, I had three children I needed to protect against an unseen foe.
Nothing happened. We continued our walk, continuously glancing back to see if anything had appeared. We were nearly a quarter of a mile down the lane when we suddenly discovered we were being followed. Followed by the most disgusting, scrawny, dirty, despicable-looking thing I have ever seen. We finally all agreed that it was a calico cat…and I was glad we weren’t too close.
When my husband came with the car to pick us up after our hike – there was that horrible cat, making hideous noises, parched, dry throat noises. Horrible. Terrible. Most unsettling noises.
Soothing my guilt at leaving the creature there in the country, I pacified my conflict with internal arguments. There are barns nearby – the cat can catch mice, sleep in the straw, drink water from the pond. After all, I did my part. I freed her from certain death.
We piled into the car and headed home. That’s when the noises REALLY began. My daughters wailed and accused us of being cold-hearted, and uncaring. How could we leave that poor little cat out in the country to – to – to DIE! How can you do that Mom? How can you do that, Dad?
For the next 18 years, HOPE, the calico cat lived in our home with all the rights and privileges of a family member. She was a faithful friend to the baby John until his high school graduation.
When we were trying to give the cat a name, our daughters immediately made the decision. She will be HOPE. “She was tied inside a bag and couldn’t get out by herself. She would have died if we hadn’t freed her. She had no hope, and we gave her hope. Her name will be Hope so we always remember.”
I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About Hope
I’ve been thinking a lot about Hope this Christmas season. Not Hope, the cat, but Hope; the reasoning my daughters had in the naming of the cat. I, too was in bondage and could not free myself. There have been times when I have experienced aloneness, hurt, pain, turmoil, betrayal, and hopelessness. On my own, I could not attain that which I desired most in the world – freedom. Freedom from heartache. Freedom from pain. Freedom from the many trials that come into all our lives.
I look around me and see the multitudes of faces – faces marked by heartache, fear, sadness, and loss of hope. I want to shout from the heavens along with all those who have walked this journey before us…there is hope. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…my hope is built on nothing less…” Edward Mote wrote these words in 1863. They are timeless. Paul wrote in approximately AD 56, “Now the God of Hope fill you with all joy” (Romans 15:13). There’s hope! There’s always hope! When things seem hopeless, there’s hope. This is what Christmas is truly all about.
Hobbies on a Budget once asked what one word you would adopt for the coming year. My word for 2017 is HOPE.
It’s funny how an abandoned animal came to be a family member simply by the act of releasing her from a bag of bondage. Today I look back and am thankful for that simplest thing that occurred 27 years ago, and even today reminds me of the story of my life. From bondage to freedom. HOPE.
How has God spoken to you about His Christmas gift of Hope? Be on the lookout – He might send you a cat in the bag – a secret that needs to be shared.