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Lessons From My Cats

Lessons From My Cats
By Steve Schmutzer

Two small furry faces peered over the edge of the gutter and meowed a relentless volley of distress signals down upon me. One face was black and white. That was Thatch. The other was calico and belonged to Brandy. Neither cat liked being on top of the roof and I felt bad for putting them up there.

I was a bit surprised since our last two cats, Duma and Kyan, used to jump up on the roof all the time. It was one of their favorite places to go. I figured Thatch and Brandy would like the same experience, but I’d guessed wrong. These two were not as adventurous. I set up the ladder and I got them down.

We’ve had five cats in the last four years. If I had my wish, we’d still have the first one that we inherited when we moved to this house. That was Homer. He was born here – so I was told – and he lived for 11 years before cancer finally got him.

There’s a pile of stones just to the east of our chicken coop. Homer is buried there. I have no idea where the remains of Duma and Kyan are.

Maybe I should explain a few things about where we live. My family and I moved to a home in the remote country of northern Colorado about four years ago. It is 35 acres of rugged canyons, hills, pinon pine, juniper, sage, and scrub oak. We live right on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and on a clear day there is an uninterrupted view out over the eastern plains. My view the opposite direction is less than a mile. The foothills get taller west of us.

Not far from the south side of our house is a steep canyon. It’s straight down about 300 feet. It’s a natural canyon, but it is also the edge of an old alabaster mine that was operational in the late 1800’s. Veins of alabaster ten feet thick still protrude from the chasm’s walls. I understand there are alabaster statues in New York and Paris that were carved from the rock on our property. Vestiges of tools and implements can still be found on the floor of the canyon, and my son wants to get a metal detector in the hopes of finding something more valuable than old bolts.

It’s a beautiful place we have, and we thank God nearly every day for the opportunity to live here. But it’s a perilous paradise for cats! Predators abound: cougars, bobcats, coyotes, badgers, eagles, hawks, and owls. And then there are the other dangers like rattlesnakes. We’ve had 14 of those since we moved here and the cats are always wanting to check them out closely.

Even the ubiquitous mule deer around here are a hazard to the cats. Thatch and Brandy like to stalk them – especially Thatch. They will get within eight feet or so of the deer before their “prey” decides that’s close enough. At that point, the deer bolt at the cats with their front hooves flailing. The cats make a beeline for the deck with their tails puffed out the size of their bodies. The deer go back to grazing and the cats return to stalk them once more. Repeat. It’s fun to watch.

If I was a cat, this is where I’d want to live. There is an abundance of mice, voles, birds, lizards, and rabbits – and we regularly come home to find the dismembered remains of some unfortunate creature all over our front porch. The entire property here is a cat buffet.

But it would be very important to be smart if I wanted to stay alive. Homer used to perk his ears up when the coyotes would start howling. He’d make his way to the window well and jump down inside it. Somewhere along the line, he had learned coyotes meant trouble.

Kyan once had a close encounter with a raptor. He had gashes on his back from an airborne attack. It was probably a golden eagle or a great horned owl. He acted fearful for a week while he recovered. Something recently spooked Brandy too. She stayed on our front porch for a few days and kept looking south into the brush that was there. I’m guessing that was a bobcat since we’ve seen one over that direction a few times.

My family and I adore our cats, and as much as we try to keep our hearts an arm’s length from them, that’s not really possible. Each cat has “personality plus.” Thatch routinely does somersaults when I walk up to him. He’s signaling that he wants his belly rubbed, and I always comply. Brandy insists on walking between my feet wherever I go. She soaks up any affection we give, and for her it’s never enough.

Our cats have been an object lesson to me of God’s love for us. No – I am not being sacrilegious in saying that. Jesus Himself even mentioned sparrows as being an example of our Heavenly Father’s care (Matt. 10:29), and Psalms 147:9 reminds us that God cares for the needs of the animal kingdom – even the ravens which were then considered “unclean.” I don’t think I’m off-base to suggest my cats prompt me to contemplate my relationship with God, and His with me.

Let me give you some examples.

Most of us have read the well-known poem “Footprints in the Sand.” That’s the popular piece of prose that reminds us how Jesus carries us during our most trying times. We may not always feel that way during our trials, but I think the greater principle that God lifts us up rings true for the heart that diligently remains faithful.

One time Duma insisted on going along on a seven-mile elk hunt that started on our property and meandered north into the wilderness. It was winter and the snow was deep, but we could not get Duma to stay back. After the first mile of hopping from one deep footprint to the next, Duma was exhausted. My friend picked him up and placed Duma on top of his backpack. Duma happily rode the rest of the hunt from that perch. He was carried when the going got too tough for him.

Each night now, because of the threats of nocturnal predators, we open the door to our outbuilding so Thatch and Brandy can enter. Their food, water, and bedding is in there. There, they are safe from the elements and from anything that might hunt them.

In the morning we let them out to roam and enjoy the property. Every morning we give them a little milk and a few treats to start off their day. They are on their own from that point till evening when they go back into the outbuilding again. This is a new arrangement since we lost Duma and Kyan. Our two prior cats could freely go in and out of the outbuilding through their little cat door. This newer plan seems to limit some risks, and so far so good.

We manage these daily routines for Thatch and Brandy because we are watching out for them. They don’t really perceive that reality. I hold no expectations that our cats appreciate our faithful oversight or understand why things happen the way they do.

Sometimes, I act like my cats with my Heavenly Father. It’s easy to wake up each day and take our beds, our food, our shelter, and so many other routine things for granted. We think we have a right to take a breath since we had taken another one just before it. We expect the car’s engine to start when we turn the key, the hot water to come on when we twist the faucet, and the paycheck to be in the bank when it’s scheduled to be.

We count on our kids returning home safe, our bloodwork coming back normal, and the oncoming traffic to stay in its proper lane. None of that is guaranteed though. I am learning to thank God for the resources, the routines, the protection, and the little blessings He bestows which few of us pause long enough to consider with grateful hearts the way we really ought to.

One of the key takeaways from The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-11) is the reminder of our daily dependence on Him for our basic needs. When I commit to taking care of my cats’ basic needs, I find myself reflecting on the way God watches over me even when I fail to recognize it or give Him thanks. I’m trying to change that. I think God likes to hear once in a while that I took the time and energy to truly thank Him for the things I’m otherwise tempted to take for granted.

Sometimes God stretches me. He puts me in a situation where I am uncomfortable – perhaps even afraid. And just like my cats were up on the roof, I may vigorously express my frustrations. But I put my cats up there to teach them new things – to experience more than they would have chosen to experience on their own. That didn’t work out so well for the cats, but I’m pretty sure God places us in situations to deepen our faith and to take us beyond the points where our own choices would have only stonewalled our growth.

Every night, when I prepare to put the cats away in the outbuilding, I wonder if I’ll find them. Questions go through my head: “Did a predator get them today?” “Did they finally get too close to a large rattlesnake?” “Did the big golden eagle nesting in our canyon finally take out Brandy?” Sometimes it takes a while for the cats to wander home for their evening routine, and I am always left guessing if I’ll see them again. At some point, these two cats will be gone and we’ll be planning to get more. It’s just the nature of this place.

Life is fragile. I hold no expectations that I will be around tomorrow much as I try to manage my life so as to assist that outcome. I didn’t expect Duma and Kyan to be taken from us as they were, especially as Homer had been a veteran around these parts before. But that’s the way it happened, and now we have Thatch and Brandy (AKA, “Dances with Deer,” and “Little Eagle Bait”) and we’re doing what we can to give them every opportunity to thrive.

Be that as it may, we humans are “appointed” to die (Hebrews 9:27) and I cannot do anything to change that. Because all of our days on this earth were ordained before any of them came to be (Psalms 139:16), they are each playing out now as God intended them to. When they are up, they are up. There are no more after that. I think about this often when I look for our cats each evening.

I could take this analogy with my cats out to ridiculous lengths if I wanted to, but I think the basic point is made. God provides myriad ways for us to be reminded of Him, of His goodwill, of His blessings, and of His absolute sovereignty in our lives. It just so happens I have two enthusiastic four-footed personalities here that give my family and I a few good reminders of our relationship with God. I’m thankful for that.

Looks like Thatch just caught a rabbit, and he’s determined to tease it to death on our front porch. Gotta’ go….

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