Perfect love does not happen without suffering. Though it may sound contradictory, we often find the deepest joys of our lives emerge only after periods of suffering that push and stretch the boundaries of our hearts, creating in us pools of peace more readily able to absorb God’s purposes with confidence in His wisdom, mercy and unconditional love for us.
I believe God manifests His truth to us even in what some may consider “small” matters, or little surprise packages of His love, in order to indicate to the watchful and the seeking, and sometimes, the sleeping, what He is really all about, and, therefore, what the essential and important things really are. Whatever is selfless love, whatever invites selfless love, whatever grows selfless love, these are the true treasures of the earth, or surprise packages, scattered by God in plain sight, but often missed by earthly treasure seekers. And are we not all, at times, blindfolded treasure seekers? I know I have been.
I am looking out my back screen door at a small rose bush covered with coral-colored blooms and recently planted in the flower bed. It marks the spot where little Henry, a four-week old, blue-eyed, orange-and-gray-haired kitten, was buried not long ago. He was the darling of the litter I dubbed the “Carmelite kittens,” because they were born on July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There were five kittens in all, and whimsically enough, no two of their coats were remotely alike.
Perhaps their mother, a feral calico cat I had named, Philomena, had something to do with that. Their story is part of one of those little surprise packages that have brought tender joys, wrung painful tears, and deepened my understanding of the purpose and power of selfless love. But theirs is not the beginning of the story. Philomena had other kittens.
Philomena has pounded the beat in our neighborhood for at least two years now. When my mother was still living and we used to go for morning walks together, we would spot her almost daily, trotting in and out of the neighbors’ yards along our block. I had never seen a calico cat before and she looked rather odd to me with her mottled tri-colored coat. Philomena was becoming special to me.
I came home from grocery shopping one day and I heard tiny, squeaking sounds of distress by the side of the house. A very small, dark kitten sat just in front of the side fence, anxiously summoning its mother. Upon investigation, my younger daughter, Jean, and I discovered that Philomena had had a batch of three kittens right underneath our house. We tried every which way to get rid of those kittens, short of sending them to a shelter where they would likely be euthanized; but meanwhile, we cared for them. At times, we would sit them on my mother’s lap so she could enjoy them. All this while, I noted a mixture of elusive feelings rising inside me. The feelings pertained, of course, to the wondrous, new surprises God had sent our way in these little gifts of His creation.
Never having been a pet person, I was fascinated that the two kittens, Misty and Josie, had such distinct personalities. I enjoyed watching their antics together, and Misty’s mischief when she set off on her own. The seemingly inseparable bond between these little creatures urged me to tell all potential adopters that the kittens had to be adopted together or not at all, so sure was I that one could not survive without the other. At the same time, I knew I could not survive the daily hassle of tending to these two unasked for, precious furballs. They were an interference in my life that I was growing daily more anxious about. There was the voice of the tug-o-war inside telling me, “You can’t go on with the growing responsibilities those kittens are sure to bring,” while at the same time it was whispering, “You can’t go on without those kittens; they’ve stolen your heart.”
Love for Kittens
The master of indecisiveness that I am, I turned to Jesus and asked Him what He wanted me to do. On the day before Jesus came to take my mother Home, He gave me my answer. Jean and I had just returned from another outing trying to find a good home for the kittens. Now they were loose, scampering about the floor and around my mother’s feet. She looked down at them, and up to us, and said, “You’re not really going to give those kittens away, are you?” Very late that night my dear mother went with Jesus. The kittens are now a year old and have delivered numerous blessings to our family in the wake of the great loss of our mother and grandmother. With Misty and Josie, too, has come the quiet infusion of a wider love that puts self aside to include attending the needs of two waiting, slightly larger, furballs among the daily tasks.
We tried twice, without success, to capture Philomena to get her spayed. Last March, somewhere else in the neighborhood, she had another litter of three, of which one kitten, a male that we call Mochi, has remained with her. This mother-son duo has chosen to come together daily for meals at our back door. As we have known Mochi since he was a small kitten, we were able at one point to capture and take him in to be neutered and set free with little trouble.
It seems God relishes pairing some of His four-legged creatures with the most unlikely humans, that they may provide for each other. While Mochi and Philomena appear to be permanent outside boarders, Misty and Josie are fully incorporated domestic cats, who also seem quite taken with their doting, if once reluctant, owners. But what of Philomena’s third litter of kittens, the Carmelite kittens?
By late June, it was obvious that Philomena would be having kittens again soon, and her capture and spaying, which our family had been discussing, would need to be delayed. When she came to eat late on the night of July 15th and didn’t appear again until early on July 17th, we all cried, “Philomena’s back! She had her babies!” She looked more disheveled than usual, and quite a bit lighter. The newborns needed to be captured if we were to get Philomena spayed and return her babies to nurse with her as she recuperated.
After scouring the neighborhood for three weeks, I had seriously given up on ever discovering what had become of the kittens. Yet, God works not only in mysterious ways, but in the details of our lives that may seem unimportant to others, and even, sometimes, to us. Our God is indeed a personal God, rich in mercy and love for all of His daughters and sons, each of which He came to die for. He never tires of telling us the story, that we might finally get it, but He also continually works in and through our everyday worries, plans, and occupations, knocking at our windows, so to speak, trying to get our attention. He wants us to stop a minute, a moment, and think,
“Hmm, isn’t that interesting how that fell into place and all worked out so nicely the way it did?….Hmm….Thank You, God! How you love me in the details!” Hey, God, You really do love me, personally. And, of course You love Philomena, too. How could I believe otherwise when I can feel inside that mine is but an inkling of Your steadfast love for all Your creatures? That, too, is Your gift to me, to not only impel me to become a more virtuous person, but to share in Your joy at providing one of Your small creatures with comfort and care.”
Then You whisper, “This is how the entire world could be if everyone was always open to My loving will for each of them: full of care, peace, and joyful surprises of My love.”
I went out to look for Philomena. Finally, there she was, at the rear storage patio of a small back house rental on our property, Surrounding her, and bobbing out from the tarp were four tiny heads! An injured paw had led me to the kittens! Philomena could not have chosen a more dusty, grimy place to tend her newborns and we were able to capture Philomena with little problem because of her sore paw.
Jean and I gathered up one terrified feral cat and five very dirty kittens and rushed them to our vet where they were duly examined and given medications to take care of the upper respiratory and eye infections. Philomena, being otherwise unmanageable, was given an antibiotic shot for her congestion. We would have to keep her in our house to nurse her kittens until her congestion cleared up before we could have her spayed. As far as I could make out, God had got us into this. From here, it was up to us to follow His lead and He would get us out of it. I calmed down and mustered up what faith I could find.
To my welcome surprise, things went pretty smoothly and on the day of her surgery appointment, while all her kittens were playing in the downstairs bathroom, Jean managed to secure Philomena in her lidded box for her journey to the new vet. Again, things went well. It was particularly poignant when I came into the room with Philomena’s food that morning and she walked over to me as if I had completely won her over and gently brushed her smooth fur against my legs. I was struck to the heart. Harder yet, was the following Sunday, when a tragic accident struck one of the kittens. It happened to befall our darling of the bunch, Henry. Henry expired as we arrived at the vet hospital. How could three adult humans become so emotionally attached, in such a short span of time, to such a tiny creature whose existence was virtually unknown to anyone but God and us? God was stretching us again. The painful tragedy had a deeper blessing in the personal growth and healing power God brought forth from it for each of us.
So here we were with no Henry, a mother cat who now circled our house daily form morning till night, bewailing her trapped children within, four kittens in need of a permanent home, and our own two cats who had been acting out of sorts since the arrival of the new house guests. A stronger, more faith-filled woman may not have second guessed herself at this point, and pressed forward confidently, undaunted by speculation, but the best I could do was say, “Okay, God, what next?”
For now, there is no doubt that Philomena and her three litters of kittens have been for my family a surprise package of God’s wondrous love, stealthily left on our doorstep, that when carefully unwrapped has pushed, prodded and stretched each of us in new directions toward a more selfless, joyful love. May we all continue to seek and, dauntlessly as we may, unwrap the scattered surprises of His love. No doubt one is already waiting on the doorstep!