Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Tame a Kitten (Or, How to Cure a Kitten of Ear Mites...We Hope)

Don't get me wrong. I love our new kitten, and I'm not sure how I got along without him. It's just that this week his predator instinct has kicked in, and naturally, my hands and other appendages make excellent prey. So let's just say that (between cuddling and gushing over his cuteness), we're working on boundaries. Sometimes (when I can't get him distracted with inanimate playthings), catnaps are so welcome. That's why ear mites became a blessing to me.

The book on natural healthcare for pets said that the cure was to smother the microscopic creatures with olive oil. And so, our little patient has been getting daily treatments. Here's the routine.

1. Don leather gloves.

2. Captivate the kitten.

3. Pull back kitten's ear, and keep open.

4. Squirt one eye-dropper of olive oil into kitten's ear.

5. Close ear flap before kitten can shake, and hold.

6. Repeat with second ear.

7. Hold both ears shut for several seconds, allowing oil to soak in.

         7a. Giggle at kitten's silly appearance.

8. Massage kitten's ear canals. Wait, how do you do that? Oh, forget it.

9. Release ears and allow kitten to shake.

10. Hold ears open and swab with q-tips to remove mite debris.

11. Release kitten.

12. Enjoy a peaceful afternoon while the now docile animal obsessively licks himself between naps.

Of course, Riley hasn't exactly been a willing patient. But, since he's just a kitten, we can control him for at least a few minutes (with the help of leather gloves).

What he doesn't know is that we actually have his happiness in mind. He may not enjoy his current greasiness, but he will enjoy his freedom from those itchy mites. If he had logic and rational intelligence, we might not need those leather gloves for the treatments.

He's only a kitten, so I don't expect any more out of him. But I do expect more from myself. When I find myself in the midst of a trying, frustrating experience, I hope I'll remember Riley's ear treatments and thank God for the cure from sin He's working within. Then, instead of attacking my Best Friend, I'll spend the time afterward being a sweet, quiet child...just like my little snoochum after his oil bath.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Persistent Love

After debating in my mind all afternoon, I finally decided: This event was momentous enough to take an evening off from school. After weeks of searching, we had finally located a gray tiger kitten—and he needed somebody to babysit him while Mom went to the church board meeting on the way home. I brought three biology books along to appease my conscience, but I knew I'd hardly read them.

Riley came from a house with lots of other cats. In fact, when we pulled up, we immediately spotted 4 or 5 of them in the yard. Soon another one ambled across the street, and the owners said Riley's mom was still inside. A member of the oldest litter, Riley had a whole pile of little baby cousins out next to the shed, and he himself had grown up with 5 sibling kittens. Still, his owner cried when we took him away.

We knew he's be lonely in our cat-less house, and we hadn't seen any dogs on the premises. At our place, the only available animal companion would be a black lab—at least until we could find an orange tiger kitten to be his playmate. Till then, Riley would need lots of attention and love: two things I wouldn't have a hard time administering. Riley's cute little face and his tiny voice had already captured my heart.

We spent most of our first evening playing hide-and-seek—except it wasn't really a game. Riley wanted little to do with me, but it seemed he wanted even less to do with his crate. Outside the cat carrier, he ran and hid; inside, he clawed and yowled. In my hands, he kicked and clawed. It proved to be an extra-long board meeting.

At last I decided on a new tactic: I wouldn't let this kitten down no matter how much he protested. When clasping him in my hands grew dangerous, I cornered him in my lap, a hand above him and one in front of him. As he struggled to get free, I stroked him lightly with my free finger.

The fight ended suddenly when Riley fell asleep. He didn't wake up till it was time to leave—and by that time, he was mostly OK with me.

But the victory wasn't really complete. Back home, though he cried with heart-stirring pathos, he made his independence clear by hiding behind the couch and backing away each time I reached for him. Unwilling to let us cuddle him to sleep, he seemed intent on making the couch his kingdom.

And yet, we knew he wanted companions. And so the next day, I kept up my pursuit, catching him whenever I could for a good pet and cuddle. Although my mom did the same, I fully expected this process to take a challenging week.

But (wonder of wonders), it really hasn't. By his second or third day, Riley was about as content a kitten as any I've met. Now, he loves to jump up on my lap, purring loudly while he drifts off to sleep. He gives kittie kisses and invites himself to cuddle up. In between, he explores the house, chases his tail, ambushes his toys, and tries cramming himself into our shoes. He's even getting used to the dog.

Mom says Riley is a spoiled kitten, with two (doting) mamas all too eager to anticipate his wants and  love on him. Still, we know that's why he's adjusted so well. By being intent on loving Riley, we have won his kitten heart. We've become his best friends.

At first I was tempted to be offended at Riley's rejection and repulsion. Tired and busy, I did have fleeting thoughts of "suit yourself, little cat." But if I had acted on those feelings, I wouldn't have my little study-buddy to distract and delight me. I wouldn't get purrs and cuddles and giggles. I'd be missing out big time.

It's often the same way with people. Although they are lonely, people often seem to spurn our efforts to make friends. On the inside, they may be longing for companionship, while outwardly they may seem aloof or even haughty.

I've had more than one deep, special friendship develop with people who at first seemed unreachable. It's always taken perseverance, sometimes hurt feelings, and often creativity. But most important, it's taken relentless, persistent love. Then all of a sudden, we're fast friends.

Today, I'm thankful for the friendships I worked for. Those people have enriched my life so much. I'm so thankful for the bonds we share, thankful I didn't give up and miss out.

But I've been on Riley's side of it, too. I've retreated to my inner kingdom and made it hard for well-meaning friends to draw to me out. I've acted like I didn't want them around. I've played immature games of hide-and-seek. I'm so thankful for the ones that kept seeking me out. I'm thankful that they didn't give up. I'm glad they didn't let me have things my way. I'm glad they loved me even when I was being a pest.

Most of all, I'm thankful for my Jesus. I've hid from Him so many times. I've retreated from His presence, built up walls around my soul. And still, He keeps loving. Still, He keeps seeking. Still, He keeps showing me His relentless, persistent, undying interest. He keeps calming my fears and cuddling my heart.

This week I want to be like Riley. I want to soak in all the persistent love my Jesus can give.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Wide

The first time I heard the song, the words gripped me:

They say I am a dreamer, blind and cannot see. . . . 
They say I am an idealist, blind and cannot see 
that the principles I cling to won't stand reality.
Well, if that's what I am, Lord, won't you care for me? . . . 

I haven't met too many people who can't identify with that. In one way or another, we're all dreaming "impossible" dreams. We're all trying to beat the odds of reality and be or accomplish or feel something exceptional. We're all a little bit blind to the way things are, and trying to live something better—or at least different. And it's a good thing, since those dreams often help us find better realities!

I grappled with dreams and reality this week. Dreams of how fast I'd like to finish college, reality of how fast I can pay for it. Dreams of people and places I want to visit, reality of how that affects school and finances. Dreams of being in a healthy, intimate relationship, reality of being single. Dreams of being like Jesus, reality of being like me. 

I struggled, too, against temptations. Temptations to indulge in passing little pleasures that Jesus didn't endorse. Temptations to covet gifts He hasn't given. Temptations to feel like I'm being cheated if I don't get them.

Finding my resistance mostly ineffective, I prayed and studied the Word. He gave me a verse:

"I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt. 
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10).

A wonderful cure-all, diverting my mind, my longings to the truth. Need something? Want something? Feeling empty without something? Open wide! 

One of those too-good-to-be-true-unless-God-is talking (because then it is true) types of claims. And yet, it takes faith, because there's no guarantee that God's going to "fill it" with my felt need. He's going to fill me with my actual need...which is, ultimately, Him.

Hmm. What about what I want? Another verse. "And He gave them their request, But sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15).

OK, never mind! (What I want is not worth that!Lord, teach me to trust You, that what You fill me with will be best. (Several times during the week, I actually stretched my mouth open in prayer.)

And He did, every time I claimed the verse and chose to trust Him.

Today, a disappointment. Wasn't a big deal, shouldn't have been a big deal. Except that it brought up painful memories from the past. Except that it gave me more to worry about for the future. Except that I'd been looking forward to this all week. Except that it put a cherished dream back in jeopardy. Except that my hurt reaction made me disappointed in myself.

Again, the verse. . . . I am the Lord your God, who helped you with your struggles all week. Open  your mouth wide and I will fill it.

But I'd wanted to talk to somebody else. I'd saved up stories all week to tell. I'd already talked to God about those things. How could God fill this hole?

And then a text from a friend reminded me that God cherishes me and His plan is perfect.

Even His plan for today was perfect.

Even the things I didn't enjoy, He can use.

Any part of me that is empty, He can fill. If I will open wide. If I'll let Him fill the compartment in my heart I was saving for someone else.

This week will be a new journey, because tonight I'm making a choice. No more "compartments" will be saved for something else. My whole heart will be open for God to fill. And if He's the only one that does any filling, I can be sure that my "cup" will still be running over (Psalm 23:5).

I'm stretching my mouth open wide in commitment.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Epic Songs

When did epic come into vogue? I feel like it has been two, maybe three years—but I really wouldn't know, since my family has had our own usage of the word for 15 or 20 years. In Francis language, epic refers to something diverse, long-lived, and extraordinary. (Not so far from the dictionary definition, remarkably: "extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope.") In our family, epic is most often used to describe particularly notable hikes, but not many hikes achieve "epic" status. In fact, when we were kids, my dad had to approve before we could officially say we'd had an epic day. When we hiked from breakfast till nearly dark, covered miles of changing territory, pulled out our rain jackets (only to shed them, later, and roll up our sleeves), saw rare wildlife, and trekked across rough terrain (think swift stream crossings, high mountain passes, and non-traceable trails)—then we'd experienced an epic day. An epic hike was something to brag about.

This week we had an epic thunderstorm. Not the kind that build up, boom enough times to convince me to shut down my computer, rain half an inch, and then roll away and let the sun shine as if nothing happened. No, this storm flashed, rumbled, and poured for a good 3 hours: from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. 

My room has two big windows without any curtains. I don't want curtains, because a) I live in the country, on the second floor, with no tom-peepers within proximity; b) the pine trim around the windows makes perfect frames for the most gorgeous pictures on my wall: the views toward our pond, the back woods, and my parents' lovely orchard and gardens. Curtains would get in the way of my picture frames, and remind me that I'm inside.

In an early-morning thunderstorm, of course, it's hard to keep the light out without windows. But who wants to sleep through a show like that? The flashes came so often I couldn't even count seconds between them and the thunder. Which flash went with which boom? More than that, the thunder blended together for minutes at a time, like the continuous roar of a freight train. The clouds shone so brightly I could see the skeletons of the trees out back, their branches careening in the raging wind. 

I lay awake, watching, reveling, smiling, basking, thanking God for the spectacular display and praying that the rain wouldn't flood our gardens and wash away all the topsoil. 

And then I heard them. The frogs in our pond!

When I'd gone to bed, the frogs had been singing for the joy of a warm, summery night. Their choir could have drowned out an interstate highway (although, fortunately, the nearest one is 90-some miles away). 

The choir had quit performing, now. Instead, two or three lone frogs sang cheerful solos.


How could a frog sing through this storm? Shouldn't all animals be seeking shelter (even if they do like to be wet)?

But nothing could stop those courageous, happy little amphibians. Lightning, thunder, wind, pouring rain—these little critters would keep right on singing.

My prayers morphed into gratitude for the frogs. I giggled as I did it, but I asked Him to make me more like those slimy little singers. Would He please teach me to keep singing through the most fearsome storms? Could I learn that joy is not only for the warm and balmy, carefree times—but also for trials, uncertainty, and heartaches? When the rest of choir quits singing, would He give me the joy and courage to keep peeping?

I think He will. And it's going to be epic.