Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sweet Little Mama

My long-time readers may recall that Allyson has been begging for a cat for a couple of years, and that when Ethan got Arwen about this time last year, I promised her a cat of her own in a year or two. Every now and then, she reminds me, and I usually respond with faint promises, like a campaigning politician.

Well, I have a feeling she must have been praying about this, and I think God answered her prayer in a most mysterious way. One Tuesday evening around the first of the month, I found a young cat in our yard. I walked slowly toward it, crouching low and holding out a hand. I expected it to run, but instead it walked cautiously up to me and nuzzled my hand. Oh, it was cute, a little white kitty with big eyes and rather bony ribs. My heart went out to it.

"Are you hungry?" I crooned. "Stay here and I'll get you some food."

I filled one small plastic bowl with Arwen's food and another with cold water, and then I went to Ethan's room. "Hey, come see the kitty in our front yard." 

He hurried out to the yard ahead of me. "Aww," he said. "It doesn't have a collar. Can we keep it?" 

"Well, we're going to feed it. I think that's one way to get a cat. Maybe it can be an outdoor cat." 

We set the food and water down on a flat rock halfway between our driveway and the kitten's spot under our neighbor's tree. It didn't make a move.

Ethan crept over and held out a hand. The cat pressed against his hand, rubbing it with its scent. He petted it for a couple of minutes, and then I convinced him to come inside so that it would hopefully eat the food. 

"So will we keep it?" Ethan asked. 

"We'll see if it comes back," I answered. "If we keep feeding it, I guess it will be ours."

I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but I knew I couldn't let that little kitty starve. The next day, I watched for our little visitor, but it didn't return. I guess I was a little relieved. But Allyson was pretty crestfallen when I told her the whole story after school. 

"See, it was right here," I said, pointing to the spot under the tree. Right where I was pointing, I spotted something tiny, brown, and furry. A dead rat? 

Gingerly, I leaned in for a closer view. No, it was a baby squirrel, no bigger than my hand. A couple of iridescent green flies hovered over its eyes and mouth. "Oh, look, Allyson!" I said, extending an arm to keep her from stepping on it. "A dead squirrel. But isn't it cute?" 

"Aww!" she cried. "I've never seen a baby squirrel before."

"Me either," I said. "Poor little thing." 

Allyson ran to our neighbor's open garage, where Steve was visiting with our other neighbor Neil, my "30-second hero."

"Come and see the dead baby squirrel," she said.

"Nnnnh," said Steve. 

Neil, an "Arkansas boy" who loves squirrels--but also traps them and carries them away because they like to destroy his attic--came over to have a look. "Aww, so cute. I've never seen one that small.... Hey, wait a minute. It's alive." 

"Are you sure?" I asked, bending lower.

"Yes, it's breathing, but just barely." 

Sure enough, its tiny side was heaving. Neil shooed away the flies and carefully picked it up. He cupped it in one palm, petting it gently with one finger. It seemed to rally, opening its eyes for a moment. 

"Can you take care of it?" Allyson asked. 

"Yes, can you? You're the squirrel expert," I said. 

"We'll see. I'm sure it's dehydrated. Do you have an eyedropper?"

"No, but I have some medicine syringes. Will that work?"

"Probably. I'll go get some almond milk."

While Neil got the milk and I hunted for the syringe, Allyson gathered all the neighborhood kids. Two minutes later, we all trooped into my kitchen, where Allyson heated the milk and I tested it on the inside of my wrist. I felt that dull pang that I feel each time I remember that I'm too old to have any more babies. 

With five kids and one fluttery woman looking on, Neil fed that baby some milk. See how it clutched the syringe, just like a baby holding a bottle. 




After we'd oohed and ahhed for a couple more minutes, Neil and the squirrel took their leave. I laughed. "I guess you've got yourself a baby squirrel," I said.

"Mmm," he answered. And I knew what he must have been thinking. As an airline pilot, he's gone about as much as he's home. How could he care for a baby squirrel?

Allyson and I took off then on some errand or other, and when we returned, we hurried to Steve's garage. There was the baby squirrel, wrapped in one of Steve's hand towels. Neil informed us that it had taken a bit more milk and was now sleeping. 

"I was thinking," he said. "I think you guys need to take it. Honestly, it probably won't survive, but you should try. It would be fun for your kids." 

"Mmm," I answered, battling the pulling in my heart. As a busy single mom, how could I possibly care for a baby squirrel? Oh, but it was cute! And utterly helpless. And hadn't I just returned from my HeartQuest determined to start taking chances and really living life? 

"Okay, we'll take it," I said. "There's always the Internet."

Allyson clapped her hands, and may have jumped up and down too. Neil placed the little bundle into her eager hands. 

Worried about Arwen's hunting instincts, we shut ourselves in my bedroom. Allyson looked the squirrel over while I ran some Google searches. 

I quickly learned:
  • There isn't a squirrel rescue organization near us. 
  • A baby squirrel's biggest dangers are hypothermia and dehydration.
  • Wrapping a baby squirrel in a towel doesn't help because it doesn't generate its own body heat. You need to put it in a small box, lined with a towel, and put that on a heating pad. 
  • A baby squirrel shouldn't drink anything but water or Pedialyte until it is well hydrated. Giving it milk is too exhausting because it requires energy to digest. 
  • Baby squirrels need to eat every two to three hours.
Reading over my shoulder, Allyson said, "I can do that.... I can do that...." 

But when I got to this fact...
  • After each feeding, you should wipe the squirrel's rectum with a moist, warm cotton ball. This stimulates it to pee and poop.
she said, "I am NOT doing that! You'll have to do it." 

I sighed. "Oh, God," I thought. "What have I gotten myself into?" 

But I guess it was worth all the bother to see Allyson's joy. 

"Look, it's a boy," she said, pointing to his little... nuts. 

"Yes, I think you're right," I said. I took a good long look at his intricate body, the tiny curved claws, the thin tail, the delicate nostrils. "Everything you make is beautiful," I prayed silently. "He is fearfully and wonderfully made." 

"Let's name him Peanut," Allyson said.

"Sure, baby. Now we have to get out the heating pad and go buy some Pedialyte." 

We drug out Arwen's cat carrier, a shoe box, and my miniature heating pad (a hand warmer that Santa brought me a few years back). Just then, Ethan and his friend Bryce came home, and we showed them Peanut.

"Cool!" Ethan said.

"Cute!" Bryce said.

I settled Peanut into his new home and plugged in the heating pad. 

Twenty minutes later, I warmed the Pedialyte and filled a syringe. 

"Can I feed him?" Allyson asked.

"If you're careful," I said.

I unlatched the cat carrier and drew Peanut gently out. My heart sank. He was gone, already cold and stiff. 

"He died, baby," I said.

Allyson heaved a sigh. "Well, we tried." 

We went next door again to get Neil, who helped us bury Peanut in the same place where we laid Fluffy to rest last November. (I really need to remember to buy a shovel.) Surrounded by the neighbor kids, I said a short prayer thanking God for allowing us to spend this time with sweet Peanut and for taking such good care of him in Heaven. 

Okay, so what does all this have to do with Allyson's cat? I'm getting to that. 

Over the next few days, although I didn't consciously think about it, something changed in my heart. My mind was still rather set against a second cat, but... 

"I think we can look for a kitten after the holidays, when you get back from Canada," I told Allyson one afternoon. 

"Really?!"

"I think so."

"I want a little kitty, so it can get attached to me and not be scared like Arwen," she said.

"We'll pray about it. God knows just what kitty we need." 

Fast forward to a weekly meeting Tuesday before last.  The first thing my friends Joe and Lauren said to me, after "Hello, Sarah," was "Say, would you want a kitten?" 

The words came out of their own accord. "Um, yes. I think I might."

Lauren pulled out her phone and showed me the cutest, teeniest kitty, about three weeks old. "We've been syringe feeding it," she said. "It was abandoned." 

Oh boy. "Can I pray about it and let you know next week?" I asked. They agreed. 

The next day, I told Allyson that we might be getting a tiny kitten. And you can imagine what happened next.

Yep, there was no peace for me for a solid week. She wanted to see pictures. She wanted to know if the kitty was still available. And why, oh why, hadn't I gotten Lauren's phone number so she could send us pictures? 

Through that week, we did a lot of praying. We prayed for God's will, that he would work it out for us to have this kitten if it was the right one. Each time we prayed that, Allyson added in a tiny voice, "But you know I really want this cat. Still, we want your will, God." And then we prayed that God would help the little kitty grow big and strong.

"This kitty was abandoned," Allyson prayed. "Please let it be loved. And help it know that it is loved. And if this is our kitty, please help us be prepared for it, not like when we got the hermit crabs." 

Allyson didn't only pray about being prepared; she took action. She spent every spare moment researching how to care for kittens. These are the meticulous notes she took:

Those are food stains. She left this in the kitchen.

At long last, the week passed and it was time for my weekly meeting again. Allyson and her friend Ellie came along this time, and afterward we looked at about 50 pictures on Lauren's phone. Allyson was ecstatic. "This is just the kind of kitten I had pictured," she said, referring to its gray and white fur. "God knew exactly what kitten to send me." 

"I'm not sure whether Allyson wants the kitty," I teased. "Maybe she wants another one."

She socked me in the arm. "No, I want this one!" she squealed. 

We went to see our cat in person the next night, bringing Allyson's friends Ellie and Alivia along. We stayed about 30 minutes, and Allyson got to feed it kitten formula with a syringe. Like the baby squirrel, the kitten clutched the syringe with both paws. She got shockingly dirty despite being wrapped tightly in a hand towel.

Oh, if you could have experienced the love!





Ethan was pretty smitten, too. But then they started arguing about names, just like when we got Arwen. Allyson wanted Tootsie or Sugar, which Ethan thought were dumb names. I reminded him that he got to choose Arwen's name, and Allyson reminded him that she had hated that name at first. 

In the end, she asked her friends to help her think of names, and then she polled our family and all the neighbor kids. The winning suggestion was Cookies & Cream, or CiCi for short. 

We agreed to pick up CiCi in one week, which will be next Wednesday. By then, Lauren thinks she will be eating wet food because her sharp little teeth are starting to come in. She said the vet's office where she works will provide the first shots, and she will give us all the things we need. (One of Allyson's prayers: answered.) 

Since then, I've been amazed at Allyson's little mama's heart. Here are a few of the things she has prayed:
  • That God will show us how to care for this little kitty.
  • That CiCi will not be afraid of her.
  • That Arwen won't feel the way kids sometimes do when a new baby is born, that we will not forget her but instead show her lots of love. (I thought this was pretty impressive since she often complains that Arwen hates her.) 
  • That Arwen won't hurt CiCi, and that she will be a good big sister, like a mama. 
Most of all, she's rejoicing over this gift. 

I'm still a little scared about caring for such a tiny kitty, but I'm also excited over the adventure of it. I feel an assurance that God did bring us this little cat, and that He carefully prepared my heart so that I wouldn't miss the opportunity. I can't wait to see Allyson caring for her cat. I'm sure I'll have more adventures to share in the next few weeks.

All you cat lovers out there, do you have any advice for us? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

More Beautiful Than a Sunrise

Week before last, I spent six days on a spiritual retreat called HeartQuest, completely unplugged from civilization. With 28 total strangers, I boarded a bus for a ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where we would steal away with our Beloved.

I won't share the details of what we did there because our time was sacred. But I will tell you that I came home with 28 sisters, all cherished daughters of the King. Here are some of my favorite memories of my time with God....

On Thursday, I set off at sunrise to find the place where God was calling me to spend the day alone with Him. I was excited but also nervous because I wondered how I would hear His leading. I walked straight down the ranch house drive, a backpack on my back and a camp chair slung over one shoulder. "Should I go left or right?" I whispered. "Or just keep going straight?"

All I heard was birds chirping.

As I waited for direction, I couldn't keep my eyes off the sunrise. Looking to the east, my eyes fell on a little drive. I was drawn to it, as if following it would take me closer to the rising sun. But I hadn't heard the Voice of God. "Is it okay to go this way?" I asked.

All I heard was the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze.



Squinting against the sun, I struggled to breathe against the gathering tightness in my chest. "How will I know where you want me to go?" I asked, not bothering to hide my frustration. "I don't hear anything."

A couple of tears rolled down my cheeks. "Why is it so hard to hear you?"

Just then, I spotted a white and black metal sign: Keep Out.

I laughed out loud and wiped my nose with the back of my hand as I turned in my tracks. "Okay, that's pretty clear guidance."

With that rueful laughter, all the tension drained away and I began to just enjoy walking on these gorgeous grounds. I stopped listening so hard and just let my feet take me where they wanted to go. I squeezed through a crack next to the large iron gate, crossed the country road, and followed some wheel ruts that could pass for a road. Both sides of the road were wooded, with rather squat trees and a few cactus plants.



 After a few hundred yards, I lurched abruptly to the right, headed into the woods. I hiked due west, but didn't stray too far from the wheel-rut road; I've always had a fear of being lost in the woods. I set up my purple chair under a circle of evergreen trees. The branches were only sparsely covered, but they were still pretty, and later I would be thankful for their modest shade.

I'd just settled into my chair when six or seven deer trotted past. I could barely glimpse them through the trees, but I could make out a couple of does and some fawns. One of the does froze, nose lifted in the air as she searched me out. A moment later, they all ran deeper into the woods, their hooves thundering softly on the pine needles that cushioned the ground.

Tears pricked my eyes as I sang softly, "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship thee."

I thanked God for sending the deer and asked Him if he could send some a little closer so I could get a better look.

Over the next few hours, I didn't see any deer, but I did see an assortment of baby trees ranging from two inches to about three feet tall. They were so cute, these miniature trees with nearly adult-sized leaves. One tiny tree had just four leaves which dwarfed its spindly branches. I thought of all the Bible verses about trees and imagined my own growth, my gradual transformation into an "oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3)

As I examined a tree trunk intently during a short hike, a lizard startled me, and I cried out. It darted away to safety before I could get a good look at it, and I was disappointed. But God graciously sent me another lizard later while I sat in my chair inside the circle of trees. It stood at the foot of my chair as if it were posing for me. Instead of cringing as I usually do when I spot anything lizard-like, I marveled at its tiny snout, tail, and clawed feet.

Several times throughout the day, I noticed what appeared to be a hawk circling lazily overhead. (I later learned it was a turkey vulture, but I prefer to think of it as a hawk.) As I admired its effortless flight, I praised God for the way His creatures delight in doing what they were made to do. That's how I feel when I write, and even more so when I open my heart to love someone.

I also saw a jackrabbit at one point. Its tall, pointed ears were definitely rabbit-like, but I was shocked to see it walking on all fours rather than hopping. It was most peculiar and quite cute.

The only creatures I did not enjoy were the gnats that buzzed relentlessly in my ears and nose. I figured they must have some spiritual meaning, like how we have to persevere and push past the distractions that pull our focus from God's purpose in our lives.

It was an imaginary creature who made me laugh at myself. A city girl to the core, I haven't had much experience with peeing outside. The first time, I didn't take gravity into account, and I ended up making a puddle right behind my heels. The second time, I felt pretty clever when I found a gentle slope and tried to pee downhill. However, I'd been drinking so much water and Gatorade that I--well, let's just say that the stream was so strong that it defied gravity and probably splashed a bit onto my jeans. [Men, count your blessings.] The third time, I went back to my gentle slope and bent into a deep pliĆ©with my behind just an inch or two off the ground so as to minimize the splashing.

I'd just started peeing when a tuft of grass tickled my butt. Thinking it was a bug, I lurched forward, spraying pee onto my shoes. Aiyee! There was no one to laugh with but God, and we shared a good chuckle. It reminded me of the first time I had shared a joke with God.

The best moment came at the end of the day, while I was engrossed in reading some notes from friends and family that brought me tears of joy. When a loud snort interrupted my reverie, I looked up to see a proud, magnificent buck staring right at me. He was standing in a clearing, maybe 50 feet away. I caught my breath, eyes wide with wonder. After ten seconds or so, he snorted again and galloped away.

In all the day's adventures, I'd forgotten my morning prayer, but God hadn't. He'd even prompted that deer to catch my attention so I wouldn't miss the moment. "Oh, thank you," I breathed. I felt certain now that I'd found exactly the spot God had chosen for me.

Early Morning Rendezvous

Two days later, I awoke long before 6, much earlier than I'd planned. I lay in bed for a good 30 minutes, trying vainly to fall back to sleep. At home, when I wake up in the dark, I figure God wants to talk to me. But at the ranch, I shared a room with three other women, and there was no cozy prayer closet, only a cold hallway. "Can we talk later? I'm really sleepy," I prayed silently.

At last, I gave up and drug myself out of bed. As I pulled on my clothes by the light of my flashlight, a wonderful thought occurred to me. I could watch the sun rise! It would be so amazing to see it peeping over the horizon across the wide open field. I hurriedly gathered my Bible and journal and padded down the stairs and into the darkness, grabbing a camp chair off the porch.

I set up my chair next to the ranch drive, just at the edge of the meadow, and watched the sky intently. Slowly, slowly, the blackness gave way to gray light. Where was the sun?  Could I be facing the wrong direction? I thought of the time my friend Angela and I had stayed at Hideaway Ranch. We watched the most gorgeous sunset over the back porch of our cabin, and then watched for the sunrise on that same porch! We were so mad at ourselves when we remembered that the sun rises on the opposite horizon from where it sets.

This time, I was certain. I distinctly remembered admiring the sunrise across that same meadow.

While I waited, I talked with Jesus. I shared something that was heavy on my heart, and I felt a peaceful assurance that He was not only going to take care of everything, but that His plan for this situation would end in a beautiful picture of His grace.

After 20 minutes or so, several of our leaders emerged from the gray darkness, walking down the long drive toward the main house. "Sarah, is that you?" one called. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for the sunrise," I answered.

"Oh, I don't think there will be much to see today," Toni said. (Or maybe it was Ginny; it was hard to tell in the darkness.) "Too many clouds."

I smiled. Surely God hadn't woken me up and brought me out here if there wasn't going to be a sunrise. Besides, don't the clouds usually make a sunrise even more colorful?

After another ten minutes, I had to admit that Toni was right. It was now fully light, but there was not a hint of color on the horizon. Instead, there were many, many shades of gray. I had to laugh. A gray sunrise!

And then it dawned on me (so to speak). The beauty of this silent morning wasn't in the sunrise. It wasn't even in the birds chirping. The beauty was Him. He had called me out there to spend time with Him.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:14)
"Thank you that there was no sunrise," I prayed, my cheeks wet with tears. "If there had been, I would have been distracted. You are so much more beautiful than a sunrise, Beloved."

I want to carry the beauty of that gray sunrise the rest of my days.

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