Cat Chronicles: Enter Sydney

In my last post, Briggs had entered our home. Though the loss of Buster and Rocky was still keenly felt, the antics of a comical little kitten worked like a balm to heal both of our hearts. But it was time to find him a playmate. I scoured the internet and found a woman who needed to find homes for the feral kittens she had rescued.  We made an appointment to go see them. They had all just recovered from been spayed and neutered.

The owners cats were curiously watching us from the stairs as proceeded to the “kitten rooms.” The girls were in one room and the boys in the other. We were there two hours, going from one room to another. Buster was a talky fellow so I was looking for one with the same qualities. Among the males were Tony, a solid light orange, and Frankie, a flame point Siamese mix, and his brother who could have been a twin, Sammy. It was so hard to choose, but in the end Sammy was the one who stole my heart. His fur was as soft as a bunny and his eyes a brilliant blue, and a little bit crossed at times. He kept coming up to me wanting to play. I fell in love.

Sammy became Sydney and we couldn’t wait to get him home to introduce him to his new brother. We still have a picture of Sydney in his carrier and Briggs peering in at him. If he could have talked I’m sure he would have said, “C’mon open up already, I’m ready to play!”

I think there was one hiss and that was all. Sydney was used to being around lots of cats and he was undaunted. And Briggs was so happy to have a playmate he didn’t know what to do. He played so hard he literally panted like a dog. Several times we had to rescue poor Sydney by removing Briggs from the scene so Syd could recover. Sydney was a scrapper though. He got his digs in as well.

And so our little family was complete again. Briggs was even-tempered around people and loved everyone just like Rocky and Sydney just wanted me. He was bottle fed so he was used to human handling and actually preferred that to anything else. It was like my prayers were answered. My niece had been born around that time and I was missing her terribly. I was 12 hours away by car and an hour and 45 minutes by plane and I needed my arms filled.

Sydney became my baby. He was totally content to lay upside down in my arms for hours. The Siamese came out in his meow which sounded very much like an infant crying. People would hear him in the background and often ask if there was a baby in the house.

It was as if God had answered my prayer by filling my arms and heal my heart that was missing our Lauryn, the first ever baby in our family.

Faithful Friends to the End

Rocky and Buster lived to be old men in cat years. As all pet owners know, when you open your heart and your life to an animal there will come that time you don’t like to think about. The terrible, horrible goodbye. For Rocky, our gentle giant who never met a stranger, it was just that he was old and weak in the hips. When he fell and couldn’t get back up the decision was easy. Elaine’s Dad insisted on going and the tough old Texas oil man cried like a baby as they administered the shot and he fell asleep in her arms.

And poor Buster grieved the loss of the cat he was never without. He actually hung his head and it was painful to watch. Our beautiful Bustini who looked like he had royalty in his veins, with his sleek Abyssinian body, cinnamon coloring and jewel green eyes was in mourning.

Enter stage left……..Briggs. We mistakenly thought bringing a kitten home would help poor Buster. Elaine was still sorely grieving Rocky when we wandered into PetSmart one day. They always say (and it’s true) you don’t find a cat, they find you.

It’s been my experience they enter your life when you need them most. 

It’s a spiritual thing. I would be skeptical if I hadn’t seen it happen over and over. The magical power of the purr is well known to anyone who has known and loved a cat.

To those whose tears have been absorbed by the soft fur of a creature who somehow knows what to do with our emotional pain with grace and understanding is to partake in a small miracle.

Anyway, there were kittens. One in particular was running around like crazy and Elaine heard the man say, “Who would ever take that freaky cat? He’s nuts.” Or something like that. I said, “Look at his long legs, just like Rocky!” Elaine has always had a soft spot for the underdog, (undercat in this instance). As she bent to pick him up, he burrowed into her neck and gave the loudest purr she had ever heard. Hence the name, Briggs, for the Briggs and Stratton engines.

It was love at first sight.

But not for poor Buster. His little soul wanted to play so very badly but his poor body was just too sick. Little Briggs was constantly rebuffed. Buster retreated under my bed and we knew it was only a matter of time before he joined Rocky. It was a nightmare. Every day I’d look under the bed expecting the worst. One night he tried to jump up on the bed where he slept with me and didn’t make it.

The next day we wrapped him in a towel and we made the second trip to the vet. It was determined he had cancer. They rattled off all these things we could do to the tune of thousands of dollars. It all felt very cold. We decided Buster deserved better, so I held him in my arms as they administered the lethal dose that would end his suffering. Our little comedian, paperboy, growler, part dog part cat was gone.

Our grief was immense. We buried Buster next to Rocky, out in the corner by the fire pit. Could any other cat be big enough to fill that void? Of course you never replace a cat or dog, just like you don’t replace a child, you add to. And Briggs proved very worthy of the task. He played so hard he actually did somersaults and panted like a dog. I had to wrap him in a blanket and make him a taco kitty to get him to stop so he could rest. When he got tired he would lay on his belly on the tile floor with his back legs straight out.

We decided to take him on a road trip to California when he was about 8 or 9 weeks old. We gave him the whole back seat but he insisted on riding on Elaine’s shoulder as she drove. He had his first taste of ice-cream on that trip and got a big fancy jungle gym from Auntie Carolyn.

I’ll never forget his little eager face when I would come back to the car after getting gas or snacks. His eyes actually lit up, he knew me! He succeeded in stealing both our hearts. But the time was coming to get him a companion. Briggs needed a brother.

Enter Sydney……

Taking a breath

Taking a breath

This season in my life is especially difficult for us all, and COVID has made everything worse. Dad has landed in a Convalescent Home. It all started the night Mom called me in a panic at 2:30 AM shouting into the phone, “Are you there, Lori, Lori, I need to call her…..” We had had several panic calls from Dad over the past year and I just figured this was another one. Something about this one seemed different.

When I rounded the corner and saw the ambulance and firetruck my heart dropped. It dropped even further when I came in and saw Dad lying on the bedroom floor with blood behind his head. Some things you cannot un-see, and that one will be there forever. They left so fast, there was no time to find his ID. Elaine thought to look in his pants pocket and we then rushed them to the hospital.

After several days he came home and collapsed again. 

So we are a small village of caretakers now. My brother, myself, Elaine and I. Mom can’t stay alone. I go from one place to another and back again. Mom doesn’t remember why Dad is there and asks continually when he’s coming home. It’s been mostly bad, but there a few moments here and there that we laugh together, and she expresses the joy of a child when I warm a blanket and throw it over her. 

I made her table look like Christmas and she exclaims surprise and joy all over again when she sees it. 

I feel like my soul is scoured out most of the time. Empty. I don’t do what I used to do. I no longer sit by the river, it gives me no comfort. I see it and it moves by soundlessly but it doesn’t touch me. I am continually distracted by the next phone call, the next text. My life right now is a treadmill and a schedule. Driven by the clock.

And yet, I have a best friend who is my emotional rock. She’s a pillar of strength. I’m not going it alone. There will be an end to this all. And God will be ready to embrace them both when it’s their time. Until then we do what we have to do to make things better for them. 

Books remain a joy, God has left me that. I snatch moments now and then. I can’t read at Moms because the questions are nonstop. She is trying so hard to map her world out right now. I feel so sad for her.

Churches remain closed and it amazes me how our whole world has changed since we stood on the beach at Moss Landing on the cusp of 2020. I wonder what has happened to us? I can’t help feeling in some ways this pandemic has revealed the apathy of the American church. How we have changed from the Pilgrims who risked everything to be able to worship freely. How much we have changed from our parents and grandparents generation. 

Have we caved into fear, or is it the right thing for society as a whole to keep everyone “safe?” Was being safe even a consideration of the early church? Have we missed the opportunity to show the world what God can do? It’s hard to know what’s right anymore. I don’t pretend to have the answers. Thankfully, God remains the same. Yesterday today and forever.  On that we can be assured. His mercy remains the same as well, thankfully.

Until then we soldier on and do the best we can. Help each other the best we can. We will get through this. It’s almost a new year and I need to remember who Jesus is. I have felt lost this whole year, but maybe writing can help me find my way back home. 

Whoever is still sticking with my inconsistent blogging, here’s to a hopeful 2021. My prayers and best wishes go with you all.

Before the World Stirs

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I awoke in the dark to owls calling. I counted three slightly different tones. Weigumina the cat led me to our early dawn swing session, tail in the air as cats do. She likes to head bonk my coffee cup so I had to hold it up to keep it from sloshing while she settled on my lap. My thoughts took on the rhythm of the swing. Another weekend, a little island oasis of rest once more and for that I am so grateful.

As I often do, I was thinking about Creation and all its creatures. Feeling the absence of our little Briggs still I was ruminating about people who call themselves “Dog people” and “Cat people” and how that can’t really be a thing unless you don’t dig deep enough into your own soul. To fully enjoy what both have to offer us as companions is to embrace each unique difference.

And do you ever hear people define themselves as a bug person as opposed to a fish person? God could have stopped at one hundred or one thousand animals, but He kept going. Why? Because He has a boundless love for the beauty of individuality.

To quote James Herriot:

I have felt cats rubbing their face against mine and touching my cheek with claws carefully sheathed. These things, to me, are expressions of love.

And of dogs:

If I had been a little dog I’d have gone leaping and gamboling around the room wagging my tail furiously…..And, “Dogs like to obey. It gives them security.

I am thinking of Daney now, the service dog at our school. How she comes up to me friendly faced with a favorite toy, wagging her tail in greeting each day. It is a comfort to stroke her soft ears, and see the loving trust in her eyes.

I think of the beauty of the sunrise and the moonrise. How different they are but each has the power to take your breath away. I think of my many years in the desert and how captivated I became of the desperate and wild beauty there. What a loss if I had closed my mind to it and refused to let it speak to my soul.

And now I’m back here in California where there is not as much sky to see because of the trees (messy trees says E.) Soon the leaves will be scarlet and every shade of yellow and orange. It’s the weekend again. These are stressful times for us all, and yet I have this little island of peace at the end of the week.

A thought on love and loss: Every heart has its own time and way of mending and each must determine when the time is right to receive another. That loss is a sacred part of us we will never forget and we shouldn’t, yet there is something in us that knows that it is right and good to move on.

Sanity Restored

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I wonder. Is it possible to miss the days you never knew? It’s like stories you’ve been told so long they become a part of your own memory. They make my heart ache for what we’ve all lost. I don’t recognize my own country anymore. I wake hopeful. So very grateful for what I can restore, for what is still here that is good. I reach for peace and I am relieved that the unmovable things are still here.

God’s creation is still good. There are books, endless books full of messages of hope that I rest in. And I open once again to my bright highlighted passages and read again the old, old story about how God became homeless for just a little while for us all. So we could have a happy ending.

I start a new book this morning and feel that spark of recognition that comes when you know you’ve met a new author and it’s one you’re gonna like. (And I’m only on page 5.) I liked her name right off, Ruta Sepetys. Thank you Betty for the recommendation!

Oh Jesus, my prayers have become so simple. “Fix what’s broken, in our world and in me.” There is so much broken. So much we’ve left far behind. I want it all to come back. I want the shrieking and the lying about how terrible our country is to stop.

I want those simple times I got on the tail end of in the sixties and seventies, back before everything went crazy. When you could buy a home and only one person had to work. Back when we all played outside until dark without fear, and when there were corner grocery stores. And yes, when people still had their babies, unplanned or not.

I’m tired of sides. I remember when Americans could disagree but still come together because we had already fought all the battles and won. We can all vote, we can all aspire to any job, there are more opportunities than ever before. But there are those who are very loud that are saying that isn’t so. And it’s tearing our country apart. 

I remember, reaching back through the years of summer evenings when I really didn‘t want to go to church but now I’m glad I did. I miss Altar calls, I miss the Grandpa I never knew, asking everyone he camped around if they knew Jesus. And I can imagine my Mom and Sisters embarrassed.

There is still so much good here folks. It’s morning, and afternoon and then evening, and God still calls it good. And it is. And behind the scenes? He’s still making all things new. 

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The morning is quiet and the mockingbird sings, picking up the same endless melody he closed with last night.

David Nevue hymns play softly in the background and I am praying for my nieces little cat who is very sick. Seems to be something she ate. There are little teeth marks in the interlocking rubber floor mats in the bedroom. And now there is a big bill, but that pales in comparison to a girl who is heartsick. Oh Lord, sometimes we just get tired of all the sorrow. The world is weary. We are weary too. 

As I sit here amidst my tears there is a joy deep down resting at the bottom of my soul, in a feathered nest. It’s that quiet peace God gives. The living promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. That there is still joy for the taking. The assurance that in the end, all will be well.

I walk outside and see yet another mangled baby bird that will never sing a note. This is the fourth. Why do things have to die? I guess sometimes things can be rescued and sometimes they can’t. I think of the little mouse I saved one morning. Two bluejays were attacking it mercilessly. They would pick it up in their sharp beaks and then drop it to the ground. The mouse was terrified and when I went to pick it up it squeaked in fright. The poor thing didn’t know I was trying to save it.

I could feel its little heart beating in my gloved hand, and then it was my turn to be a little afraid. What if it ran up my sleeve? I hurriedly carried the stunned little creature to safety and settled it beneath some shrubs. I wonder if that’s how God feels about us? We fight so hard when He’s only trying to save us from ourselves. 

He looks down at the way we’ve chosen to mangle our world, our lives, and then He watches as we walk right past the gate that would swing wide and welcome us in.

He longs to pick us up and settle us in the only place we will only ever find peace and safety? “Rest my child,” He beckons. Finally, exhausted by all our own efforts, we collapse at His feet. He welcomes us, takes us as we are.

He’s the God of second, third, seventh, one-thousand chances. This morning I didn’t think I had any words at all. But God supplied a few, as it turns out.

The  train sounds in the distance, life propels forward. And the joy outweighs the sorrow once again. Despite everything, we have hope.  Pray with me friends? That a little cat a girl loves will be okay today.

Remember Me

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What do you see when you look at me? Do you see only the rumpled clothes, the spots I can’t see? The spilled food? Yes, my hands shake and my steps falter, but I have lived life and it has erased much of what I was before. If you look closer you can still see who I used to be. It takes love to remember it. The love I gave you for so many years. The love I’m still trying so hard to give.

When you are impatient and have to wait for me, remember all those years I waited for you. I waited for you to walk so that we could walk together. And we did. Our lives were a set of parallel lines that made up all the joy in my life. Everything I did was because of you, in you I found my purpose.

Remember for me when I can’t. I know it’s hard when you have to answer the same question again and again, but instead of irritation, replace it with something else. Replace it with the love that was behind my every task. Let it temper the anger that is so quick to flare up.

Remember the Birthdays I never forgot, the cakes I got up early to make, the laundry I folded, the endless meals I cooked, the alarms I set to get you up and ready for the day.

The prayers you never knew I said.

Please be patient and know that when I struggle to read directions or do a task, I am frustrated too. Do you remember the light in my eyes every time you said yes to something I suggested we go do? The hope behind it all. I think maybe my eyes only truly saw for the first time when you were born.

Remember me in my strength, not in my present physical weakness. Can you let our love run together in the same direction as it used to? I’m worn out and worn thin and my memories haunt me much of the time. That is, when I do remember.

Someday soon I will be gone, and it’s my hope that you won’t regret what you didn’t do. I certainly won’t hold you to it. The hardest thing is to learn to forgive yourself. It’s a lesson I wish I could have learned in life. I know that only with God is it remotely possible.

Now, all of my past mistakes are long forgotten and I dwell in the Light of Eternity where there is no longer anything to regret. I have greeted those who I’ve longed to see again. Here there is only Love.

I’ll wait for you here.

What’s in your cup?

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Dad called, “We just have too much,” he said, “We cleared out the shelf where we keep the coffee cups, and there’s only two of us here now…..” When I got there they were all over the table, stacked two deep. He wanted to throw them all away. There was a sense of urgency about it, like so many things he is wanting to clear out lately. I said, “Well, let’s just sort through them and see which ones you still use. We agreed that they had to keep the ones from the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. And the one to Grandpa and Grandpa from Lauryn. We narrowed it down to 5 or 6 out of 20. 

Clearing out things can be a lot like clearing out a life. An acknowledgment that an excess is no longer needed. It can be liberating but also diffused with a sense of finality. Memories are attached to things and that’s where it gets tricky. There are hoarders who have a mental condition that prevents them from throwing anything away. I guess they find a kind of comfort in all those piles of stuff. And then there is the opposite, throwing away everything and then wishing you hadn’t because you realize there is still life to be lived.

When life spirals out of control I guess you feel you must do something about the things you can control. Little things become paramount. You can’t control getting older, or change, or a ravaging disease, but you can control the things you see in the immediate space around you, so there’s a sense of haste.

I kept the best ones and took them to a local cafe where they accept everyone’s used cups. It’s a cool thing I think, like drinking out of someone’s history. I find comfort in knowing some of their coffee mugs will live on in our community. I like to think the many prayers and all the laughter shared while using those cups and the hands that held them over the years will somehow pass a little peace and grace on to the next user.

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For so many years, their home was where everyone came. There was always a knock or a hello through the screen door and the phone was always ringing. “I’ll just put on a fresh pot of coffee,” my Mom would say. Even now, I can see shining eyes, and ringing laughter over those cups. The walls hold the memories even in the silence. The winding down of life.

The Bible speaks about our bodies being living vessels. Far too many years I tried to fill it with things it was never meant to hold. The Christian life is a series of emptying and filling. Sometimes this life just empties you out. People and circumstances can leave you feeling that way. Maybe that is Jesus’ way of getting us out of the way so that He can fill us with Himself.

Jesus once had to drink from the worse cup ever. But drink He did, to the bitter dregs. He did this so that we wouldn’t  have to. Has your coffee gone cold? Are there only the bitter grounds of yesterday? Pitch it into the bushes and refill from a fresh cup of Grace today. Jesus stands ready. The campfire is warm and the coffee is hot. 

“You prepare a table before me in the Presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

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This Pandemic

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At first it was kind of like a snow day. A little euphoria, our Spring break extended. School was put off, then cancelled for the rest of the year. It felt like a small taste of retirement. Hey, I had free time to do all the things I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. And books. I had books. Then the library closed. And our favorite places of business. The sidewalks emptied. And people got this virus here in the States and some died. It got more real.

Time stretched on, and I discovered to my surprise that I really liked Suduko. Easter came and went and it was nothing like any Easter we ever had, because there wasn’t one. Of course in the biggest sense there was. And maybe because of the way the world  was this year, the Resurrection felt even more meaningful because the life as we all knew it here had kind of died.

One day we found ourselves in an unbelievably long line (seniors only) at Costco. People pushed their carts Zombie- like, masked and unmasked alike. The line undulated like a snake around and around the parking lot. We all shuffled along looking a little bewildered. We got behind a talker in a tank top, adjusting his mask between words all through the line.

I think it was around day 28 of lockdown that it all came crashing in for me. A kind of bleak despair. It stopped being fun many days ago. The endless rules, and the endless news. The not knowing what or who to believe. As someone who is a bit on the antisocial spectrum of reclusiveness anyway this was coming too naturally for me and I didn’t want to surrender to it.

I can’t help wondering how many families and businesses will still be intact when this is all a memory? I hope and pray they will come back stronger than ever. As for me, I’m ready for open signs and full parking lots. I’m ready to actually go to church (maybe without the shaking hand part.)

Despite all this, there has been good. I think we have remembered how to be kinder and help each other out like good neighbors used to. Trips to the grocery store for those home bound have turned into reconnaissance missions.  Just taking a short drive has felt like being sprung from prison or military leave.

Something of this time I hope will remain. The forbidden luxury of hugs and closeness that I don’t want to take for granted anymore. The rhythm that is life has slowed for us all and that’s a good thing. But while slowing is good, stopping is not.

It’s time to get back to business because this is hurting us in more ways than one. Americans were meant to thrive, it’s what we were built on. So let’s wear our masks, wash our hands, and get to work. It’s time. Quarantine the ones who are sick and let the rest of us live.

Let freedom ring again.

A World in Pause Mode

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Life has been suspended and I can’t help feeling that for once, on this day it feels right. I remember as a kid when things closed and everyone flocked to church at noon on Good Friday. I also remember being glad when it was rainy or cloudy because that also seemed right on this day of days.

“Oh Jesus, what you went through so that we could have forever with You. When the shadow of the cross fell it reached all the way to Heaven and even silenced the Angels. They had never seen the Father hide His face from the Son. Ever. But that day was unlike any other day that will ever happen again.”

This shutdown has not been without benefit, in every adverse situation the good arises like a sweet perfume. The weeds grow along with the seeds, it’s just that the weeds are visible right away. But the good seeds are working their magic down below where we can’t see.  I believe we will have a lasting benefit from this time.

We will remember the quiet times, the books we read. The times spent talking, learning new games, getting to know each other again. Maybe all this family time, cooking and eating together, stretching our imaginations and praying more will have a lasting effect. Not to mention going a little bit crazy. 

What I’ve been learning from all this is what I have taken for granted, the simple little things. I have always been a person who has been intentional about not doing this and yet, I have realized that to some extent, I have. Who ever thought hugging someone we love would feel like a luxury, a risk, something forbidden.

Each morning. I have tried to go outside at first light and celebrate a little resurrection. I close my eyes and concentrate on all the noises I hear. It’s a blessing to have these mornings at home. Not having to get ready for anything. Downtime. Then there’s the downside.

Honestly some days it feels a little bit like the shadow of death is hovering all around us. Seeing loved ones only from a distance. Not being able to go, to help, to do. So close, so far away.

I’m thankful I have had someone (thank you E) to laugh and cry with during all this. It’s been a blessing to help those in our circle who are alone. 

I’m reminded in Scripture that this is only a light and momentary affliction. The other side of eternity stretches much further than we can see right now, but it’s still there, waiting for us. Because of the horrible, awfulness Jesus went through for us. Because He loves us.

The Trinity worked a beautiful plan my friends, and we can all partake of it. This pandemic will pass, but what will not pass is the empty tomb. It stands open and glowing with hope. Today we remember how our Savior was battered and bloody beyond recognition but on Sunday we remember how Satan was defeated.

Death has indeed lost its sting. Again. Thanks be to God.