So Curtis and I have bad luck with cats, it seems. We can't seem to keep them at our house or alive for longer than about six months. Currently, we have two black cats we're trying to keep around and alive but they're not making it easy. Otis picks on Simon, even though Simon was there first. Simon's a timid cat so he runs away to avoid confrontation with Otis. Whenever he does come back he looks worse than the time before. This last time he came home we kicked Otis out for a few days so Simon could heal and rest. But Simon took off again after a few days and then Otis left, too. We were completely cat-less for about two-and-a-half weeks.
But then Otis appeared on our porch swing the other morning looking about three steps from death's doorstep. And his meow was the saddest, softest, raspiest sound I'd ever heard. So I put him in the garage for a couple of days with food and water, hoping he'd rest and get better. It started to work, his meow started to get strong again. But he left on Thursday morning when I took the car out of the garage. I found him later that afternoon across the ditch at the neighbor's house completely tangled in burrs and brush. He was lethargic and listless, other than meowing frantically at the site of me. So here I am, 7 months pregnant, climbing through the brush to loosen my darn cat. I went to get my neighbor to carry Otis back to our house (I had visions of me toppling forward into the ditch if I tried to pick him up, given the angle he was laying at and my rather large belly), but when I came back...Otis had disappeared again.
Bode and I looked for him last night and this morning. I worried all through the thunderstorms last night. Fact of the matter is, I don't know if he's strong enough to survive the kind of wind and heavy rains we had. My vet said she'd take him as a good Samaritan case because we don't have extra money right now--but I have to have him first. I have to get him to come home before I can take him to her office.
I don't know if he'll be back. I don't know if he's still alive. And I really have no idea where Simon is or if he's alive. I tried to help them both. I put them where they were safe and had their needs met. But they both left, despite knowing that I equal safety. I know that they know that because when they see me, they come to me, they perk up, they meow. They know that if I see them, I'll help them, and that if they are where I am that they'll be okay. And yet...they left.
I was lamenting my frustrations the other night and realized...God does this with people all the time. We leave the place of safety, where all our needs are met. Sometimes we leave because we can't get along with the other people there (like Simon avoiding Otis). Sometimes we leave because it looks more interesting or exciting elsewhere (which is how we lost Felix, Luckey, and Milo). Sometimes we leave because we're just wild and refuse to be tamed (which was the case with Fiyero). And sometimes we come back, beat up, mangy, and dirty. When Simon came home last he stunk to high heaven because some other male had sprayed him. His ear was mangled. Otis has patches of fur missing and he lost about half of his body weight. We come back to God this way--a stinky, ugly mess and often too spiritually sick and starved to make it another day.
He puts us where we're safe. He cleans us up and gives us food and water. And if we'd just stay put, we'd be okay. In the Gospel of Luke we're led to believe that the prodigal son does just that. When he comes home, he stays put. He learned his lesson. But this is a parable and not a true story. And the true story often is that we stray again. We leave, for whatever reason. Sometimes we just think we're going out to enjoy the sunshine but we get caught in the brambles. Or side-swiped by life. We can't seem to just stay where it's safe.
Sometimes people leave God's safety and they never find their way back. They think they find something better or they think they've gone too far and can't come back. I think we've all known people that fall into this category. They give up on God because they believe He's given up on them. They keep leaving safety and there's nothing we can do to help them. Nothing but pray. But prayer is powerful, so it can be enough.
One comforting thing for us but perhaps even more heartbreaking for God is that He always knows where we are. Right now I have no idea where Otis is. I'm hoping he's next door somewhere and my neighbor finds him alive. But God always knows right where we are. He knows what we're up to and just how much danger or trouble we're in. I think this is more heart-wrenching for Him to watch us get beat up by life and make damaging choices. He doesn't force us to come back. He never will. That wouldn't be love. Jesus longs to shelter Jerusalem as a mother hen does her chicks, but the people refuse to be saved. The people refuse to be helped, loved, cared for. It breaks His heart. You can hear the lament in His voice. They just won't stay where it's safe.
So I'm not sure what's going to happen with my cats. I'm really hoping that Otis turns up again in the next couple days and I can take him to the vet. And maybe he'll learn to stay where it's safe, to stop straying so far or staying away for so long. And if you have a Simon or Otis in your life, a person like that, then I pray that they come back, too, and let God heal them.