I barely saw her sitting there in the shadows, until I noticed movement. Night after night I would catch glimpses of her tiny silhouette sitting there in the dark, hoping. Waiting. She glanced up from time to time, looking up at the weathered gray wood trim. The loyalty she showed was undeserved. “They’re not there anymore, little one,” I whispered. My heart broke for her, because no one deserved to be treated with such casual disregard. She didn't ask to be left fending for herself, homeless and alone. Still, night after night, there she sat in front of the door marked #101.
Months passed, and she grew and ran wild. She was certain of it now; she had been abandoned and no longer trusted anyone. Her sleek black frame no longer darkened the doorstep of apartment 101. I would see her at a distance and call to her, and tell her it was safe to venture closer. Every once in a while I would catch her watching me from a distance before she darted away, but I never expected her to make the first move.
Hunger drove her, I'm sure, but kindness drew her to a new door. My door. I opened the door one day to see this little black and white visitor watching and…waiting. “Well, hello there, Mittens. Are you hungry?" I returned a few moments later with some food. My husband had started calling her Mittens months before because she looks just like the kitty from the movie, Bolt.
After she ate, she just sat there, so I left the door open a bit to see what she would do. I went back to doing the dishes. It wasn’t long before a little inquisitive face peered into the house. And so it began.
I would put food out, and Mittens came to breakfast and dinner. I left the door open, so she could poke her head in and take a look around. Little by little, she allowed me to come closer, but she always darted away as soon as I got within inches of touching her shiny black fur. I sat down on the concrete. She sat down and watched me. I laid down and reached out a hand, assuring her it was ok to trust again. Mittens took a step. Then, she laid down on the concrete and reached out an arm, again, pulling it back just before I could touch her. Perhaps it was the faint memory of a touch from long ago that broke through the fear, but she worked up the courage to let me pet her – and when I did, she finally gave in to letting herself feel something she hadn’t felt in a very long time. Love.
She rubbed against my hand, arched her back and came back for more. She grabbed my hand with hers. She seems to love to just hold my hand and close her eyes, savoring the feeling of love soothing her fears away. Her little arms paw and wave in mid air like she's swimming, reaching for more love. Mittens comes in for visits, and has met the rest of the family. She hides under the couch and waits for someone to stick in a hand and give her a friendly scratch. Eventually she ventures out and explores a bit, flopping on the floor and purring contentedly, tentatively waiting for someone to reach down and give her a scratch. She plays with the ornaments hanging from the Christmas tree and I think how love is such a huge reason for this season. I am grateful for this little visitor who warms my heart.
I think what surprised me the most is how quickly she turned from a timid, unsure wanderer, to a bold, protective warrior. The previous encounters with our other animals proved uneventful. The cats retreated into other rooms and the dog was just curious. Then suddenly one night Mittens positioned herself between one of our cats and the dog, who had come into the room. Mittens didn't want them to come near me. She hissed and swatted them away as if to say, “Get back! That’s my Mama!”
“Did you see that?” I asked my husband. She has adopted me! She thinks I am her Mama!”
“How fierce you are, little one,” I said. “I am flattered that you love me so. You are jealous for me, aren’t you?” I whispered, as I pronounced a kiss upon her little pink and white kitty nose. “I love you, too, Mittens.” She rubbed her face against mine and purred.
Yet, even in the midst of the many assurances of our love and kindness, Mittens felt compelled to go out, the wild not yet out of her system. She needed to know the door was open, that she could leave whenever she wanted, and I wouldn't try to cage her in. When the door was closed, it spooked her. She felt trapped, panicked and immediately wanted to run away. My impatience to try to keep her safe made me try to keep her close where I could keep an eye on her, but that independent spirit wasn't ready to be broken yet. Mittens was still learning this new found relationship, and testing it to see if it really was ‘safe.’ As with any relationship, trust has to be earned, and it doesn't happen overnight.
Another amazing thing that happened is the effect new kitty had upon our other cat, Bebe. Bebe is the most beautiful, spoiled house cat, that wants for nothing. She has always treated me with careless disregard, and in typical cat fashion, treats me like her servant. I am there to serve her at her pleasure. The things that Bebe takes for granted and often acts finicky about, Mittens appreciates wholeheartedly. Until Mittens wandered into the household, Bebe could have cared less about me. Suddenly, she wants me to notice her, pet her, and remember that she is a member of the family, too. Funny how the cat that had it all didn't seem to care until she noticed someone else receiving my affections! Jealousy is a funny thing, is it not?
As I petted her one day, I thought of my son’s little friend who recently became homeless. In one day I fed both the homeless child and the homeless cat. I was sad for both. The Lord can speak through anything, and one of the things He reminded me of through all this is how compassionate He feels towards the orphans, the outcasts, those who are disconnected from His body – and disconnected from Him. They’re everywhere. They’re lonely, hurting and many feel very uncomfortable with the church.
Perhaps their hunger or another need will be a reason for them to seek out the those who offer help, but need alone is not enough to make them want to stick around and we should not feel miffed if they don't feel obligated. If love is truly unconditional, then when we help others it should not have strings attached either. The moment one person tries to cage someone in and call it love, trust is broken. Relationships can't be rushed. Love gives people space to grow and in the process, loyalty and commitment will grow as well. People must be given the opportunity to discover God’s love on their own, as He demonstrates His gentleness through us. God’s love is not harsh. It’s the kindness of God that leads men to repentance, to have that change of heart that draws them into fellowship with others so that love can heal them. Love leaves the door open so that people can find their way home again. No one has to feel awkward or uncomfortable. They should never have to feel disgraced or ashamed at coming home. There’s grace enough for everyone at God’s table. Just remember to leave the door open.