Ally (nicknamed "Mao" for the way her meow sounds) is nearly seventeen years old, but being a calico who is part Siamese, is small and thin and doesn't look much older than a kitten.
Most of my time at home is spent with this cat. I wake up in the morning, and there is the cat. I come home from work, and there is the cat. I go to bed, and here comes the cat. She also follows me into the bathroom, and has even tried to follow me into the shower a couple of times.
I've reflected a few times over the last year on the undeniable reality that my relationship with my feline friend is a great gift from God, given straight from his heart to mine. Ally brings me peace, diminishes my loneliness in the hours I regularly spend alone (which I had even living with my parents, who were both kept busy by work and sleep schedules that didn't usually match mine), and makes me feel genuinely wanted, cared for, and loved.
I know this all makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, but really? I'm actually not. I like animals, but I don't particularly obsess over them like most people titled "animal lovers" do. I really, genuinely do just love my cat, consider her a friend, and know my joy in life is enhanced for her presence in it.
For all the things this cat has done for me, I can't neglect to acknowledge the ways she teaches me about God. I know, I know -- it sounds crazy, right? But my relationship with my cat has taught me several valuable spiritual lessons, and I can't help but be aware of them.
#1 - God knows exactly when I plan to get up off the couch. Exactly.
My cat has this amazing sixth sense (is it really a "sixth" sense for an animal? I don't know...) that I hear all house cats have: she knows exactly when I'm about to get up off the couch. I'm not talking about her knowing when I'm getting up -- I'm saying that as soon as I think "I need to get up and go get this or do that," she comes and lays in my lap. Every. Time. Without fail.
Scripture says of God, "You know when I sit and when I stand." But my cat, and of course God, knows when I plan to sit and plan to stand. God knows the moves I'm going to make before I even finish formulating the idea in my mind, and he quickly moves to offer either his assistance or, like my cat, resistance.
#2 - God loves all of me, even the parts I don't like and know I need to change.
I remember one night several months ago I was laying in bed, probably crying, very upset about the fluffier areas of my tummy, thighs, etc. I struggle a lot with my weight, and some days I struggle more than others. My cat noticed I was in bed -- as she usually does -- and hopped up to join me. Immediately, she began to rub her face on my hands. "Aw," I thought, "my kitty loves me even though I have fluffy bits! She doesn't even care." It was around this time that she began kneading my belly in order to make a bed for herself.
Initially, I was upset, because I'm weird and it hurt my feelings that my cat noticed I pack a few extra pounds. But then I had a realization: she loved it. She was happy it was there. She thought it was nice.
I don't mean to say that God necessarily thinks everything about me is nice, but apart from my weight, I struggle a lot with negative perceptions of myself all around.
Believe it or not, this singular instance with a cat has reframed the way I pray about these things. Where I once despaired that God resented all the same parts of me that I do, I now have a glimmer of hope that he thinks I'm worth it, not in spite of, but even with what I think are glaring imperfections. He just wants me, even with all my quirks.
#3 - Silence does not mean God hates me
Sometimes I won't even notice my cat is hanging out with me because she is so quiet. It isn't even that she doesn't meow a lot (except when she's hungry, or to respond when I'm talking to her), she just moves so quietly. It's like she walks on air everywhere she goes. You can only hear her coming if it's the middle of the night and she wants to run up and down the stairs.
Most of us are used to not hearing God speak to us, but when we can't see him moving in our lives, we can become distressed and think he's ignoring us. Maybe he's actually just sitting there, loving us and waiting for us to acknowledge him and give him attention. And when we do acknowledge him, maybe he will simply want to cuddle. He's weird, just like my cat.
#4 - God willingly forgives, for the simple fact that he loves me
My cat hates being picked up. Go ahead -- try. She will let you know she doesn't like it, typically by an urgent "maaaaaow." But when you pick her up, she won't fight you. She doesn't wriggle or squirm, and doesn't try to jump away, even when she easily could.
She just lets you hold her, maowing though she may be.
Sometimes I have to hold her so my cousin can give her medicine. Sometimes I hold her because I just love her so much. Every time, she verbally protests. But every time I put her down, she is ready and waiting to be petted again. She wants to cuddle immediately.
In addition to this, my cat puts up with all kinds of weird things, and continues loving and cuddling us. Push her out of a room, and she wants back in. Forget to feed her, and she wants to nuzzle you (even after you've given he food!). Accidentally throw yourself down on the bed only to realize she was under the blanket and you have squished her (oops), and she scrambles out from under the blanket to lay with you.
I don't know if it's blasphemous, but this reminds me of Jesus' cross, and especially his words of forgiveness for the soldiers who put nails through his hands and feet. "Father, forgive them -- they know not what they do." Some random cat facts that go floating around include one which suggests that cats actually consider all humans to merely be stupid, oversized, extra-clumsy kittens. I believe this solely for the fact that my cat would only put up with my shenanigans if she felt sorry for me.
And that's why God puts up with me, too. Well, sort of. He feels sorry for me, but he also really, really freaking loves me. He hates my sin, but even while I'm sinning, he doesn't hurt me, and as soon as I've put it down, he wants to lavish his love on me again.
I know it sounds stupid, but I really do better understand all of these things about God because he put this cat in my life.
So, here's to you, Ally Mao. May the Lord grant you seventeen more years (mostly because I can't imagine my life without you).