for release Friday July 18, 2003
by Melodie Davis
His face with scratched and bloody. His fur was matted and disheveled. And he painfully held his right rear leg aloft and let out a short, pitiful meow. He wasn't pretty, but he was home at last, and we greeted him like the prodigal son he was, petting and making over him, bringing him food and water, lavishing attention so he would always think of home as a good place to return to. Ceasar, the prodigal cat who had wandered away for a week, had come home, and his sins showed.
We really thought he was gone for good this time. We tried to rationalize when we thought something dire had happened to him that "at least we didn't have the pain of putting him down." We fantasized that he had wondered off as a regal and elder beast to join the great cat heaven in the sky. Stuart, my husband, had been not only hurt but miffed at his cat for wandering away. Stuart had built Ceasar a luxurious cat house on the perch outside our kitchen window - how many cats have their own cat house? So he had been thinking Ceasar didn't deserve his home if he was prone to wander off like that. But now, with the broken leg, Stuart's miffed-ness turned to sympathy, such as wondering how long Ceasar had suffered in pain, how hungry he must have gotten, and how had he ever made it home.
Reminds me of the Mike Yaconelli story where he talks about cows getting out on back roads and how in the community where he lived, if you hit a cow, you had to pay for it because it is your fault for not seeing it, not the cow's fault. So Yaconelli asked a farmer friend why the cows get out so much and the farmer replied, "Well, they're all kinda sitting there in the big feed pasture and they see a little green tuft of grass and they go over and start nibbling on it. Then they see another tuft of grass over there and they walk over and they start nibbling on that one. They see another one right by the fence and they go and nibble on that one. And then they see one on the other side of the fence and they kinda push their head through the fence and the next thing you know, they've nibbled their way to lostness."
I suspect it was that way for Ceasar, too. He might have gone down in the yard chasing a bird, then to the edge of the garden, then to the woods behind the garden seeing another bird or squirrel or cat. I doubt he intended to run away or end up lost and with a broken leg. It happened gradually, like us when we stray away from the people, home or morals we were brought up with. We stop going to church. We see something that looks inviting, fun to do, see or be. We flirt a little. We tell a little lie. We wear more provocative clothing. We fudge on taxes. Or we wander away from the goals we've set for career or parenting, and get distracted by the latest thing. But someone, at least God, is always waiting to take us home, take us back.
As the husband put it in the Robert Frost poem, "Death of the Hired Man" when the hired man comes back "home" to die: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take in." And the wife countered, "I should have called it something you somehow haven't to deserve." God's mercy is such that we are welcome back home whether or not we deserve it. As the parable of the "prodigal son" teaches us in the Bible, God is always willing to take us back: "While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion and ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). What a picture of God's love, mercy and acceptance. Ceasar showing up with his broken leg reminded me of the animal hospital I visited not long ago in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A wealthy woman there became ill with cancer, and she had 11 dearly-loved cats. The woman had no one in her family who could adopt all of her cats, so she arranged with a veterinarian's hospital to build a "Cat's Paradise,” and left enough money to take care of the cats for the rest of their lives.
The paradise consists of a three story "apartment" with a spiral metal staircase going up the center, which the cats love to dash up and down. On the first floor there is a twin sized bed, for those cats accustomed to sleeping on a regular bed. Throughout the three floors are cat lounges, beds, jungle gyms, climbing trees, and scratching posts galore. And on the top floor there is a little cat door to screened-in deck where the cats can go in and out at will to take a breath of fresh night air or curl up in the morning sun. Over the years the hospital has admitted other homeless/maimed cats to the little haven.
Somehow I don't think it is too much of a stretch to think of God as the rich lady with lots of cats she loved. This God has prepared for us a "paradise" with enough "money" to provide for all of our needs and wants to take us all in. This paradise has everything we could possibly need or want. Even if we have wandered off for a spell, even if we have fallen or gotten trapped and broken a limb or two, God is waiting and wanting to welcome us back when we "nibble our way to lostness."
Do you have a "prodigal" story to share? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 979 words; end material = 105 words
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