Cat Scratch Fever

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I am a dog person.

I would have stood behind a panel of jurors and declared that fact with unwavering certainty. If I were on trial for loving dogs, I would have gone to jail. I was not only a dog lover, I was a cat hater! I was equally passionately sure that I did not like and would never like cats!

Enter Peter.

I don’t know what happened.

Just as much as I cannot imagine my life without my pooch, I am equally smitten with this kitten! You could chalk it up to him being a baby, no doubt that doesn’t hurt, but I don’t love him for his looks even though he is cute as a, well, a kitten! I love him because he is Peter. He is boisterous and fast, feisty and fun! He can tire himself out running after my feet only to turn around and find him cuddling with one of the dog’s toys sucking his paw. (Yes! He sucks his paw! How sweet is that?!)

I’m so glad I met Peter. I’m so glad my daughter was down-right ridiculously set on getting a cat. I am so glad that despite years on animosity toward the feline kind, I opened up my heart to love that which I once was sure I hated.

There are aspects of cats that I’m not altogether crazy about – changing out litter would be on the top of my list, but I don’t mind doing those things because I know who I’m doing it for and Peter is worth it. I value him; he is like a child to me. Scratches fade away in the comforting purr of a contented kitty.

And as a child of God, this challenges me.

It should challenge all of us.

How many times have we decided based on first impression or past experiences that we hate certain people? Now the Jesus loving side of us will reject that word vehemently, “I don’t HATE them. I just don’t like them.” The older I get, the more I live, the more I realize that you can’t truly love someone you don’t like. You can’t.

In us, if we are Christ followers, beats a heart not bound by judgement or prejudice. It’s the heart of God, and we can choose to follow that heart or set up walls of derision. The danger is when we begin to mistake our heart for the heart of God. I think it was Ann Lamott that said, “You have created God in your own image when you find He hates all the same people you do.”

God loves.

How, we wonder? How can He love the selfish and the sinful, the righteous and the rebellious? How? Well, He knows us. We aren’t a mass of people relegated and viewed through the prejudiced eyes of flesh that chooses to look past frailties and base judgements on momentary actions. We are individual, specific, intimately known and consequentially loved.

Before I knew Peter, I had lumped him in a category called “cats” in a pile called “not interested.” In fact, it took quite a bit of convincing by my daughter to even consider having a cat! She was persistent. She KNEW I would love him. “Mom, you know you’ll fall in love. You love everyone! You will love my cat.” I wasn’t so sure.

I was allergic.

That’s what I told myself, and to be honest, I was convinced I was! I would get a dry feeling in my throat, my skin would itch, my eyes would water. Allergy. Has to be. Ironically, I have none of those symptoms with Peter.

We convince ourselves of the same things, “I can’t be around that person.” Instead of itch, they make us twitch. Instead of watering eyes, we squint our eyes, watching for any and every excuse to NOT have to accept them – whoever they are. And you know who they are. You’ve spent a lot of energy distancing yourself from them.

But what if, your fears and insecurities have you missing out on Peter? What if beyond a category or a predetermined prejudice you got to know the person? It changes things. So, do so at your own risk. But, you will lose nothing, and you just might gain more than you ever knew you were missing! I challenge you, please, open your heart, and the mind will follow.

Removing Splinters

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“I’m not one to judge… but…”

I knew what was coming, the same thing that comes anytime anyone starts any conversation with those words – judgment. I struggle with that. I think Jesus struggled with that, too. The same Lord that warned us, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (Matt. 7:1) and the very God who cautioned, “The same measure that you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2), He wasn’t lax on this issue of judgment; in fact, of all the things He reprimanded the “religious” for, this was consistent.

What is in us that wants to judge?

Comparison.

That’s the nuts and bolts of it. We haven’t evolved past Cain and Able. We still feel the need to compare ourselves with one another, and lets face it when we can point the finger at a more public, more destructive sin, we will do it. Why? Because in the shadow of those failures, our gossip and little white lies don’t seem like anything that matters.

Jesus addressed judgment with the analogy of a log and a splinter:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

I’ve been there. I’ve been the pointer and the accused. But it truly wasn’t until I had to fill the shoes of the accused that I could fully understand how the logs and the splinters must be dealt with.

Jesus wasn’t saying they don’t exist or that we should ignore them. He was bringing attention to the flaw, not excusing it, to help us to see that we must first inspect ourselves before we can even begin to correct another. But that is also the mystery of it, because as you see your flaws and imperfections, when you become aware that you have something in your life that humbles you before God and man, then you are much more gentle in the splinter removal.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

The other day Lily got a piece of glass in her foot. She limped around until finally I convinced her to let me look at it. Reluctantly and with great fear she grabbed her foot, letting me have only the shortest (and non helpful) look. I could sympathize. I have been there – clutching my foot, crying, begging my mom NOT to get out the needle! I got her fear. As I gently pulled her foot back to me, I told her a story, a story of a splinter in a kitchen when I was exactly her age with my mom and my grandma and grandpa. I shared with her the absolute fear I felt because I didn’t know what was coming. And something happened, in the telling, in the sharing, in the confession, she relaxed. She loosened her grip and her eyes lost that stark white stare as she relinquished her foot to my care.

And that’s exactly what removing logs to help with splinters looks like.

Compassion.

As we gently approach one another with the confession and story of a life where we stumbled and fell but found the strength in Christ to get back up again, when we tell them, and remind ourselves anew, of the love that met us when we were convinced we would be disowned, we become credible, and the difficult work of healing seems more tangible, more possible, and less frightening. I think that is the very point Jesus was making – before you point out your neighbors struggle, deal with your own, and then you will see better to help them… because empathy begets compassion, and compassion doesn’t stand at a distance and point, it reaches out.