Feeding the Cat
Upon moving into the house, one of the first purchases my wife made for our new home was a foam-green plastic food and water bowl for our new-to-us cat. Not being one who is comfortable being glared at by a cat that doesn’t care if I live or die, I wasn’t about to spend a lot of money on it. I was also determined not to get it too spoiled. I failed at that last part, but I’ll come to that later. On my next trip to Wal-Mart I purchased the cheapest dry cat food I could find. It’s called “Special Kitty” and costs about four dollars for a five pound bag. It must be good, because it claims not only to be “gourmet,” but the package also says it comes in “fun shapes.”
Really? Fun shapes? You mean this cat ate yesterday’s food without a complaint, but today when it walks onto the porch it’s going to pause, take one look at this new food and think to itself, “This is going to be a GREAT meal! Look at all the fun shapes!” Who at the Special Kitty factory thought to themselves, I bet if we print “fun shapes” on the package it will sell more?
On that first day we moved into the house, and before we even had a chance to have our own lunch, Barbara made sure the cat had food and water. And sure enough, not caring who put the food out, the cat appeared on the front porch to eat its food. It didn’t seem too impressed with the fun shapes.
Naming the Cat
Now that we were the unwitting but acquiescent owners of an unfriendly, feral feline, our first order of business – besides feeding it the fun shapes – was to determine its gender and give it a name. Regarding the gender, this cat wasn’t in too much in a hurry for us know one way or another. It never stayed around the house very long after eating and didn’t seem too interested in satisfying our curiosity on the subject. However, one day it decided to lounge upon the porch in such a fashion that when it stretched out, it afforded us an unquestionable view of his maleness. Question number one answered.
Now that we had this vital piece of information, we could now move onto giving this cat a name. Since we were new homeowners, simply calling it “The Cat” seemed too impersonal. As a name, “The Cat” worked if you were renting a home and petting an unknown neighbor’s cat, but since we were now homeowners it seemed only right to give this cat a proper name. Not that the cat cared, but at least Barbara and I knew who we were talking about.
At first, we didn’t really know what to call it. One day Barbara, in a fit of very weird humor, said we should name the cat “Will,” as in “Will Feral.” Cute. But I’ve never been a fan of the actor whose name we were about to destroy, so I vetoed that. Finally we simply settled on Gato, which is Spanish for “cat.” And Gato it is.
Now that we owned a male cat named Gato, we dutifully fed this cat morning and evening. Gato would arrive on the porch early in the morning and wed run out to make sure he had food and water. We’d put the food down and go back in the house, for only when the door closed would Gato climb the stairs and eat his food. When he reappeared in the evening we’d repeat the process. When other cats, pretend cats, poser cats that weren’t nearly as pretty and regal as our Gato came up on the porch to eat our cat’s food, we chased them away shouting invectives and promising dire consequences if they ever appeared again. And because they were cats, they ignored us without hesitation or remorse.
However, I wasn’t satisfied with just feeding Gato. I began to suspect that we didn’t have a cat so much as a cat had us. Gato wasn’t here for our enjoyment; we were here at his beck and call. My friend Debbie Pope put everything in proper order when she said, with a big smile emanating through her lightning-fast typewriting fingers, “You’re a sucker. Cats are brilliant. Gato played you like a game of cards.” Yep. Gato had twenty-one and I’m going bust buying cat food in fun shapes. It was time to turn the tables.
The next time I brought food out to Gato I didn’t go in the house. Instead, I sat down in the rocking chair on the porch and waited. Sure enough, Gato finally came up the stairs and froze when he saw me. But I too was frozen, making sure I didn’t do anything that would scare him. His bowl was at least eight feet away, but Gato was still very cautious. He approached the bowl watching me the entire time and finally started to eat. If I even moved my foot an inch Gato raised his head in a fearful way that was more flight than fight. But he continued eating, so I began sitting on the porch a twice a day just to get him used to me. If he didn’t want to eat that was fine, but if he did he was going to have to do so in my presence. Now, Miss Pope, who was playing who?
One warm summer morning I took my own breakfast out on the porch. As I sat there eating my eggs and drinking my coffee, Gato eventually came up the porch stairs but paused and looked at me before eating his own food. He lifted his and sniffed the air in my direction. I put my plate on the floor between my feet and sat still. Gato came over, cautiously, and began to lick the egg yolk from the plate until it was gone.
I was onto something.
The next morning I did the same thing. Gato came up and looked at me, and I set the plate down between my feet. This went on for a few days. Then one morning as Gato was eating and I was keeping perfectly still, I felt a mosquito breakfasting on the back of my leg. Now I was faced with an interesting choice: I could swat at the mosquito and scare Gato, or I could endure the pain and maintain Gato’s trust.
You should have seen the size of that welt when the mosquito was finished.
Random Lesson #1 – Earning trust requires selflessness and pain. More than wanting relief from a hungry mosquito, I wanted Gato to trust me. If I betrayed that trust to protect myself, I’m sure it would have taken weeks to get him to come close to me again. I endured the pain to maintain the relationship.
Isn’t that what God did for us? Endure the pain to maintain the relationship? Many people think they have to behave a certain way before God will love them. Even some church-going people have a long list of do’s and don’ts they think they must obey in order to guarantee God continues to keep them on His good list.
But God doesn’t love us because we obey; He loves us because He chooses to. The death of Jesus didn’t give God the tools or avenue to love us. Instead, His existing love was the avenue that made the pain of Calvary possible. Likewise, it wasn’t Gato’s job to earn my trust. It was my job to prove I was worthy of His trust. In choosing to love Gato in the way that God first loved me, I learned again that sometimes we must endure some pain to maintain the relationship.