My eyes flew open the morning of my forteith birthday to sunlight streaming through white sheer curtains beside my bed in Helen’s cabin, the other guests sound asleep. Tears welled up as I recalled the intimate moments shared with dear friends the evening before and the overwhelming thoughts that the day held much more in store. At home, my darling husband was preparing a magnificent surprise party for me of enormous proportions. “What I have here and now is enough, God. How could I possibly take in any more?".
I grew restless under my cozy blankets and knew finding dreamy sleep again would be impossible. In order to burn off anxiety and redirect flooding overcoming feelings, I prepared for a run. I muffled the Velcro sounds of my ipod armband and stealthily slipped on my crisp new white and blue Asics running shoes. I inched my way to the floor silently to stretch my tight calves and aching legs. I stepped onto the wooden board cabin porch and marveled at the perfect day spread before me, deeply breathing in lung fulls of the fresh mountain air.
I prayed, “What is that You want to teach me for the next forty years? I’m putting myself on alert to Your ways and words for me this morning.”
After my first footfalls down the winding gravel driveway toward the country road, the first song in the ipod shuffle caught my attention and my heart “You are mindful even when sparrow falls”, in a soft song by Fernando Ortega. I considered this to be the beginning of an answer to my prayers minutes earlier, and took it in as my theme song for my forty-first year.
I set a slow distance run pace past new spring growth and dew covered cobwebs waving from budding trees lining the road, and the energy exerted after a few miles took the edge off the angst building inside me.
Back across from Helen’s driveway I slowed to a cool down walk, and I noticed that a neighbor’s chocolate brown horse acknowledge me as he sauntered my way just short of petting distance. I paused at his fence and spoke to him, “Were you coming to wish me a happy birthday?” He huffed a nice wet lip blowing snort and took the remaining step within my reach. I stroked his muddy neck and long fuzzy nose and wondered aloud, “Is it your birthday too big fella? Thanks for greeting me.” When he tired of the affectionate exchange, he clopped back beside his other horse buddy standing aloof in the field.
I found Elaine awake inside the cabin and invite her to join me on Helen’s deck overlooking the mountains at the main house. She slapped on some clothes and we hoofed it down to the driveway to find chairs wet with dew. I brought out towels from the kitchen and wiped a morning perch mostly dry to observe the brilliance of nature. Elaine identified bird calls for me as we watched the fog fading from the hollows. Helen’s daughter, Abigail, walked by, flashlight in hand, and a sullen look. “What’s wrong Abby?”
“I’m looking for my cat, Whiskers. She always comes to breakfast and she’s been missing since yesterday.” Prayer flew up for a meow to make it’s way to the food bowl before this family left on vacation the next day.
Claire and Susan joined Elaine and I on the deck for a short while. After a while, I announced my need for breakfast and I scooped up the damp towels and carried them to Helen’s laundry room. The gals were nowhere in sight or in calling distance when I walked back outside, so I assumed they’d made their way back to the cabin, so there I trailed. I turned on the oven in the empty cabin and went in search of my missing friends.
In the peaceful walk, I heard a brief strange noise in the distant woods. “Doesn’t sound like Whiskers, but what if it is?” I thought. I briskly entered the woods calling, “Kitty. Kitttttyyyyy. Is that you?” I paused from crunching leaves under my feet for a response.
“Just a little further” I say to myself, “And then I’ll head back to the main house”.
“Kitty. Whiskers. Here kittttyyy, kitty” I heard a far away dog bark and another bob cattish noise. Suddenly I questioned the wisdom and safety of me walking alone in the woods toward a wild cat noise. “It could be Abby’s cat. I’d better keep going". I didn’t hear anymore noise and I realized I could no longer see the main house or the cabin. I pondered a feeling of internal leading in my gut. Off in the distance, up on a hill, I spied Jake, Helen‘s Springer Spaniel. When he realized I’d seen him, he barked, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, his woof instantly reminded me of Lassie’s the-boy-is-trapped-in-the-well-scene. “Do you have the kitty, Jake?” I called out. He barked again in a “Yes” reply. I took off running over fallen limbs and trees. Jake did’nt move a muscle to come to me. When I reached him, I saw he was guarding a suffering half dead cat. It had pelted rain all night and thundered like nobody’s business, and there lay Whiskers on his side wet and severely convulsing on the ground behind Jake. He couldn’t lift his head to respond to me. I hesitated to touch Whiskers for fear of disease or snakes , and I tore off in the direction of the main house calling to Helen’s husband, Clay. It took a while to reach him in the laundry room and I urgently whispered, “Get your gun and follow me. Don’t ask questions till we get outside.” When we were outside and out of range children’s listening ears, I explained the situation. On the long haul he asked, “Where exactly are you taking me? And please explain how it is that you’ve found our cat so far into the woods.” Clay shook his head in disbelief looking down at Whisker’s pulsing body. He did not touch the cat either but turned him completely over with a stick to examine the cat’s fur for bites or tears in the flesh. He turned to me and murmured, “No way I can shoot my children’s cat. They’d never forgive me. Please find Helen for me, so I can figure out what to do.”
Helen brought a blue terry cloth towel and gently wrapped up Whisker’s shaking form and held him in her arms. “He purring”, she solemnly announced. “Let’s take him to the vet as a symbolic gesture and let him put him to sleep and out of this misery.“ I took the gun from Clay, turned, and let tears roll down my face as I walked heavily back to the cabin staring at the ground as I stepped. When I raised my head, Elaine, Claire and Susan stood waiting on the porch, “Did you find the cat? Is it dead?”
“Not yet, but it won’t be long.” I replied. Claire, always full of hope exclaimed, “I just can’t see God showing you that cat in the middle of the woods to have it die anyway.” My half hearted prayers echoed the same without the faith to back them up.
I was responsible to fix breakfast and was glad to have a chore to get my mind off the situation. From the kitchen window I saw Helen and Clay zip by in their truck on the way to the vet.
Abigail came up to the cabin steps and I invited her inside. Her parents had let her say, “Goodbye” to Whiskers, but she had no interest in seeing her cat put to sleep. Abby and I chatted about school and movies while my friends took over the breakfast chores. Soon Helen’s other children moseyed up the driveway to join us at the breakfast table in the cabin.
Forty minutes later, Helen called asking to speak to Abby. I averted my eyes from Abby as she spoke with her mother.
What happened next, I did not expect. Abby informed us all that Whiskers had probably had an overdose of flea medication, that the vet had seen cats survive much worse poisoning, and Whiskers was more than likely going to be fine after flushing his system out with IV’s over the next few days.
Joy flooded the room. I’d had experienced a true birthday miracle. Hope in the midst of hopelessness. A resurrection. I was certain this experience offered further fulfillment of the earliest prayer of the day to consider my upcoming lessons with God.
Then I out of nowhere, I was overtaken by terrible pangs of guilt. My mind flashed back to the moment in which I asked Clay to shoot the cat to stop its suffering. When Clay returned home I flew up to meet him at the barn and apologized. He graciously accepted.
As we cleaned up from breakfast, the family invited my friends and I up to the barn to see my birthday present. I joked with Helen, “If my present is in your barn, it must be you’ve fixed up the antique BMW you keep there for me. Thanks! You shouldn’t have.”
The present wasn’t the BMW after all, but something of which I‘d never dreamed. Helen and Clay had totally refinished a gorgeous antique cedar lined chest for me that had once belonged to Clay’s mother. They hauled it in their truck to my house for the party.
The hour and a half drive back to Loudon from Deer Lodge helped me recover from all the emotion of the morning and allowed me to collect my thoughts for the upcoming celebration.
The cedar chest is now sitting across the room from me at the foot of my bed reminding me that I am loved by the dearest of people and a God who is mindful even when a sparrow falls.
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