In observance of International Cat Day (August 8), Cynthia Friesen Coyle offers some reflections on the biblical lessons that her cats have taught her.
We have five cats — plus one who died — and all of our cats have different personalities. What have I learned from my interactions with these felines?
The Coyle's five cats. Clockwise from top-left: Tiger, Ashley, Luna, Ash and Cherry.
Chloe — the one who died of old age
Chloe was my husband, James' cat before we got married. So, when James moved in, so did Chloe. While I had cats when I was growing up, I had never had a fully indoor cat before. Chloe was a cuddly cat. But about a year after we got married, she started interacting with me differently. She wanted to be on my lap and hug my shoulder with her front paws, laying her head close to my neck. It was a very marked difference, and she kept it up for a long time. About 1 ½ years later, we discovered we were expecting a child. While I had had a lot of interaction with teens in a youth group I helped lead, I had not had a lot of interactions with babies. As I look back at the cat experience, I often wonder if God used our cat in this creative way to prepare me to hold my own child.
Cherry Blossom (Bomb)
We got Cherry to be our daughter, Rebekah's cat. Cherry has always had a very sweet personality (Blossom) until something happens, and then, she may bite or scratch (Bomb), whether that may be a person or a wall. We were very happy with just one cat, but then, we went on a family service trip to Koinonia Farm in Georgia with Service Opportunities with Our Partners (SOOP). Rebekah fell in love with a little stray kitten, and we ended up bringing her home with us. Boy, did the fireworks fly when Cherry discovered there was another cat in the house! She was no longer queen of the pad, and she let us know. Her personality changed, and she no longer wanted to cuddle with us very much, she would not play with any toy that the other cat played with and did little acts of "revenge," like peeing on the carpet. It took several years, but she finally let it go and came to peace with the other cats and with us. She is back to the sweet personality she had ... even sweeter than before! Cherry is an example of what happens when we hold on to grudges and resentment and what happens when we can let those things go.
Ashley is our Southern Koinonia cat. She was a small, round, fluffy kitten when we brought her back home. It was hard to tell her age; we thought she might be around 5-6 months old. I was thinking we had a little time before we needed to think about getting her spayed. Low and behold, she got pregnant about two weeks later! A teen mom! The night she gave birth, Rebekah and I were at a retreat, and James was home alone. He helped Ashley get comfortable with her two little kittens.
The next day, we discovered Ashley was still in pain and rushed her to the vet. One kitten had failed to come out, and Ashley had to have emergency surgery to save her life. As a result of the surgery, she could not give as much milk as she normally would have been able to. So, I became "mom #2." Every two hours around the clock for about 1 ½ months that summer, I mixed up cat milk formula and fed the kittens with eyedroppers and then gave the kittens to Ashley to clean and nurse. We kept Ashley and the kittens in our bedroom because Cherry did not like Ashley at the time. If I didn't get up in the middle of the night, Ashely would hop onto the bed and tap my face with her paw.
Despite her young age, Ashley turned out to be a VERY good mother. She was protective of her kittens and moved them whenever she felt danger was around. She stuck beside her kittens and was attentive to their needs. As time went on, Ashley started leaving the room more and even went outside some. But, if we ever put one of the kittens to the window and they meowed, Ashley would bolt into the house and up to our room to see what was needed. Ashley taught her kittens to clean themselves, how to use the litter box and how to hunt. Sometimes, all three of them would be stalking a bird or digging after moles in our backyard. To this day, these three cats check in on each other and have a bond.
We had planned to give Ash and Luna — Ashley's two kittens — away. But they wormed their way into our hearts, so we kept them. They both have a way of sensing when someone in our family is feeling down or just needs some extra attention — especially Luna. She will lay down with us on the bed, snuggling up as close as possible and fall asleep. It is like love and acceptance all wrapped in one. James has felt a special bond with Luna because of this.
Luna is also a very protective cat and wants to make sure we are all accounted for. If she is outside when we start to go for a walk, she will start to follow us. On several occasions, we were about 3 blocks from home only to hear a meow and turn around to see Luna. She will not turn back home unless we do, and then, she trots beside us all the way back home.
Ash is our talkative cat. He makes his desires known by meowing very loudly and looking at you directly in the eye. If he wants to go outside, he will meow at you by the door. If he wants to come in, he will meow loudly until you let him in — even if that is in the middle of the night. He reminds me of the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-18). Ash persists until his need is met — even when the lights are out, and the door is closed.
Tiger was the last to join our family. We never got Cherry spayed, because Rebekah wanted Cherry to have kittens someday. For four years, Cherry went into heat very regularly, but no kittens. Then, half a year after Ashley had kittens, Cherry got pregnant! She ended up having 4 kittens under Rebekah's bed. Unlike Ashley, Cherry was not a very good parent. She was disinterested in her kittens and did the bare minimum. One kitten died. If Cherry felt danger was around, she would run, leaving her kittens behind, and we would have to move the kittens to Cherry. The moment 6 weeks came around, she was done with the whole mom thing and wouldn't let the kittens nurse anymore. We could only find homes for two of the kittens, so Tiger stayed on with us.
Tiger is our biggest cat and has been our most inquisitive. He learned how to open the drawers in the bathroom and fish out Q-tips to play with. He can open doors that are mostly closed. He was the first one to realize that if he scratched on our bedroom door at night, we might wake up and take action. For the longest time, he slept right outside Rebekah's door at night or on her bed. His presence was a comfort to her.
Our cats go in and out of our house all day. They play hard. But they also rest. Sometimes we look around the living room and every comfy surface has a cat sleeping on it in the middle of the day. They remind us of the need for balance in our own lives.
We have felt blessed in so many ways by our cats. They bring us companionship and constant entertainment. They also bring a peaceful presence to our house.