Today we lost our kitten, Emily Whitefoot Nunnink.
Lily gave her the name Emily and the rest of us tacked on “Whitefoot” to make things more interesting. Pet names should be a little on the weird side.
We only had her for two weeks but she managed to work her way into our hearts in that short amount of time. She was an amazingly playful little ball of fluff. She couldn’t resist attacking anything that moved. To get her to come out from under the couch, all you had to do was make your hand look like a wounded wildebeest (or just jerk it around a bit) and she’d pounce. She was also something of a Spider Man/Cat. This was a regular sight: Emily, spread-eagle, six feet up our screen door, staring at you with a grim I-mean-business expression that only a cat can have. She also liked to be cradled like a baby. I would pick her up and hold her close to my chest–her little pink paws almost up to her chin–and she would purr and close her eyes.
Early this morning Suzanne woke me out of a dead sleep with a voice that nobody wants to hear. It’s that awful something-is-seriously-wrong voice. She had come back from her early morning walk and found Emily in the driveway. “I think she’s dead,” she said and wanted me to go look. Sure enough, as I stumbled out into the driveway in my bathrobe, there was our little kitten. She didn’t look very bad, for a second I could’ve fooled myself into thinking she was asleep, but then I touched her. I’d held Emily countless times–a playful, warm, busy thing–but this thing was cold and stiff. There was no doubt.
(Ironically, as we pieced together the circumstances of the death, it became clear that this was the second of our kittens that my mom has indirectly killed. Another story for another time.)
Jack was the only other family member who was awake to see this scene in our driveway. Honestly, I wish it had been anybody but him. Lily, when she eventually heard the news, had a moment of finger-sucking remorse but quickly got philosophical about the situation and was ready to eat her cereal. Jack, on the other hand, was crushed. Me and Suzanne sat on the couch holding our sobbing boy. This is where things got interesting.
“Pray that God will make her alive again,” he asked me, between sobs.
My first instinct was to blow it off and give some theological explanation on why we just needed to except our kitty’s death. But I couldn’t do that. My entire life, my eternity, is staked on the belief that God raised a man from the dead. If he raised one man, why not a kitten? It certainly wouldn’t be too hard for the one who breathed life into the cosmos to breathe life back into a kitten. But, of course, God wouldn’t raise our kitten from the dead. It was stupid to even ask, right… Right?
But if Jack had the faith to ask, why wouldn’t I?
So we went out onto the porch. I had placed Emily’s body in a paper bag next to the door. I put my arm around Jack and knelt and I put my other shaking hand on the bag (I wasn’t brave enough to reach in and touch the dead cat). I think that might have been the most faithless prayer that ever came before the throne of God. But I had to ask him. I don’t even remember the words but you can picture them. Something along the lines of: “Uh, God, if you could maybe heal Emily and bring her back. We still trust you if you don’t.” Etc. Mostly trying to hedge so I didn’t look like a complete idiot when nothing happened. I sure wasn’t about to shout: “Emily Whitefoot, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, LIVE!” But still, a very small part of me hoped for a miracle: to feel that bag stir and hear a sound of life from inside.
But nothing happened.
“Does it take a long time?” Jack asked, still crying.
That was a bad moment. I hugged Jack and told him that God wasn’t going to bring Emily back and we needed to bury her.
Maybe someone reading this is thinking that the reason Emily didn’t come back was because I didn’t have faith. You’re wrong. I would swear on the Bible that you’re wrong. And what’s more, you’re mean. Sure, I made Doubting Thomas look good on that porch, but don’t tell me Jack’s faith wasn’t up to snuff. He has more faith in his pinkie than any faith healer. If God worked up miracles based off of our faith then Emily and every dead cat within 100 miles would have been raised this morning. Instead, God looked at that little boy’s broken heart, heard his faithful prayer and said, “No”.
Or did he say, “Wait”? Wait, Jack. Just wait.
“Does it take a long time?” Jack asked. Yes, buddy, it does. It takes a very long time. But just wait until you see how this thing ends. Then you’ll get it. You’ll understand why God said no. And it will all be worth it.
We buried Emily under a big oak in our yard. We made a little cross to mark her grave and wrote this on the cross: “Emily Whitefoot, Romans 8:19-22”. Here’s what Romans 8:19-21 says:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Emily, along with the rest of nature, got a bad deal. Because of our sin, she died and didn’t get much of a life. But in the end Jack (and Emily, I think) will know, “it was worth it”.
Just a little bit down the page, Romans says: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good…” Even a dead kitten? Yes, “all things.” And the good that comes from the death of that kitten will be all the better because of the sadness.
Jack, this story isn’t over. God is answering your prayer in a better way then you can imagine.
Oddly enough, one year ago today, my Aunt Tracie died. Thinking about her makes all this cat stuff seem silly. How many times did God say “No” to our repeated prayers for her? And why did he do that? Was it just too hard to heal her? Not enough faith on our part? Or is something better in store?
So often in this life, we think we’re attending a funeral. Especially when we’re attending a funeral. We look at the death and sadness around us and think this is what life is all about. Dress up in black, visit the casket, cry, and go home because there’s nothing else to see, no more stories to tell. All the pain and suffering that preceded the casket only adds up to a casket. The end.
But we’re wrong.
Here’s a scene: It’s dark and you can almost taste pain in the air. You hear screaming and straining and blood is on the floor. Someone is writhing in a bed and people are shouting and weeping. If you were thrown into this scene, you might think you were in a torture chamber. But now listen to what they’re shouting: “Here it comes! Just a little more! I can see the head! Almost there! Good job!” You realize those tears are tears of joy. This is no torture chamber, this is a birth! In a moment the scene changes from horror to joy.
This life is no torture chamber, it’s no funeral, although it would be so easy to mistake it so. All this present pain and suffering is building up to a glorious, joyful, eternal birth.
One last picture: Jesus, in the garden. He asks God to take away the pain that lies before him. God says, “No”. Jesus is taken, tortured, crucified, and dies. Stop there.
What a story! It’s almost a nihilist fairy tale, no? A good man, a perfect man, begs God to spare him and God shakes his head. What a fool to hope in God to the end! What a horrible world, where this Galilean is murdered in such a way!
And yet Christians adore that day and remember it with tears of joy. Why? Because the story did not end at the cross and in the tomb. The culmination of the cross overshadowed and made glorious its pain.
I cannot imagine how the death of an angel like Aunt Tracie or even a kitten that will not rise from the dead is somehow laying a foundation of eternal joy; just how the terrified disciples on Good Friday could not comprehend how their master on a cross would become the Good News that would change the world.
But I have so much hope.
If all this pain and death will be transformed by the birth that is coming, then what a birth we should expect! What a day is in store for us!
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Jack, just wait and hope. You won’t be disappointed.