Recently the kids and I found a stray kitten along the side of the road. When I say kitten, I mean tiny fur-ball-with-tail, fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand size kitten. While this description may conjure up adorable calendar-worthy pictures in your head, this kitten was—how shall I put it—repulsive. Let’s just say she had eye “issues.” Still, eye infection or no, we couldn’t leave her, so we took her home with us. Since Jim is an animal lover, much more in practice than I am in theory, she settled in to await adoption. (The first order of business was clearing up the eye goo which increased her curb-appeal ten-fold.) We were soon the family to be avoided as the rumor circulated that we were desperately trying to give away a kitten.
Unfortunately, Bootster (admittedly a less than stellar name lovingly bestowed by Sam) didn’t last long enough to know that she was unwanted. One morning a few days after she arrived, Bailey woke us to say that Bootster was dying. Jim and I hurried downstairs to discover the kitten in obvious pain and quickly fading. Jim and Bailey took her to the vet where she was “put to sleep” (a phrase surely created to terrify children into never closing their eyes again). Each of the kids reacted in their own way—Bailey crying, Sam acting as if nothing were the matter, Maggie immediately going to draw a picture for Bootster, and Andrew standing poking at the body and saying “booboo?”
But later in the day things got really interesting. We were holding graveside services for our little furry friend when I suddenly realized that Maggie and Andrew (four and two respectively) had no idea what we were doing. As far as they knew, we were getting ready to bury Bootster alive. I had sudden visions of them trying this out on one another and gently tried to guide them away before Jim threw on the first pile of dirt. Alas, I was too late and Andrew threw his hands up in outrage as he watched Daddy “being mean” to kitty. I tried to explain but as the words were coming from my mouth I realized the absurdity of what I was trying to convince him of. Had it been one of my own would I have so glibly said “Child X (I can’t even bring myself to insert one of their names) is in a better place? He/she is with Jesus and waiting for us in heaven.” Heck no! I would have been right there along side Andrew, throwing my hands up in protest to heaven and begging for him/her to be spared.
As Maggie began to chime in, probing about the process by which we enter paradise, I realized how hypocritical we are with our kids when we try to whitewash death. Or maybe I am not so much a hypocrite but rather one who is greatly lacking in faith. It’s easy to believe that kitty is better off. After all she was a bit smelly and, frankly, a pain in the rear to take care of. But would I be willing to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to those I love, who are a bit smelly as well and often a pain in the rear but who are also the center of my small world? I pondered these things while I watched the kids play at Taylor Lake that afternoon, marveling at how quickly they seemed to recover. I sit here now, calling up each of their dear faces, half paralyzed in fear at the thought of them being taken from me. My conclusion? God knows how small I am and how very limited is my thinking. He doesn’t ask me to understand His ways, only to take His hand as I walk away from the graveside of my expectations, hopes, and dreams and trust that Daddy isn’t really being mean after all.
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