There are Christmas miracles: “yes! Home Depot had one last Chia Uncle Si in the back!”
Then there are Christmas miracles: “Twilight is home.”
Cats don’t always teach theology. But when they do, they do it very, very well.
For this particular parable, we need to reach back approximately three months, to the time of a certain cat’s adoption. When Twilight found her forever family — let’s call ’em the Undershepherds — we breathed a collective sigh of relief. The young tortie had been through so much in such a short period: surrender, sanctuary, adoption, return (three years later), Suite C.
But our rejoicing was premature. The ink had barely dried on the adoption contract before the unthinkable unfolded: a housesitter, a moment’s haste, an open door…a fugitive tortie.
Twilight vanished like fog.
Led by undaunted Danielle,* our staff and volunteers launched an upbeat APB. Twilight couldn’t be far. A few traps, a few neon signs, and she’d be back in her worried family’s arms. They’d only held her three weeks, but the bonds they shared had already become everlasting. No worries; we’d get her home.
Days passed. A week. Someone suggested we add a reward to the signs, which we readily did. More volunteers made more signs. Prayers rose. Pavement was pounded.
On muddy nights and windy autumn days, the volunteers persisted. Two in particular — hereby known as Mighty PD* and Conquering NM* — poured hundreds of hours of their lives into the search. Facebook lit up like a Christmas tree with prayers and wishes and leads that led only to empty traps and escaped hopes.
Autumn turned to winter. The signs dimmed in the harsh December sun, and every strip of black ice made us shiver at the thought of this thoroughly domesticated, never-feral-for-a-day tortie facing the elements on her own. The Undershepherds ached more than they could have imagined possible for a cat they’d barely known but fully loved.
Days grew shorter. Nights grew colder. Three snowstorms in a row beat the brains out of central NJ.
Danielle, PD and NM didn’t stop trapping and following every phone call. They trapped tabbies and raccoons and creatures of the night. No Twilight.
Nobody voiced the question out loud, but it arose, trying to choke hope at every turn: At what point would we give up?
In the immortal words of Michael Jackson, you don’t stop til you got enough.
“Enough” would be nothing short of “healthy, safe Twilight back home with the ones who’ve loved her through the mystery.”
One morning last week, at precisely 8:03 am, a text message screamed me to consciousness. Stumbling awake, I read and reread the message. We got Twilight! Could I be dreaming?
But it was real. News tumbled out in a torrent: She was safe — half her colossal weight at adoption, but safe and healthy and meowing up a storm. Her adopters were coming back to get her immediately if not sooner. She was healthy. She was back. She was back.
I must give credit to volunteer Larry for pointing out the obvious to me. With the Texas tilt to his voice, he grinned and said, “kinda adds something to that whole thing about the one lost sheep, doesn’t it?”
You may know the parable. As Jesus tells it:
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
That’s all very well and good. And we did rejoice, even more than we rejoice when someone donates 500 pounds of kitty litter. But there’s more:
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Please forgive me for getting unusually personal here. I confess I always had a bit of a hard time with the concept of “leaving the 99” and rejoicing more for that one bad boy than for all the good sheep who stayed put. As a dyed-in-the-wool “good girl” all my life, I pined for the full-on rejoicing I would, apparently, never hear.
But it turns out I wasn’t listening very carefully.
Here’s where Twilight got full-bore theological. Yes, we did “leave” the 99 other Tabby’s Place cats to find her. We didn’t make posters saying “NON-LOST CAT: VIOLET.” There was nary a mention of Natalie or Brielle on the weepy Facebook prayer threads.
But they’d been lost too.
No human is born “found” — or righteous. No Tabby’s Place cat lacked our full-on firepower of love. There are no “good girls.” There are no “non-needy homeless cats.” None of us have ever been, or will ever be, “the 99.” Every one of us has been the one worth everything the Shepherd has. The signs. The traps. The sacrifice. The rejoicing.
You’re lost when you think you’re better than someone. You’re lost when you think you’re worse than everyone. You’re lost when you think God owes you heaven. You’re lost when you think He’d never take you.
And then, over a lifetime and in a moment of glory, you’re found. The heavenly text message goes out: We got Fred! We got Michele! We got Flangela!
Great is the rejoicing.
So great, apparently, that the mere anticipation of our homecoming was enough to send the capital-S Shepherd all the way from heaven to a barnyard birth, to a life of love, to a cross of crushing, to a resurrection of victory.
Love doesn’t give up. You are never more than a breath away from being found.
And great, great is the Christmas miracle.
Epilogue: To put an exclamation point on the miracle, God saw fit that we should find not one, but both lost Tabby’s Place cats. Indeed there were two. Just before Twilight’s disappearance, Kylie — adopted to be an outdoor cat — went missing. Just before Twilight’s homecoming, Kylie came home, and was immediately readopted, as an indoor-only lapbaby. It is never too late. Great is our rejoicing.
*Who I admire more than I have words to express.