When I lived in Nashville in the late nineties, I was a “frequent shopper,” so to speak, at the Humane Society. I would stop by a couple times a week and donate supplies, take a look at all the pets, and check on which ones had been adopted. Every now and then if there was a particularly challenged animal, malnourished or with a coat in a bad way, I would take it home and nurse it until it became more adoptable.
There was one cat, Max, that especially drew my attention. One cold night, Max had crawled under the hood of a car and onto the still-warm engine. When the owner of the car started up the engine the next morning, he heard the loud cry as Max’s back received an awful wound, about six inches long. The owner of the car was kind enough to bring Max to the shelter and the vet did what he could, but Max was a sorry sight. He had no fur left on his back and the fur he did have on the rest of his body was odd to say the least. It was as if every remaining hair had decided that it was “free-reign-on-how-to-grow-dog-hair” day and seemed to point in at least a dozen directions.
“What breed of cat is Max?” I asked one day.
“I don’t think Max has any particularly dominating breed,” the girl cleaning out the cages said. “He’s a bit of everything, but he is one of the most loving animals we have ever housed. He seems to have really bonded with you!” The feeling was decidedly mutual, and I took Max home with me.
This “unlovely” one, who chose to remain loving despite the twists and turns on his path, profoundly touched me. He was one of the sweetest animals I have ever had the joy of loving. It seemed to me that his devotion came from someone seeing beyond his wounds to his wonderful heart. He rewarded that love with warmth and was the gentlest animal I have ever known. He also had quite an unusual meow. The vet thought it likely that his vocal chords had been crushed in the accident, but I loved the sound. It gave Max a meow like a cat in a Broadway show. As I think about Max now, I think what drew me to him was his willingness to fully show up despite his appearance.
I have struggled with that for most of my life. From childhood I had carried a deep sense of shame. The impact of my father’s brain injury on me was that the dad who once adored me seemed to change his mind and ended up hating me. I wasn’t sure what he saw, but I knew it must be terrible so I determined that no one would ever get close enough again to see what he saw. I spent almost thirty years trying to hide behind a conveniently high wall of ministry where I longed to be known yet dreaded it even more…then a battered and bruised cat pressed through my defenses to show me what it looks like to persevere in love, no matter how broken the road.
So here is the truth, as I understand it today from God’s Word. Just as you are right now you are totally loved by our Father. There is nothing you did to earn it. There is nothing you can do to change it. All we can do is run to it and allow our Father to embrace us.
If you, like me, have ever felt like a stray, like one who is unlovable--don’t be surprised when God’s love perseveres and takes you in.
“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14