I have an all-black cat, Jack. He's been with me since the day he was born, August 12, 1999.
I chose Jack to be my kitty out of his mama's litter because he was always the first kitty who ran toward my feet and tried to claw his way up my legs whenever I entered whatever room he was in. I decided it was because he loved me, but I knew it probably had more to do with the fresh milk I brought along.
Over these past nine years, Jack has run off every other kitty in his immediate vicinity. He's always been the alpha kitty. And did I mention he's huge? He weighs 20 pounds. Whenever he walks through the room when we have company, our guests always do a double-take and say something like, "Did you know there's a black panther in your house?" or "Wow, I thought that was a DOG at first!"
A few years ago, we tried to get a new kitty, Calvin, but Jack bullied him into leaving.
About a year later, we tried to get another new kitty, Katie, but Jack would have none of it. One day, Katie just didn't come back.
Whenever we move, which for poor Jack has been six times, we always experience yowling cat fights in the middle of the night for about our first month in our new home - Jack is declaring himself to be the alpha kitty once again.
I've always been quite proud of my alpha kitty. Jack is Da Man. Big and strong, and ain't no kitty gonna cross him.
Until we moved to our current home nine months ago. We heard the usual yowling in the night, but for the first time in Jack's life, he actually lost. I was shocked. How could Jack have lost? Wasn't he always the alpha kitty? Who'd been picking on poor Jack?
There were a couple of other cats around, but I never paid much attention to them. Then one day, I noticed that Jack's food supply had been disappearing at an unusual rate. He's huge, yes, but I knew how much he typically ate, and he must have really been scarfing down the chow.
Then one evening, as Jack sat curled next to me on the couch, I heard the cat door open and close. Aha! Jeff ran around to the outside and blocked the cat door while I tiptoed into the laundry room to catch...another black cat! Almost identical to Jack. Except smaller, and with a bushy tail, as opposed to Jack's pointy tail.
We caught the little female feline and brought her into the house. She didn't stay. The nearest open door found her scurrying back to her home, which turned out to be in our garage.
After a couple of weeks of feeding both Jack and his little black nemesis, the new alpha kitty, I begrudgingly accepted her presence in our yard and gave her a name.
As soon as Gracie was christened, we started trying to be nice to her. (At first, I'd tried to help Jack assert himself by hissing and clapping whenever Gracie came near. Poor Gracie.)
We worked for many months to get Gracie to warm up to us. She was quite friendly with everyone else in the world, but she still didn't trust the former clapping hisser yet. Every once in a while, I could get her to curl up in my lap for a few minutes, and she even purred for me on occasion.
Jeff was particularly grateful for Gracie because she was such a good mouser and made his job much easier. He even watched her catch a gopher once. And we think our sign that Gracie had finally allowed us into her space was the daily deposit of dead rodent we nearly tripped over on our front porch each morning.
So we had two cats. Jack and Gracie. They didn't really like each other, but they'd found a way to coexist. We all had.
Last Friday morning, I sat on my front porch in the early morning chatting with my mentor, who gently petted Jack in her lap. Gracie came trotting across the porch. With my hard heart, I narrowed my eyes at her and said, "That's right, Gracie. Keep walking. You're mean to Jack." She looked at me like she understood what I'd said and sauntered off.
It was Wild Day, so we weren't home all day. When we checked voicemail late that evening, there was a message from our neighbor. She'd found Gracie on her property and wanted to know if she belonged to us. She was checking with all the neighbors before Gracie was taken to the animal shelter.
It was too late in the evening to call our neighbor back, but Jeff got in touch with her early the next morning. They'd already taken Gracie to the animal shelter.
Jeff and I pondered. Gracie wasn't really our cat in the first place...she just happened to live in our garage when we moved in. And she was mean to Jack anyway. Maybe we should just leave her at the animal shelter. All she did was run up our cat food bill.
Then Jeff pointed out that she was a very good mouser.
And against my will, I sighed, "Gracie gone...But I saw her just this morning...she was walking across our porch."
And then I knew. Despite her having unseated my alpha Jack, despite her 'stealing' our cat food, despite her refusing to warm up to me while cruelly befriending all the cat-haters around, I knew. I loved Gracie. I couldn't leave her at the animal shelter.
So we left the boys at Grandma's house and drove into town as soon as the animal shelter opened. They showed us a picture of Gracie and said, "Is she yours?" We nodded. "Did you know she's pregnant?" No, we hadn't known. Well. Then I got my education about animal shelter people. They preached us a nice little sermon about letting 'our' cat get pregnant. How dare we. Very irresponsible. I wanted to bluster that she wasn't even really our cat, she just lived in the garage, but we cowered under the onslaught of political diatribe and kept our mouths closed.
And then we had to pay. For what? $18 because she spent the night. Hmph. I mumbled to Jeff, "We should bill the neighbors."
Gracie was brought to us in a white box with little holes cut into it. I spoke sweetly to her and put my fingers in the box to pet her. She began to purr immediately. I was thrilled that she felt happy to see me and viewed me as a safe place. First time ever!
After more instructions about how to help Gracie give birth when the time came (I couldn't help but say, "Yes, I've helped birth kittens before"), we made it out the door.
When we got to our car, I said to Jeff, "What's wrong with a cat getting pregnant?"
He scoffed, "Nothing."
"I didn't think so," I replied.
"They acted like she was our 14-year-old pregnant teenage daughter or something!" sputtered Jeff.
"I KNOW!" I said indignantly.
We drove off in a huff, glad to have Gracie back but irritated with the whole experience. I muttered to Gracie, "You better start being nice to me now. I rescued you from the animal shelter."
But something didn't seem quite right. It wasn't like Gracie to begin purring as soon as she encountered me. And her meow was just slightly...off.
We pulled into a parking lot and I said to Jeff, "You know, we never even opened the box to check and see if this cat is really Gracie."
We looked at each other. We looked at the box. Jeff rolled up the van windows, just in case. Then he opened the box and looked inside. "Uh..."
"Is it her?" I asked.
Then out popped the head of a black cat. It was a skinny head. A triangular head. I knew at a glance...it wasn't Gracie!
HA! We *hadn't* been irresponsible pet owners after all! We *hadn't* forced our cat to become impregnated by heartlessly keeping her outside! We *hadn't* been so negligent that we'd failed to notice a cat belly about to pop open.
We drove right back to the animal shelter, Jeff returned the mystery pregnant kitty, and we got our money back.
But where was Gracie? Had we even bothered to check whether or not she was missing in the first place? Well, noooooo...we hadn't been home. And we'd just assumed there were only two black cats in our neck of the woods. Ha, ha.
We called Grandma to tell her the cat had turned out to be a 'fake' and we'd had a pretty useless trip into town (except for the cat collars and tags we picked up at the pet store to put on our 'real' cats).
Grandma said, "Oh, you know, when those kinds of weird days happen, I just always think there must be some reason for it all."
"Well," I replied, "I know one good thing that happened. I realized I love Gracie. No matter what."
Nothing has really changed in my relationship with Gracie, except for the new pink collar she detests with the tag that says 'Good Kitty' on it. She's still wary of me and friendly to everyone else. She still asserts her alpha self over poor Jack, who, like a true gentleman, acquiesces to her royal demands. And she still deposits rodents on our front porch.
But there is one thing that has changed. My heart. My heart toward Gracie, yes, but also my heart toward God. Because now I understand a little bit better about His grace for me. Just as my love for Gracie is unconditional, God's love for me is so much more. Just as I know I will always love Gracie no matter what, I am sure that because of God's grace through His Son's payment for my sins, He will always love me. No matter what.
And that goes for you, too.