Things I’ve Learned From Furry Friends



“In God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”   Job 12:10 

In many ancient Egyptian households, cats were believed to be divine;  the death of a cat would be an occasion for great mourning.  They were beloved and often buried beside their owners.

We might think that this is superstitious, but the loss of a family pet today can be heartwrenching, too.   They have unique personalities and have earned their places as bona fide family members.  Milo, the roly-poly orange tabby in my son’s household, had a resiliency that survived rambunctious toddlers and the amputation of a limb due to a falling dresser.  Ultimately, however, he succumbed to kidney disease, and it’s a difficult goodbye to a creature who has cuddled beside them and loved them along the way.  He will be greatly missed.

Animals share our nature, and their fate is inextricably bound with ours.  To some native Indian tribes, an animal could be a totem, a spirit being.  It chose you – you did not choose it, but had to discern it.  The animal would guide you through life, in sightings, dreams and visions, and its strengths would be available to you.

Animals give up their lives to nourish us, but they are also close companions in life. In the Biblical book of Jonah, God expresses compassion even for the animals who would have suffered if the wicked  city of Ninevah had not heeded the prophet’s warnings.  They can possess keen intelligence and sometimes great loyalty.  When my uncle emigrated from his native Holland, the family dog waited faithfully for him at the end of the driveway for many days.

We once had a problem with our neighbour’s dog who kept barking in the yard outside our bedroom windows.  One moonlit night I looked out and saw that the dog was barking furiously at our cat, who was casually strolling across the top of the fence above him.   It was a very good lesson to be aware of your part in any altercation before casting the blame on someone else!

They can expose our foibles.   Our family friend once shared a story of receiving a cat from a co-worker.  Unfortunately, the cat escaped soon after.   Loathe to admit this, our friend pretended that the cat was doing well under his care.  Like all lies, this expanded and eventually spawned even a litter of imaginary kittens.  The jig was up once the man made plans to visit!

We laugh at the antics of playful pets, and they are companions in our childhood right through to our old age.  They teach us love and faithfulness, and they give us much to be thankful for.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.   ”  St. Francis of Assisi





Now She Has Peace

Like poor conscientious Martha in the anonymous epitaph above, most of us really would like to leave a legacy of kind and thoughtful deeds.   Our community applauds us when we give up our own interests in favour of helping others, when we put ourselves last.


Except, as it often happens with good intentions, things go awry.    This self-image of kindness and goodness, like all idols, needs constant upkeep and demands busyness.  It craves feeding so that life cannot just be enjoyed in its own merit.  Demands that you must be doing something to benefit society.  It causes us to ignore our own very real needs, and can hide a growing resentment at unrecognized sacrifices.

Whether the others really required your help is in question, too.  Preconceived notions of aid often don’t fit another person’s situation.  Many times people just need encouragement to persevere in their own challenges.  We forget that when we jump in too quickly to assist a child or those who have handicaps.  We’re too impatient and insistent on perfection to allow them the necessary time.

One summer my daughter struggled to set up her tent.  She finally called for help, which was promised in “just a minute.”  In the cusp of that moment, in that recognition of need, she kept trying on her own.  Sure enough, “I got it!” was the triumphant result.  It doesn’t necessarily harm children to have parents too busy to immediately meet every difficulty.

Enabling addiction, either in an individual or a community, permits it to continue the downward spiral without experiencing the hard bump of real-life penalties.  In those situations, true help would lie in allowing the inevitable consequences.  It’s not kindness, and nothing is gained when we cling to the icon of our cherished self-image and perpetuate a learned helplessness in others.

In the Biblical story, Jonathan supported David and encouraged him to find his strength in God.  There are times when it’s appropriate to extend and receive practical and short-term help.  Ultimately, however,  all of us need to acknowledge that our true source of help could only ever be our Creator.  He sustains us because he knows exactly what we need.  And he loves to see us grow in character, ability, and maturity.




The Best Is Yet To Be


“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in his hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half, trust God, see all, nor be afraid.”
Robert Browning


I’ve often heard, “old age is not for sissies!”  It takes courage to put up with limitations, with aches and pains, to deal with losses.  But if we stop there, we haven’t taken into account the whole picture.  Proverbs 20:29 tells us that “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.”  We’ve earned our gray hairs, learned many things along the way through our own experiences and by listening to and watching the life lessons of others.  We’ve learned to stop and appreciate the small joys, to celebrate whenever we can, to stop holding others to our expectations.  There’s happiness in seeing the new generations that will follow us and in sharing our lives with them.  As we leave the labour force, we now encounter the children we taught in Sunday school at places like the dentist’s office or the library.  When I jokingly accused them of taking over the world, the response was:  “For now!”

When I was a young woman in my thirties, I cleaned house for an elderly couple.  Their little black pug would sometimes be nose-to-nose with me as I washed the floor.  His owner said that “the dog hadn’t seen anything move that fast all week!”  You  discover that hurry is usually counter-productive anyway, that you notice far more when you slow down.

As I watched my parents age, there were tough times that they encountered just because they had lived well into their 80s and beyond, and depression could certainly be part of the picture.  But my father learned to navigate the computer (admittedly with a lot of help!),  went around to restaurants for used french-fry oil so that he and a friend could refine their own fuel, set up a small storage business, bought and drove around a “Li’l Red Truck” just for the fun of it, convinced volunteers to set up a community garden on his farm.  It seems to me that, even if you’re older, you can still stretch the limits and be willing to try new things.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4  Because we have the confidence that we are really never alone, that we have an eternal future with this loving God, we are free to take risks and to live full lives at any stage.



The Day They Sold No Glads

My in-laws had a fifty-acre farm with beautiful sandy loam soil in Flamborough, Ontario, on which they grew ten acres of flowers on a rotating basis, leasing the rest to a local farmer.  Early on summer mornings my father-in-law would take the truck, loaded with pails of gladioli that had been cut the previous day, to the wholesale market at the Ontario Food Terminal.  The money they made in that short summertime had to last them all year.

On this particular day, my young sister-in-law had accompanied her dad to the market.  Upon their return, she wandered to the back field where the rest of the family was hard at work.

“Guess how many pails of glads we sold today?”  she asked.
“Fifty pails?” they said, hopefully.
“We sold nothing,” she blithely replied, in the light-hearted way of child with not a care in the world.
“Nothing?” incredulously, “All day?”

Most of the glads were too far open to sell wholesale the next day.  There was nothing to do but to go through the bunches of flowers and try to save those few that still had unopened buds.  Disconsolately, they went back to the barn to begin the job of sorting.

At the very moment, a woman drove up the long farm driveway.  She pulled up to the barn, and inquired, with some desperation, whether she could buy some flowers, as the gladioli she had earlier bought for a wedding had not bloomed in time.  She took all the opened flowers at full retail price – more than they would have received on the wholesale market.  Happy and relieved, she sped off.

More than thirty years later, my mother-in-law still shook her head as she recounted the story, marveling how God provided that day for both their family and for the woman who just wanted to make a wedding day beautiful.