Lessons from a suicidal cat

Earlier this week, I saw a kitten dart onto a very busy, heavily trafficked street.  I knew immediately that this was not going to end well.  (You have been warned.)

It’s commonly held that cats have nine lives.  I was convinced I was going to see one of hers vanish right before my eyes.  In fact, I was shocked the cat did not meet an instant, painful death.  Somehow, it barely avoided being struck by a truck and found its way underneath – momentarily safe.

The wind of the moving truck must have knocked it off balance and she began rolling end over end.   With the truck driving on and other traffic fast approaching, the feline was clearly off-balance and disoriented. As she got back on all fours – she darted one direction and then suddenly the other.   She moved with the erratic grace of a schizophrenic squirrel.  Clearly recognizing her life-threatening environment, she sprinted to the curb narrowly missing other vehicles and instinctively leaped over the nearby guard rail – presumably for safety.

lessons from a suicidal catAfter watching a heart wrenching eight seconds of Frogger, I was excited to see the little gal make it to safety.  Then, my heart dropped.   I realized the guard rail she leaped over was…

…on a bridge that led to a busy highway some fifty feet below.  #thiscatonlyhadonelife

I’ve had a few days to process this disturbing scene and came away with some thoughts that apply to our human experience:

Sometimes we make really poor decisions because we are lost, scared and unaware of their consequences.

As I look back at my life at some of the poor decisions I have made, the worst moments were often made when I was emotionally or spiritually scrambling.  Like the kitten, I was standing in the middle of oncoming relational traffic and simply trying to survive.   I moved right or left – not because they were the best places to go but simply because it avoided me getting run over from the particular truck I was facing at the moment.  In such a chaotic state, ones thinking is clouded and it’s almost impossible to know the impact of your decisions – especially on those who love and depend on you.  This cat was stuck in a physically lethal rut.  Many times, we find ourselves in emotional ones.

I’m not sure what enticed the cat to run into oncoming traffic.  Maybe it was a blind mouse?  Perhaps it was spooked by something else and that seemed like the best decision in the moment?   Sometimes it takes situations like these for clarity to kick in.  From that point on, this kitten found herself in over her head and doing her best to survive.  She wanted help but had no idea where to get it.   Can you relate?

You’ve seen this scenario before, maybe not with cats but people;

  • The homeless man begging for food.
  • The divorced Mom looking for love in all the wrong places.
  • The young professional who escapes to porn.
  • The alcoholic step-Dad with an anger issue.
  • The teenage girl who cuts herself.
  • The church leader who drinks more than he prays.

Regardless of age or gender, we see hurting people all the time just trying to survive their particular pain and their choice of survival seems counter-productive, if not self-destructive. Relationships and trust are damaged in these dangerous environments.

As I have surveyed the landscape of hurting people, I have noticed two things to be true.

One, we tend to judge those who sin differently than us.   It’s easy to condemn pornography when you struggle with gluttony.   It’s effortless to throw a moral stone at an adulterer when your darling sin is cursing.   As long as you find a vice in another that makes your vice look less menacing, you perpetuate a wrong attitude toward those who are just as sinful as you, just struggling with a different sin.

Last week, I was sitting in my buddy’s truck at a red light.  A few seconds later we heard a horrible crash outside my passenger window and saw three cars next to ours involved in a pile up at the light.  Instantly, I jumped out of his vehicle and ran over to the cars involved, two of which had their airbags deployed and clearly had drivers in need of medical attention. As I attended the scene as the first person on site, I didn’t ask who was responsible.  I didn’t try to figure out fault. That needed to come later from someone more qualified than myself.  My job was simply to help the hurting.

This brings me to my second point:

We seem to have more compassion for those in a physical mess and less sympathy for those in a moral one.  We naturally want to help a cute kitten in traffic.  They deserve to be rescued.  As for the home wreckers, they simply need to be hung.   When someone is in a car accident, we suspend judgment and rush to offer sympathies and aid.   We don’t find out who was responsible for the wreck and determine their treatment based on that.  But when the “wreck” is entirely moral or relational in nature, we will often let the instigator rot in their emotional collision.  Why is that?  Why are we quick to help those in physical pain but gossip, slander and withhold our assistance from those writhing in moral pain?

To be clear, I’m not trying to defend the decisions of those who make poor moral choices.  I’m merely suggesting that those of us who have fallen morally have done so because we were lost, scared, and in our own pain and unaware of the inevitable consequences – as obvious as they may be.  Perhaps it is because we cannot understand their sin therefore it’s easier to judge it?

And this leads me to the second lesson of the fallen cat:

Oftentimes, all we need is someone (on the outside) willing to help us find our way home.

The cat, almost immediately, needed help.   She knew she was in trouble.  She knew she needed assistance.  If only she had someone on the outside in a position to help her, she would still be with us today.   Most anyone would “jump in” to help a struggling kitten but we are less likely to offer the same enthusiasm to help a stranger in need, especially if their need is self-inflicted.  We are even more reluctant to help someone who sins egregiously because they “deserve whatever comes to them.”   Instead of realizing “there but by the grace of God go I” – we quickly climb our shaky moral ladder to the ivory tower of pride and throw as many stones as we can at those who desperately need support.

How does a homeless man get a second chance?  How do people recover from an addiction?  How does a divorced person rebound from a broken family?   How does someone who’s been evicted find housing again?   Usually only with help.   Like the cat on the street, they aren’t going to make it without some assistance.

You know what I didn’t see that day?   A bunch of other cats on the curb condemning their feline counterpart.   The kitten’s parents weren’t there meowing their disapproval at the cat’s poor decision.  The cat’s neighbors, siblings or “friends” were not there hissing at the cat’s predicament.  Apparently only we do that.   Had the cat family been there to witness it, they would have done anything they could to save the life of their feline.   And once she was safe, on the curb, they would have licked her wounds and nurtured her back to health.

Sadly, we rarely do that.   We like to give lectures.  We like to point out the mistakes.  We enjoy making others feel bad for the wrong decisions they make.   We revel in the “I told you so” moments – especially when our advice is revealed as wise.   But is that what is really needed?   Can a lecture bring healing like a hug can?   Does pointing out the mistakes create the “aha” moment, or do “aha” moments more frequently come with grace?

Years ago, I had a close friend who confessed to me, in a moment of transparency – a moral failure he had experienced with his (at the time) girlfriend.   As a fellow Christian and youth worker, I was shocked that he had fallen into such sin.  I couldn’t believe he didn’t keep a higher sexual standard.  I was disappointed in his lack of self control and repeated nature of the offense and let him know so.  I tried to be compassionate but truthfully, it felt manufactured.  In case he didn’t feel bad enough for his mistake, I felt the moral obligation to let him know my disappointment.  Looking back, I felt it was my duty to express moral outrage and God’s displeasure.  I handled it all wrong.

Fast forward 20 years.   I was now the one in the position to confess.  I needed to come clean about the double life I had been living, while in the ministry, and share my sins with this dear brother in the faith.  I fully deserved a verbal lashing.  I was completely expecting him to throw the first stone at me.  In fact, to save time – he could have just used the one I hit him with some two decades earlier.  I braced myself for judgment, however, it never came.  Instead, of feeling the guilitine, I felt grace.  Instead of condemnation, he offered compassion.  I can’t even begin to tell you how healing that was for me.  It didn’t excuse my behavior.  He didn’t condone my actions.  It didn’t remove any consequences.  But he did something that day that lectures and sermons and ostracization just can’t do:

Bring healing.

He rolled up his sleeves and tried to help, as someone who truly understood the temptation and struggle. In doing so, he helped me come home.

Is there anything better than that?   The prodigal son didn’t think so (Luke 15).   After years of poor decisions and reckless choices, he came back to the only place that ever truly loved him:


And what was waiting for him?

  • A lecture?    Nope.
  • A cold shoulder?   Nope.
  • Harsh treatment?   Nope.
  • A long list of things he had to do to get back in good standing?   Nope.

He was greeted with a hug.  And given clean clothes and a huge party and a second chance.

Who does that?

Someone who understands what it’s like to be in the middle of rush hour traffic without a prayer.

For those of you out there who relate to the cat, this message is for you:

Come home.


It’s time.


I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121


Still here…

I decided to check on the kids sleeping soundly in their beds.  When I last left my six-year-old (7 hours ago) I was kneeling by his bedside, tucking him in with our routine of prayers, snuggles and songs (See “The bedtime routine” for more about that).  Just as I walked over towards him, he was struggling with one of his blankets. Apparently he was cold and needed more covers.   Without a word, I helped him.  Somehow, he sensed “help” and looked up to see me and said with surprise in his voice,

Daddy, you’re still here?”

Yea, son, I’m still here – just watching you sleep.”   He smiled and was out cold.

I liked the thought of him thinking that I had not moved.  Yep, for 7 straight hours I simply stood there, at attention, waiting for the moment when he needed more covers.   That is why I am Dad of the Year, in my head.   What a glorious parenting fluke that I happened to be there for his brief need.

Instantly, I thought of Psalm 121, particularly verses 3 & 4.   Hands down, it has been my mantra the last three years.  It is my “go-to” verse when I need some encouragement.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.”

God never slumbers.  God never sleeps.  In fact, when I wake up in my sleepless state, He’s looking down with His all-encompassing presence saying, “I’m still here.”   Normally, I would say that someone watching you sleep is creepy.  Unless you’re a parent.  There is something beautiful about watching your child sleep.  Interestingly, tonight, soon after Andrew fell asleep, I snapped this picture.   “Awww” is the appropriate response.

I’m not sure what’s going on in your life, but God is “still there.”  Whether you need another blanket or your needs are far more serious than that, God is there to “cover you” as needed.   The Maker of Heaven and Earth is “still here” to help you “make it”.  The Keeper of Israel keeps watch over you as well.  While He manages the Universe, He somehow manages to not leave your side – even while you sleep.  As the Psalmist reminds us, He can protect from evil, guard your movements and keep your soul.   Only a “still here” Father can do that.   His “still here” is not a glorious parenting fluke.  He literally never leaves you, morning or night.  In the midst of our extremely lonely world, we have a 24/7 God.

The current events of our world do not distract Him from His children.   Your daily troubles are no trouble for Him.  What is a BIG concern to you is of no concern to Him.  Though we tend to worry about everything, God worries about nothing.  Literally nothing.  What looks like a Giant to us reminds Him of a grain of sand.   If He can govern the Sun and navigate a moon, surely He can help us in our time of need.  He is simultaneously our “refuge and strength, ready to help when we need Him.” (Psalm 46:1).

It is for this reason that Peter tells us to “cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”  (I Peter 5:7)   Jesus reminds us, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6)

I’m not sure what woke up me tonight.  In the middle of my stressful life, maybe I just needed a reminder that He’s still awake.  He’s not falling asleep on the job.  Whatever was on my mind, it’s on His mind too.  He’ll take care of it, in His time.  My goal is simply to do the right thing and trust Him.

He’s still here.  He’ll provide the blanket.  For me and for you.

How to climb a mountain

Me at the top of one of the mountains (aka fells) in the Lake District of England.

I have climbed several mountains in my life.  Some of them were physical like Mount Katahdin in Maine or the Skiddaw fell in Keswick, England.  Other “mountains” I’ve climbed were more emotional or mental – but enormous just the same.  Both types were very real to me, the climber.   I have found that I enjoy climbing the mountains I choose to climb.  Ironically, those types are always physical.  The mountains I do not wish to climb have all been emotional or mental and I tend to procrastinate on every step.

I have come to learn that often times the physical things in this life point to deeper spiritual truths – if you have the eyes to see them.  I believe this is intentionally designed by God so we could better understand Him and His world.   He uses what we know to help us learn what we don’t.  He allows us to walk by sight before teaching us how to walk by faith.   He gives us a physical mountain to climb today so we can apply those principles to a coming emotional mountain tomorrow.   The size of the mountain is the most important thing to us.  The lessons we learn from the climb is what is most important to God.  We think about things like how long we will be on it.  His main concern is how well we learn the lessons.

As I have discovered first hand in my life, He has no shortage of mountains for me to climb.   Because of this, learning the lessons of the climb, suddenly, takes on a whole new importance to me.   Perhaps if I learn the lessons I’m supposed to on this mountain, the next mountain won’t feel so big or take so long.

Here is what I have learned (so far) in my vast experience as a seemingly perpetual “mountain” climber.  Maybe some of these truths will help you on your mountain, current or future.

  • Get started.   You can’t reach the summit until you have left the camp.  The camp is comfortable and easy.  The path to the summit is painful and difficult.  No one ever climbed a mountain sitting at base camp.   No one ever did anything significant from base camp.  It’s where we all begin but it’s not where we are supposed to stay.
This quote was hanging on the wall of the cafe I owned in Charlotte. It reminded me of the importance of getting started. (Visit “Quips Cafe Charlotte” on Facebook for more information.)
  • Mountain climbing is hard.   This seems elementary to mention but it is critical to remember.  It’s supposed to be hard.   It is supposed to take time.  You are supposed to sweat.   Know why?  BECAUSE IT IS A MOUNTAIN.  You will have to manage your pain and persevere through every step.  Understand that and expect a challenge.
  • Don’t let the size of the mountain overwhelm you.   When you are at base camp, looking at the summit can be daunting.  It seems so far away that you may begin to think you’ll never get there.  Its height can be so intimidating that you may wonder if you’ll ever make it to the top.  You must change your focus.  Instead of looking at the summit, set a closer more reasonable goal to reach first.   Divide the mountain into smaller sections and concentrate on the next section now.  On some of my emotional mountains, the summit seemed impossible to reach.  I had to walk “day by day” for months until the mountain became more managable to navigate.
  • Others have climbed this same mountain.   You have to remind yourself of this.  There is no physical mountain that has been left unclimbed.  And if someone else has made the ascent, so can you.   For the same reason, emotional mountains can be conquered too.   Whether your emotional mountain is recovering from a broken relationship, losing weight, getting out of debt, dealing with an addiction or struggling with the never ending mountain of finding a job – you can make the climb.  It might be trying to forgive someone who hurt you or harder yet, forgetting what they have done.  Maybe your mountain is trying to forgive yourself.  It won’t be easy – but climbing mountains never is.  You are not alone.  Take comfort in this fact with every step.
  • If possible, climb with a friend.  Mountain climbing is hard enough alone, if you can, have someone join you.  The advantages are many and barely need to be mentioned.  Having someone with you provides the following benefits: encouragement, companionship, motivation, accountability, assistance & memories – to name a few.   When you want to give up, your climbing friend can help you keep going.  When you are discouraged, a partner can encourage you to keep hiking.  When your backpack is too heavy to carry, your fellow sherpa can lighten your load for a season.   I guarantee there are many others on your same mountain right now.  Look around – find them and join them in their hike.
  • Embrace the mountain.   This may sound slightly sadistic but there is something magical that occurs when you embrace the mountain.   The only way you can overcome a fear of heights is to get on a ladder.  The only way to overcome a fear of snakes is to handle one.  Instead of avoiding or dreading your mountain, embrace it.  With mountain climbing, there is a strange comfort when you learn to take time to “smell the roses” on the trail.  Though the climb is difficult, there are still many blessings along the way.  They are, however, easy to miss if you’re not paying attention or too focused on the clouds to see the sun.   The easiest way to miss some of those blessings is to complain about your climb.  Remember, even when it’s raining the sun still shines.
  • The summit is worth the climb.   Ask any mountaineer who has reached the top.  In every mountain I have ever climbed, my body hurt like never before.  I was tired on every level.   And when I finally saw the view from the top – I immediately appreciated the cost of the climb.  It was TOTALLY worth it.  Ask any mother if the nine months of struggle was worth the experience of holding their precious child in their arms.   Ask Lebron James if his eight year climb to the top of his mountain was worth the blood, sweat and tears to reach the summit of World Championship.   If anything, the harder the climb the sweeter the view from the top.

Maybe your emotional mountain exists because you made some poor choices in your past.  Maybe your mountain was given to you because of someone else’s poor choices.  Perhaps it is no one’s fault and it’s just something you have to climb.

Get started.  Recognize it will be hard.  Don’t let the size of the mountain overwhelm you.  Remember, others have climbed it before you.  If you can, find someone to climb with.   While you are climbing, embrace the mountain.   The summit will be worth it, I promise.

The following verses in the book of Psalms helped me immensely as I have climbed (and continue to climb) my various mountains.   Perhaps they will encourage you as well on your journey.

In God’s hands are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also.” – Psalm 95:4

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains.  Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven  and earth. He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121