by Melissa Brotton  |  21 June 2022  |

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7).

I watch the tortoiseshell kitten as she climbs to the top of the rope hanging in the middle of her large crate. She claws into the rope and hangs there while it swings back and forth. I cup my hands just beneath her body. All at once, the kitten lets go of the rope with both paws extended and falls into my waiting hands, her eyes wide and round. I gently rock her before lowering her to the bottom of the crate. Her eyes take on a drowsy look. Though she hasn’t been with me long, she somehow already knows I’m not going to let her fall. Instead, she simply trusts that my hands are there to catch her.

It was my fourth set of foster kittens, and they weren’t supposed to be here. A student had called me a week earlier with a desperate plea to help her keep them out of the kill-shelter. My mind raced to find any other way to save the kittens rather than to have me be the conduit to a rescue, but to no avail. In California’s high kitten season, there are simply not enough fosterers to go around. All I could do was buy time until I could locate some equipment. I was already taking care of one sick community cat, and I was putting in 60-hour weeks at work, attending a graduate class, and facing an important writing deadline just days away, so the thought of taking on three kittens caused some emotional paralysis. How would I gather all of my supplies in two days and still make my deadline?

Fortunately for my student, at that juncture, a foster-friend called me. His cheerful voice and willingness to help brought me out of my numbness. I called the student back and agreed to take the kittens. After hanging up, I said a prayer and tried to rally.

Sunday morning dawned, and my friend brought the extra crate. I put myself in motion, cleaned the crate, and set it out in the sun to dry before setting it up with all necessities: the large, thick towel to cover the bottom, some soft bedding in one corner, the “facilities” box in another corner. Earlier, I had purchased some new food bowls and the special kitten food I get for extra nourishment. Getting things ready got me into the right spirit, and I waited for my little charges to arrive with anticipation. After all, I love kittens. It was just poor timing, or so I thought. The moment they arrived, I lost all my regret. Three little faces mewing up at me was all it took. “Okay, you can stay,” I said and poured food into their bowl. The kittens tumbled over each other in their rush to the bowl. My heart melted. Somehow, it would be okay. I sighed with relief that I had already completed my term paper for the course. I realized that the hard nudge to get the paper done had been the Lord’s hand. He had known the kittens were coming. Still, the final exam waited for me with a menacing grin. I felt woefully unprepared. Somehow, I would have to make it through with an extra three kittens plus a sick community cat and my regular crew of rescued animals with only three weeks to graduation.

Yet with each day that passed, I was able to see that having the kittens with me had been part of a divine plan, for, though I felt exhausted, the kittens did their work to sustain me during a phase of great difficulty. Just a few days after the kittens arrived, things started to erupt in my life and in the lives of those in my circle. One friend had to go suddenly to the hospital. Another one found out she had cancer and needed immediate surgery. Another friend was losing his home and needed help with his animals. Workplace pressures were also escalating as we moved swiftly to the quarter’s end, and my body was responding to them, but each day when I came home from work and tended to the kittens, I was able to put my anxieties aside. The kittens’ comicality, their sense of wonder about the world, and their eagerness to greet me put my mind at ease and allowed me to put my problems into perspective. Here were these little kittens, removed from their mother and everything familiar. How were they reacting to the most stressful time in their lives? By jumping, playing, and tumbling around. By doing sneak-attacks on each other, by slumping suddenly into such deep sleep that they did not even wake up when the door chime went off. In short, they responded by completely trusting themselves into my care. Somehow, through the seeming chaos, I managed to find the time to encourage my friend with the heart issue, to get a card sent to the friend with cancer, to assist my friend who was losing his home, to make my writing deadline, and to study for my final exam. I knew God was sending relief through the kittens.

As the kittens and I bonded day by day, I knew the sad time was coming when we would be separated forever, something that fosterers have to gulp and accept. These three kittens were scheduled to go to a local rescue, where they would be vetted, fixed, and adopted out. One of the kittens, I knew, would be adopted by a friend, so at least I would be able to see photo updates, but I would not know the fate of the other two. So, as I always do with my rescued animals, I committed them into God’s hands, asking that they be adopted only by the most careful and loving people.

When the last day came, I gave each kitten a last cuddle and kiss, loaded them into their carrier and drove them to the rescue location, where they each received a collar with their name on it in readiness for their spay and neuter surgeries. As I knelt close to them for a final good-bye, Rella, Prince, and Panzer gave me looks of bewilderment as they sat in their new carriers with their big collars on. Can’t we just go home again? they seemed to ask. I spoke softly to them for reassurance. It was the most I could do. As I thanked the rescue team and walked away, I thought about how I would ever be able to make them understand that I didn’t want this separation either, but that all this tribulation was ultimately for their good.

All the way home, I tried to comfort myself with the thought that they would soon be going home with loving people. The fact that the price had increased for their adoption gave me hope that their adopters would place a high value on them as I did. As I kept driving, vivid object lessons began popping into my mind. When dangling from a scary place, was I as willing as Rella was to let go of the rope and fall into my Savior’s hands? When facing multiple crises, was I willing like Prince to rest so confidently in Jesus that I could joyfully interact with others even without a resolution to the crisis? Lastly, when circumstances blind me to what God is doing, will I retain my faith even though I feel overwhelmed? I thought of how steadily little Panzer’s eyes had gazed at me through the metal grating of his carrier just before I left the rescue.

The perspectives I gained from being on the God-side of the issues were likewise clear. I am always ready to catch you, Rella, when you let go of the rope. Sleep well, Prince, because I will take care of all your needs even though you’ve been removed from everything you’ve ever known. Little Panzer, I know you don’t understand now why we have to go through this separation, but I happen to know this pain will last only for a moment. You’ll forget all about it once you get to your new home.

Melissa Brotton teaches writing and literature courses at La Sierra University. Her special areas are nineteenth-century British literature and religious studies. She has published on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Biblical ecology. She spends a lot of time outdoors, paints, and writes nature stories and poems. 

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