And I got this love in me.
But it's not just mine to keep.
Like treasure that's buried deep.
I come alive when I set it free.
—Judah & the Lion, Love in Me
My daughters and I have been volunteering at a cat shelter for several months now. I knew it would be painful to fall in love with cats we couldn’t take home with us. I knew it would be painful to not be able to rescue them all. But I felt certain that the joy of this experience would outweigh the pain.
I knew this, yet something caught me off guard.
It was an email message from the shelter director to all the volunteers about an obtrusive chain that would be added immediately to the already padlocked cages. Apparently someone was caught in the act of tormenting an animal. The helpless victim was Bob the cat—five-year-old Bob who is already severely depressed because his owner had to give him up. Bob who meows a lot but loves to be free from his cage so he can explore.
The director’s email went on to list other cruel acts occurring over the past year in this small cat shelter housed in a local Petsmart. I tried to keep reading the email message, but when I got to the part about someone trying to pry a kitten out of the small opening at the bottom of the cage, I could not read anymore.
To be honest, I broke down.
I covered my face in my hands and cried. It may seem ridiculous to some, but my heart for animals is huge. My hope for the world in which my children and future grandchildren will live in is even bigger.
But not then.
Not in that moment.
Suddenly, things looked especially bleak.
Why? Why would someone do such a thing? I cried angrily. And just where do we go from here? When we get to a place where fragile, abandoned animals must have chains across their cages to protect them from harm—just where do we go from here? Combine this troubling question with five minutes of the nightly news and hopelessness begins to set in; you begin to look at people skeptically. You begin to feel foolish for being so trusting and optimistic. You begin to walk with your head down, thinking what’s the use in smiling at people anyway? That’s precisely what I did for a few days.
The next email that came from the shelter director to the volunteers was a list of shift vacancies. I quickly looked at the open slots and responded. Never in a million years did I expect to sign up to clean cages, entertain kittens, and console agitated and depressed cats on Mother’s Day, but that is what I did. In fact, volunteering on that particular day was the most certain I felt about anything all week.
Everything went as normal during our time there until the end of the shift. When I was struggling with the new security chains for over ten minutes, I lost my patience.
“Just look at this!” I said exasperatedly to my older daughter as I showed her there was still a gap at the bottom of the cage where a cat could be squeezed out. “I just can’t get it any tighter!” I seethed, my voice rising along with my frustration.
“Mom, you’re overreacting,” my almost 13-year-old daughter said calmly and sternly, bringing me back to my senses.
I let go of the chain and exhaled. “You’re right,” I said softly. “I’m sorry.”
My daughter knew exactly why I was upset—maybe better than I did. She bent down next to me and whispered, “They’ll be okay, Mom. Most people that come in here are nice people.”
Yes. Yes. Thank you for reminding me to focus on the good, precious child.
As we were walking out of the tiny shelter to go home, we noticed a young couple looking through the glass at the cats. I knew the door to the shelter would remain unlocked and they could go in and pet the animals through cages like my daughters and I used to do.
But for some reason I stopped and said, “Is there a particular cat you are interested in?”
The young woman with her long, silky, white-blonde hair and flawless skin spoke in a beautiful accent. “I would love to see the white one,” she said shyly.
“That’s Harper!” my younger daughter piped up. My daughters and I all exchanged a look of relief. Harper has been living in that cage for many months and could desperately use a loving home.
We took the woman inside the room and bragged on Harper for several minutes. We learned that the woman recently said goodbye to her beloved white cat and was ready to get a new cat.
“I have been to all the shelters in the area today looking for white cat,” she explained. “But you are the first people I have been able to talk to; I wanted to hear about the cat, not just see it.”
“Well, Harper takes a little time to warm up,” my younger daughter said, “But once she trusts you, she is so sweet! She would make a wonderful pet!” the mini cat spokesperson said convincingly.
We gave the interested woman the director’s business card, assuring her that when she was ready to adopt Harper, all she had to do was contact the director to make arrangements. The woman thanked us three times. She mentioned again how grateful she was to talk to us.
As we walked to our car, my younger daughter said, “Harper and that lady matched. They are both beautiful and exotic. They seem a little shy at first. They both seem a little sad. I think they are made for each other. I’m so glad we were here to tell her that is her perfect cat. I hope they end up together!” she said excitedly.
“I hope so too,” I agreed, feeling something I hadn’t for several days: optimism.
Thank you for reminding me to hope, sweet child.
As we made our way home to a delicious meal prepared by my husband, my heart felt certain about its obligation to the world. My heart hopes sounded like this:
Let me be like the woman whose heart was hurting so she came looking to love another heart that was hurting.
Let me be like the little girl who voiced the best qualities in a beautiful creature so it could have a home.
Let me be like the daughter who steadied her mother in her moment of instability.
Let me be like the man who bakes his wife a cherry pie from scratch while she cares for homeless animals on Mother’s Day.
Let me be love.
Not the shiny, perfectly worded, flashy and flowery love that comes and goes with special occasions or when it’s convenient.
Let me be the messy, genuine, put in the effort, feel it in your bones, come as you are, kind of love.
Let me be the Show Up kind of love that is found where it is least expected and when it is most needed.
Let me be the kind of love that silences hate talk, breaks down barriers, and cannot be contained by chains or cages.
Let me remember love is stronger than that which torments, but I must be willing to do my part to keep it alive.
After I devoured my husband’s delicious homemade pie, my younger daughter gave me her Mother’s Day gift. It was a laminated word cloud. All the qualities she used to describe me were meaningful, but one stuck out: “Always smiling.”
I immediately decided I’d go back to smiling at people I pass on the street and believe the best about each one. Once in awhile, I might get it wrong. But more times that not, they’ll smile back. And then there will be two of us working toward a greater good.
And together, we’ll set love free, hoping it finds the perfect home.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, as I mentioned in the post, the benefits of our family’s volunteer experiences at the animal shelter, as well as the retirement home, have far exceeded my expectations in a very short time. I’m certain my family will continue to be blessed and enlightened with every visit in the coming months and years. While I recently found myself wishing we could’ve started sooner, I know we couldn’t have. In fact, if we tried to do this in years past, it would have felt like “one more thing to do” in an already overloaded schedule. In order to get to a place where we could pursue our purpose and passions, we had to apply intentionality to our schedule. We had to start making choices with greater purposes and longer-term goals in mind. A tremendous source of inspiration and guidance for me has been Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. I became a fan the minute I read his post “35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.” His list stuck with me for years and solidified my desire to gift my children with time, opportunities, and experiences rather than stuff. Joshua recently released an incredible book called The More of Less. In his book, Joshua reveals how we can “pursue our greatest passions by owning fewer possessions.” Joshua brilliantly illustrates that getting “more out of less” applies far beyond our household goods.
One of my favorite phrases Joshua says is, “Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.” Especially powerful to me were the sections in the book entitled: Intentional Life, Addicted to Busyness, and Becoming Unbusy.
Friends, I encourage you to read an excerpt of Joshua’s book here or just trust me and purchase your own personal copy right away. You will start highlighting passages and making notes on the first few pages. By opening this book, you will see how to unburden your life, freeing you to pursue what matters most.
One final reminder to my Denver friends: It’s not too late to purchase tickets to my speaking event happening THIS Saturday (5-14-16) at Denver First Church from 10am to 12pm. I am really looking forward to seeing many of you! Click here for tickets & information. My other upcoming speaking events can be found by clicking here. Thank you being part of The Hands Free Revolution, dear ones. You give me hope.