Back in 2006, when we picked out our three cats from the animal shelter (before having a shelter pet was fashionable), they were tiny – most likely not much more than four or five weeks old. That meant that, after snuggling them for hours on end, we needed to feed them with the most nutritious kitty food possible. Their first food was called Vetalac, and although I never tasted it myself, it looked and smelled like melted vanilla ice cream. The little buggers lapped it up like crazy. Next step was moving them to a bit more solid food, so after a few different experiments, we ended up feeding them Friskies canned food – one can divided by three. Lamb and Rice, Turkey – anything but beef, which proved to me that indeed it is possible to have choosy beggars.
Over the weeks, as they grew, we set out dry cat food, reserving the soft canned stuff for morning and evening. Two things I discovered that I never would have believed to be true. First was the way we proved Pavlov’s experiment daily. When the can opener made it first “grrrtch” along the lid, three little cats would appear out of nowhere, mewing and crying for all they were worth… the second thing I learned was that somewhere, the little stinkers carried their own tiny watched with alarms set, so that when Cheri would get up around 5am, they were waiting for her – sometimes encouraging her to wake up, by licking her hands, stepping on her face and sitting on her chest – staring and staring… Otherwise, at 4pm, if you happened to be anywhere near the kitchen, the goon squad began their afternoon work of encouraging a can of cat food to be opened.
Now realize – they weren’t hungry. They had dry cat food round the clock at their disposal. No, it was a matter of want, not need. They were little furry gangsters who would simply not quit until they got what they wanted.
I’m embarrassed to say this went on for six years, twice a day, until we were in the process of moving back to the Dakotas from Nashville. Cheri put her little foot down, and declared that we would use the screwed up schedule of driving and going into hotels to break the habit cold turkey. It actually worked pretty well. With three days of distraction, you could see that the cats knew they were missing something, but it was unfocused and with the little cat bowls hidden away, they were hungry enough to eat the dry food. Still, years later at around 4pm in the afternoon, Phoenix will sometimes start meowing for no reason, and wander around the house, looking for something she forgot a long time ago.
Now, they get occasional treats, where they just go nuts waiting for the little bits of nothing to get poured out of the bag into our hands and distributed to the starving little actors. They also beg like dogs when we eat a meal, staring at us with unblinking eyes. Cheri is the worst one for giving in, which of course reinforces the behavior…
So, I’m not sure when it happened, but during the quarantine, the cats have lots of time on their hands, and manage to watch any human who enters the kitchen for a meal or a snack. I think it took one day, when Adam decided to have a bagel with cream cheese, that the two boy cats sensed an opportunity. They meowed and begged at Adam’s feet, until, on a whim, Adam put a little, tiny bit of cream cheese on two fingers and let them lick it off. That was all it took. From that day forward, we have watched the progression from the cats running to the kitchen when Adam opens the refrigerator in the morning, to the point now when their little cat alarms go off, and they position themselves for Adam’s rising. Thor sits halfway down the stairs, and Hermes will stand at Adam’s bedroom door, howling like someone is pulling his leg off. As Adam makes his way, probably awake before he wanted, they race up the stairs along with him, and then stand eagerly by the fridge, waiting for their morning gangster cut of cream cheese. Every day. Adam calls them goons, and thugs, which they are. He has also suggested that if we are up before him, we could distribute the ransom cream cheese instead. My response is, “not on your life!” It’s all on Adam, and if we were to begin, who knows what else we might release!
So, there is no end to this story, in part because all three of the cats have Adam wrapped around their little cat-paw fingers. In return, they do manage to bother him most all of the day when he is trying to actually work in his room. They have been the stars of numerous Zoom meetings and are heard on many different conference calls, probably to try to entice him to head back upstairs and give them another dollop of cream cheese…
Animals, especially smart little cats, learn quickly when there is some benefit to be had. They are excellent at manipulating their world to please them. I would have to say that humans are the same. It’s amazing how quickly we accommodate changes to our habits and behaviors when there is something to be gained. Of course the opposite is true as well, as we avoid and steer clear of “things” that make our lives unhappy or painful. Most all of it, though, I have to say is accidental behavior as both cats and humans stumble into situations that are either pleasing or hurting. Often, our life’s discoveries happen just because things seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I suppose there is nothing terrible about that, but if the bulk of our lives rests in things just sort of happening to us, it becomes a dangerous and thought-less way to live.
We can’t intend everything, but I believe it is healthier, more focused, and more rewarding to live intentionally, and not only accidentally. That’s true for our relationships, our labor, our dreams and plans, and especially with our experience of God in our lives. Go ahead and enjoy or at least deal with those accidental happenings that come to you, but live your life intending more than that. Live how you mean to live – with purpose and intent. It’s a far richer life when you do.
Saying for the day: sit tight. Well, there’s probably not a one of us – especially if we are parents or in charge of anyone or any group of people – that hasn’t used this phrase. It seems a bit silly, especially we were to use the opposite of “stand loose.” Some believe that in playing poker, when someone wants to neither bet nor fold the hand, that he or she would just “sit tight.” It gives us the mental image of someone sitting forward, knees together, and waiting. It is NOT the image of a teenage boy lounging on the couch.
It really means, in our behavior to not act, don’t change position, don’t move or adjust what you are doing – just wait to see what develops first. One “sits tight and keeps their own counsel,” and only responds thoughtfully. It’s almost like birds become quiet and still when a predator is nearby – just sit tight, and perhaps this will pass…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.