On Sophie, a most excessive cat.

A reflection on unconditional love and our excessively loving God

Our Sophie crossed the rainbow bridge this afternoon. Tiffany, Ethan, and I are very sad. She was sick for about the last six months, and it kept progressing until the weekend when it became obvious she would not get better. She was just shy of her 16th birthday and gave us 15+ years of love.

Sophie was an excessive cat. She was excessively shy when we first got her home. She found comfort in her food and water, so she was an excessive eater. She became excessively affectionate as she grew comfortable in her surroundings, always wanting to be held or snuggled. When she purred, she purred excessively loud. She was the most playful of all our cats, even up until the last week, so you got it…she played excessively hard. She was also the toughest of all of the pets, so she could be excessive in letting the others know their respective places. There were times she was even excessively mean; especially to the next kitty down on the feline seniority list. She was probably the prettiest of our cats, and missed being a show quality Himalayan because of this excessive kink at the tip of her tail. She had the most beautiful eyes though, as they were excessively blue — like sapphires. The last couple years she developed this excessively large growth just under her eye; we’d get it drained and it refilled excessively quickly. Even though she was the prettiest, she was also the messiest. When she really started declining and refused to use the litter box any longer, she made the most excessive messes. As her disease progressed (the vet thinks cancer), those excessive messes became even more excessive. We would get impatient and aggravated, but we knew she deserved excessive patience.

Her end-of-life behavior became excessive the last several days, too. She no longer wanted to eat. She no longer wanted to be held. She no longer wanted to be with the family. She no longer purred even while we tried to love on her. I picked her up, and she let out this excessively loud and bizarre cry, unlike any noise she had made previously. It was obvious that she was suffering. Today she could not even use her legs, lift her head, or open her eyes. Tiffany and I knew what had to be done, but we felt such dread. A pet that had been such a big part of our lives for so long was at the end of her journey. We cried excessively as her breathing slowed, then stopped. We hope that her four furry siblings that preceded her were there at the rainbow bridge when she arrived. I told Tiffany that I hoped Thor opened it for Sophie, but the attempt at humor fell excessively flat.

I talked to some dear clergy friends today about personal struggles. I shared about what we faced and they shared what they faced. For once, my concerns seemed excessively insignificant. They extended grace knowing that the loss of a pet causes excessive pain. Some people don’t get it, and I get that. Not everyone is a pet person. I have always been. My family is. You see, pets are reflections of unconditional love. We give that love and put up with the messes, the smells, the hair on our clothes, the hair balls on our floors, and even the momentary retaliations they inflict upon us. In fact, on Saturday — which was Sophie’s last “good” day — she clawed a hole in the brand new Braves shirt I got for my birthday…the very first time I wore it. I was upset, and uttered a word or two that otherwise would be unbecoming of a person in a pastoral office. She did it because I was cleaning her hind end after she expressed more blood than stool in one of the loosest bowel movements you could imagine. It. Was. Excessively. Disgusting. I almost certainly wouldn’t have been as gracious in our early years together, but I held her, told her it was ok, and all I wanted to do was help her. She didn’t like the bath. I didn’t like the hole in my shirt. But there we were, together as we’d been the nearly 5,500 days she was a Jordan. We dealt with our frustrations, and chose to love.

It seems to me this is one of those times when we can get a glimpse into God’s unconditional love for us. 1 Corinthians 13:12 talks about how our experience of love in this world is like trying to see our reflection in a dimly lit mirror. You know your reflection is there and how it’s supposed to look, but the details aren’t clear. Turning on the light is necessary to cast off the shadows and make sense of what is otherwise obscured. The light referred to in the Scriptures is Jesus, and the love of God He represents and expressed all those years ago. God puts up with our messes and misses out of nothing but sheer love. God meets us with His eternal perspective when when we scratch, claw, and hiss, knowing that the discipline we receive might not be welcomed in the moment, but it’s necessary for our wellbeing. And through it all, God provides for us in ways we’ll never be able to know and comprehend…all He wants in return is relationship.

My lap feels excessively empty tonight. My heart feels excessively heavy, too. I wonder in grief why I would subject myself to this pain, but the love and relationship is worth it. Just like the hair balls, litter box odors, claw marks on my clothes and/or furniture, and even the veterinary bills. It’s not because my pets earn it or deserve it, but because I love them and my commitment requires me to care for them up to the very end. But it’s more than just a commitment, it’s really a choice. A choice to love in spite of the unloving things I encounter. Now I am humbled about how many times God has done that for me. And that only covers the things I’m aware of, saying nothing of those things I’ll learn when my time comes. Bear in mind, I know this has nothing to do with me, what I’ve done, or what I deserve. No, it only reflects how good God is. His love is excessive. And excessively good.

I thank God that Jesus took the nails for me, puts up with my misses, messes, and helps me grow in love. I thank God for that unconditional love, and pray He continues to help me to love Him and His people excessively. We miss our Sophie, but we have lots more love to give and lots more growing to do. With God’s help, and for the friends and family He’s given us to do life with, we will.

We love you, Sophie. Go give Toby, Sagi, Macy, and Mia one of those really long and loud purrs. I know they must have missed you. We will, too, because we already do. I’ll snuggle you again in my lap when the time comes. Until then, go be excessive in pet paradise. You deserve it.