Serendipity and a Stray Cat

Not long ago, my family and I welcomed a stray cat into our home.  It was a week or so before Christmas and I think the cat must have known it, perhaps he played upon our sympathies.  My daughter named him Leo.  From the time he appeared on our front porch to the time that my daughter and I drove to the store and purchased a cat box and mouse toy was approximately one hour.  I don't care what anyone says, Leo is our "Christmas cat."  

Leo is also ornery.  He is an older cat, the vet tells us maybe between 8 to 10 years old; my wife refers to him as a Grandpa Cat.  He likes his naps, during which time he has made it clear we must keep our distance (kind of like me).  He has a non-stop appetite, and enjoys a wide variety of people food.  He also loves to snuggle when someone picks him up - he will actually perch on your shoulder if you let him.  I often wonder about Leo's previous life.  Where he came from ... what kind of life he led prior to arriving at our doorstep.  Will he be a good fit for our family?  Only time will tell.  As I write this he has assumed the Garfield posture on the couch in our front room and he is engaged in his fourth nap of the day.  I may be a little jealous.

You see, our family went through what we privately call a "Grief-a-thon" not long ago.  One cold weekend in October we lost our longtime pet cat (who had also been a stray) to lung cancer.  She was close to 12 or 13 years old ... no one is really sure.  She was the sweetest animal I have ever known.  No boundaries, no aggression - just love.  We had to make the decision to put her down at the vet's office.  Two days later we lost our 14-year-old dog to an enlarged heart and emphysema.  She had been with my wife and I since we moved into our first apartment, straight through until we moved into our current home.  I referred to her as our Dog-ter (i.e.: a pun on daughter).  This was a second blow akin to what Mike Tyson must have felt when he faced Lennox Lewis for his last serious heavyweight boxing match.  We had to tell our kids that within two days we lost all of their pets.  To make matters worse, this was all sandwiched in between my wife's birthday.  You start to get the point.

Maybe a week later, we received news that my wife's grandfather was in failing health at the hospice and had days to live.  His name was Harold, and I liked him quite a bit.  He was strong and direct, and loved all of his grandchildren immensely.  Those fleeting few days went quickly, and he passed away.  There was a funeral shortly thereafter and he was laid to rest among an audience of those who loved him and truly grieved his absence.  It was, in no small part, a Grief-a-thon.  

As our family moved forward during the coming days, healing was at work.  In fact, I'm not so much blogging here as I am journaling.  I often think of God when I remember these events.  You see, we were grief-stricken but never dejected.  There was still laughter and smiles and hugs in our household.  God's joy and goodness still filled the center of our hearts.  We are fortunate to have His promise from the book of Hebrews, chapter 13, "Never will I forsake you, never will I leave you."  This is no small promise.  In fact, the faithful who walk with God on a daily basis have experienced this truth firsthand.  They have also lost cats and dogs and parents and grandparents, but they still have Joy.  Joy is something different and unique, it doesn't depend on temporal happiness or good fortune.  It's based on a relationship with Jesus; something transcendent and bigger than bad circumstances.  And at times like this I am grateful for serendipity, or as some call it ... happy accidents.  Funny how these turns of chance always seem to show up at the right time.  Someone once told me that bad news happens in 3's.  The 4th occurrence then, is hopefully some type of good news.

The fact that Leo came to us during Christmas, after an extremely difficult season in our lives could be simply an act of chance, and part of me is okay with that.  The truth is that Leo needs us as much as my grieving kids needed him.  He was hungry, thirsty, cold, and had some health problems.  We took him in and overwhelmed him with love.  He never knew what hit him!

Some time after Christmas had passed and Santa had come and gone, I found an old picture on my cell phone of a portrait my daughter had painted in art class over a year ago.  This was well before Leo ever set foot on our porch.  Her painting was the spitting image of Leo, right down to the unique black and white markings on his nose ... she even nailed his longer than usual front teeth.  When I showed it to her she remembered the art class and she was just as stunned as I was.  Serendipity.  Random chance.  God's joy.  Pick the term you like best.  In effect, what had happened is that one of my children had sketched a picture of a cat that would show up at our home a year later.  The symbolism here was hard to ignore.  

Ultimately this story doesn't "prove" anything regarding the reality of God working in our lives ... or does it?  I couldn't take this event in front of a panel of skeptics and sway them with hard evidence, finger prints, and a smoking gun.  It is sufficient, however, to note that the arrival of Leo the Christmas Cat coincided with the spirit of Christmas itself.  Also sufficient to note is that our new visitor just may have helped three grieving children and two slightly heart-broken grown-ups at just the right time.  Nonetheless, no matter which camp you fall into (chance or a gift) in our family we know that God is good.  Despite the losses we all experience as we travel down the road of life - often to destinations we would rather not go - in my heart I will always have the by-product of Faith which is joy.  I will have this gift hopefully no matter what circumstances occur, and no matter what destination I arrive at.

My greatest hope for everyone I know and love is that they might have this type of joy also.  It defies cynicism and covers over just about any negativity.  Joy through faith allows us to forgive people who may not have earned forgiveness.  It allows grieving people to become over-comers and survivors.  This, I think, is what God had intended for mankind all along.  We can take comfort in a famous verse from the book of Revelation, "He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."  I look forward to this day very much.  Not because I have earned it in any way, but simply because it is what God wants for me.  I will accept serendipity as a down payment on that future hope of things to come.  God desires us to have peace, and not just that, but also the type of faith and joy that can come only from Him.  

I was fortunate enough to be able to do some speaking at Harold's funeral.  It was a sad event, but his family was all together and there was still laughing and camaraderie to be felt.  In planning his eulogy I had neglected to mention that on occasion during family holidays, Harold had asked for us all to bow our heads and say a few words regarding his wife that had proceeded him in death.  If I had the chance to say a few words to anyone reading this post, it would be these: we have all lost friends and relatives whom we love.  It will be okay.  We will all lose those we care about in the future.  God is still here.  When it comes our own time to leave, ask Him to take us and accept us.  He gave us Jesus as a gift, a serendipitous down payment - and it is okay to accept it.  God's love for the human being is something that has nothing to do with random chance, and everything to do with Him wanting us as much as we need Him.  In this regard, I wish everyone their own stray cat experience.



  1. Just found your blog when I googled Intent precedes Content. I write at

    We, too, lost 2 pets this fall - so know about that grief. Thanks for sharing how Christians have joy and that makes all the difference!


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