It was 10:05 p.m. and the kids were still awake. As I turned my back from the basket of freshly folded laundry, I asked them for the third time to get into their beds. Before another word was said, I turned back to the laundry basket only to find it overturned, and my two precious children climbing their newly formed mountain. Three, two, one … there went my lid. "Get into bed this instant!" I yelled.
The dynamic duo, knowing not to mess with this tone, quickly scampered diligently under the covers of their beds. The second their eyes closed for the evening, that little voice inside started beating me up. Noelle, you were too hard on them. Just look at them, they are nothing less then angels. How could you lose your temper with these precious faces? My prayer that night was a common one, Oh Lord, let me know I am doing something right as a parent. Let me know they're on the right path.
One particular day after I had dropped the children off at a friend's house to play, I zipped through town running errands. Suddenly, the car in front of me swerved. Out from under his front tire, a tiny furry animal desperately scurried to the side of the road. Quickly, I pulled the car over and searched for the animal. After about 20 minutes in the hot Alabama sun, I called off the fruitless search and resumed my day.
About 15 minutes later, my errands took me by that same spot. As I drove by, I quickly looked from my car for the injured animal. Across four lanes of traffic, I spotted the small gray tail of an animal peeking through the median's tall grass. I turned my car around to check it out.
I tiptoed closer, not sure what kind of creature I would find. Then, a tiny kitten looked up at me through the weeds and grass. "Hello," I said. The kitten, sitting in a pile of fire ants, opened its mouth, but nothing came out. I attempted to pick the kitten up and she tried to run away, but she was badly hurt. Her back legs made no movement, and she struggled to pull herself away from me with only the power of her front legs. I picked her up and laid her in my arms. Soon, she laid her head down and began to pant. Her mouth opened again, but no meow came forth. My maternal instincts kicked into high gear as I put her in the car and headed for the nearest vet.
My husband met me at the vet clinic. The vet briefed us on the kitten's condition. "She's definitely in shock and has no feeling or movement in her two back legs," said the vet. "This may be due to spinal cord damage. If it is a problem with the spinal cord, there isn't much we can do. If it's swelling around the spinal cord, we may see some improvement over time. We'll give her some steroids to help if there is swelling. Other than that, the best thing we can do is wait and see how she fares overnight," he explained.
Leaving the kitten with the vet, my husband and I walked outside and debated about what to tell our children. Caring for this injured cat could turn out to be a good lesson for them. On the other hand, if the kitten needed to be put to sleep in a few days, we'd just be introducing a heartbreaking situation. We could just leave the cat with the vet and they'd never know what happened. But after weighing the issue, we decided to tell them about the kitten.
I picked the children up and told them what was going on. "You know guys, maybe we should say a prayer for the kitten. That's the best thing we can do for her right now," I explained.
The children agreed and took their task seriously. We sat down, bowed our heads, and with folded hands said a prayer asking God to help the poor little kitten.
Hours later, when we bowed our heads for the blessing at dinner, I was surprised to hear my daughter, Madeline, ask, "Mommy, can we say another prayer for the kitten?"
"Of course, sweetheart. Will you say it?" I asked.
"Dear God, please be with the little kitten," she began. "We really, really want her to be okay. We know that you can do anything, so please help her to get better." Be our guest and bless this food, too. Thank you."
I couldn't help but be touched at her sincere prayer. My mind immediately went into my own request. Please God, hear their prayers. Let them see how good you are. If you don't, I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do.
I thought that would be the end of it for a while. But as the evening went on, my children initiated prayers for the kitten whenever it crossed their minds; riding in the car, watching a Friskees commercial, even getting ready for bed. As I listened to them, I kept praying, A lot is at stake with this, God. I pray for them to see that you do answer prayers. Please hear that their pure hearts are asking selflessly. Please help me know how to comfort them when this kitten dies.
The next day the children asked if they could meet the kitten, so we made a quick trip to the vet's to visit and check in with the kitty. Her status had not really changed except that she was eating. Still, the kids fell in love with her instantly, oohing and aahing over her tiny size. The children gave the kitten a kiss and we left her to rest for the weekend.
All weekend long, the children's response was the same, breaking out into prayer whenever they were reminded of the kitten. Were these the same two children who consistently stomp their feet and protest loudly when it is time for church or choir? It appeared something wonderful was happening here.
On Monday my eyes teared up as the receptionist told me about the kitten's condition. "We checked on her this morning and she is moving three of her legs perfectly. The fourth leg is still dragging but doesn't seem to get in her way. She has been eating and purring. The vet said you are welcome to take her home, but to keep her quiet and bring her back next Monday."
I hung up the phone and released another tear or two. All this time I was so concerned about what to tell the children when their prayers weren't answered, I hadn't even thought about what I would do if they were. Now we had a kitten to bring home. The children jumped around for a good five minutes before they calmed down.
"What do we say when we get a gift from someone?" I asked.
"Thank you," said my son, Lanier.
"Is there someone in particular we should thank?" I continued.
"God!" they both answered. So once again, we bowed our heads and gave the best prayer thank you I've ever heard.
On the way to the vet's office, I explained again the state of the kitten. "We have to be very careful with her. She is still hurt and we need to give her quiet time. When I brought her in to the vet's she wasn't able to meow so we are going to have to be careful. We can't lose her in the house. We'll have to keep her in one or two rooms."
"Mom, I am going to say another prayer that God fixes the kitten's meow," said Lanier in a serious tone.
"Well, honey, God has already done so much for the kitty. Let's just thank him again for helping her get well." Despite my words, Lanier wasn't afraid to ask God to help the kitten meow.
So the kitten came home. With lots of love and continued prayers, she did make some progress. Her fourth leg gained limited movement and didn't need to be amputated as first thought.
After a month or so, our "foster care" was over and it was time to find a new home for the kitten. An unlikely couple came forth to take responsibility for her: my parents. When they heard the story of the kitten and saw the sweet little animal, they couldn't resist. She now lives in sunny Florida with two of the greatest animal lovers I know. Madeline and Lanier look forward to seeing the kitten, now named Lucy, every time they visit.
Oh, and there was one last lesson for me. Several weeks after Lanier's prayer, we were on a trip with the kitten in her carrying case when we heard a small peeping noise. The kitty learned to meow. God answered the prayer Lanier was bold enough to pray.
Not long after that, I ran across a verse that describes perfectly the lesson my husband and I learned from the roadside kitten. "Therefore whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:4). That desperate prayer I'd said so often had been answered, too. God has been helping me as a mother to do something right and my children are definitely on the right path. I would do well to have faith and confidence in God like my children do.
Noelle Ingram is a writer and the mother of two. She and her family live in Alabama.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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Winter 2002, Vol. 15, No. 2, Page 41