Even as I reached for paper towel to pick up the carcass, I knew I should first take a picture. The need to document this death and share with others my horror was great yet the need to remove it all was greater. My phone stayed in my pocket, the crime scene clean up began. First I had to remove the very large robin, I didn’t realize they are so big but holding one up close, in my hands, I was alarmed at the size. The balcony off of my bedroom where I sneak away for a few moments of secluded time, the place my beasts cannot access and my Plum forgets often to look and Chef rarely goes, has one of those cat doors for our two felines who only come home in summer to eat and hide from a storm. And apparently to bring the trophy in from a battle.
I have read that cats bring their kills to owners as a present and also to alert them that the food is not as plentiful as the cat would wish. Knowing I keep food available at all times, I am assuming these dead things keep appearing as gifts to me, ghastly horrible tokens of my furry pet’s affections. As I mop up blood and pull feathers from the cracks of the wood flooring, it does no good to wish they didn’t love me this much or in this way. We are loved how we are loved. Even more than that, I know I have given such terrible gifts to those I love. Never having delivered a dead rodent or bird or frog, still I know my love is not always translated well, the message I am sending is often not the one received. Many times, I have made a mess of things, leaving the feathers of hope and the blood of trust for someone else to clean up as I sauntered away, sure that love is secure, only to find later that they grabbed their own roll of paper towel and began removing my love from their lives. How can we learn to see the gift given and not the chore it entails? How can we see the joy in the offering and not respond with horror at the sacrifice at our feet? We are loved how we are loved.
The robin made it to the trash bins without the larger beasts intervening, the floor was scrubbed of all the evidence and no feathers could be found. Still, the image of the gift lasts. A bird died for me yesterday, gave up its life so that I might have joy and feel loved. I think I know another story like that. As gruesome as it sounds, I might just have little disciple cats who are teaching me the Gospel again and again, reminding me that there is One who already died for me and has forgiven me. The trick to saving all the birds around my yard may just be for me to deeply accept that message, to understand the full bounty of grace awaiting me. I may never be forgiven by everyone but I am forgiven by the One. I will never be loved by everyone but I am loved by the One. Accepting the hope that comes with each new day may just be life saving for the critters in my yard.
As disgruntled and disgusted as I am by the death and clean up of the bird, I know it was a gift meant for me. I wonder who else offers their best for me and I miss it, the package not quite to my liking. Plum used to pick the flowers I had planted to adorn our yard and in sweaty dirty toddler hands, offer them up to me as a token of his love. So proudly he lifted his gift of bent and broken stems, petals missing, death now imminent for the life I had created. I was in love. I saw beyond the gift into his heart. That one is easy but what about the cranky older man at church who offers a bit of advice on keeping a child quiet during a service? The woman who always washes the dishes after an event but rarely interacts with anyone? What of the congregant who talks too much, forgets to listen, the one you often begin to back away from as you see her approaching? The quiet child who doesn’t pick flowers or act up in church, but reads silently in the corner and begs to be invisible, what is this child offering to us? How do we find the gifts and the love being offered in the midst of the blood and ick and feathers and smelliness and complexity of receiving more than we want or ever asked for? That is where the love really is, in the mess. In the offering of our truest dirtiest selves, when we give what we have, whether it be our skill at capturing a bird or speaking truths or drying the plates.
Friends, I am on the look out for love today. I am on a mission to see the ugly terrible gifts that others are trying to give me, reminders that not everything comes wrapped in bows or shiny paper. Love is hard to see, true sacrifice looks like taking time to hear beyond the words, into the message. The fact is our Savior died, an excruciating horrible death and I am still learning to accept that gift. Like any new skill, it takes practice, repetition, conscious effort. Before I can fully accept His love and grace, I must first begin to accept that very same offering of those around me. I wonder if you have room in your heart today for the terrible gifts that I bring as well? Our loves and graces just might save the world. Please God let me learn this before my disciple cats feel the need for another sermon.