Be faithful in the small things, for God is at work.
My German “sister” came to visit for a week, and so we headed up to the farm for several days so she could see my parents. They have a lot of farm cats in different stages of wild and tame, but a very tiny kitten wandered out into the driveway and plopped down.
That’s a Little Bit, I thought, scooping him up. “You’re going to get run over if you keep doing that.”
Little Bit wasn’t well. Gooey farm cat eye, extremely small, thin, no energy. His gums were barely pink. He wanted nothing more than to sit down or climb onto your lap and curl up.
I dug around in the old drawer we used to keep all of our veterinary supplies. Old horse ointments, salve for the dog, syringes, vet wrap…and there it was. The antibiotic eye ointment. I put that on his eye.
I’d actually planned on catching a different kitten who had a horrible eye injury. I won’t show you that photo because you couldn’t bear seeing it. The plan was to follow my vet tech sister’s instructions and see if we couldn’t do something. We knew he’d lose the eye, but we wanted to relieve the pain.
I suppose you could just shoot all these sick kittens. The world has enough cats.
But I caught the one-eyed kitty, and put him and Little Bit in a makeshift cage. I made sure they had some food and water. The next morning, though, Little Bit was worse.
“What should I do?” I asked my sister. She gave me some instructions, but pointed out that if his gums were white it was probably too late.
They were white. But I had to try anyway. I used warm water and cleared his eye and nose. I put the ointment on. I put a little honey into him to shock his system. I mixed up a milk mixture and fed it to him with a little plastic syringe. I held him as he curled up on my leg. I massaged his wheezy little chest, and ran my finger down his tiny back. And in the evening I put him back with Patch, the one-eyed kitty, and said a little prayer.
I got up right away the next morning and anxiously went to the kittens. While Patch was very active, I could tell Little Bit was just about dead. He lay splayed out long on the padded cloth, not moving, his body lax and unnatural.
I gently picked him up, and he squeaked out a groan. Grabbing one of the cotton rags, I wrapped him lightly in it and held him as his eyes glazed over.
“It’s OK, Little Bit,” I said, tearing up while brushing my fingers gently on his head and stomach. “You go on and go.”
He wasn’t dead yet, but it would be soon. I took the syringe and put a bit of water in it and wet his mouth. A few more gasps, a few more minutes, a few weak meows. Then one final meow and his tongue rolled out.
Little Bit was dead.
Just another throwaway kitten, some mongrel on an old farm in nowhere North Dakota. Nothing earth-shattering. No one was affected.
But I just stood there and cried, cradling the little dead kitten, looking at his perfect tiny mouth and toes and ears. God creates so much and we miss—or worse, dismiss—most of it.
I weave around salamanders crossing the road because while there are millions of salamanders and no one cares if I run over them…it matters to that one that I spare. I worry and pray about baby birds in the backyard and have buried more than I care to tell anyone. I have a pretty small realm of existence, when it comes to people crossing my path in real life. Maybe, in a world of eight billion people, I’m just another salamander on the road in the eyes of some, another baby robin that didn’t make it.
But I believe God isn’t fortune or luck or coincidence.
He is purposeful. His eye is on the sparrow. He intended to make us, he intended we each exist, and he knew us before we were born. Our lives aren’t random. I want to take it seriously, those moments and people that he brings my way.
That same weekend on the farm, one of celebrating memory and of fun and joy with my family and German friend, I also received news that a blogging friend I’d known these past two decades had died.
“I wasn't sure if anyone had reached out to you to let you know that my father passed on in August. I'm very sorry to have to let you know,” his daughter messaged, using his account, his smiling face next to the message. She must have had the task of going through his things, including his digital life.
Will. You died and I didn’t know.
While I hadn’t been as actively in touch in recent years, Will had been an important connection before social media changed how we communicated. He was a good friend, even if we only knew each other online through our blogs. He and I had run a book blog together, for a short while; he’d introduced me to Chesterton and some other good books. We’d had many conversations via email and once in a while over the phone. He’d stick up for me in the comments sections of blogs when people would come after me. He’d purchased my paintings (used one as the cover on his blog), and even commissioned me to do one for him. He liked to make pottery and years ago had sent me a vase he’d made, filled with candy. Last year I’d found a leather Bible I thought he’d like and I bought it but hadn’t gotten around to sending it to him and now it was too late. We had very different politics and theology, but he was my friend.
Our last chat was March of this year. It ended with him saying “Haha, we’re just getting old, Julie.” Five months later he was gone. His digital life is still out there, as if he was still alive.
My German friend would go back home. My parents are in their 80s. I don’t know if they’ll see her again. My friend Will died. The entire world seems on fire and chaotic everywhere you look, and there I stood in front of the house cradling a dead kitten wrapped in an old piece of cotton rag, weeping.
I’m so tired of death and loss, God. I’m so tired.
We dug a hole. I carefully tucked Little Bit’s legs under him and wrapped his little furry body carefully in the cloth, saying a few words mostly to myself. We buried him. All silly, I suppose. My friend pointed out the salamander walking by. I picked it up but I was crying so hard I could hardly see it. I guess a person can carry a lot of sadness around for a while but then something small pricks a hole in the bucket and it all comes out in a flood.
“I forgot you were that way, with animals,” mom said. I’ve done more animal funerals than I’d care to admit.
I’m not sure what the point is other than small things matter.
They have to.
We’re in a world raging at the big things, not paying attention to the small things.
A little bit can be a lot, in God’s hands. Small lives. Small connections. Small memories. Small whispers in a raging world.
More than anything, I want to be faithful and not hard-hearted with whatever and whomever God puts in my path, no matter how small it is. I want to be faithful in the small things. If not, I can’t be faithful in the big things.
In some way, feeling joy and hope and sadness all in three days was a kind of lesson from God. Little Bit wasn’t much, but he could’ve died any other day; I was there when he died.
“Here, you pour out your love on this little thing,” it was as if God said. “I put you here this weekend for this little animal, for this moment and everything in it. It won’t live past tomorrow. It won’t matter to anyone. It’s going to hurt. But do it anyway because I want you to know how much you matter to me. When you think you’re not important, that you’re forgotten, that you’re throwaway—when the world tells you as much—remember I sent my son to die for you, for your sins.”
Billions of humans. What’s one more? But it matters to God.
When it was time to go, there was a confluence of feelings about last goodbyes and knowing the next time we might all be together might be in eternity. That’s kind of the end, an uncomfortable mix of good and sad feelings, of memories and closing doors, of things to mull over and treasure in our hearts.
But Patch, the one-eyed kitten.
We drove him all the way to my sister’s farm in South Dakota that day, the day we left the farm. The last thing my sister needed was another animal in need, but I couldn’t leave him behind.
We left him there in her barn, in a little kitty carrier.
She takes him to work some days, and I frequently ask my sister how he’s doing. In a world spooling up to World War 3 and nations falling into recession and economic chaos it probably is very unimportant, but I still ask.
“Stinkpot is fine,” she’ll tell me, using her nickname for him, sending me a Snapchat of the kitten trotting around the shop floor, her dog looking at it quizzically.
He may or may not make it. He might end up back on the farm. Maybe he’ll get run over or killed by another animal. I really don’t know.
But we all do our part with the little things that come our way each day and work our way to the end of our days and be thankful that God cares about the small and weak because that is what we all are.
Life on this side of eternity is short. We’ll see God in just a little bit.