I’m feeling a little wistful. Our kitten, Abby (named for her hometown of Abilene) turns one today. Before we got Abby, I was not the kind of person who observed cat birthdays; though my wife and I have had a very sweet cat named Winnie for as long as we’ve been married, she was never my cat. It has always been very clear that Winnie’s primary loyalty was to my wife and that I was just along for the ride. But when we got a five week old kitten last year, I quickly took on the role of primary caretaker. I bathed Abby before she learned how to groom herself, I combed the fleas out of her fur, and I applied ointment to her injured eye. In the process, I became hopelessly enamored with this tiny creature who depended on me entirely.
For those of you who have lived with a kitten, you know that the first several months can be difficult. In their first months, kittens are still learning how to socialize and have energy to burn. So while Winnie always spent the night nestled between us and didn’t wake up until breakfast, Abby would spend her nights jumping on top of us, pestering her adoptive sister, and making it virtually impossible to sleep. As we lounged on the couch in the evenings, she would pounce on our heads and feet with her improbably sharp claws. Most worrisome were the terrifying cat fights between Winnie and Abby, which we were so intense that we sometimes feared the result would be death or dismemberment. Though there were times that we questioned the wisdom of bringing another cat into the house, we persevered, mostly because I couldn’t help but love the little feline terrorist.
As we observe her first birthday, however, I’m very aware of how much Abby has grown. I no longer have to bathe her, because she’s been grooming herself for months. Her eye healed long ago, and she hasn’t had fleas for a long time. Moreover, life has become much more placid. Abby sleeps through most of the night, she is more interested in cuddling with us than attacking our feet, and it seems that she and Winnie have reached a state of detente. The past year has been a time of amazing growth for Abby and for me. And while I am grateful for everything we experienced during Abby’s kittenhood, I am also profoundly aware that I wouldn’t want to go through it again with her. On her birthday, I am anxious to see what the next year will bring, but I wouldn’t want her second year to be anything like her first year.
As we approach the end of Lent and prepare for the emotion and drama of Holy Week, it is a good time for us to consider how we’ve grown during this season of penitence and renewal. Have we discovered new ways of connecting with God? Have we experienced worship in a new way? Have we developed new perspectives on the impact of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on our lives? In other words, have we grown? It is important for us to do this discernment so that Lent next year will not be the same as it was this year. Lent is meant to be an opportunity to for us do new things, to gain new perspectives, to grow in our experience of God’s deep love for us. By discerning how far we’ve come during Lent this year, we can continue the process of renewal and growth, not only during Lent, but every day of our lives. By engaging in this process of discernment, we can continue to increase our awareness of God’s grace, mercy, and love.