Thursday, February 12, 2009


It's been interesting watching the boys as they have settled into our household. It's fun to watch their individual personalities emerge as they become comfortable.

Kaos adapted almost immediately, but that's not surprising. He is a confident, laid-back cat with an insatiable curiosity and absolute confidence that he will be accepted, admired and treated well wherever he goes. He has never met a stranger: He likes to go up to "new friends" and give them a thorough sniff, check out any packages they may have brought in, stick his nose in their coat or shirt pocket, and offer his ears for a quick scratch. If you pick him up, he curls up into your arms and looks around from this new, interesting vantage point. Kaos is by far the most agile of our cats, but he therefore takes the greatest risks, occasionally leading to some spectacular crashes. It doesn't phase him in the least, though. He'll just keep trying 'til he succeeds. This is how he has learned to balance on the railing at the top of the stairs, perch on top of my closet door and lay down across the top of the clothes hanging in my closet.

Perhaps his most impressive trick, however, is balancing on the "cannonball" tops of our four-poster bed. This bed, a 1920s or '30s era reproduction of an antique set, has eyeball-level posts that culminate in balls about the size of a softball. Kaos can perch like a circus monkey with all four paws on one ball. He then bounces off of the matress and lands on another ball, leaps to the top of the shelves next to my side of the bed or launches himself directly onto whichever of the other hapless cats happens to be trying to nap on the bed. It's hardly a stealth move, but he still manages to catch them occasionally off guard.

Razor has been slower to settle in. This may be partly because he was in foster care longer, so it may have taken him longer to decide that this was truly his "forever home," but I think a lot of it is just his personality. Razor is a friendly cat, but not as exuberant as Kaos. He assesses situations before crashing into them, but his curiosity gets the best of him (especially if he sees Cinnamon or Kaos getting attention), and he likes to meet and greet visitors. He has only recently allowed me to start picking him up. He will relax for a minute and purr loudly, even letting me pet his head and snuggle him under my chin, but usually he will want to get down pretty quickly. I let him down when he asks so that he will let me pick him up again. Gradually, the lap time has gotten longer.

Razor does love attention, but likes to be in control. He loves to catch me when I'm reading and get behind me on the sofa or chair, then creep down my shoulder and walk across my lap between my eyes and the book, sometimes pausing long enough to draw his tail under my chin. Just passing through...

I call these his "drive-by" cuddles.

Razor is actually probably the smartest of the cats. He's the one who figured out how to work the toddler latches on the kitchen cabinets and still enjoys breaking into the food locker. He also likes to carry things around the house, so when something odd (a bottle of baby aspirin/Baby Jesus from the nativity set) turns up someplace where we usually don't keep it (under the dining room table/in the fireplace), I have a pretty good idea who is responsible.

Recently, he has started following me into the bathroom in the mornings and demanding belly rubs. He flings himself down on the bathmat in front of the tub and rolls around on his back, purring loudly, until I stop whatever I'm doing and rub his belly. Sometimes he will respond by clamping up on my hand with all fours, but usually once he has me in his grip, he just washes my hand.

His favorite game, though, is wrestling with the other cats. Kaos is his favorite target, and sometimes we will hear Razor walking around the house yowling, calling Kaos to come out and play. He doesn't usually bother with stalking: He just walks right up to Kaos and starts grooming him, then grooms a little harder, then pins him down to really wash those ears, then puts him in a headlock and pins him to the floor. Not very subtle. He does the same thing with Cinnamon, but she is quicker on the uptake and faster than Kaos, so she usually worms her way out of his grip before he can advance too far (she grew up with a bigger, older brother who used the same technique, so she's an old pro). So far he hasn't really tried it with Tweak. She still intimidates him.

I am so glad that we decided to get both boys instead of one or the other. They keep each other entertained and are a great outlet for each other. If we had just one of them, either of them would drive Cinnamon and Tweak crazy. As it is they can take out their aggressive play on each other and leave the other cats to join in or observe at will. It's a nice arrangement.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Remembering a Friend

I just found out that my former youth pastor passed away after an all-to-lengthy battle with cancer. Let me tell you about him.

Youth pastors occupy an odd place in the spectrum of ministerial positions. Many end up elevated to Personality Cult levels by their young charges, but at the same time, they are watched with skeptical eyes, always searching for that Greatest of Adult Sins: Hypocrisy. Nothing will cost a youth pastor his or her standing faster than being branded a hypocrite, and it is a charge that most teenagers will find unforgivable.

John came to West Lynchburg Baptist Church following in the footsteps of a youth pastor who had achieved that Personality Cult standard, and many of the older kids were prepared to despise him immediately because he wasn't the One Who Had Left. But John was made of stronger stuff. He was a Vietnam vet, after all, and yet one of the gentlest of souls. He was laid back and easy-going, engaging in conversations with us from the beginning, making sure that we understood that he was listening to us. Whether or not it was deliberate, it was the perfect formula: Every teenager, more than anything else, wants to be listened to.

John did not coddle us. He challenged us. He would not let us take anything for granted. It wasn't enough to show up to youth group and spout the appropriate phrases and Bible verses, he was constantly questioning us: WHY do you believe that? Is that what you really believe? Defend yourself. He was the Devil's Advocate in the best sense of the phrase, making us really think about our beliefs and refine them. He assisted us through that transition from childhood to adulthood, from believing what our parents and elders had always taught us to understanding and refining our own beliefs so that by the time we went out into the world, our beliefs were OURS. We knew what we believed, but more importantly, we knew why.

The greatest lesson that he taught us was to question everything. It isn't enough to repeat what you hear, you must consider the source, consider what is behind it and evaluate everything. This sounds subversive and, I suppose, in many ways it was, but he was a child of the '60s and had absorbed the lesson that Questioning Authority was sometimes necessary. Some parents were less than delighted that John encouraged their children to ask uncomfortable questions, but many, mine included, understood what a healthy approach this was.

By the time I went to college, I was not ready to fall for the latest trend. I knew what I believed and why, and this made me comfortable and self-confident when it came to meeting people who didn't share my beliefs. They were no threat to me, after all-- I knew what I believed!-- and I learned a lot over the years from some very interesting people by engaging with them, frequently with the same questions that John and posed to me: Why do you believe that? What are the ramifications of your belief? Have you considered these alternate approaches? It lead to some wonderful friendships and long, late-night conversations with people who I might have otherwise avoided because they didn't believe what I did.

And John never ducked the difficult questions. In youth group we discussed rock music and what effect it might have (a big concern in the late '70s and early '80s when burning and smashing albums seemed to be a national pasttime). We talked about dating-- not just "Don't have sex" but love and relationships and the importance of spirituality and family and, yes, sex. We talked about drugs and friends, crime and politics, theology and the importance of standing up for what you believe in.

Every teenager should have a John in their lives-- an adult who loves and cares and forces them to think for themselves. And most of all, someone who isn't their parent who says to them, "What you have to say is important, and I am listening."