Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Feral Cats & "Captive" Thoughts

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." ~ 2nd Corinthians 10:5

I first realized things had gotten out of control when the conversation turned to feral cats.

Just like a 100-watt bulb flooding a room with light, the root cause of my problem suddenly glared – and I understood that the problem … was me.

I had been struggling since the night before with emotions that had taken root as minor annoyance and then blossomed into aggravation, anger, hatred and now gloom.

Feral cats?” you ask.

Well, yes. Feral cats were the trigger that jogged my perception that 2nd Corinthians 10:5 (quoted above) is more than a glib word of advice – the verse is a sober warning – and we’ll get to the feral cats in a moment.

Let’s rewind to Sunday night, when this all started, because it's important for you to see how one thing can quickly lead to another ... and why 2nd Corinthians 10:5 is such a vital verse to apply to your life with strict discipline.

Sunday nights are my favorite times of the week. I call them my "escape nights." I don't watch a lot of television. But there is one show that I never miss: "Once Upon a Time." This show allows me to forget whatever is going on in real life. All of my favorite childhood stories are in one place, the heroes and princesses and knights and magical creatures interacting in one fantastic storyline.

But Sunday night, the show was delayed for a few minutes due to a speech from the Oval Office. And the President was addressing tragedies created by ISIS. This is where my “minor annoyance” began. Reality -- that the real world is a dangerous and scary place -- intruded on my escape time. And as I listened to the President, that annoyance moved into anger. I started brooding about the terrorist attacks in California and Paris. By the time the President finished his speech, I was into an agitated state of mind.

Finally, my show started, and I settled in, anxious to be rid of the reminders of the cares of life.

Unfortunately, the Once Upon a Time screenwriters decided to take a U-turn. The plot became very dark and sad. And the story ended with not a little bit of gloom. Now I was dejected. I’d been looking forward to a night by the Christmas tree to relax fully. I went to bed.

And throughout the night, I dreamed. I woke several times, and by now, I’d moved from agitation and anger to anxiousness. I started thinking about my life as a single mom, supporting a child now in middle school. I started wondering about his future. I dwelled on school shootings and his safety. I churned about providing for him in a world that shifts with uncertainty and fear. 

I slept lightly through that night. When I woke, it was to a grey slate sky -- not a glimmer of yellow sunlight to be seen. The house was chilly. My dog was curled feebly and snoring. He’s old, and so then I started thinking, “It won’t be long until I have to put him to sleep. He looks so miserable and in pain.” I started worrying about my dog.

Then I heard it: a liquid cough coming from my child’s room. I groaned. He emerged with an, “I’m sick. I want to stay home from school." He threw his little arms around my neck. I took his temperature (none), washed some Tylenol children’s cold syrup down his throat and convinced him to go to the first two classes of the day and then call me if he still felt sick to pick him up.

While I was scurrying around, turning up the heat, lighting the tree, putting on Christmas music (I had to try to cheer myself up by now!) and feeding the dog, I pulled up Twitter. What was going on in the world today?

And that’s when I got hit with the feral cats.

I don’t know what people were doing on Monday morning as they got ready for work, but it seemed that the majority of the 7,000-plus people I am following on Twitter decided it was highly important to send out photos and videos of feral cats. These weren’t cute cuddly fluffy kittens, mewing quietly and batting balls of yarn playfully. These were the scrawny, spotted-striped outdoor cats that bring dead rodents to your doorstep as gifts. My mind flashed back to four years ago, when on a cold winter’s night I took pity on four neighborhood strays and brought them indoors. They wrecked the house, terrorized my dog and by the time all was said and done, I had to de-flea the place. Let’s not even talk about the half-dead bloody Robins that they dropped in my yard, I guess to thank me for my hospitality.

There was no good reason for my grumpiness, other than the fact that since the night before, I hadn’t been following 2nd Corinthians 10:5. I wasn’t taking these negative thoughts “captive.” I boiled over and sent out a snarky tweet about these photographs, comparing the need of feral cats to that of homeless people. Then in a self-righteous huff, I took off for my gym for yoga class.

That’s when things got even more interesting, because yoga is supposed to lead to serene calm, and I was trying desperately to grasp at every calm moment and image that I could. I usually hit the weight room before I go to class … but when I walked in, a gaggle of women were watching a broadcast on Fox News about Donald Trump.

You know …. I normally would have let that go. I normally would have just silently picked up my weights, ignored the television and the Right Wing comments about the President and gone about my business without comment.

But at that moment, I let loose.

I sort of …. Ummm …. How should I describe this?

OK, there is no other way to put this.

I growled. Sort of like a loud bear.

Everyone in the weight room stopped and turned and stared at me, their jaws agape. I can’t blame them. They probably were wondering if I was going to start shooting, given the recent events. But I just glared at all of them, mumbled something under my breath about “Fox News is for non-thinking idiots” (I think. Yep. That’s what I said.) and headed to the sauna.

And in the sauna was an immigrant from China. We talked about the smog in Beijing and about how long she’d been in this country. We talked about kids and yoga and exercise and food and my child’s fascination with Asian cultures. By the time I walked out of there, I was breathing more deeply, and I was starting to feel a little ashamed for my bear impersonation in the weight room.

After I got home, I pulled up Twitter one more time to see some questions about my tweet about the feral cats. And I felt ridiculous. Why on earth had I made such a big deal about feral cats? Why had I made an ass of myself at the gym? Why was I feeling doom and gloom and angry and frustrated and anxious and – frankly – hateful? Yes, I was feeling hateful towards people on the other side of the political fence. I was feeling strong hate for their views and strong hate that they were clinging to a candidate that I found completely repulsive.

And when I looked at that tweet I’d sent out about the feral cats …. Well, that’s when it hit me:

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." ~ 2nd Corinthians 10:5

Usually this verse pertains to the practice of defending the Gospel, but I also think that when we “spiral,” for lack of a better word, into this type of negative thinking – it takes us away from “the knowledge of God.” It strips us of being grateful and loving. It takes focus away from the blessings God has given us and places it instead on our fears, anger and frustration. Nothing good comes of this. And as you can see in my case, by the time I realized how my thoughts had traveled, we can actually alienate others from wanting to know about Him, just by our negativity and actions.

The holidays are here, and for many of us whose life circumstances have changed, that can signal a lot of negative thinking, even sadness. But I would challenge you – as I challenge myself – to “take captive every thought.” Take it captive. When tempted to yield to the worries of this world, take those temptations captive. Stop the thoughts in their tracks, and if you have difficulty doing that, ask God to do it for you.

It takes strong mental discipline to quell this. But I also believe that when Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” that you can apply that to negative thinking. Ask Him to direct your thoughts, to fill your soul, to give you peace, to pour love in your heart for those that you find repulsive and to calm your worries.

Take every thought captive. I hope and pray that we can all do that this season.

And if you see snarky tweets from me in the future about feral cats, just assume I’ve had a bad morning … but I am trying hard subdue those thoughts into captivity.