If it hadn’t been so cold, we would have let Sable stay put.
After all, she was the one who climbed the tree. She was in a pretty sturdy Georgia pine, on the slope of a hill. On one side of the tree, she was 25 feet from the ground. On the other side? Forty feet and falling fast.
Except she wasn’t falling. She had a nice collection of limbs that gave her a floor of sorts, and she wasn’t coming down.
But this was no night for camping out. The wind chill was already below 20, and it was going to get worse. None of us wanted to be outside at all. Only the cat in the tree was pretending it might not be so bad.
There were three of us on the ground. Melody, my wife, called and offered food. I got the tallest ladder we owned. Melody’s dad held the ladder and encouraged me not to get killed. The wind whipped around the house and added its own foreboding sounds to the uncomfortable night.
I knew before I got the ladder that it wouldn’t come close to reaching the cat. Still, I climbed. Sable watched with interest. I stopped at the last possible rung of safety. She and I both eyed the distance between us. There were still several feet of pine bark to go.
One of us would have to make up the difference.
This was a sermon in the making, I thought. We were doing everything we could to save that cat, but if Sable was going to spend the night inside, where it was warm, she was going to have to do her part.
I tried not to look down.
In a few minutes, our first-born cat started to stir. Sami, the second born, was already inside. He’d tried heroically to get her down. He’s athletic and sleek. He can run up and down trees for the sheer entertainment of it. She looks more like a furry ottoman. She’s comfortable enough climbing trees, but terrified of coming down. So she parks on a limb and pretends it’s a sofa.
Maybe Sable tired of all the noise we were making. Maybe she was embarrassed by the attention. Maybe she understood that it might be better to spend the night inside. We’ll never know. She doesn’t talk much. But what we do know is that she finally started to move, inch by inch. We applauded every twitch. For a while, she didn’t actually move an inch closer to us, but she was starting to stir.
Fear is a funny thing. It’ll keep you from doing your best. It’ll keep you from doing anything. It’ll convince you that it’s not such a bad deal to spend the night in freezing temperatures when you could have been inside, in front of a roaring fireplace, waiting on the next serving of your favorite cat food.
Sable wanted to come down, but it was going to be a costly trip. Like me, she was terrified of that first step.
Credit the slightly larger brains on this one. In this case, we knew something Sable didn’t know.
We knew that it was actually riskier staying put. What we could see, from our bundled-up vantage point, was that the real terror was letting fear win the battle. If Sable didn’t overcome her fear, she might die in the freezing weather. At best, she’d spend the worst night of her life in a situation that wasn’t necessary.
So we kept calling.
And God keeps calling. Calling us to stop obeying the fear, and start living where life is better.
Against the advice from ground control, I took one more step up on the ladder. Then I reached out my hands. The distance between man and cat seemed to shrink dramatically. We were down to six feet or so. That seemed to inspire Sable, so she made a significant move toward home. Bark tore off the tree as Sable moved to the next level of limbs.
We cheered. She looked. She debated. We waited.
But there was nothing else we could do for her. She would have to make part of the journey herself.
She dropped another few inches, and then some more. She came within three feet, and then two. But I couldn’t make up that last gap. It was still up to her.
Her confidence was up, and she came closer. And suddenly, she was within reach.
I could touch her. I could grab her around the neck, even. And as gently as you can pull at a grown cat by the neck, I tried.
Then I stopped being gentle. I used every ounce of strength with the one arm I had free, but it wasn’t enough.
Sable was stuck to the tree. Cats have claws, and this cat’s claws were dug in. We called some more. I explained the situation to her. I had to step back down to safer territory, where I could use two hands. Maybe she understood. She came moved closer, and I got both hands on the bulk of her body.
It’s not polite to speak of a female’s weight, but let’s just say Sable is a “big” girl. To make matters worse, she doesn’t carry her bulk very well. But on that frozen night, she gripped that tree with the strength of a body-builder. I had to peel her away from the bark. I hoped she wouldn’t use the same claws on me, and I prayed neither one of us would fall to the ground.
But once she felt both hands, Sable relaxed. She took to the rescue like that’s all she had wanted in the first place. We made it down, went inside, and kitty didn’t leave the house for a week.
Strange thing about her situation. With claws like an eagle, she could have come down anytime she had wanted. Even when she felt hopeless, Sable already had all she needed to make the journey home.
But fear had kept her in the cat-bird’s seat.
Fear is your enemy. Fear is a terrorist. Fear is a coward.
All you have to do to send the coward running is to take that first step of faith.
Today, my friend, is a good day to start moving!