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the prodigal cat

Last night Jazz jumped out of our 4th storey bedroom window. Dean and I were doing our taxes in the office area which is right next to the bedroom when I heard a scrape and a thump, so I wandered over to the open window to see what it was. Though it was dark, I could make out a furry lump on the balcony 12 feet below me. I exclaimed, "Jazz!" and heard a worried meow in response. I rushed downstairs and opened the sliding door. Jazz streaked inside, all four legs moving quickly as she fled from the unpleasant scene of her botched escape. A typical resilient cat, she seemed none the worse for wear except for a bruised mouth from her hard landing.

Jazz is obsessed with going outside. A safe, warm, and loving home where every need is provided for doesn't quite seem to do it for her. She wants to be free! Free to sniff trees, gawk at birds, chase other cats, chew blades of grass, and roll in the dirt. Free to encounter speeding cars and big dogs and bone-chilling winters. Free to do what she wants when she wants instead of always being at the mercy of a master. Like the younger brother in the well-known parable, she has access to everything she could possibly need in our household and yet, I often find her gazing out the window at the possibility of another life, a wild life. And when she gets the chance to, she acts on that impulse, unwise as it may be.

I, too, think that freedom is my right. I hate being told what to do. I like choosing what I eat for supper. I like to decide when I wake up instead of having an alarm do that for me. I prefer to choose what I wear each day to having it regulated for me. I like to decide what I read and write and watch. I like to be the one with the remote control in my hand. I want to choose my friends instead of having people impose themselves on me. But is that really freedom? If we ask the younger son, my cat, or anyone doing whatever they please at any given moment...are they truly experiencing long-term, deep satisfaction from that freedom? I don't think so.

Doing exactly what I want loses its appeal rather quickly. I would rather accommodate my behaviour to align with the desires of someone I love, because now we can do it together. Being the queen of my time is not as grand or as productive as it might sound. I will choose to stay up really late talking to someone about important life issues or get up really early to make breakfast for house guests because I am richer for the shared experiences. If I want to do life in a meaningful and consistent way, it means that my will gets joined to others. Sometimes I like the joining and other times, I find myself chafing against the yoke, like some younger and immature son who wants it all and wants it now. When I struggle against these ties, it is not freedom that I'm longing for; it is impatient selfishness that I want to indulge in.

Freedom is jumping out of a plane safely strapped to a parachute. Freedom is doing a vigorous and graceful dance by following my partner. Freedom is the ability to say "yes" and follow through on it, no matter what it costs. Freedom is knowing that as along as I am in my Father's house, everything that is his, is mine. Freedom is running as fast as I can, the wind at my back, on the road God invites me to navigate instead of dodging traffic on a road of my own choosing.

I love freedom, but let me never forget that freedom is not free. Some think that a lot of money will buy it, but it won't. Some think that working hard and being a good person will eventually get them there, but it will always fall short. Freedom is always in relation to another. Freedom costs me my independence. It means that I freely give myself to be tied to another person in some way, because freedom is not possible outside of the tethers of love. Freedom on my own is not really freedom, it is merely floundering. Freedom is tying myself to someone who can take me places I could never get to on my own. Freedom is attaching myself to one who can make my life more beautiful than I ever could without him.

So the question is not, "Am I the master of my own destiny?" but "Am I free to give myself to love, both as a spontaneous receiver and as a generous giver?" I think if I can say yes to this, then I will never have any desire to opt out, jump out, or run away.
This is a cat we saw one winter day outside of a restaurant; he was looking to come inside.

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