Sometimes, your choice to care comes back to bite you. Literally.
Sometimes, the choice to welcome a sweet, spunky little kitten into your home — a choice you made with gladness — can get you into trouble.
Or to put another way: If you’re ever in need of a punishment to inflict upon your worst (hypothetical) enemies, here’s an idea: Infest their home with fleas.
Do this while they’re on vacation, so that when they return, travel-weary from, say, 10 hours of driving, they’ll be greeted by legions of leaping, ravenous bugs that weren’t there when they left.
As you’ve undoubtedly guessed, this is what happened to my husband and I when we returned home from a family vacation in South Carolina. After celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary, we came home to a very uncomfortable reality: that our home was filled with bloodsuckers just waiting to take a bite.
We had to take action; we had a crisis on our hands. Yet we were in shock; this was such a sudden reversal. Just 24 hours ago, we’d been sharing a special meal at a fancy restaurant. We’d been relaxed and happy. But now we were disheveled, hungry, and seething in our unfinished entryway. (We had to stand there; mosquitoes would have eaten us outside just as the fleas would have inside.)
Though we tried to stay calm and remind ourselves that this wasn’t the worst possible thing, not by a long shot, we failed. We were upset and exhausted. How had the choice to care for a pet backfired so badly?
Sometimes, choosing to care means that things get ugly. It was true when I lived at L’Arche* (where I helped people clean up after accidents, rid homes of bedbugs, and get through excruciating medical procedures) and it’s still true now.
To illustrate this point, I actually took a picture of my swollen, bite-ridden feet and ankles. It’s not the kind of picture anyone would want to look at (hence the fact that it’s not included here). But I took it to remind myself that healing will come, that when things get ugly, it’s not the end of the story.
And even in this difficulty, I can’t help but miss Bootsie, our kitten (who is staying with a wonderful, generous new friend until we’re out of crisis mode). I hate that we have fleas and bites, but even so, I don’t regret welcoming Bootsie into our lives. We never know what pains and joys each new day will bring, but opening our hearts and choosing to care is never futile.
As my husband and I work together to rid our home of pests, we are treating each other with kindness in the midst of a stressful situation. And so I keep thinking of a passage from Frederick Buechner’s writings that my dear friend Brooke read at our wedding three years ago. I heard it again as we watched our wedding video last week.
The passage talks about how, when we promise to love one another, we are promising our whole lives — the good, the bad, and the ugly:
“… The promises that are given are not just promises to love the other when the other is lovely and lovable, but to love the other for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, and that means to love the other even at half-past three in the morning when the baby is crying and to love each other with a terrible cold in the head and when the bills have to be paid. The love that is affirmed at a wedding is not just a condition of the heart but an act of the will, and the promise that love makes is to will the other’s good even at the expense sometimes of its own good — and that is quite a promise.”
In other words: To love the other even when the house is full of fleas, when each of you is covered in itchy, painful bites, and when a dear pet becomes more of a responsibility than anybody bargained for. And through it all, to keep giving grace.
And that, today, is the promise I choose to keep.
What’s your story of an ‘ugly’ caregiving moment? How did you get through it?
Join the conversation in the comments!
Also, look forward to a special post next week: an interview with Tammy Strobel of RowdyKittens.
We’ll be talking about Tammy’s new book (which launches tomorrow!), caregiving, relationships, simplicity … and maybe kittens, too.
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*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.