I don’t watch any sort of animal or vet shows. Ever. My creature-loving heart cannot handle it. This is common knowledge. In fact, my 5th grade teacher excused me from reading “Ole Yeller,” and my 8th grade teacher told me I could leave the room when we dissected dogfish sharks (FLA y’all). I also don’t do any sort of nature show where the injured/old/baby/vulnerable anything is being stalked. Nope. I can ‘Greys Anatomy” all day long but don’t put a 4-legged patient on the table.
One night I found myself uncharacteristically flipping the channels when I came across a cougar on a table. By the looks of the uniformed crew surrounding the enormous, sedated cat, I had landed on some sort of zoo program.
I was spellbound.
Maybe it was the size of the cougar- her nose the size of the vet’s open hand, her paws even bigger. Maybe it was the eerie way she lay there so quiet and unmoving. Maybe it was the tender way “her” zookeeper kept speaking quietly into her huge ear, and stroking her golden face- taking advantage of her anesthetized state. Or maybe it was the knowing voice and skill of the old doctor attending her.
The cougar on the table looked fine to my untrained eye. No wounds to be seen. No blood. Strong. Healthy. But the vet knew. He had seen the slight swelling of her mouth. He had watched her turn food away. He had sensed the hidden infection. And sure enough, when he pulled back her monstrous lips, there was a huge, festering, abscessed blister.
I sat staring, as we do, unable to look away, as he inserted a large knitting needle type tool into the wound and the sickness poured out. He massaged it, un-phased by the gore, the mess, the smell I imagine, until the flesh was clean, pink, and healthy. Then he gingerly stitched it up, confident in his work and the outcome for the cougar on the table.
Y’all, I have not been able to get her out of my mind.
God has had me on a journey over the last couple of years I haven’t even been able to verbalize fully. But when I saw that cougar on the table, as I watched that old doctor lance the wound, as I witnessed the healing that was taking place as she simply slept, I knew it was the picture of these lessons.
I’m the cougar on the table and I bet you are too.
I believe she will be with me for a long time and the lessons she has for me haven’t all surfaced yet. But today can I process 3 thoughts with you?
1. LANCE THE WOUND. We all have them. Sometimes they are on display for all to see, gaping and bloody, and sometimes they are hidden. I have had both. The longer I live the more I know this is true: my hard and your hard may be different, but we all have hard. And the hard hurts. The hard can wound. So whatever your hard has been- never assume it doesn’t matter, and never assume you’re the only one hurting. Life blisters us.
When the blisters rub, and the wounds appear- hidden or gaping- what do we do? I’m a “ignore it and it will go away” kind of girl… except sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it gets infected. Maybe you’re a “WebMD it and obsess over it” kind of girl…. But all that focus and information just scares you. It doesn’t heal.
I’m learning we have to recognize the wound without worshiping it.
Naming the wound is powerful. The whole body can get sick from one tiny sore. The whole spirit can feel crushed from one ignored wound. When we find it, when we name it and lance it, it loses the power to spread.
It’s painful. It’s gross. Looking at the junk in your life, the mistakes, the hurts, the insecurities, the lies- it isn’t fun. But until the infection is lanced in the light of Truth, it can’t heal and we won’t be healthy.
2. SUCCUMB TO THE STILLNESS. The team of vets would not have been able to help the cougar had she been awake. She would have been a danger to herself and everyone around if they came at her wound as she roamed her enclosure, walking wounded. But the stillness would have come for her one way or another. Sickness causes stillness. Death causes stillness. That is not the stillness we want.
We have to succumb to the stillness that heals, before it is too late. I believe this is the biggest lesson God has been trying to teach me over the last few years- REST. It’s so counter-cultural that we don’t even know it when we see it. We think it means a few more hours of sleep, a lazy afternoon binging on the couch, a mind-numbing scroll on Instagram. But we get up less than restored, more frazzled. Unhealed.
The stillness of Sabbath heals. We are healed in it and we are healed by it. It was God’s plan from the beginning and it is His plan now. The whole earth has a Sabbath rhythm built into it. Why do we think it is optional? How do we think we can out work, out hustle, out pace it? Why do we want to?
I am reading the fascinating book “Sacred Rest” by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. In it she describes the 7 ways we become tired, and explains that rest (or restoration) will look different in each area. We tend to think that sleep is the answer but that may only be true when we are physically drained. Sleep does nothing to restore life-giving relationships when we are socially depleted, and it can’t fill the void when we are spiritually exhausted, etc. To rest well we will actually have to pay attention to our lives and intentionally go after what we need for restoration and healing.
And it will take stillness to hear- from our surgeon and from our soul. Like that cougar, we are dangerous when we are walking wounded. And like the cougar, stillness is coming for us one way or the other. Succumbing to stillness is the only path to healing.
3. TRUST THE SURGEON. When I come to the doctor with my wound do I trust Him for healing or have I already written my own prescription? When I allow for stillness and come to God, do I come with my own agenda or can I simply trust His presence to heal? Do I sprinkle a little “Amen” on top of a bunch of self-help and wonder what is taking so long?
We have to trust our Great Healer for healing. His path may look different than the spiritual formation plan we have for ourselves. While we are asleep on His table, we have no control of how he dresses our wounds. Is His presence enough? Without the books and studies and plans? Can He heal simply with His hands and His love? Do we trust Him? Do I?
So I’m giving some time to recognizing my wounds- old and new. I’m doing the work of lancing them through prayer and hard conversations when needed. I am succumbing to the stillness of Sabbath to listen to the Holy Spirit and my own soul. And I am trying to trust in the simple capacity of my Surgeon. His presence is the foundation of all healing.
Those are some pretty deep lessons from 10 minutes of a zoo show. You just never know where and when God will show up. I am eternally grateful for the Cougar on the Table.