Lessons from a cat bite

The Bible teaches that God is in control of our lives, in astonishing detail: Jesus says God has numbered the hairs of our heads, with the obvious implication that he knows and controls that ever-changing number. But admitting God’s control doesn’t make it easy to understand what God is doing in, and with, our lives at times. I’ve wondered about that for my own life for the last few months.

I was ill frequently last winter: the flu; one cold after another, then lingual tonsillitis which prevented me from singing in church and from participating in two of our four Chorus Niagara concerts of the season. As spring turned to summer I felt much better. I thanked God.

Then in early June as Ed and I were on the verge of leaving on a driving vacation to South Dakota, one of our cats, Roo, bit my left hand (I’m left-handed). Roo isn’t a biter. I was trying to move her from the bed, startled her from a sound sleep, and she instantly defended herself; then sheepishly repented. The deep bite got infected; my hand swelled. Crohn’s disease prevents my taking most oral medications, so I was given antibiotic injections a couple of days in a row, and we left town.

Soon I was experiencing crazy-driving itching on my hand, then blistering, more swelling and pain. I now had shingles, a recurrence from last summer (yes, I had the anti-shingles shot). My doctor thought it odd that shingles would show up only on one’s hand, but the diagnosis was certain. I think there’s a connection between the infected bite and an immune response which stirred up the dormant shingles virus.  

In a couple of weeks my hand improved. I was grateful. Then the shingles reared up again, more ugly, spreading all around my hand, wrist, lower arm; then to my back. (It struck me as humorously ironic that as my fingers swelled, my wedding band became painfully tight and wouldn’t budge. Not that I had intended to remove it; but there seemed to be a metaphor in there somewhere.) The use of my hand was now impeded, interfering with both my organ playing and my typing skills.


I enjoy the writing I do for various Christian publications. As each deadline approaches I pray that I’ll be given something worthwhile to say, which will in some way give glory to God. I’m deeply thankful, too, for the gift of music God has given me. As I prepare for musically leading church services every week, I pray a similar prayer. J.S. Bach famously inscribed on manuscripts Soli deo gloria (“To the glory of God alone”). Bach is considered the preeminent composer in all of Western music, yet his devotion to God’s praise defined his life. I want that last part to be able to be said of me.

So in my current state I wonder: if the specific use of my hands is so necessary for applying the gifts God gave me to praise him, why is he making it so difficult, even preventing me, from doing so? I asked the same question when I couldn’t sing all those weeks.

I don’t have one specific answer, and I wouldn’t pretend to answer it for anyone else. But I do know that God knows what each of us needs to remain close to him, to be obedient, to best use our gifts. And to get that result he often hones us on the anvil of adversity. No one is exempt in this fallen world. Nor, I think, should we want to be. The somewhat glib sports aphorism may actually apply: “No pain, no gain.” So I look for lessons God may have for me by subjecting me to this current unpleasantness, and I pray for the grace to submit to it patiently and to thank him for his care in the meantime. On the scale of human suffering my troubles are small. For that too I am most thankful. And I’m even (and still) thankful for the beauty and companionship of that marvelous creature felis catus.


  • Marian Van Til

    Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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