Thinking Outside the Box
As a child I went through a cat phase. It started at age two with a Garfield Halloween costume. It ended around twenty when my (then new) husband refused to move my stuffed cat collection into our first apartment.
In grade school my teacher asked us to memorize a poem. I immediately ran home and pulled my book of Cat quotes and poetry off the shelf (a book I still own after sneaking it past my husband in a hope chest). I knew exactly the poem I wanted to recite; it made me laugh every time I read it. In fact, to this day I can still recall every line:
This Big Cat
Once when small
A shoebox was his favorite place of all
But now he’s old
and big and fat
but no one’s ever told him that
He can no longer fit inside
and so he tries.
He gets his head and two big paws inside
closes his eyes and dreams
It seems to him he hasn’t changed at all.
— Author Unknown
Along with the poem was a watercolor picture of an oversized calico bursting through the seams of a cardboard box. I practiced that poem every day for a week. Probably only six or seven years old at the time, I knew that every inflection was important. I wanted everyone to get the joke. Ready to perform; I stood proud in front my class, flawlessly repeated every nuance of the poem, and waited for the laughter. Nobody even giggled.
“Do you get it?,” I pleaded.
“He is too big for the box, but he gets in any how.”
I ran to my desk and pulled out the book, thinking that maybe they just needed a visual aide. Holding the page open, I held the book up for everyone to see.
Not even the teacher humored me with a chuckle.
It’s funny that I remember that poem. That I remember wanting everyone to laugh at the stupid cat trying to get into that tiny box. That I can still feel how frustrated I was when nobody else seemed to understand the irony.
Now, when people discover that I work as a personal trainer, they immediately begin to give me all the reasons they haven’t worked out in the past 24 hours/week/month/decade. They start pulling up pant legs and rolling up sleeves to discuss their chronic knee/elbow/shoulder/hip condition that has hindered their body building aspirations. They ask advice about things that, short of an MRI and medical degree, I could never even begin to diagnose and treat.
When people run into the fact that I am a pastor’s wife, they begin to give me all the reasons they haven’t gone to church in the past week/month/decade/lifetime. They start pouring out their heart, revealing scars left by churches/pastors/people in their past. They start to ask questions beginning with why that , short of being God himself, I could not even begin to speculate let alone answer.
It is a strange phenomenon. I don’t understand why people feel the need to explain themselves or the pressure they feel fit into my world. Yet, I find myself doing the same thing. I meet a dentist and immediately make empty promises to floss more. I encounter a vet and start confessing about the bag(s) of marshmallows I’ve been feeding my dog. I run into an old classmate and break out in a chorus of apologies for every stupid thing I ever did in high school. Ever.
In some ways it is as though I am trying desperately to fit into a box that is too small.
God refers to me as a branch on a vine. I have never seen a vine planted in a box. They do not grow in a box. They are planted in such a way and in a place that they might grow and expand in all directions. God says that He is the vine. That I just have to abide in Him. Hang out, really. And in so doing to find my value and source in Him.
Others may try to squeeze me into their box; enclosing me in expectations that simply don’t fit. I may long to shrink into the graces of those around me by justifying and then changing who I am to fit in. I may even be guilty of trying to force others into my own perimeters in order to make myself more comfortable with who they are.
Yet, if I want to be a branch on the vine then I must get out of the box. If I truly want others to grow then I must give them room by expanding the height and width of my grace and love.
For the true lesson of the fat calico is this: if you still fit in the box then you are no longer growing.
Be a branch on the vine. Not a cat in a box.