Charlie, he sits in a cage by himself, apart from the other boys, alone. Like his namesake Charles Manson he’s a mass murderer. He’s killed at least four other males, possibly more. I can’t leave him with the other boys because he terrorizes them, he guards the food and won’t let any of them get close. Since he got all the food and the others only got what’s left he got bigger and stronger while they got weaker. Can’t have that. I don’t have the heart to put him down and rats don’t do well alone. My only choice was to get a small cage and put him in it, to do life without parole. Like his human counterpart, he has no chance of freedom. He is normally great with people, just homicidal and cannibalistic with other rats so I make a point of talking to him, petting him, and giving him a treat now and then. He gets more than he deserves because most of the rats he killed were gentle and had never been in a fight. Since I’ve moved him to maximum security the other boys are gaining weight and are much happier.
The other day I gave him some food and unlike usual he didn’t dive in and start eating, he walked out to the door and looked at me. I was thinking that he wanted interaction more than food. I was wrong.
He bit me, not only did he bite me he bit me on purpose. If you look at the picture you’ll notice that he got me on both sides of my finger and that tells a lot. He had to open his mouth all the way to get as much of me as possible. I can only think it was because he was mad at me or that he has become insane from being alone. That isn’t meant as a joke, rats are so in need of company if they don’t have it they can go crazy or die.
The thought of just letting him go in the woods occurred to me but I won’t. I’ll feed him again and reach out to him again and probably get bitten and bloody again. Why not just gas him or throw him out the door? Grace. Grace? For a rat? Yes. I deserve a lot worse, I deserve death but I receive grace. There are a lot of definitions of the word, most of them want to overcomplicate it. My definition of grace is simply this: Receiving a blessing when I deserve a punishment, plain and simple. God only gave us a few rules and they were to protect us rather than imprison us. I’m too weak and stupid to even keep those few and because of that other people have been hurt. I deserve a punishment, a harsh one, but I get blessings. There will still be consequences, like Charlie spending the rest of his life in solitary confinement but that’s not a punishment. If we rob a bank God will forgive us, but there are still consequences, that being jail time. God forgives AND forgets, society does neither.
Not only do I want the best for my rats, I feel compassion for them so I give them every chance I can. There is also this: If I don’t show grace, mercy, and compassion how can I expect to receive it? So when someone bites you (could happen), hurts you, lies to you, turns on you, betrays you, belittles you, or shows you contempt… you might consider letting it go because everything I listed we’ve done to God. OK, probably not the biting part, but I hope by now you get my point.
Shyanne. Yeah, I know that’s now how it’s supposed to be spelled but go with me on this, I’m on a roll.
The little blonde rat I wrote about last time is still too shy to let me get close, hence, the name. Now that we have that out of the way I can get on with this. I didn’t say in the last article that I got another one the same time I got her, equally shy. I haven’t named her yet, but I will and when I do I’ll let you know. Shyanne is still terrified and hides when she can. I put empty oatmeal cans in their cage when I get one. They like to remodel them (Female joke could be inserted here) and they like to think they’re hiding. She spends most of her time there, until they remodel it so much that nothing is left.
Occasionally I put my hand in, just so the other girls can sniff and nibble my nails. If rats consider you part of the family they manicure you by nibbling your fingernails or remove hair they think shouldn’t be there. That’s not a problem until one decides that one of my mustache hairs are too long or a hair in my beard isn’t right, then it might get painful. Anything for family though.
Anyway, Sometimes I stick a hand in and let them snuffle me while I pet them. All of them enjoy it except for Shyanne. They watch and learn from the other rats, the other little rat who is as yet unnamed on the other hand is watching and learning. It just occurred to me that calling her ‘little rat who is as yet unnamed’ for the rest of this article ain’t gonna work so I suppose I should name her here and now…. After several minutes I have it. Her name is Lilac, much easier to type. Lilac is almost to the point where she’ll let me pet her, she’s still just a little too afraid. Shyanne trips out every time I get close and runs for the nearest corner or up the side of the cage. So what will I do about it? I’ll just keep sticking my hand in, offering her food and love but not forcing it. If she comes around, great, if she stays this way, then sadly, she’ll have all of the material things she needs but will miss out on so much more. Lilac is close, so close that every day I think ‘maybe today’ and I offer a finger. If she licks it great, if she bites and draws blood, I’ll still offer it.
Now the punch line (you knew it was coming.) A lot of people spend their life thinking they’re hiding from God and… some don’t care. That’s me in the 70s. I knew in my heart that He was there, I just thought I was so evil that he had given up on me. I was wrong. We can’t hide from Him (not that we need to) because He knows we’re in the back of the oatmeal can or whatever it is we’re hiding in. I wonder now why I was stupid enough to think He didn’t care. He cares about every aspect of our lives, whatever happens to us, whatever makes us laugh or cry, whatever hurts us concerns Him. I love my rats, He loves us more than words can impart. There is a Greek word that people use, Agape, which means an all-consuming love but I don’t think we’re capable of even understanding that concept. Just my opinion.
He sticks His hand in for us to interact with Him even though we drove nails through His hand He still keeps His hand there. As long as our hearts beat He will be there hands extended, hoping we come to Him. If Lilac, Evangeline, Angelique, Moonshadow, or any of my rats bite me I’ll forgive them, I’d forgive them of anything. He will also forgive anything except for two things: disbelief and blasphemy. Rats can’t talk, at least in a way we understand, so blasphemy is out but disbelief is very much a possibility. So what do I mean by disbelief? Thinking He isn’t there? Partly yes, but that’s not the kind I mean right now. No, the worst disbelief is the kind that I WAS guilty of and that’s the real killer. Satan knows God is real, so what? Disbelief is refusing to believe that God will do what He says He will do. Disbelief is thinking that He might be there but just doesn’t care. Even then He will forgive if we turn around and run to Him instead of away. Let me be clear on this one. God is omnipresent, everywhere at the same time so technically we can’t run away from Him. What I mean is that we need to stop trying to hide, come out of our oatmeal can, and run into His hands. We can even nibble His fingernails, He knows what that means. There is a word for this, the old legalistic Christians like to use it and I try not to because it’s a turnoff. Repent. That word has been worked to the point of being useless. It also is partly why we Christians have a deserved bad reputation. The statement “Repent! Get on your knees and beg for forgiveness” would turn anybody away, even me. So allow me to translate into language just as valid but easier to deal with. If you’re doing something wrong, stop doing it, ask for forgiveness (which will never be refused) and get on with your life. Simple, not always easy, but simple.
If we spend the rest of our lives thinking we’re hiding that’s all we’ll ever have, until our hearts, then it gets worse. If we choose to accept His offer and His promise I won’t say your life will get better, that borders on what’s known as ‘prosperity doctrine’ and that’s for another article. You will, however be able to deal with the garbage life throws at us, knowing that this is the worst thing we’ll have to deal with until our heart stops, then it gets better, much better.
Everybody that knows me knows that my favorite pets are rats, not the usual kind that you might see in a garbage dump but domestic rats. “What’s the difference anyway?” You might ask, or you may not care but I’ll answer anyway. The difference between wild and domestic rats is like the difference between Hyenas and golden retrievers. Domestic rats are warm, clean, social, very intelligent, and fun. I prefer them to any other critter, there is a lot to be learned from them. That’s why I’m calling this series of articles ‘The Gospel of the Rat’. I can see some legalists cringe and turn red as they read this and declare that I’m going to hell because after all we’re told not to add anything (Rev 22:18) but bear with me for a bit and don’t get your underwear in a twist. I’m not adding or changing anything, I’m drawing parallels between them and us. Yeshua (Jesus) used sheep, I use rats. Hopefully I’m off the hook now over that but the diehard legalists will still send me to hell over the underwear remark. Fortunately they’re not the ones to decide that, contrary to what some want to think.
Having made that preface I’m diving into this. One of my two most beloved rats was Sian, she was beautiful. She was killed two years ago in an accident, I cried for days (yeah, tough guys cry), even now after pasting her picture here the urge is there. Recently a friend told me about another one that looked just like her at a local pet store so I rushed over and bought her along with one of her sisters. Now before I go farther I need to explain the difference between feeder rats and pet rats.
Pet rats are raised with love, they’re handled and played with. From the second they’re born they interact with people. They never intentionally bite or run away. Feeders are another matter, the darker side of the story. Feeders are raised for one purpose, to be fed to snakes. Personally I think that should be illegal but it’s not up to me. Feeders are mean and will bite you and run away, terrified. These were feeders, I had an almost irresistible urge to slap the guy that owned the store all over the building but I restrained myself. From the second I saw this girl my heart was hers. She was jumpy but I expected that. After they got her out of the aquarium (bad way to house rats by the way) she got loose. After a mass chase involving three of us plus the rat she was caught. In my hands she bit me twice so with bloody hands I carried her out to the car. I put her in a little cage I keep with me to put my rats in if we have to go it a store or something while we’re out. I got her home uneventfully but when I got her out of the travel cage, wearing leather gloves this time, she wiggled and jumped out of my hands.
A rat can run lightening and faster if they’re scared. My wife was lamenting that we’ll never see her again and everything would be chewed up. Two weeks later I caught her and put her in the main cages with all of my other girls. I gave her part of a little chocolate donut, rats are notorious sweet tooths, but she was too terrified to take it. While she was loose she didn’t get much to eat and had no company. Another fact about rats, they’re so social that left alone they can die or go insane so they must have someone to interact with whether its other rats or a person. She was also in mortal danger from three dogs or the ferrets if they got too close to their cage. She wanted freedom but she didn’t know what she was getting into. The cage isn’t to keep them in, it’s to keep them safe.
I watched a movie recently in which was a scene where satan was talking with someone. He made the statement that “He (God) gives you all of these gifts then tells you not to use them.” As usual that’s a lie. Every gift He gives us He expects us to use, but to use them at the right time for the right reason. All of the laws, I say ALL but really there aren’t many are in place for our protection, not to imprison us or keep us prisoners. The rules He puts in place can be compared to the cage. Outside she thought she was free but she really wasn’t. Inside it would look like she is in jail but in fact she’s free. They eat and sleep in the cage, other times one or two of them are always out with me. They might sit on my shoulder for hours while we walk I the park or to yard sales. They have freedom there, they can run all over me, all over the car, sometimes other people like to hold them and almost always get a chance to run around on the ground. They also eat like royalty, they get sweets, ice cream, every delicacy they could want.
At the end of the day they go back to the cage to be sniffed and checked by the other girls then have a long nap among friends. So I ask the question, Which is better, the so called freedom that isn’t freedom or the so called captivity that isn’t captivity. They can, incidentally, they want get out when they want. When they want out they climb up, hang on, and give me a stare as I walk by. They have this stare that I can’t resist. When they do it night or day I’ll get them out and on my shoulder they go where I go and eat most of what I eat, which now that I think of it is another danger of being “free.” People thing rats can eat anything, that’s not true, onions, garlic, peanut butter, and a few other things will kill them, but they don’t know that. In their cage, with other girls just like the, they have everything they need and much more. “Free” they had nothing but “freedom”. Cold, alone and hungry, she ran from place to place running, trying to hide from me when all I wanted was for them to be safe and happy.
Seems like we spend a lot of time running from God in search of “freedom” when all He wants is for us to be happy. I think the word LOVE has all but lost it’s meaning these days because it’s tossed around so casually. “I love football, I love chocolate, I love tuna (if you’re really weird), or you fill in the blank: I love _________. For this reason I very rarely use the word unless I use it in its proper context. I use the word with precision here: I love my rats. As much as I love my rats God loves us more. I can give them all kinds of good things, whipped cream, cream, ice cream cheese, chocolate, oatmeal cans which they use for a tent an remodel frequently, warmth and love, but what I have to give them is nothing compared to what He can and will give us. What father among you, if his son asks for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone; or if he asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent? (Luke 11:11), But we insist on what we think is freedom.
You can listen to whichever voice you choose. One screams, one whispers, they both promise freedom but only one offers the real thing. The other leads to lonely, hunger, pain, and destruction. One wants to smooth talk you into it, the other gives you the choice. Choose, and not to choose IS to choose the first voice.