Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Monday 25th June 2012

The Miracle of Being Alive

Anna bursts through the back door, breathless and wide-eyed.

“Mommy! Paige had her kittens, and we know it’s true because she’s not pregnant anymore, and because her belly is all skinny again. I felt it.” She catches her breath and starts in again. “But we’ve looked all over, and we can’t find those babies anywhere, Mommy. And can you please, please, please help us?”

She’s got one hand on the door-knob, and her other hand brushes away strands of hair that escaped her ponytail. Her feet threaten to run out the door ahead of her body.

I’m washing dishes, elbow-deep in hot sudsy water. But in the life of a farm girl, these are the moments that demand a mother’s time-tested ability to find lost things. I put down the dish-cloth, slip on chore shoes, and follow after her.

Sure, this farm has birthed dozens of litters over the years. No matter. You never tire of a new life making its debut. It never gets old, witnessing the miracle of first breaths and eyes opening, that feeling of a tiny heartbeat thumping against yours, and ivory claws pin-picking straight through a popsicle-stained tank top.

But first, to find the kittens …

We look in all the usual spots: behind hay bales, under old pallets, in that small space between the rocks. I shake my head, stumped. I notice how Paige follows us around the farm, as we treasure-hunt for her babies. She weaves through our legs, like she’s not certain where she ought to be. Like she’s completely lost.

Anna speaks the words I’m too scared to say: “They’re gone, Mommy, aren’t they? The babies didn’t make it?”

I nod my head. “I think so, Anna.”

I assume that Paige, a young cat, didn’t carry her babies to term.

Anna’s shoulders droop, and we head back up the hill. Paige follows, at our heels.

This is one of the lessons of a farm, a lesson you can’t learn at school or from a book. It’s a lesson that must be lived, the one about life and death. Painful as it is, the girls learn it early and often, that to everything there really is a season.

All things come to die: the things in the fields,
and the barns
and in the flower pots.

And the people, too.  The people die: the people in the pews,
the nursing home,
the house up the road.

And knowing this early, I think, is a sort of gift: to view death not as a spectre, but as an inevitable part of this journey on planet Earth.

Death reminds us what we believe about ourselves: That life is not something with a clear beginning and ending, but a fragile thing with a passageway. 

We walk up the hill, home.

But then …

It’s days later when Anna again bursts through the back door, breathless and wide-eyed.

“Mommy! You’ll never believe it, but Paige’s kitties … the flower pot … and Daddy saw it, too! … And come quick … They’re sooooo cute!”

She doesn’t wait this time. The back door slams. A girl squeals all the way down the hill. I grab a camera, and jog after her.

And right there, in an empty flower pot tucked away in the back of the shed — in a tall flower pot where beauty had bloomed skyward, season after season — we find a first-time mama and three tiny sets of eyes. All of them are open.

All of the eyes are open. 

And we peek over the rim of a flower pot, our own eyes opening again at the incredible miracle of being alive.

farm kittens

Writing in community with Jennifer Ferguson, Laura Boggess and Michelle DeRusha

  • what a roller coaster of emotions…so sweet those little kittens are alive…so glad Anna could look at death from a bit of a distance…it will come too soon in her life…because from our perspective…it’s always too soon. Blessings~

    • Yes, rollercoaster indeed. It was definitely a case of being “surprised by joy.”

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Oh, I’m so happy for you all! I can’t help but think…….I once was lost, but now I’m found. Praise the Lord for the gift of life, both physical and spiritual. Lovely post, Jennifer!

    • Thank you, Lynn. Always such a joy to see you here in the comment box.

  • What a great story! Thank you for sharing it! I understand exactly what you mean about the farm girl moments. I live on a farm as well. We have faced many life and death moments as well on our farm. We may be facing another soon as we have an old cat that may be on the last leg of her journey with us. It never gets any easier for me. Thank you again for sharing your wonderful story! I’m so glad the kittens were okay! They are adorable! 🙂

    • Hi Sherry … Our first farm cat is still here. Her name is Pretty Kitty, and she’s about 10 years old. I can’t believe she’s still alive. And having babies! She’s pregnant right now.

  • Oh, that is so precious, Jennifer. Growing up, we have lived through many similar scenarios, and the mother cats are so creative, finding places where their babies are hidden away, presumably protected from other, wilder farm critter visitors (opossums, ‘coons, foxes, etc). I’m so glad you get to enjoy those babies–this is a great story of living through the acceptance of death and celebration (and surprise) of life. Well done!

    • They are creative in their hiding places! I really was quite shocked, though, when we find those babies. I think it’s because Paige had been wandering so much. The other mothers tend to stay closer to their little ones. I wonder now, if she was following us because she was nervous that we’d find them.

  • What a great story, Jennifer. And I agree with you. Our children need to know about dying and the One who died that the sting of death would die with Him on the cross. xox

    • We’ve been given an opportunity, here in our small community, to see this life-death-life cycle up close and personal. We got to a multi-generational church, have friends in nursing homes, and like to visit the “Grandmas and Grandpas” in our neighborhoods. We think this gives the girls a fuller, more accurate picture of life. Thank you, Patricia, for being here. You bless me so.

  • What a sweet ending. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful insight with us today.

    • Thank you, Jelli. It was sweet, and as much as I love watching over those kitties, I love watching my GIRLS watch over those kitties. 🙂

  • It’s so exciting when we find that “life” has won, once again! I love the true-through-childlike-eyes story you told us today, Jennifer! It’s a wonder and a joy!

    • Hi Beth …

      Very redemptive quality about these sorts of surprising discoveries, yes? All the best to you, dear Beth.

  • I don’t live on a farm, but there are a lot of ag-kids around here. It does change the way our community thinks, especially when human death happens.

    Well told, Jennifer!

    • We’re so surrounded here by various ages, and life-death cycles … not only on the farm, but right up the road, and around the corner. This is part of the reason we spend a lot of time in nursing homes … so my kids can see a fuller picture of life. I’m guessing your community is similar in that way, too? Ages inter-mingling?

  • What a surprise! I reemmber as a kid, the cat crawling in my sock drawer and giving birth there. And my socks in those days were horrid

    • Awww! What were the kitties names, David? Pleeeease don’t tell me you named one Socks.

  • Jillie

    This is so very good today. Took me back to the time I was about 10 or 11. I had a pet cat on our little hobby-farm. She decided to birth her kittens in my bedroom closet. Turned out all 3 kittens were breech and they all died…and then she died as well. I was devastated. I don’t remember anyone explaining the life/death cycle. I so wish they had. My Mom was such a softie–she named every chicken, every kitten..she didn’t handle farm deaths any better than I did. But your way of exposing your children to the harder truths of life & death, is wisdom. Thank you for this today!

    • Oh. That is so sad, Jillie. Even when we do our best to explain death to our kids, it’s never easy. I’m not sure I’m doing it the right way.

      Thank you for being here. I appreciate you sharing here.

  • Great story, Jen – and great story-telling, too. Thank you.

    • Thanks Diana. Are you glad I switched back to WordPress? It feels safer somehow. Thanks for your advice!

  • you are the cat’s meow…

    couldn’t resist.


  • Just thinking on how squishy that mom must have been in with those growing kittens…

    • Connie,

      I know! That’s what we keep saying. We’d like for her to pick one of the other gazillion great spots to raise kittens, but she insists. Mother knows best, right? 😉

  • such a lovely story and adorable babies!

    • Hi Lydia! Thank you for being here. Yes, they’re pretty cute. We’re about to get another set of three or four. “Pretty Kitty” is very pregnant.

  • I love these stories from the farm Jennifer. My heart gravitates to places like your home. You make the stories come to live with your perfectly chosen words. You make me smile.

    • Linda,

      Get your heart — and your whole self — gravitating this way! I’d like that a lot.

  • Ahh.. the miracle of life and of lost being found. I love this story and the way you told it. I feel at home on your farm. Sounds just like my grandparent’s farm where I spent many childhood days creating adventures in the Iowa cornfield 🙂 My daughters would be ecstatic if we found kittens in our flower pots 🙂

    • Now, we may have covered this territory earlier, so I apologize if you’re answered this before: Where in Iowa?

  • I needed this story today, Jennifer. You ministered to me, right here, with these words and photos of those beautiful little mewling beings.

    Thank you.

    • I’m so glad. Sending love to you, my radiant friend.

  • Wow, what an amazing story. Love life.

    • Nice to meet you, Libby. I see you’re a fellow Iowan!

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Funny, Jennifer, I kept visualizing those “potted” kitties all day, and I had the thought, that when we are born again, God often shelters us o.o. view,protecting and nurturing us, allowing us to grow a little before sending us out into the wild world….just like that mama did. Sweet poste.

    • Yes. Just that, Lynn. I like that.

  • Oh Jennifer how life-affirming and beautiful. And yes, too, a happy ending. We just had puppies and new life is a joy. Thanks for sharing this farm story of new beginnings and a sweet new momma kitten.

    • Oh fun! I think we’re the only farm family in the whole state of Iowa that doesn’t have a dog , by the way. 🙂

  • Awesome post. Life is a thing to celebrate… from beginning to end. Good for you and even better for your girls.

  • Oh my goodness. We’ve always had cats, but we’ve never had newborns. But we did have lots of baby bunnies, and that was just about as exciting. Of course, we never had to go hunting for them.

    I just love how you tell a story.

  • If I lived closer I would take one, except I am partial to ‘calico’s.’

  • Sigh…contentedly…all is well on the farm…so adorable! what a gift for your kids to grow up on a farm…hugs to you, Jennifer 🙂

  • Tears! I had to put my last kitty down about 6 weeks ago and I miss her so. Your new kitties are so cute and so is Paige.

  • So relieved to read a happy ending. This was so touching, it blessed my heart to read this in my email this morning!

  • Okay you’ve got me crying again. Life is so gentle and so brutal all at the same time. To live is to die, they are a packaged deal. But to find the beauty and joy in between is a gift. Thank you for sharing. I’ll think of Anna’s eyes of excitment and kittens in a flower pot all day today. ~Di

  • Farming is a real rollercoaster of faith in God’s sovereignty–even when things die. I met you over at Ann’s today, too. It spoke to me of my children, leading them to water but being unable to make them drink if they don’t make that choice.

  • Pam DeWall

    That brought a tear to my eye when I found out the kittens were alive and well. So happy to hear that.

@suzanneeller It's a short flight south! The guac awaits. ❤️🇲🇽🍹🌴🌊