short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From Cruelty, Compassion

Cruelty does not always have to breed cruelty. Sometimes cruelty becomes so extreme that it breeds kindness in those who have been vividly shown where the lack of kindness leads. My sister, Katrina, is an example. My brother, Rollie, always said that I taught the other members of the 8-pack, the name he used for all eight of us children, how to survive and Katrina taught them compassion. I sometimes wonder how much of Katrina’s compassion was triggered in response to one of the cruelest moments I have ever experienced. When Katrina was three or four years old, we had a pet cat. That cat seemed normal to me, but Ma did not like it, partly because it would bring her gifts of live mice, which it would lay in her lap, causing Ma to stand up and shriek. For a farmer to be afraid of mice seemed rather ironic, but she was, indeed, afraid of them. She would stand on a kitchen chair, as in the stereotypical cartoon, and shriek if she saw even the tiniest and friendliest mouse in the kitchen. So, the cat was probably not going to curry any favor with Ma. Nonetheless, the cat did not deserve its fate.

What was that fate? One day, as we children — there were only we three older girls at the time — were playing in the yard, the cat showed up to play with us. Ma was sitting on the porch stairs watching us. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the cat jumped on Katrina’s back and frightened her. Whether or not the cat intended to hurt her was unclear to me, and I think it was also unclear to Katrina. However, for Ma, that was the “last straw.” She grabbed the “vicious cat” by the nape of the neck and marched with it into the house to my father, demanding that he burn the poor creature hanging docilely from her hand in our wood-burning furnace. How could a cat be “vicious,” I wondered, if it allowed you to pick it up so easily? In spite of my pleas and cries, the cat was handed over to my father, who, unable to stand up to my mother’s ire and worked into a lather himself from her fury, took it into the basement. My mother dragged my two sisters and me (the only children in the family at the time) along to watch as my father opened the furnace door, threw the cat onto the pile of wood being consumed by flames, and shut the door. The cat’s piteous wailing, full of pain and terror, did not last long but was seared by flame into the lifelong memories of three young girls. Over time, Ma has ensured the death of a number of cats: death by drowning, death by gunshot, death by whatever mechanism was handy at the moment. All were cruel, but death by fire was the cruelest.

I felt guilty that I could not save our pet that day. I have never forgotten her surprised, beseeching eyes as she sailed through the air onto the burning wood or her agonized screams as the flames consumed her life. Perhaps that is why as an adult I became very good at rescuing and taming feral cats, whether they be in the woods of Arroyo Seco, California or on the city streets of Amman, Jordan. In Amman, where feral cats were often atrociously abused by a population afraid of them, Dr. Beth, cat rescuer, became well known to the humane society that took in a number of the cats that I rescued.

Rescue operations, however, did not end with cats. While some people’s children might bring home a stray dog or cat, my children would bring home stray kids. One of them, Blaine, moved in and became a member of the family. After Blaine came Shura, a dying child artist from Russia who was able to get the care in the USA that allowed him to live, thanks to a series of miracles. Not long after that, Ksenya showed up from Moscow. After that, Vanessa, a young mother who had been kicked out by her husband when she was nine months pregnant because she was no longer capable of working and bringing in income, moved in with her three children. I was working on my dissertation at the time, so I was able to pick them up at school and babysit them while Vanessa worked at a job she had recently found. Later, our "acquired" children (with whom my husband and I became acquainted from our work abroad) did not move in with us but do continue to call us Mom and Dad and come to us for emotional support. These young folks forged a family bond that has crossed political, ethnic, and religious lines: in addition to the two Russians who did live with us, from the Middle East, we acquired two Muslim daughters (one Sunni and one Shia) and two Christian sons from Eastern Catholicism. I stumbled across each of them (or, perhaps, they across me) quite by chance, helping them when they have experienced moments of great difficulty. In return, they have given me insights into their cultures that Americans very rarely get, and, as “relatives,” they have brought us great joy as we have shared their lives, both the ups and the downs, with them.

My current rescue operation is for a dying, blind orphan in Tula, Russia, whose two brothers were adopted by a family in the USA, not knowing that there was an older sister. (Yes, back to Russia -- it is, at least, a language I speak and the country where I earned my PhD, so it is like just another home to me.) I learned about Katya in a pretty miraculous way, too complex to relate here, and miracles have continued to shape the path for Katya from Russia to the USA, the latest being that American doctors are pretty convinced that once she arrives, they can remove her tumors, which means that she will be coming to the USA not to die, but to live.

One poor tortured cat whom I could not rescue as a child -- such an evil deed by my cruel and abusive mother -- has led to many rescue operations of both animals and people. Was this a matter of God turning bad to good? Limited bad to widespread good? I might say that it was just a matter of my rescue proclivities and chance encounters, not attributable to what happened to me as a child or to God's influence on me. I might say it for some of the rescues, but not for all. Certainly, I know and feel that each cat rescue -- a few dozen of them by now -- is an attempt to compensate for the pain that my pet suffered. And what about the miracles that surrounded by Shura and Ksenya, without which rescue would not have been possible? I probably, speaking honestly, would not be able to explain how I could take in, clothe, and feed all those extra people and cats when we had barely enough money to feed the core Mahlou clan. But God provides, and that, too, is at times a miracle and at times an example of the good that God brings from the bad.


This excerpt comes from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009), prior to copyediting and publication. The book is essentially my conversion story with all the gory and glorious details. It also contains the stories of both Shura and Katya (linked here to a summary of each) in full detail -- all the miracles, triumphs, and examples of how God cares deeply for the most broken among us.


  1. The Lord was with you, even during the horrific experience of your childhood.

  2. Indeed -- but it took me a lifetime to see it!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience. I am not sure what to say...I had to wait a day to comment after reading it. I still have nothing to say. It is very shocking - what a sad existance your mother must have had. You escaped somehow. Your mother, she was trapped within herself - oh how miserable. I am so glad you made it out! From what I see you are nothing like your mother - Thankfully. Somehow God spared you but I bet you had to work really hard.
    So, the evil - was it worth going through for the good you now see? I am really glad good is coming out of your past.
    As far as the rescues - it is my opinion sometimes our past pain can give us a strength others will not have. You for some reason have a desire, compassion and the fortitude to do that hard work. Maybe it is there because of the pain you endured? I am pretty sure rescuing is not for the weak at heart. Am I right?
    I really like the person I am getting to know through your sharing.

  4. No, I am not like my mother. Most kids want to grow up to be like their parents. Not me. From a very young age, it was my intent not to be like her. I would tell her that repeatedly, which did not endear me to her at all.

    Not sure about the weak at heart, but the rescues are certainly not for those thin of skin. One cat bit me 50 (!) times during the rescue. (That upset the vet and the doctor a tad.) It was a little thing and very frightened. I understood. My arms are covered in cat-scratch marks, but rescue does not happen without some pain. The pain and the scratches (and even the bites) are worth it when you see a cat become domesticated and get a real home.

    As for the good being worth the evil, wow, I don't know what to say. "Worth" is something, I think, that is highly individual. I don't think of the past in those terms. What was, was. What is, is. That's pretty much my pragmatic approach to it all. I do see good that has come from evil, but certainly I would not want someone to have to experience the evil in order to gain the good -- and I don't think that is the way it works. I think evil exists, for sure it exists. It exists without reason or ration. It is there because there is bad stuff in the world. From what I have experienced, God will turn that evil into something good, but He does not take away the evil. I don't think He ever promised to do that. Life is what it is. Sometimes it sucks. But I do think that God cares, and that we can rely on God to help -- maybe not to make everything perfect (perfect is boring, anyway, and I don't need or expect a perfect life; I like the learning that comes from dealing with difficulties and finding unique exits from them - the challenge for me is like the hunt for the fox). I don't know if that answers your question or not, but it is not an easy question.

  5. You did good - great answer. "What was was. What is, is." There certainily is nothing we can do to change the 'was' that is for sure. God does bring good out of it. Praise His Name (said through clenched teeth - kinda..)

  6. I have been known to say on many occasion that God does not cause evil, but He will bring good from it each and every time! What a horrific experience you had as a child. I am so sorry, but I am blessed to see the ministry that has come from the pain.

    God bless you,


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.