I have a rescue cat. At the time I got Lilly, I didn’t realize the effects of trauma are similar amongst animals and humans. Don’t get me wrong, people’s brains are far more complex, but the fear, tendency to fight, and distrust are the same.
Lilly was dropped off on the side of the road at the children’s home where I used to work in South Carolina. When my boss had her dog chase Lilly off campus, unbeknownst to me, Lilly hid in the chassis of my car and rode the ten miles to my house. She’s been my cat ever since.
I often say Lilly adopted me. It took over a year before she would climb into my parents’ lap and let them pet her. Before then, if she couldn’t find me, she would sit in the hallway and bawl. It was heartbreaking to hear. Yet she slowly learned she was safe in her new home. She became more playful, less skittish, and a little more trusting we would return when we left the house. Still, she struggled when anyone other than my parents or me were around. She’d run and hide.
When we moved to Joy Ranch, I had no clue how Lilly would respond. Our home was no longer isolated. We suddenly moved from the middle of nowhere to a 63-acre campus with people who were always out and about. Beyond that, kids are loud, and Lilly is afraid of loud noises. How would she respond?
A number of our kiddos have made it their personal mission to get Lilly to like them. They want to be able to pet her without her running off, flattening to the ground, or running outside to escape. At first, they were confused because Lilly acts differently than another staffer’s cat. Yet once I explained what a rescue animal is and Lilly’s story, these sweet, wonderful kids have understood far better than most adults ever could. And they’ve chosen to love her anyway, even though her response hasn’t always been the best.
We’ve been at Joy Ranch for two years now and Lilly has changed. Although she’s not where she needs to be, she doesn’t automatically run and hide when someone knocks on the door. She’ll often tolerate a quick petting. Even more surprising, over the past few months, several of our kids have experienced her coming up to them while they’ve been walking around campus.
Healing is a beautiful, but often painful process. It’s true for everyone, but especially those who have hard stories. As I’ve watched the residents interact with my cat, I’ve been reminded more than once that healing isn’t linear. Sometimes things happen to remind one of the hard times and regression occurs. Sometimes, the easier thing is to swat at the person trying to help. Yet with patience, kindness, and love, God does miraculous things.
We often want healing to be instantaneous, but more times than not, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s a daily process of putting in hard work. It can be frustrating, overwhelming, and exhausting. But, it’s also beautiful.
Joy Ranch is one of those rare places where healing occurs and, I’d like to think, where God’s presence is readily felt. It’s not the staff’s doings. We are still growing and learning how to help those who’ve been through trauma, yet God takes our efforts and blesses and heals anyway. We can’t help everyone, but we are thankful to be a part of our residents’ stories. Hopefully, they’ll one day look back and realize their time at Joy Ranch was the starting point of their healing journey.