Stepping Out of The Cage
This spring  our sweet gray tabby died
of old age. My youngest daughter wailed that we would never have a cat again,
and her two older sisters said, "Oh, don't worry; Mom will always have
a cat." They are right. Life is just not right without a cat. Besides the
mousing value, the therapy value of that incredibly soft fur is inestimable.
Except for a few years in rental housing, in my 52 years, I've always had a
So I headed to the Humane Society to find a new friend. I love Siamese cats, so
I planned to get one of those, but when I picked up this beautiful little lady,
with her one blue eye and one gold eye, I was smitten. She was sweet, she was
inquisitive, she melted in my arms.
The Humane Society workers, however, were very wary. They said they needed me to understand that this cat had "extreme anxiety," that she had originally been adopted by another family from another shelter, and had been surrendered to this shelter because she was crazy and wouldn't stop attacking the family. What? She was so sweet! They said, "Yes, that's the way she was at the shelter for the other family as well, but as soon as they got her home, she freaked out. They had her a month and she only got worse. She attacked people and actually caused injury, so they sadly brought her in." After they assured me that I could bring her back and pay a surrender fee if she didn't work out, I decided to take a chance. I was just so taken with that silky fur, and those bright eyes. I named her "Jewel."
Jewel was as sweet as could be. For about 1 hour. And then the devil cat
appeared. Anytime someone tried to get near her, she attacked. The claws were
out, the teeth were sharp. She ran, she fought, she gave me battle wounds.
She'd settle down for a little while, and then suddenly go crazy again. Clearly
she was terrified. Throwing a small blanket on her would cover the vicious
claws and help me pick her up safely, but I started to wonder if she was beyond
It was curious that she had been so sweet at the shelter. I sat and thought about this. What was the difference between the shelter and our home? The shelter had lots of noise, lots of other animals (we have a small, calm, quiet cocker spaniel who is uninterested in cats), lots of people, lots of smells. And then it hit me: at the shelter she lived in a cage! She felt safe in a cage!
I pulled an old cat carrier from storage and pushed her, yowling and clawing, inside it. She angrily protested for a few minutes, but within an hour she was completely calm and happy. Bingo! She was terrified of too much space! Cats are naturally territorial and if she had been a feral kitten, she may have had some bad experiences treading on another wild cat's space.
My girls and I set out to help her expand her territory and realize that our entire house was safe. We started with her in the cage in the living room. After a while, we let her out, but shut the French doors. She could see us, but she was still in her own room. She explored a little bit, and then started freaking out again, so back into the cage she went to calm down before having another go at it. When she became comfortable with this room, we added another room: the girls' bedroom. She would move around for an hour or two, and then the claws would be back out, and we would return her to her safe cage for a while.
Over a week or two, she increased her territory to include the whole house, but it was almost six weeks before she had any interest in going outside, or even looking out the window! Finally, she couldn't resist the pull of the outdoors, but she stayed right on the back patio for the first day. The next day, she went a couple of feet beyond the patio. It was another week before she ventured beyond the back yard to the canal bank beyond. Occasionally she got scared and had to spend a little time back in the cage.
Now...she is totally comfortable. She loves exploring (but not too far beyond the back yard). She's a very intelligent and very sweet cat. She hops up on the bathroom counter and meows for us to turn the tap on so she can get a drink straight from the source. She has a beautiful voice and communicates well her needs. When you pick her up, she gives you a "neck hug" and a butterfly kiss. She even purs! If you pet her so much that it starts to bug her, she never takes out her claws, but with all four soft paws, she firmly pushes your hand away. She's a wonderful pet.
It seems so silly now to think that she preferred such a constricted space as a cage, when there were so many joys to be found in the freedom of roaming the house, in the companionship of the people around her, in the fun of the back yard, in the cool, clear tap water, and in sleeping on a soft blanket on a bed.
But are we not all a little bit like Jewel? Do we not prefer to stay in our comfort zone? Do we not like being with people like ourselves, in familiar situations, doing things we are already good at? Do we not freak out sometimes when the Lord opens the cage and coaxes us into a new church calling, a new visiting teaching district, a mission call, the terror of marriage, the adventure of becoming parents, an unpleasant trial, an opportunity to love someone very unlike ourselves, a new career? Wouldn't we rather be left in our cage?
Now whenever God opens the door and forces me to experience something new, something scary, something uncomfortable, I'm going to remember those first weeks with Jewel, and remind myself that a comfort zone is nothing but a cage that will deny me many amazing adventures and delightful associations, and keep me from experiences and joys I can only now imagine. I'm going to picture Jewel, sitting in the tall grass on the canal bank, spying the ducks, her tail twitching excitedly. I'm going to picture Jewel, chasing after birds and butterflies and bugs, enjoying the thrill of the hunt. I'm going to picture Jewel, purring ferociously on the shoulder of a former scary giant human. And I'm going to dare to embrace the greater freedom outside the cage. (My essay originally published August 9, 2015 at http://mormonwindow.blogspot.com/2015/08/stepping-out-of-cage.html).
ALGERNON SIDNEY GILBERT
Gilbert and Whitney Store in Kirtland
In June of 1831, following a conference held in Kirtland, the Prophet Joseph Smith traveled with a small group of brethren westward on the Missouri River to the last outpost on the western edge of the United States, Independence, Missouri.
One member of the group traveling with the Prophet was Algernon Sidney Gilbert. He had been instructed earlier by revelation (D&C 52) to be an agent to the Church. Sidney was a business partner with Newel K. Whitney; they operated a store in Kirtland, Ohio. Both were baptized in 1830.
Several missionaries had already arrived in Independence in January, having traveled by foot 1,500 miles, and the Prophet was headed to meet with them. Parley P. Pratt was among them and later wrote that they “preached the gospel to tens of thousands of Gentiles and two nations of [natives]; baptizing, confirming and organizing many hundreds of people into churches of Latter-day Saints. This was the first mission performed by Elders of the Church in any of the States west of New York, and we were the first members of the same which were ever on this frontier” (Pratt, 40). (I cannot find confirmation of the huge success of this mission, however. I wonder if Parley is remembering wrongly, or if he is talking about members they baptized along the way. Certainly very few Missiourians joined the Church.)
Far, Far Out of Their Comfort Zones in Independence
Arriving in Independence, the Prophet observed:
“The meeting of our brethren, who had long awaited our arrival, was a glorious one, and moistened with many tears. It seemed good and pleasant for brethren to meet together in unity. But our reflections were many, coming as we had from a highly cultivated state of society in the east, and standing now upon the confines or western limits of the United States, and looking at the vast wilderness of those that sat in darkness; how natural it was to observe the degradation, leanness of intellect, ferocity, and jealousy of a people that were nearly a century behind the times, and to feel for those who roam about without the benefit of civilization, refinement, or religion..” (Smith, History of the Church, 1:188-89).
The first Sunday there, W.W. Phelps preached to a congregation containing a huge variety of people including a handful of Native Americans and a “respectable number” of Black Americans.
The contingent spent the summer surveying the area and purchasing land for a gathering of Saints to a new Zion. In August, they turned toward home. (See Brian and Petrea Kelly, Latter-day History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Covenant Communications, p.79-93.)
Doctrine and Covenants 60-62
Doctrine and Covenants 60 was received in response to their questions about how to safely travel home. The group of men, plus Sidney’s wife, had traveled part of the way to Independence on the water because it was so much quicker than land, but they found that the Missouri River was treacherous, abounding in sawyers (fallen trees that were submerged but still rooted to the river bottom), and full of rapids. On the trip home, they secured canoes, and one of these sawyers nearly capsized the Prophet’s canoe. It was a terrifying experience for all. (See https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/church-historians-press/jsp-revelations/dc-061-1831_08_12_000?lang=eng.) The revelation also encouraged them to preach on their way home, “without wrath or doubting, lifting up holy hands upon them. For I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you” (verse 7). This the travelers did.
Section 61 was then received a few days later with instruction to leave the river and travel overland.
“And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I saw unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you…” (D&C 61:36).
Section 62 was received further along the way home, commending their preaching efforts.
“…Your mission is not yet full. Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.
“And now continue your journey. Assemble yourselves upon the land of Zion; and hold a meeting and rejoice together, and offer a sacrament unto the Most High” (verses 2-4).
Gilbert and Whitney Store in Independence
A revelation received the following year instructed Sidney to establish a store in Independence for the blessing of “the affairs of the poor” (D&C 82:12). This he did. But things fell apart quickly as the Saints tried to settle among a frontier people, and only a year later on November 4, 1833 Sidney Gilbert fled Independence, Missouri for the safety of Clay County. His home had been partially demolished by an angry mob. The goods of his Gilbert and Whitney mercantile had been thrown into the street. He had been arrested and imprisoned seven days on a false charge of assault, but then released. He escaped Independence with only his Bible and 19 revelations he personally copied by hand that are now sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, including Section 61. (Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, Bookcraft, 1997, p. 102-103).
Gilbert and Whitney Store in Liberty
After fleeing to Clay County, Sidney set up a new store in Liberty, Missouri, without the benefit of selling the one in Independence. All the Saints who had taken refuge there had lost everything. They worked what jobs they could find, but at length it was determined that someone needed to travel back to Kirtland to tell the Prophet of their plight. By now it was winter and the Saints were starving. No one had the health, the money, or the supplies for such a trip, but finally Parley P. Pratt and Lyman Wight volunteered. Parley went without money to Sidney’s store.
Brother Gilbert remarked, “Brother Parley, you certainly look too shabby to start a journey; you must have a new suit.” He gave him a cloak and what fabric he had left. Several sisters in the shop, overhearing, volunteered to sew the fabric into clothing. Parley and Lyman rode on horseback the 800 miles north.
“We arrived in Kirtland early in the spring, all safe and sound; we had lacked for nothing on the road, and now had plenty of funds in hand. President Joseph Smith and the Church in Kirtland received us with a hospitality and joy unknown except among the Saints…” (Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, p. 88).
I love that phrase: “Joy unknown except among the Saints.”
Joy Outside of Comfort
Life as a Latter-day Saint is predominantly joyful, even when we are so far out of our comfort zone “cages” that we might call our experiences trials and adversity, if we rely upon the Lord. It is a joy that overrides our circumstances because it is brought by unity with God who is Love, through the Holy Ghost which brings joy, as we love and serve and associate with our brothers and sisters here on this earth and beyond. The hard experiences we have may not get easier, but we become stronger and more peaceful through this pure love of Christ that comes into our hearts and through us to others. Our experiences, especially the hard ones, expand our territory of comfort and enlarge the circle of our influence of love, which increases our joy. Even though it’s a silly comparison, the thoughts of my cat, Jewel, and her growth from comfort and safety inside a cage to greater happiness, companionship, and joyful exploration throughout our home and property frequently reminds me to give up my terror and look outside my safety net for joy in the service of the Lord and my neighbor and in the enjoyment and exploration of His beautiful earth and the people in it.
(Make sure you read the Church's Revelations in Context for these sections which is on the Church's website. You can just click the link I've provided, but if you want to look up this manual anytime on your own, you get to it by choosing "Gospel Library," then "Restoration and Church History," then "Doctrine and Covenants Study.")