Barking Dogs

Everything seemed to have come together. Even the unusually mild weather appeared cooperative. It was one of those rare Saturdays when I wasn’t committed to someone else’s demands or to house work, and I was in the mood to pull some weeds. I would be out in the garden at first light.

My gardening time consists of weed-pulling, dead-heading, and watering. But it’s also the time I spend alone with God; when I’m most likely to discern His voice. That’s what I really looked forward to early that summer Saturday.

God speaks in the garden

Trowel in hand, I settled on the spot requiring the most attention. The weed-pulling began. The meditation mode began. The listening began.

And the barking began.

Nonstop barking.

Grate-on-every-nerve barking.

Our neighbors were dog-sitting, and the pooch was not pleased to be in our neighborhood. The barking continued the entire time I was in the garden. My teeth clenched. My neck stiffened. My head began to pound. Try as I may, I could not block out the sound of the incessant barking.

I was listening for God’s voice, but I couldn’t hear it because of the barking.

It’s not that God can’t be heard over the barking of a small dog. His is the voice that sounds like thunder. Like a mighty wind. Like rushing waters. No, I couldn’t hear God’s voice because I allowed myself to be distracted.

block out distractions

That summer morning I realized if I wanted to hear God I would have to find a way to listen beyond the distraction. I would have to actively seek Him, and seek hard. He taught me that sometimes I have to do more than simply still my mind. Sometimes I have to remove the distractions. And when the distractions can’t be removed, I have to remove myself from them.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. (Luke 5:16)

Most days God has nothing against my listening for His voice in the garden. Considering He created man in a garden, I believe they are some of His favorite places. But sometimes I think He wants every single one of my thoughts. Even though weeding and dead-heading don’t demand much mental attention, there are times God wants even the tiny bit those rote tasks require.

I gave up on the gardening and continued my seeking indoors. Maybe it was the walls of our house. Maybe it was my obedience to seek beyond the distractions. Whatever the reason, I no longer noticed the barking.

Since then, I’ve recognized other barking dogs. I’ve realized how many times I’ve allowed texts, emails, and even laundry to interrupt my quiet time. I’ve noticed that my seeking is often reduced to nothing more than fill-in-the-gaps of daily tedium.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

God certainly wants us to live our lives in a continual state of prayer. But, sometimes, can’t you just feel Him reach down and cup your face in His hands… saying, “Look at me.”? There are times when He wants our undivided attention.

Some days He lets the dogs keep barking, just to send us inside to that quiet place with only Him. Nothing else.

Jungle Juice for the Soul

It wasn’t the prescription I expected. Not from this widely respected gardening guru – this woman who hosted a two-hour radio call-in show every Saturday morning with solutions to dozens of gardening problems.

I anticipated a suggestion to increase the nitrogen and potassium. Maybe a recommendation of compost tea. One of those solutions would surely be what was needed to rejuvenate planted containers and hanging baskets.

languid-flowers

Not Jungle Juice.

How could a fruity convenience store beverage be the solution for lifeless hanging baskets?

I can’t recall a thing she said after that recommendation. One part of me wanted to reject the Jungle Juice suggestion as ridiculous. The other part couldn’t stop trying to remember where I had seen the drink on store shelves.

As ludicrous as it sounded, I knew I had to try it.

I’ve never known her to give bad advice, and this Jungle Juice treatment was no exception. It was the best thing that had ever happened to my hanging baskets. I loaded up on it, and I doused every one of my baskets, pots and window boxes. The transformation was almost immediate. By the next day my containers were lush and vibrant.

Planted container on column
I wish I could say this is a picture of my container, in my yard. It is not!

My plants had new life, all because of a timely application of a good dose of Jungle Juice.

Imagine, if you will, watching a similar transformation in someone’s life.

Think of someone whose soul is in need of restoration. Someone who needs hope and encouragement.

You can be their Jungle Juice.

We have that capacity. It’s in our words. We have the ability to speak life.

Kind words are like honey. They are sweet to the spirit and bring healing to the body. (Proverbs 16:24, NIRV)

On the other hand, we have the capacity to hurt and destroy with our words.

Their words cut like swords, their cruel remarks sting like sharp arrows. (Psalm 6:3, CEV)

We wouldn’t dream of drenching plants with a deadly chemical. But we often spew words with the same capacity for fatal results on someone’s soul.

A dousing of chemical has devastating results, no matter how quickly we try to undo the damage. We may rinse the plants immediately. We might act fast enough to limit the damage, but there will be damage. There will be destruction at some level. That chemical penetrates instantaneously.

So do our words.

Be careful with your tongue

Cruel words pierce with deep pain, like a poison-tipped arrow embedded in the heart. Even an immediate apology can’t undo the damage. It might remove the arrow, but the poison remains in the system. Like the deadly chemical spreading through the plant on contact, the debilitating effect of our hurtful words spreads further and deeper with each heartbeat.

Sweet words of encouragement flow through our systems, too. But, their effect is quite different. TobyMac describes it beautifully in his lyrics.

Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted,

watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,

you speak love, you speak life…

Words of encouragement, kindness, support… those have an immediate effect. We can watch the transformation before our very eyes. Who would want to miss an opportunity to spread that kind of healing? We have the capacity to leave a wave of renewed lives in our wake. With nothing more than the timely application of a spoken word, we have the power to be life-changers.

Let’s start pouring it out.

Let’s be someone’s Jungle Juice.

The Quiet Game

Barely a half hour into our journey and the barrage of questions was as fast and furious as the I-40 traffic that seemed to swallow me. Every question began the same.

Hey, Nan…

interstate traffic bw

I am Nan. That’s what my grandchildren call me, and two of them were calling incessantly.

Hey, Nan. Where are the pretzels?

Hey, Nan. Will juice come out of your car seat?

Hey, Nan. Are we lost?

It was going to be a long trip. Eight hours at best. With twin five-year-olds.

Five-year-olds will not be ignored.

We know you can hear us, Nan.

Nan.

Nan.

HEY, NAN!

My mother deflected as many of their questions as she could. It’s nice to have a patient travelling companion who can tend to the things behind you while you try to focus on the road. But, this was a game and I was the target for the twin machine guns of rapid-fire queries.

Meme (my mom, their great-grandmother) was unruffled by their attack. She faced their onslaught like Wonder Woman with her bullet deflecting bracelets. She was no fun. I, on the other hand gave them the response of frustration-bordering-on-irritation-and-aggravation they were looking for. They didn’t want to know where the pretzels were. They wanted to know how much I could take before I blew my top, which they seem to consider a great source of entertainment. Every question was followed by a giggle.

It sounds cute. Forty miles into a 450 mile trip, it’s not so cute.

Hey Nan, did you know your mouth gets tiny when you get mad?

It appears I purse my lips when I begin to lose my cool. My grandkids call it “Nan’s tiny mouth.” Yes, my mouth had become miniscule.

“Let’s play the Quiet Game,” I blurted, immediately recognizing that I had played that card far too early in this trip. I don’t even remember what ridiclous prize I promised the winner, with the understanding that they must be quiet for at least 30 minutes.

It’s amazing what one is prepared to promise in exchange for 30 minutes of peace and quiet.

curving road through trees

One minute passes. Then another. Then another. Then…

I lose! Hey, Nan…

The Quiet Game is no fun for a five-year-old who has already been strapped into a car seat with limited mobility. It’s hard enough to be still. But, to be still and quiet. Well, that’s asking too much of just about anyone, much less a five-year-old.

I’ve just come out of a Quiet Game. It was a struggle for me, too. I can spew my verbage with the same machine gun fury as my twins.

I want to speak. I want to write. I want the words to flow incessantly.

But, sometimes God tells me it’s time to play the Quiet Game. No writing, just listening. No teaching, but learning.

When God wants me still and quiet, the enemy encourages words and movement. I can feel unproductive and guilty. I start considering what others might think. I wonder if my silence will be viewed as laziness.

Then God sends a gentle reminder through the same verse that seems to pop up in the devotionals I read, the sermons I hear, and the blog posts I read.

Don’t speak, just listen.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10

But, I’m not listening. I’m too busy talking when God has said to be quiet.

mouth spewing words

Being quiet feels like putting everything on hold. It’s like God is asking me to stop doing something I want to do. Something I want to do for Him. Being quiet and still requires patience. Patience that even my granddaughters recognize I lack.

When I suggested the Quiet Game for the twins, I had reasons. I wish I could say I did it to encourage the girls to relax and enjoy the scenery of the trip, but I won’t lie. It wasn’t because I was so deeply spiritual and mature. I was just trying to hang on to a thread of sanity. When God tells me it’s time to play the Quiet Game, however, His reasons are for my good.

There are refreshing words God wants me to hear from Him.

There is direction He wants to give me.

There’s scenery on my journey I’ve been missing.

gravel road along mountain stream in fall

Maybe He just wants me to take a little nap while someone else drives.

How willing am I to remain quiet until God tells me the Quiet Game is over? Am I so inclined to charge ahead with my own plans and my own words that I refuse to surrender to God in quiet obedience?

I gave up on words and I gave God the silence He asked for. In that silence I listened for His voice, His direction, His guidance, His wisdom, His words of love for me. I rested in that silence. Maybe the next time He asks me to play the Quiet Game I won’t fight it so much.

It’s not easy. This has been a difficult Quiet Game. But I did not lose, and my prize, I know, will be great.

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.  1 Samuel 3:19

Maybe my obedience made God smile. I sure hope so. I’d never want to give God reason to have “tiny mouth”.

Nan’s tiny mouth

nans tiny mouth