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The wide, empty room amplified the rattle of leashes and the snap of plastic clickers. Our first lesson is to make eye contact; call the puppy's name, and when she looks at your face, click the clicker and feed her a treat.

"Here, Archie."

"Here, Baby."

"Hey, Cookie."

The puppies glanced around, confused. Many names, clicks, and voices pulled their attention in every direction. When my puppy happened to look my way, I added my click and "good girl" to the chaos.

I often feel overwhelmed by the clamor of competing voices, all demanding my time and attention. I am frequently distracted by my worries and plans, pulled in opposing directions by the opinions and expectations of others. I often find it difficult to focus my attention and concentrate on following God's plan for my life.

When God's voice gets lost in the background noise, there are a few steps we can take to refocus our gaze and keep us looking in his direction.

Turn down the noise level.

Our days are busy, and crowded schedules make it difficult to be silent, pray, and listen for God's quiet whisper.

God tells us to be still and know that he is God.

I'm planning 15 minutes every morning to just sit, breathe, and be grateful as I approach a new day.

Reduce the input.

We are constantly bombarded by advertising and  media telling us we need to be different to be good enough.

God tells us we are valued because we are created in his image.

I'm cancelling old magazine subscriptions and limiting my TV and Facebook time to reduce the volume of negative messages I receive.

Adjust the environment.

We are surrounded by people who try to tear us down, undermine our successes, and influence us in the wrong directions.

God tells us to choose our friends carefully.

I'm being careful to spend my time with people who build me up, bring positive energy to my life, and work with me to build supportive and nurturing relationships.

The rewards are not always easy to identify. I don't often get a "good girl" and a pat on the head. But I have faith that if I keep trying, keep looking and listening, it will become easier to hear and obey the one who holds the blessings in his hands.

How do you get quiet and listen for God's voice? How do you know you are looking in the right direction?

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img_0519Someone new has come to live in my house. This resident hides under the beds and jumps out to bite my feet when I walk by. She has chewed holes in the living room carpet and shredded the kitchen rugs. She ripped a Hillary Clinton doll to pieces within minutes.

I think it is my job to teach her about good behavior -- how to sit quietly and remember that socks are not snacks; but the truth is, her only job is to teach me a few things.

So far I have learned:

img_0732Blessings often arrive disguised as messes. When I dumped a quart container of buttermilk on the kitchen counter and floor, she didn't complain about the milk dripping onto her head and running into her eyes. She enjoyed the unexpected windfall fate had delivered and quickly took advantage of the situation. I could be more aware and appreciate the unanticipated gifts that often fall into my path.

Opportunities often appear disguised as obstacles. The first time she tried to leap onto the sofa cushions, she bounced off and hit the coffee table. After repeated attempts to scale the couch summit, she scrambled to the top and was rewarded with a soft, comfortable resting spot and a better vantage point for viewing the room. I need to remember that success may be preceded by several falls; but if we keep returning and trying, eventually we jump high enough to reach our goals.

img_0589Learning usually looks like playing. Every morning walk is an exuberant chase after falling leaves and a noisy crashing through the crunching drifts. She enjoys exploring this colorful, loud, and aromatic world. I am realizing it is alright to slow down, notice the changing seasons, and enjoy the glow of the early rising sun. I am recognizing that I need to make more time to have fun, enjoy new experiences, and see wonder in the world; because life is short, and children (and puppies) grow up fast.

What are you learning from the residents in your home? What lessons have they shared with you?

 

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img_0480Behind the library lies a serene, wide lake circled by a walking path and weeping willow trees. I like to walk the path, enjoy the breeze and the shady trees, and check out the metal sculptures like this blue flower and this bizarre bird. img_0475

My favorite sculpture is labeled "Sprout" and depicts the circular seed just beginning to unfurl. I love the spiraling expansion and swirling lines. Looking at Sprout makes me think about what it means to live and grow.

sprout

 

  1. Growth follows seasons. Our lives move through times and phases, planting and harvest, dark and light. We all experience times of great movement and change, but also times of great quiet and rest. Both phases are necessary and valuable. In times of quiet we learn and prepare to move forward. In times of action we leap ahead to new achievements and experiences.
  2. Growth produces fruit. The seed's only goal is to blossom and create. To produce the harvest, the seed first has to die, shatter its shell, and spread roots into the soil. The seed leaves its old state behind and presses forward toward its new and improved form.
  3. Growth requires struggle. Challenges and obstacles build strength and endurance. The green shoot forces its way upward, pushing through rocky soil, creeping around massive stones, and straining through narrow pavement cracks. The growing plant knows which way to turn, always reaching upward toward light and life.

God gives us all this instinct to grow, to look ahead, and move forward. We have to honor that drive, welcome the struggle, and give thanks for every opportunity to learn and change. To encourage growth in ourselves and others, we have to be willing to:

  1. Explore. To grow we have to seek new sights, pursue new experiences, and accept new challenges. We have to have open minds, expansive hearts, and willingness to walk an unfamiliar path around a deep, mysterious lake.
  2. Question. To grow we have to think about our place in life, our future, and our destination. We have to consider where we came from, ask ourselves where we are going, and wonder what we will find around the bend and beyond the trees.
  3. Believe. To grow we have to know that we all have a purpose, whether or not it is always apparent. We have to trust that we each have a reason to exist, and with persistence and faith we will grow into all that we were meant to be.

This season there are so many places I want to investigate and explore. I am looking forward to a quiet time of rest this fall and winter before an explosion of growth and change in the spring.

How do you encourage growth in yourself and others? How do you expect to change in the coming season?

 

 

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