This week floodwaters rose in the Mississippi delta. From the living room, Isaac the dog and I watched our road turn into a river in less than three hours. Around town, streets closed and creeks overflowed. A number of homes and businesses experienced damage. Our neighbors in Louisiana and Arkansas had even more devastation. These eerie sights led to the comfort of the psalmist, who sings, "The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea" (Psalm 93:4, New King James Version).
Every time a car would plow through the waters in front of my house, I held my breath. The waters would rise upward around their wheels, then flow in waves into my yard. I prayed that the Mighty One would stop those waters from seeping into my home. No matter how thoroughly we trust God, life's physical and spiritual storms create uncertainty. Combined with weather alerts buzzing on the cell phone and Facebook photos rapidly circulating, the atmosphere here in Cleveland was tense.
Our bent to worry is probably one of the reasons God created animals--to remind us to relax.
I was on the phone when Isaac's ears perked up and his eyes widened. He leaped off the couch and ran to the window. Incessant barking followed.
What on earth did he see? There was nowhere for people to walk, and I doubted any cats or dogs were on the street. Then I saw an object floating down the street.
The flood came on garbage pick-up day in my neighborhood. Someone's tightly sealed trash bag had taken a field trip on the floodwaters.
I told Isaac to chill. He did not.
The waters carried the garbage bag up our driveway, leaving it on the closest dry land. Isaac, insistent that the garbage was capable of being "scared away," got louder. He pounded his front paws on the floor and barked with all his might. How dare that garbage bag trespass on his property!
I sternly told him to hush. He didn't.
I pulled out his toy moose to distract him. He was too focused to play.
I tried talking to him like a person, explaining that it was garbage, not a cat. I shouldn't have said the c-word. He got even madder at the garbage.
Finally, unable to continue my conversation on the phone, I did the thing you're not supposed to do. I yelled, "Treat!." Yes, I rewarded my dog's bad behavior, but my ears and sanity have thanked me because the barking finally stopped. As he ran to the treat cabinet and sat expectantly on his wagging tail, Isaac was so proud of himself. I guess he believed that he'd saved me from someone else's garbage. I'm content to let him believe whatever he wants--especially during a flood.
The sad thing is that we two-legged creatures often waste energy barking at garbage, too. We grumble and complain about things we can't control. We concern ourselves with gossip that we need to throw away. We become obsessed with minor irritations and turn them into major irritants in our minds.
We are most vulnerable during life's storms, when faced with our frailty. The most harmless of incidents can anger or rattle us quickly. What if we paused in those times where we're tempted to react negatively? What if we took a deep breath and simply prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner"? What if we stopped and asked ourselves, "Am I about to harm someone else with my reaction?" When we take the focus off of self in these times of testing, we open ourselves to grace. We get our eyes off of the inconvenient garbage on the street and on to the needs of others.
When the waters receded, and Isaac ventured into the front yard, he headed directly to the rambling garbage bag. He sniffed. He observed. Then he walked away.
Are you allowing someone else's garbage to drain your energy and steal your joy? It's time to walk away. It's time to walk on. Don't waste another moment on what life's floods have brought to your door. Step forward onto the dry ground. Treat yourself to the reward of giving thanks in all things, at all times, in all weather.
all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian (and Paw-stor Isaac)