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A few weeks ago, I began the process of fostering-to-adopt a puppy I have named Cocoa. She is a lab mix and, at just short of four months old, is already close to 20 pounds! She was the baby of her litter and, as her former foster mom told me when I picked her up, "She knows she's the baby!" I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I do now! She knows she is supposed to be the center of attention and if she's not getting attention, she will find ways to get it (even if it means peeing on the floor right in front of me)!
One of the toughest parts of raising and welcoming a new puppy into my home has been finding ways to communicate with her. Obviously, there are verbal commands I can make that she listens to (and has picked up on quickly!). However, she has had to find ways to communicate to me, because she cannot speak. She doesn't even bark too much--unless she's mad that she's in the kennel while I eat or workout! I have had to learn to listen to her non-verbal cues.
The non-verbal cues have been frustrating for me. She does not like her harness or the leash, so she chewed on her first leash to the point of breaking it. After buying her second leash, I quickly realized she wasn't chewing on the leash just because she didn't like it--she was chewing on it and heading in a certain direction in the yard, showing me where she wanted to go. She now chews a lot less on her leash, as I let her do the leading now. In the mornings, she tries to chew on my clothes. It wasn't until she grabbed one of my articles of clothing, trying to get me to sit up from the chair and lead me to her leash, that I realized that was her way of saying, "I'm ready to go outside now." She can, of course, be more direct. Sometimes she will sit in front of the door, stare at me, and if I don't move she will bark!
I used to think I was a good listener before, but in my few, short weeks with Cocoa, I have discovered I have a whole lot more to learn when it comes to listening! Listening is more than hearing words--listening is picking up non-verbal cues, noticing patterns (and pattern changes!) in others, and it is even in the slightest changes of facial expressions. Someone can say a whole lot without using any words! Reflecting on this, I began to wonder how often I thought I have been listening to God, but have missed out on some ways God has tried to communicate with me that were not through words. Maybe God is speaking to us in ways we are not expecting. Perhaps God is asking us to listen for his voice in and through things that are not words.
I think of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13, where Elijah is waiting for God to pass by. A large, strong wind came by, but God was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake came, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but God was not in the fire. After the fire, the NRSV translation says that there was a sound of "sheer silence." God was in this silence and Elijah went out to meet God. God was not in big, loud moments, but instead, God was asking Elijah to listen for him in the silence. No words, no movement, just a deafening, quiet noise.
Maybe we all have a little more to learn when it comes to listening. Maybe listening for God is doing something as simple as sitting on our porch, looking at the gift of nature around us. Maybe listening for God is when we are with our families, watching a movie, and have a chance to soak in all the love around us. Maybe listening for God is when we talk to the person checking out our groceries and really listen to what they have to say. God's voice is all around us. Sometimes God uses words and other times, God wants us to listen to the moment we are in and enjoy it as a gift. I hope you will join me in learning to listen to God in the most unexpected places and ways.