How to Quit Barking at Squirrels

One morning as I was praying, my dog kept barking out the window at squirrels.  I got annoyed because his distractions became my distraction.  I remember thinking, “Does barking get him any closer to the squirrel? …No.”  And … ”Does his barking make any difference to the squirrel? …No, he/she probably couldn’t care less.”  It seemed as he continued to focus in on his squirrel, he got more and more frenzied.   Then something really interesting happened.  I felt God tell me to say my dog’s name, Pinsch, three times slowly.  As Pinsch continued to bark at his squirrel, I slowly said his name three times, and after the third time, he stopped barking and came and laid down by my side.  I thought that was pretty cool, but then this question popped into my head: “Do I hear God when He calls me back to His side?”  Oh boy!  God knows I like metaphors.  Then I felt God say, “Wendy quit barking at squirrels and relax at your master’s side.”   Yes!  Thanks, God for the super neat metaphor…but how?


How do we get dogs to stop barking?  We teach and train them, correct?  At first, they need a lot of reminders and encouragement from their trainer and master such as “stop”, “come here,” “good boy/girl”, but eventually they are able to develop a habit of not barking at squirrels.  Perhaps this is a rough comparison, but it’s taken Jesus, my trainer and master, to help me break my habit of barking at squirrels.  


Our squirrels aren’t grey with a furry tail like my dog’s squirrels.  Ours are those things in life that we focus in on and bark at, but our focus and barking gets us nowhere.  It could be work stressors, relationship issues, health issues, money issues, insecurities, our to-do list, reputation, recognition (or lack of it) etc.   I found as I spent time with God, in prayer, listening, in worship, and reading scripture, He would show me when I began to bark at a squirrel and would redirect my attention back to Him.  As I spent time with God each day, I made choices more in line with His word (His will) and as I made choices in line with His will, I became less and less distracted by squirrels.  I actually discovered that I could live peacefully with my squirrels.  Some squirrels even ran away entirely!  I also found that my experiences with my squirrels helped others with similar squirrels.


Those squirrels that didn’t or couldn’t run away were no longer my focus.  I rarely barked at them because I knew that wasn’t going to get me anywhere.  However, training with Jesus seemed to get me somewhere.  Resting by my master’s side by reading scripture, worshipping, choosing behavior in line with God’s will (such as being intentional with my words, turning to Him when I was angry rather than turning on others…that sort of thing) changed my focus.  By resting at my master’s side, He transformed me and He changed my behaviors.  Did you see that?  He did it!  I didn’t strive, I didn’t struggle, I didn’t beat myself up when I barked at a squirrel.  I spent time with God and allowed Him to break my habit of barking at squirrels and develop a new habit in me…a habit of resting at my master’s side.  At first I did it (spent time in prayer, read scripture, worshipped) because I knew it was God’s will for me and I trusted that He’d meet me there (‘Just do it’ sort of mentality).  Then, I began to really enjoy resting by my master’s side and saw myself begin to transform.  I’d see things differently.  I responded to stress differently.  I saw distractions as opportunities to bless others.  God does the heavy lifting but I do have a choice.  I do my part and God does His.  

I understand that there are many holes in my dog training metaphor, but the only one I think worth mentioning here is this…we will never, ever, be a dog.  We will never know what it’s like to be a dog or how they think or how they feel.  Jesus, on the other hand knows exactly what it’s like to be human.   If you are worn down from barking at “squirrels” take my recommendation and visit the world’s best human trainer.  No one did human better than Jesus!    You, too, can quit barking at squirrels and lay at your master’s side.

The Process of Living Simply

I’ve read the studies and articles explaining how clutter causes chaos. The mere presence of too much stuff, or the wrong stuff, is a stressor in our lives. We can be sitting, reading a book in total silence, and yet, not be at peace because we know we’re surrounded by a mess. It may feel good to ignore for a few minutes, but deep down we know it’s still there.

If you want to sleep well, don’t put a television in your bedroom. If you want to have financial freedom, create and live to a budget. Do you want to eat well? Be sure to plan your meals.

For years, yes, years, (Why does it take us so long to learn certain lessons?) God has been talking to me about simplifying and being disciplined.

When we simplify, we tend to get rid of things such as material possessions and activities. This is the most obvious place to start since it’s what we can see right in front of us in our homes and on our calendars. We know we have a problem when the saying “everything has its place” no longer applies and we have no room for delays, mishaps or accidents. Once we clear things out and free up our time, we need discipline or before we know it, all those things will find their way back into our lives.

As I was praying and journaling the other morning, I wrote down these three words: organized, simplified and open-handed. Simplified living begins by knowing where we’re starting and ends with a willingness to go somewhere new.


I love to take assessments. When I clean out a closet, I don’t just take everything out and put it back repackaged. I sort as I remove the items. I look at each article, ask a few questions and make a decision. I remove things that no longer make sense and find myself excited about what remains.

It’s the same with activities, budgeting and even my spiritual life. What am I doing to grow in my relationship with God? What activities have I outgrown? What attitudes and behaviors crowd out the work of the Holy Spirit? In what new ways is God calling me to connect with Him?

“Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.” Proverbs 24:32 (ESV)

This process calls me to acknowledge what’s true in my life, both good and bad, and holds me accountable to the next steps.


It’s completely possible to sort and organize only to keep everything. Experience is a great teacher! Again, this is where discipline comes in. The follow through of getting rid of items, saying no to certain activities, living within a budget, and so on is how I can stay simplified.

“Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and I will obey you faithfully; teach me to serve you with complete devotion.” Psalm 86:11 (GNT)

The process of being faithful to my decisions is a spiritual process as well. Personally, I know I’ve allowed distractions and the chaos of life to intrude on the purpose God has called me to live out. Simply put, my purpose is to honor and glorify God in all I do. He has created me and gifted me in certain ways and I have the joy of honoring and glorifying Him by means of those gifts. Discipline helps me keep those gifts from getting buried, misplaced or forgotten. Living a simplified life keeps Him and His purpose always in front of me.


When I originally journaled about this topic, I questioned the term “open-handed”. Did I hear and understand correctly? What does being open-handed have to do with simplified living?

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NIV)

The idea of being open-handed is wrapped up in generosity. I can close my hands and hold tight to what I think I should do or have, but those closed hands also won’t be able to receive anything new. On the other hand, open hands lend themselves to open minds and open hearts. Simple living creates space for me to be generous with time, money and possessions.

We serve a generous God and He uses each of us to express His generosity to others. With open hands, I let go of my plans and receive God’s plan. God's plans of generosity extend beyond this lifetime. The more space I create for God, the more filled with Him I become. And the more filled with Him I become, the more of Him overflows to others. My willingness to be open-handed in receiving what God has for me leads to an outpouring of His generosity to another.

So, in what area of your life do you need to get organized? How could taking an assessment help you clear out space for God to work? Is there something or someone to whom you’re holding on tightly? Is there something or someone to whom you are unwilling to extend a hand?

God is leading you to a new way to live: His way. Ask God to help you simplify, sorting through and removing what no longer belongs so you can receive and be generous with all He wants to give.

Youth, Depression, & "13 Reasons Why"

Depression is the most common mental illness among teenagers and it is something that parents, mentors, and youth workers need to know about.  We have 140 teenagers enrolled in our youth program at Northgate, and I regularly discover that more and more of them are struggling with anxiety and/or depression. 

On Wednesday May 3rd we have invited a special guest speaker, Gail Mueller, to talk with our youth about depression. We want them to know we are there for them, that God loves them, and that there are resources available should they need help.

It seems that God has orchestrated the timing of this night. Depression and suicide are hot topics right now; not only because it’s a prevalent struggle for our kids, but because of a new show released on Netflix called ‘13 Reasons Why’.  I heard about it a couple of weeks ago and soon became aware that many of our youth were watching it.  I decided that as an adult presence in their lives I should take a look; I just finished watching it yesterday.

‘13 Reasons Why’ is an emotional rollercoaster. It is extremely popular among teenagers and adults alike, but I discovered that it’s not popular among many professional therapists and psychologists.  The show depicts the events and relationships that precedes a high school girl’s decision to commit suicide. It is gut wrenching, heart breaking, riveting, and compelling, but it is also misleading and has been labeled as dangerous and troubling for a variety of reasons. After watching the series, and reading many different articles, I have to agree. There are some positive messages and conversations that can come from this show, but in my opinion there are some pretty dangerous messages as well.

Parents, be cautious about this television series, and not just because it’s rated TV-MA. It isn’t for kids, of any age, in my opinion. Instead of sharing my own thoughts on the series, below are links to a couple well written articles that explain the oversights, poor messages, and even dangerous themes that are included in this narrative. Please take the time to read the articles and to prayerfully consider what they have to say before deciding whether or not to let your kids watch it. If you do let them watch it, I strongly suggest you watch it with them.

Youth (6th-12th grade) and parents are encouraged to join us on Wednesday May 3rd to hear Gail Mueller’s presentation on depression!

6:30 pm: Parent session with Gail (activities for youth provided)

7:00 pm: Youth session with Gail including worship.


“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23)

In Him,

Dan Thorson (Youth Director)


This article from USA today, written by a young woman who struggled for years with depression, does a great job at describing the dangerous messages ’13 Reasons Why’ gives to those thinking about suicide.

From a Christian Organization that works with youth.

Here’s is Focus on the Family’s ‘Plugged-In’ movie review website’s article.