Shelley du Plessis asks - how's your Camelopardalis?

My African Footprints

'My what?" you may well ask. A camelopardalis is a giraffe. Romans called the giraffe a camelopardalis because they thought it looked like a camel marked like a leopard.

I have come to understand that, for many tourists to Africa, the giraffe is the one carved souvenir that everyone wants. I have been on many flights with these bubble-wrapped creatures, as they wing their way around the world. These international travelers give 'Melmon', of the movie 'Madagascar', a run for his travel experience any day.

Back to the real giraffe-a most unusual creature for sure! Tall in the front, short at the back, always looking down on the rest of us, able to run at great speed, and needing hardly any sleep. Another interesting fact about giraffes is that they have a really long black tongue, about 20 inches in length when extended. Their tongues are prehensile, which means they can take hold of things by wrapping their tongue around them.

Now giraffes have a further significant characteristic. They have a very thick mucus layer or saliva covering on their tongue, which helps them to swallow the twigs and leaves from their favourite food source, the thorny Acacia tree. Their saliva has a natural antibiotic content; so, if their mouths are cut or punctured as a result of the thorns, the antibiotic is immediately present to deal with any infection.

If only the same could be said about our tongues. Over the Christmas and New Year period, I have been paying particular attention to the way people speak about themselves and others, and how they speak to each other. Again and again, I have been left feeling distressed at how demeaning, negative, crushing, humiliating and downright nasty we are. I am amazed at the vile tirade that comes from this little muscle, inflicting the most awful wounds which can last a lifetime.

We do not realise how powerful the words are that we speak out, and the potential they have. I have seen people crushed for their entire life by a word from someone they love and respect. Parents need to guard how they speak to their children. We always seem to emphasize the negative: "Don't be stupid!", "Don't spill your drink!" or, my personal least favourites, which have cost me hours of listening to broken people, "You won't amount to anything!" or, "Just who do you think you are, you're nothing?"

After comments like these and worse, we still wonder why we have so many unfulfilled, negative and miserable people in the world, who are filled with destructive thoughts and malicious actions.

The Bible points out in Proverbs 18:21 that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and those who love it will eat its fruits" or, as The Message puts it "Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit - you choose." Basically it means what we say is what we get. How often do we hear the comment; "I'm sick and tired" - speak that often enough and you will become sick and tired. Or, "I hate it when this happens." Why are we surprised that that person is full of rage and hatred? The Bible further points out in Matthew 12:34-37 "How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It's your heart, not the dictionary that gives meaning to your words... Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation."

Remember the giraffe with the antiseptic saliva? I pray this year, that my tongue may speak life and love, my words will be seasoned with grace and mercy, and be well thought out, coming from a heart completely submitted to the Spirit of God.

Here's a personal experience about the power of words. I am ashamed of my conduct, but am willing to be vulnerable so that you will grasp how powerful our words can be.

A few years ago, we had a lovely golden cocker spaniel named Max. He would parade around our garden like a general looking over his troops. He would be so angry if a bird dared to fly over his air space. He'd bark and run in circles, protesting about the bird. This didn't disturb me, until I was behind in my schedule, trying to overcome writer's block, and meet a serious deadline. I exploded, ranting through the open door: "Maxwell, be quiet. Sometimes I wish I could break your neck!" He stopped and I went back to work. I found Max hours later, curled up in a ball with his nose touching his spine. He was shivering and whining, clearly in agony. Every attempt to move him resulted in a scream of agony. I eventually took him to the vet. They diagnosed a severe muscle spasm. He had to be hospitalised, and had to have large doses of anti-inflammatories and a deep vein injection for pain. This condition continued for weeks. The medication would last for about a week. The cost was becoming exorbitant and Max's quality of life was non-existent. Another attack and I would have to euthanaise him. The next time came sooner than expected. I stood watching him begin to tremble and twitch and my heart sank. As I stood watching, as if it was an audible voice, I heard: "What did you say to Max?" Instantly I remembered my horrendous outrage. Immediately, I spoke out loud and said: "Max, I cut off you the curse I spoke out about breaking your neck, declaring it null and void in Jesus' name." I walked away from the window to the door, on my way to fetch Max to go to the vet again. He met me at the door, leaping and jumping, eyes bright and with a zest for life that he and I had forgotten he had.

Max spent the rest of his life happily barking at the birds, patrolling the garden and sunbathing, and never went back to a vet.

Let us judge our words before we speak them out and let them be a reflection of a heart filled with love for the Father. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.