Listen here to Convincing Raven
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By Jen Bleakley
Raven had no idea she could swim. The black flat-coated retriever had no idea she had come from a long line of swimmers and champion dock divers. Or how doggie-paddling was woven into her DNA. All she knew was leg-shaking, tail-tucking fear whenever she stood in front of a body of water.
And yet, her family knew she could swim. They knew all about her bloodlines and her breed’s natural love of the water. And they believed in her ability, even though she had not yet discovered it.
Each time Raven’s family took her to the state park near their home, they would hike up to the lake, hoping this would be the time their dog would overcome her fear.
They had tried everything over the two years since they’d brought her home. They would toss sticks in the water, which she would gladly chase after—until the water got to her chest, at which point she would high-tail it back to the shore, shaking and whining as she went.
Anne had even purchased a life-vest for Raven, thinking that would make a difference.
It did not.
On one particular outing—a day when the temperatures soared and the cloudless sky beckoned their family to the state park, Anne’s husband, Daniel, had carried Raven into the lake, vowing to hold her and let her get used to the feel of the water on her chest, convinced that’s all it would take for her to swim.
But, as the first drops touched her belly, Raven startled. She thrashed. Then she clawed her way out of Daniel’s arms and used his head as a springboard to jump back to the safety of the shore. Ouch.
As Daniel nursed his wounds, their children, fourteen-year-old Jackson and eleven-year-old Rachel, decided to help by getting in the lake and demonstrating the doggie paddle for Raven.
While their antics brought belly-laughs from the humans, Raven was unconvinced. She remained on the shore shaking in fear—wanting no part of this doggie-paddle experiment.
“Maybe it’s just not worth it,”
Daniel had mumbled later that night—while examining his hairline for paw prints. “So Raven doesn’t swim. Is that really such a big deal?”
Anne wanted to agree with him. Raven didn’t have to know how to swim. It wasn’t like they lived on a houseboat and she needed to learn in case she accidentally fell overboard one night while the family was sleeping. And Raven wasn’t a rescue K9 who’s fear of water could result in someone’s death. She was just Raven—their beloved pet and fury companion.
And there were many other things Raven loved—things like long walks with her family, playing ball with Jackson, catching frisbees with Rachel, and terrorizing the cat.
But having seen the joy swimming had brought their other dogs, and knowing what good exercise it was, Anne wanted to convince Raven of her own ability.
And more importantly, Anne wanted to teach Raven that she could overcome her fear.
After all, Anne knew firsthand how much fear could cost someone.
How many places had her intense fear of flying kept her from visiting over the years?
And how many sleepless nights had she endured because of her fear of something bad happening to someone she loved?
How many times had fear of what others might think of her stretch-marks kept her covered up on the side of the pool instead of frolicking in the water with her children when they were little?
And how many opportunities at work—and in life—had she lost to her fear of failure?
Anne winced at her thoughts—and at the puffy red claw marks crisscrossing her husband’s back. As she searched through the medicine cabinet for the tube of Polysporin, she finally started to see her fear for what it was: a greedy tyrant, constantly demanding more. More insecurity, more isolation, more doubt.
As Anne dabbed gooey ointment on her husband’s back, she felt a determination begin to rise. It was time to overthrow the tyrant.
The next weekend, Anne’s family once again took Raven to the lake. But this time, they brought along a different helper—Raven’s best canine friend, Lady, who happened to be an avid swimmer.
The moment Lady saw the water, she bounded in. Raven, so caught up in chasing her friend, followed Lady into the lake. But she quickly put on the brakes the moment the water passed her elbows.
Lady glanced at Raven as if to say, “Come on! The water’s great! What are you waiting for?”
Lady swam over to Raven—whose feet were once again rooted to the rocky bottom.
She play bowed.
She bounced around, splashing and jumping back and forth in front of Raven.
Raven looked toward the shore.
“You can do it, girl. Just try.” Anne whispered from the shore, not knowing whether she was encouraging her dog, or herself.
Raven looked at Anne.
She looked back to Lady.
Anne could see the longing in her dog’s eyes. The familiar look of determination warring with fear.
Anne held her breathe as Raven’s front legs began to move.
She grabbed Daniel’s arm as their retriever’s back legs left the rocky bottom.
And she whooped and hollered as her dog began the most hilarious looking doggie-paddle she had ever seen.
With her front legs completely straight, Raven kicked them up and down in the water in what looked like a high-stepping aquatic march.
But the more time Raven spent in the water with Lady, the more relaxed she (and her swimming style) became. And in less than twenty minutes, the dog who had been terrified of the water was swimming side by side with her best friend.
“You did it!” Anne praised a dripping Raven as she emerged from the lake.
Raven ran to Anne and gave a dramatic shake—sending water droplets flying in every direction. The cool water felt good. But it was nothing compared to the feeling of pride Anne felt for her dog who had stared her fear in the face and sent it packing.
Anne knelt down and threw her arms around her dog.
What was a little more water? She was already soaked from Raven’s celebratory shake. After thoroughly and appropriately fussing over Raven, Anne turned her attention to Lady.
“Thank you for being out there with my girl,” she told Lady as she ruffled the wet fur on her head, “She trusted you, and you didn’t let her down.”
As Anne stood to wring the water from her shirt, she lifted her face toward the heavens.
“Lord, I’m so tired of being ruled by my fear—tired of trembling on the shore. I know you are with me. Help me step into the water and not fear when it rises because I know that I can trust you and that you won’t let me go.”
A series of splashes interrupted Anne’s prayer. She turned to see Raven and Lady rushing back into the lake in pursuit of a stick Daniel had thrown. Anne chuckled as Raven defaulted back to her high-stepping doggie-paddle.
Apparently, it would take some time for Raven to become consistently comfortable in the water. And that was just fine with Anne.
Raven was a work in progress, and her progress was beautiful to watch.
“And so is yours,” Anne felt God whisper to her heart, just before two dripping dogs ran to her and shook, showering Anne with water—and sprinkling her with hope.
As someone who has wrestled with fear my whole life, I can identify with Raven’s tail-tucking, leg-shaking fear more than I wish I could. Which is why today’s quality question addresses fear.
What fear has you shaking on the shore? And what are you afraid will happen if you step into the water?
If possible, take a moment to write down your fears. Then next to your list of fears, write down everything you know to be true of God. While it won’t make your fears disappear, oftentimes, just seeing our fears next to truths about God, will remind our hearts that God is bigger than our fears—which will enable our feet to take baby steps off the shore.
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Thanks for joining us! Jesus be all over you! Love, J
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