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Spiritual Spinach

Jesus can calm us during stormy times

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Newspapers have made the difference.

And not how you might think.

In June, I adopted an 8-week-old collie.

I named her Gracie. She was a cute little bundle of fur with two sweet-looking eyes and an endearing disposition.

There was just one drawback.

Collies are high-energy dogs that herd cattle and sheep by nipping at their heels.

They’re naturals at nipping.

I wasn’t prepared.

Trust me, it doesn’t take long to tire of a pup – no matter how cute – who’s jumping on you and nipping.

I tried different “remedies.”

When Gracie zoomed in for a nip, I’d grab a small water bottle and squirt her.

That didn’t work.

I tried honking a little horn at her.

She jumped back the first couple of times.

After that, she looked at me like I had three heads.

And tried to nip me.

I knew much of Gracie’s nipping stemmed from puppyhood excitement. She seemed to think I was one of her littermates ready for a romp.

A nip was her way of showing affection.

I wasn’t feeling the love.

There had to be another anti-nipping option.

I joined a Facebook group for collie-lovers.

Collie owners say if you can make it through the first 6 to 9 months with your rambunctious pup, you’ll have a great dog.

Eventually, a trainer sent me a private message with this suggestion:

A rolled-up newspaper.

When the pup starts to nip or jump, you swat that rolled-up paper against something.

The noise startles and stops the pup.

I’ve read about this since I was a kid, but never tried it.

And, honestly, after the horn and the squirt-bottle fiascos, I was skeptical.

But I was desperate.

So I tried it.

And it worked.

Gracie’s nipping has decreased significantly. She doesn’t jump as much either.

Life is better.

Could Gracie be growing out of her naughty puppy-ness?

Maybe. She’s 7 months old now.

But honestly, I think the snap, crackle, pop of that newspaper has kept Gracie from lunging at me like she’s an NFL football player and I’m a tackling dummy.

My daughter-in-law, Rachel, seemed amused by the news.

“How ironic is it for a journalist to use a newspaper to train a dog?” she wondered aloud.

All irony aside, I see how this newspaper correction works.

I never strike Gracie with the paper.

Just the sound really does stop Gracie in her puppy tracks.

There’s an element of the unknown in all that paper snapping and Gracie doesn’t know it won’t hurt her.

In other words, its bark is worse than its bite.

Isn’t that true of so many things?

We fear the unknown.

We fear what we don’t understand.

We worry about stuff that never happens.

That was true of some long-ago disciples, too.

We find their story in chapter four of the New Testament book of Mark.

At this point, it’s evening when Jesus and his disciples get into a boat.

Suddenly, a violent wind arises. Giant storm waves are coming into the boat, threatening to sink it.

Where is Jesus?

He’s in the back of a boat, sleeping on a cushion.

His distraught disciples wake him.

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus rebukes the wind and tells the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”

The wind dies down and is completely calm.

“Why are you so afraid? Jesus asks his disciples. “Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples are terrified.

“Who is this?” they ask each other. “Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

Why were the disciples afraid?

Well, it’s true that a storm can sink a boat.

But Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, offers another perspective.

“Do you really think (the boat) was going to sink with Jesus in it?” he asks. “They forgot who was in the boat with them.”

Don’t we forget the same thing?

We find ourselves in the midst of life’s winds – those uncontrollable forces that threaten to sink us – and we get scared or angry or both.

It happens when we get a frightening medical diagnosis.

Or a big, unexpected bill.

Or divorce papers we never saw coming.

Life can change dramatically in seconds.

A loved one can die or we can get in an accident or lose a job.

And suddenly, it seems like our boat is going down fast.

Like the disciples, we’re tempted to cry out: “Lord, don’t you care that I’m drowning?”

But could this be when we get a glimpse of our unsinkable God?

He’s the one who created the universe, parted the Red Sea, raised the dead, healed the sick and fed manna to the Israelites in the desert for 40 years.

Yep. He’s got this.

“What’s out of our control isn’t out of God’s control,” Rick says. “If Jesus is in your boat, it’s unsinkable. So what are you afraid of?”

That’s easier read than done.

Life can be scary and it’s tough when our circumstances suddenly seemed to whirl out of control.

As Bible teacher Joyce Meyer says: “Not every storm is in the forecast.”

But what if we trusted the God who sees the future that we do not?

Who loved us so much he sent his only son to die for us?

And who really does have our best interests at heart?

Many things have happened in the last few years that I haven’t liked or understood.

Yet I have the most peace when I stop and tell God: “I don’t get it, but I trust you.”

Things have a way of working out when I let God steer the boat – which he’s actually driving anyway.

Weeks ago, I asked a young guy at my church to pray with me about Gracie.

He owns herding dogs and knows how energetic they can be.

And I’m not kidding, but he referred to Jesus and storms in his prayer.

He prayed something like:

“Lord, if you can calm storms, you can calm a dog.”

I love that prayer and I’ve prayed it ever since.

A few weeks later, the dog handler mentioned the rolled-up newspaper.

Gracie still has her moments, but the nippy situation has improved.

I love how our God understands the natures of storms and puppies and knows how to calm them.

Best of all, I love how he can calm the storms in me, especially as I reach out to him.

And I hope he never thinks he must smack a newspaper against something to get me to stop and calm down.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly faith-based column.

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