All Bluff?

We used to live in Paradise , California. It’s a beautiful place in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, about an hour north  of Sacramento.

Since the climate there is very warm during the summers and we were surrounded by canyons and forests, we shared our property with many strange critters.

Bears and mountain lions  and coyotes invaded the residential areas at night so it wasn’t a good idea to take an evening stroll by yourself.

My daughter was in elementary school at the time and she loved to hunt and catch the small lizards that sunbathed on the backyard fence.

But there was one type of lizard she avoided: the alligator lizard.

This is a fearsome little creature, about a foot long, quick-moving, territorial and aggressive.

One of them came after me when I was taking a walk in my neighborhood. Mouth gaping wide, revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth, the thing rushed me and sent me scurrying for safety fifty yards up the road.

I don’t know if the lizard was really going to sink its teeth into my tender toes, or if it was just bluffing.

Would you have waited to see?

Bluffs are all around us, in the animal kingdom, in relationships with people, in international relations.

If I’d had solid boots on, I probably would have stood my ground with the alligator lizard.

But the little creature saw that my sandalled feet were vulnerable.

I hope we, as a country, learn that it is not good to present ourselves as vulnerable. I hope we “put on our boots” so the alligator lizards of the world don’t decide to take a bite!

“Discretion will protect you and knowledge will guard you.” (Proverbs 2:11 NIV Bible)










Notice Me!

During our many hikes in the mountains, my husband and I have come unawares upon snakes, bears, moose, elk, deer, beavers, snowshoe hairs, pine martens.

It’s rare for us to see them before they see us. Most of the time they’re already moving away into thicker vegetation.

My son encountered a female grizzly bear up in Denali National Park. She sized him up and dismissed him with a snort.

Animals survive for the most part by not being noticed. Because there’s always something bigger and nastier on the prowl, most animals will avoid notice if at all possible.

Humans are not like that. We survive by being noticed. Just think about how you feel when you first visit a church. Most people will form a negative or positive judgment about the church based on if someone noticed them and gave them some attention. (I know that I die a little inside when I attend a new organization and am ignored.)

God made us that way. It’s not a bad thing. We’re supposed to crave each others love and attention. Just as the apostle Paul said, “…so in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Eph. 4:25 NIV Bible)

If you are a believer and are not part of a Body, know that this is rarely Christ’s intent for you. He wants you to be part of a worshiping and serving body. You may have been hurt by someone at church and have withdrawn in anger or fear.

But your emotional—indeed, ultimately, your physical—survival depends on:

  • Noticing and being noticed. Loving and being loved. Helping and being helped.
  • Finding significance by using your gifts for others.
  • Worshiping together with the knowledge that you are part of the Bride of Christ.
  • Joining with others to do good works which might be impossible by yourself.

We were made for togetherness.

Don’t hunker down and hide like the bunnies on your lawn! Join a loving body of believers and grow your relationships.

“They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…”  (Acts 2:46 NIV Bible)


Is Good Still Good?

I love fairy stories. You, too?

My mother used to read all the well-known stories to us at bedtime: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White…

and some of the lesser known, but equally good: Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen.

Each of these stories contains common themes:

  • evil exists
  • evil is distinct from good
  • good must fight evil
  • good eventually triumphs over evil

I’m not so sure that modern stories contain the same themes.

Take the movie, Maleficent. Here, the very name indicates the woman’s character. Maleficent is magnificently malevolent.

But the new movie paints her as misunderstood. Emotionally and physically wounded. No wonder she strikes out and hates. Ah, poor thing. Evil is just misunderstood. If we’d all be kinder, then evil wouldn’t be evil. Evil is just a result of unkindness and injustice!

How naive.

My Bible concordance contains about 100 references to “evil.” The first mention of evil is in Genesis, where God instructs Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were to remain morally pure.

What unkindness and injustice did Adam and Eve encounter in the garden of Eden to sway them toward evil?

And after Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and to operate independently of God, “…sin entered the world through one man…” (Romans 5:12 NIV Bible)

My old-time fairy stories show the hero or heroine making conscious choices to do the right thing, and thus is evil vanquished.

But today, we see many so-called heroes, using the same methods as the bad characters. But, because we’ve invested in the main character’s vulnerabilities, we still root for him/her.  In the end, the not-so-good main character wins. But I don’t usually end up walking out of the theater feeling that good has been necessarily vindicated.

It’s a dubious victory for “our” side. As in Maleficent, when the writers of the movie put us into her viewpoint, we look at the other side—the supposedly good people—as not so good. It’s all the way you look at evil. Maybe evil is simply another world-view. Not necessarily worse, just sitting on another hill across the valley from good.

This is a dangerous switch in our previous Judeo-Christian world view. It’s more like Yin and Yang.  Opposite sides of a coin. As if evil balances good. As if evil is equal to good.

If we Christians cannot articulate why good is better than evil—or even if there is a difference between the two—then we’re in serious trouble.

I hope we watch these new movies, read these new books with a critical mind. Ask ourselves, “How does the theme of this book, or the main characters’ world view square with the truth of God’s word?”

We should not buy into any world view, or be influenced by it if it teaches:

  • Wrong (evil) is okay as a means to an end
  • Indeed, who has the right to tell me what I do is wrong (evil)?
  • The God of the Bible isn’t real; God is an antiquated belief-system
  • The God of the Bible is only one path; there are many ways
  • Evil isn’t real; it’s just an antiquated viewpoint
  • You are the ultimate master

Let’s encourage and support writers and film makers who create works that reflect truth.




More Than We Could Chew

Years ago, when I was about 11, our family took a vacation to the Grand Canyon. There was a canyon trail that went all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We kids decided that we’d hike about halfway and then turn back. It shouldn’t take us more than a couple of hours. We thought.

We’d been warned that the hike was strenuous and to take it easy. But as we merrily skipped down those steep switchbacks, we exclaimed, “I don’t know what those rangers were talking about. This isn’t hard at all.”

We had broad-brimmed hats on and carried canteens filled to the brim with water. We had everything we needed for a quick hike down and back again.

After about an hour, the oldest brother said, “I think it’s about time we turned around.”

“Okay,” we happily answered. We started uphill.

It was very hot that day, probably close to 100 degrees. But you know how kids are. They really don’t notice the heat…at least for a while.

After about three switchbacks, we youngest kids started huffing. The trail was steep. Why hadn’t we noticed that when we were going downhill?

We began taking long pulls from our canteens, stopping frequently to catch our breaths.

It took us more than twice the time to get back to the top of the trail. Long before we reached the trail head, our water had run out. Man, were we ever glad to get back into shade at the trail information center.

The lesson from that trail hike stayed with me: know your own personal limits and plan accordingly.

It’s true for most things in life. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Of course, sometimes the Lord prods us to do a work that seems bigger than we feel we can take on.

But in most cases, assess your strengths, your interests, your experience, your spiritual maturity.

Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Do I have the time to invest in this activity?
  2. What is the learning curve?
  3. Do I have the physical and emotional energy, not just to start but to finish well?
  4. How will this affect my family?
  5. What is my motivation for taking on this new work?

It’s always wise to consider the entire “trail” before embarking, not just the first few steps.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28 NIV Bible)

Sweeten with Grace

At the beginning of my junior year in high school I went into the school library to do some studying.

Our school librarian—I’ll call her Mrs. White— was an older woman with an angry attitude. Most of the students were afraid of her.

This morning was no exception. She called me up to the check-out desk with a face as dark and threatening as a thunder cloud.

“Dena, you checked out a book back in May and you haven’t returned it yet.” She could have said this nicely and quietly to avoid embarrassing me. But, no, she’d said it loud enough and with such an angry tone that everybody in the library knew I was in trouble.

I’d always been one of those quiet, follow-the-rules, good student types. My friends at a nearby table giggled at my embarrassment.

The librarian’s face was deeply lined—probably etched into her skin by life’s many hurts and indignities. So I answered her with sweetness and respect. When I finished explaining the reason for not returning the book right away, her whole demeanor changed.

I mean, really changed.

The next time I went into the library, I caught Mrs. White’s eye. We exchanged smiles.

For the next two years, my dark and stormy librarian “sunnied up” whenever she saw me.

Now, whenever I remember high school, I think about Mrs. White and wonder what happened in her life to have made her such a hostile person. Was it her childhood? Had she suffered some sort of emotional trauma? Was she bullied. Or battered? Or did she have a life without spiritual hope?

As high school students, we tended to judge others, including teachers or staff merely on externals. So, naturally, Mrs. White was not one of our favorite people on campus.

Now that we’re older and have suffered our own wounds and set-backs, most of us former students realize that life can be perilous, physically and emotionally. A smile and kind, respectful words can soothe a hurting person way more than a cold shoulder and ridicule.

The little bit of grace that I showed Mrs. White is dwarfed by the Grace God has shown me by adopting me as His child, and by His daily patience and loving kindness toward me.

I hope I’ll keep that in mind every day as I rub shoulders with irregular people.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:6 NIV Bible)



Think and Live

Panic stole my ability to think logically.

Driving home late at night, I was on a parkway heading north. In a few  miles, the parkway would T and I would make the left turn onto the road that would take me to familiar neighborhoods and eventually, my own house. Continue reading

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts


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