Beyond the fence

Deer often visit our yard.

“You’ve got to come see this,” my husband called to me from around the corner of the house one morning. I followed his voice and found him pointing at our front yard fence. A large section, newly installed, had been pushed in overnight. But before I could express my dismay, my eyes wandered beyond the fence…to see the 200-pound Axis deer that lay dead between the fence and the road. Clearly a victim of a speeding car on a very dark night, the buck had apparently been fatally hit and knocked into our fence, where it had left a large, lasting impression.

Later, as I reflected on my first glance at the scene, it struck me that despite the deer’s size and its proximity to our fence, the big animal was not the first thing I’d noted – instead, I had focused on our damaged fence. Rather than immediately looking at the bigger picture, I’d zoomed in on what I expected to see: our fence. My mind had automatically narrowed onto the familiar.

Look for the big picture

I suspect that is a very human response – to focus on what is known, to see what is expected. Yet Christ repeatedly exhorts us to welcome the unexpected, to look for the big picture, to stretch beyond our fears in a complete trust in God. “But I tell you,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Could any instruction have been more unwelcome than this to the oppressed Jewish community of Jesus’s time? But by obeying this command, “you may be children of your Father in heaven,” Jesus explains in the following verse.

In other words, when we try to see the big picture that God sees, and do as He directs, we become most fully His own people.

Push beyond the familiar

Perhaps the most famous example of someone being pushed beyond the familiar into the bigger picture of life in God is St. Paul. Fanatically focused on persecuting Christians, he was literally knocked off his horse and blinded by the light of Christ. (Read about it in Acts 9.) When he regained his sight after his conversion of heart, mind, and spirit, his vision of his own life and the life of the early Church grew into the big picture of God’s plan for salvation through Christ. His former narrow focus on wiping out Christ’s followers totally transformed into an all-encompassing attention to advancing the Kingdom of God. Now, that’s seeing WAY beyond the fence of the familiar, wouldn’t you say?

Lord, help me to see the bigger picture of your will in my life and learn to welcome the unexpected in faith. Amen.

(This reflection originally appeared at https://wichitafalls.faithhappenings.com/soulcare/devotional/60632. I often contribute devotionals to FaithHappenings.com and if you like what you’ve read here, please check out the site online. It’s a clearinghouse of Christian inspiration, books, speakers, events, concerts that offers you local information across the US, and you can subscribe – it’s FREE – to receive daily reflections.)

 

 

 

 

Is death your greatest fear?

Not to be morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about death. (Yes, it’s very hot and dry right now in central Texas, but I’m not finding skeletal remains in the front yard – yet – so my ruminations about death cannot be connected to the weather.)
I’m reading a book, and it asks the question: “What is your greatest fear?” Not surprisingly, death ranks as the second greatest fear for most people; speaking in public snares the Number One spot on the list, according to the author.
(Not for me – I love speaking in public. From the first time I gave a humorous reading at a ladies’ luncheon when I was in high school, I’ve been addicted to making people laugh; getting chuckles from an audience gives me a rush of power that is second only to successfully parking parallel.)

Fascination with life after death

When I try to pin down my greatest fear, though, it’s not death, either. Call me a fatalist, but I have always believed that when my number is up…well, it’s up. I’ve never doubted that I’m going to heaven to be with God, and I know it’s going to be wonder-full. So why would I fear death?

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, I’m not alone. In their study, 72% of Americans believe in an afterlife, and that number includes ‘non-religious’ respondents, among whom 37% say they believe in the existence of heaven, a place where they are rewarded for living a good life. Interest in an afterlife has also fueled phenomenal sales for books and memoirs about near-death or after-death experiences and led to popular TV series and scientific research projects. My own conversations with my sons about my Christian faith and the intersections of science with the supernatural/spiritual was the seed that eventually resulted in my thriller Heaven’s Gate (which, by the way, has now been nominated for a 2017 Christy Award in the suspense category! Have you read it yet?).

Where are all the do-gooders hiding?

So, here’s my question: Given all the attention that heaven receives in our culture and a wide-spread profession of believing in it, why aren’t more people making a concerted effort to get there? In other words, if you believe heaven is a reward for doing good, why aren’t more people actively seeking to do good?

I think the answer, in part, is because ‘doing good’ doesn’t make sensational headlines. ‘Doing good’ is often a quiet, secret thing. Contributing to a community in positive ways is such a way-of-life for so many people, that they don’t consider it anything special, when in fact, it really is. I know that when I consciously look for good, I see it happening everywhere, so, whether or not the media reports it or our culture celebrates it, I think there are tons of people doing good because they believe in heaven. Like I do. And when I let the reality of heaven influence my daily behavior, I act differently. I work at being more generous, kinder, more grateful.

So why would I fear death? In my mind, in my heart, I believe that death will be the door to the Kingdom made perfect that I will inhabit forever. My audiences will always laugh. My parallel parking will be effortless. What’s not to like?

Do you believe, every day, in heaven?

 

 

 

Awe-full at the Houston Space Center

Not something you see every day in the parking lot: a 747 with a space shuttle on its back. Talk about a traffic-stopper.

Next stop: Mars!

My husband and I visited the Space Center in Houston this week, and it renewed my wonder and respect for everything NASA has accomplished since its inception. To be able to touch a rock that came from the moon, and appreciate even half of what that represents in human effort, imagination, and sheer guts, is an awe-full experience! One of the exhibits we especially liked modeled the surface of Mars and reviewed NASA’s projects that are aimed at putting humans on the planet. After seeing the exhibit, it’s clear that the movie The Martian borrowed extensively from accurate information collected by NASA scientists. The idea that I might live to see a person on Mars is mind-blowing…and reinforces everything I’ve ever believed about the incredible power of imagination to create new realities.

Brave hearts

Touring the Space Center in Houston also reminded me of the intrepid nature of humankind. When you see a Mercury capsule up-close, how can you NOT marvel at the risk astronauts take when they launch into space? My husband, stunned by the fragility of the Mercury capsule on display, said that early space travel was akin to sending someone into space in a tin can. What were we thinking?! When you examine the capsule, it’s terrifyingly evident that mere inches separated a person from the enormity of outer space. Not to mention those first astronauts who walked out of their capsules into the infinite darkness…just trying to think of that experience rocks me to the core! How much trust would that require in the humans who enabled you to do it? How much faith in yourself, and in God? Another movie I’ve watched comes to mind: Gravity. In that film, I caught a glimpse of what it might mean to experience total aloneness, floating in space, with only the bare resources of mind, body, and spirit at hand. The concept still sends shivers down my spine.

Touching the stars…or the moon, at least

In a similar way, I went speechless when I saw the Apollo module on display. It had actually traveled in space, to the moon and back, its skin beaten by cosmic radiation and the raw forces of nature. As a life-long astronomy fan, I’ve always been fascinated by the stars, the limitless frontiers of the universe, so to stand next to something that had physically entered those reaches of space was a humbling moment for me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist the exhibit’s invitation to touch a tiny sliver of rock from the moon – it, too, had been somewhere I could only imagine. In a way, it felt like touching a dream, but one that has become very real. I have no intention of ever walking on the moon or Mars, but knowing that it has been – and will be – done, expands my own horizons, as well as the world’s.

Because I spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying and appreciating the natural world, I don’t often think of human accomplishment as something of awe. NASA’s Space Center changed that for me. When I look at the star-studded skies tonight, I’ll be giving thanks not only to God for a magnificent creation, but for the amazing character of good women and men who have led us to explore and claim that creation more deeply.

 

 

Welcome to my new website!

Nine years ago, my first Bob White Birder Murder Mystery was published, launching me as an author – a dream I’d had since I was five years old and first stepped into a public library. I was astounded at the sheer volume of books on racks and decided right then I wanted my name on a book’s spine in a library. It took me another 48 years to get there…

Since then, I’ve written six more Birder Murders, an international best-selling memoir, Saved by Gracie, about how our dog helped me overcome anxiety, and the first two books in my supernatural Christian thriller series, titled Archangels. Along the way, I’ve blogged on my own website, guest-blogged for many others, and contributed devotionals to FaithHappenings.com for their subscribers.

In the last two years, I’ve also experienced a major life change: my husband retired from his career in high tech in Minnesota, and we moved to the Hill Country in Texas. Life is different here in many ways, and I find it is changing me, as well, so I decided it was time to revamp my website to better reflect who I am now as an author. It’s pretty simple, really, because what I want to do with my life is:

Laugh.

Live in awe.

Practice gratitude.

Love God.

In the months ahead, I hope to blog on a regular basis about those four topics. Sometimes I’ll tell funny stories, and sometimes I’ll offer more serious reflection. As always, I hope to entertain you, my reader, and share with you the wonder and mystery of life. To that end, I’m even going to throw in photos for laughs, for inspiration, for sheer beauty. If you like what you read and see, please subscribe to the blog by clicking on the RSS feed on the right side of the page. If you really like it, please share and invite others to visit this website. Thanks!