Our routine was the same, just like every night at bedtime, until it wasn’t. I took Luna out to do her business and I waited for her on the back porch. Rubbing my sleepy eyes, I looked up at the sky admiring the twinkling stars that danced between the swaying branches. I heard a rustle in the darkness. Must be a lone deer, I thought. I encouraged Luna to get back to accomplishing her task at hand trying to take both of our minds off the fact that we were not alone.
Out here in the country, we were rarely alone. New residents to this 9-acre plot of land, we are still getting used to all of the critters native to the Texas hill country – scorpions, snakes, fat centipedes, and hairy tarantulas.
My husband likes to play a game called, “Name That Poop”. We see a myriad of animal feces on our property and try to identify who came to visit during the night. He has named the recent species leaving us nocturnal gifts generically as “wild dogs”. In his mind, he was thinking foxes or coyotes. My mind painted a picture of wild, rabid, dogs – hungry for anything in their path. Hunters. Predators.
I heard the rustling again, followed by heavy breathing. Quickly paced footsteps were coming toward us from the darkness. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind the heavy breathing registered as panting breath coming from a dog. The rapid tempo footsteps sounded vaguely like paws hitting the pavement. I stood frozen in the darkness. My bleary eyes widened, as snippets of our “wild dog” conversations replayed in my head. Fox? Coyote? Wolf? My reaction may have been slightly influenced by all five of the Jurassic Park movies I had watched in the last week. Darkness punctuated by sharp white teeth, a huge head, and the sudden unpredictability of it all spurred me into action. I yelled for my husband, grabbed Luna, ran inside, and slammed the back door shut. I could have sworn it was a stray Pit Bull or Rottweiler ready to eat our fence, Luna, and me in one bite.
My husband went outside and chased it away. He discovers that the predator I had protected Luna from was a skinny, starved Lab who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was severely dehydrated – thus the panting. I might have overreacted. Fear had distorted what was real.
Later, in bed with Luna snuggled safely between us, I thanked God for my husband who had the clarity that I lacked and for his big, strong arms that held Luna and me until we fell asleep.
Mind trickery is not a new phenomenon. Many people make a living by creating illusions for an audience. I recently toured a natural cave with my girls and we experienced illusions that nature created 100 feet down into the earth.
Looking into a clear pool of water I was convinced it was only two feet deep, but the guide assured me it was twice as deep. He shined his flashlight around the corner and asked how far I thought the path went. It looked like a narrow, twisty, steep decline of about 100 feet. I was dumbfounded when he revealed it was another pool of water reflecting the ceiling of the cave with stalactites reaching for the liquidy surface below. Sitting in pitch darkness without any source of light, it was so dark I couldn’t see my daughters next to me. Yet I was convinced there was a flicker of light out of the corner of my right eye; but when I turned to look at the twinkle, it disappeared. In this cave, I felt like Alice in Wonderland where nothing was as it seemed to be. I had even created my own beacon of hope – the flickering light that was just an illusion.
While all of this is harmless and honestly quite amusing, I am struck by how powerful the mind is. The enemy, tricky as he is, knows this. Sometimes seeds of doubt are planted, fear takes up residence, lying ensues, and before we know it we are leading lives that lack integrity and authenticity.
I use these encounters as guideposts to steer me in the right direction of the journey. When I am in a dark, dark place, I turn to the light I see in the salvation that Jesus offers. When I place my hope in something material or artificial, I am reminded to replace that with faith in Him. When I am tempted to be untruthful, the Holy Spirit nudges me to refine an aspect of my character that has gotten off track – to find the space to let pride and humility exchange places. When I’m living in shades of gray, not certain what is right and what is wrong, I turn to the Word – God’s Word – for clarity. When something large and uncertain is looming in front of me, God knows the outcome even when I don’t. I can let His strong arm comfort me instead of running away out of fear.
Each day we can choose to live out of fear or faith. Fear resides in the head, while faith resides in the heart. Sometimes the 12-inch journey from head to heart, from fear to faith, can be long but is worth every step.