This essay of mine originally appeared on Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog site.

Three things startled me recently.


While taking a walk near my house, I came around a corner just as a woman was cleaning up an impressive pile that her dog, a Bullmastiff, had deposited on the sidewalk. My sudden appearance surprised both of them, but I was worried about only one of them. He charged.

A Bullmastiff is, I’m pretty sure, a descendant of the Mastodon. That’s where the “mast” in Bullmastiff comes from. I haven’t looked that up, but I don’t really need to.


I was moving a pile of wood from my back yard to another place in the yard. I had just had some trees trimmed, and even though I live in Southern California, the Eagle Scout in me spotted those branches on the ground and thought, “Firewood!” So I cut them up and stacked them neatly. But later I wanted to move the stack, so I grabbed an armful and carried the wood to another area.

When I got to the bottom layer, something moved. The tail of something sinister flicked into my sight. So of course I dropped the bundle.

I hate snakes. Why is it always snakes?


My adult son called and told me he had gotten a new assignment as a videographer. A nongovernmental group was establishing one of the Ebola Treatment Centers in Liberia, and they had hired him to go there and document it all.

What if he got sick? What if he couldn’t leave the country? What if he died from this? And then I started thinking of the thousands of others in West Africa who had this disease.

When the dog charged, I didn’t run.

I just put my hands in the air as if being held at gunpoint, and turned my back to him, waiting for his teeth to sink into one of my legs. Several seconds – nothing. I slowly turned, ready to match the pile he had left a few feet away, and there he sat, looking up at me, excited to meet a new friend. I extended my hand and he let me pet him. “Good dog,” I said.

When the reptile moved under the wood pile, I also threw my hands in the air. But then I channeled my inner Harrison Ford and slowly walked toward it. Gingerly, I pushed a stick into where I had seen movement.

A lizard darted out.

He was under the fence and gone in the blink of an eye.

It wasn’t a snake after all. And I sort of like lizards. “Good lizard,” I thought.

Photo Credit: Mikaela Hamilton

Then the phone call came. I knew this one would take longer to resolve. Ebola. A virus that you can’t see, and don’t know if you have until the symptoms start. Figuratively, I did the same thing as when I saw the dog and when I thought I saw the snake. I lifted my hands. First, out of fear, then out of submission.

Sometimes, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

Sometimes the most natural thing you can do is reach for the sky.

And sometimes your hands stay up there for a long time.