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Skin Deep

post written by Esther Filbrun

Skin Deep by Anne HjelleTitle: Skin Deep
Anne Hjelle
Major Themes: Biographies, Fear, Faith
After Anne Hjelle is attacked by a mountain lion while out mountain biking, is there any way she can conquer her fear and begin living normal life again?

About a year ago, probably more, I remember catching Mom reading one evening when she normally would be up preparing supper. “What are you reading?” I asked as I passed by. “Skin Deep,” she responded without looking up, “a book about a woman who was attacked by a cougar”. I decided then that I wanted to read the story one day. If it captured my mom’s attention that well, it would surely be a good read for me too. It’s taken a while for me to get to this book, but I must say—it’s a keeper! I love the story, even though in a lot of ways it’s awful, too.

Anne Hjelle’s day has gone much like any other day. She enjoys mountain biking, and today she’s taking a rugged trail with one of her biking friends, Debi. As they round several blind corners, they come across a bike leaning against a bush—no rider in sight. Another mountain biker is there, trying to figure out what’s going on. Figuring nothing is out of order, Anne heads on—and suddenly, just a few more bends down the track, she glimpses a flash of reddish-brown fur before she is blown off her bike. From then on, it’s a life-and-death fight between her and a mountain lion.

This book is an amazing story of how God intervened to save a woman’s life when faced with certain death. God wasn’t done with Anne, and I’m so thankful she took time to write her story down—it was a great encouragement to me. I enjoyed following her story, from the time the mountain lion first attacked her through to her sometimes slow recovery both physically and emotionally. Although it was hard to read about some of the wounds she received, there were quite a few parallels as well with spiritual things that could be drawn—an aspect I found interesting.

One of my biggest takeaways from the book was Mrs. Hjelle’s thoughts about fear. After being attacked by a mountain lion while mountain biking, she had to deal with a lot of fear—quite understandable, of course. She also shares how only six days after leaving hospital, two weeks after the initial attack, she was asked to accompany the California Department of Fish and Game to the spot of the attack as an effort to help prevent similar attacks in the future. She said,

“Ever since coming-to from the surgery, I’ve known that when I’m physically capable I’m going to have to return to the scene of the attack. If I don’t, my fear of Whiting Ranch could keep me from venturing into wilderness areas in the future. And if that happens, a big part of me, a half of me, will have died. The mountain lion might not have killed me, but he’ll have won.”

She agreed to go, and a few relatives as well as her good friend Debi accompanied her to the location. Retracing the route meant she had to face her fears head-on for the first time, but she did it—and by doing so, she won. Personally, I couldn’t imagine doing something like that so soon after an attack. However, I can understand how necessary facing your fears actually is, and if I’m ever in a position like she was in, I hope I can do the same thing.

In all, Skin Deep is much more than skin deep in the varied applications to life it contains. I found the book deeply encouraging on many levels, and I think you would too. It’s graphic at times, and yes, awful—but it’s also full of hope and a lot of interesting thoughts that I know I’ll be pondering for years to come. Here’s one last quote from the book—it’s hard to choose a favorite, though!

Fear can cripple you. If you live your life in fear it can finish you. Feed your faith, not your fear.” —Anne Hjelle

Fun (or not-so-fun) note: While writing this review, when I reached the part about “and suddenly…”, as I was completely wrapped up in envisioning what this must have been like for Anne, almost feeling the mountain lion on ME, not her, our cat decided to jump onto my lap. It was so startling (he rarely does that when I’m working at the computer) that my first reaction was to get this thing—whatever it was—off. Now. Once I snapped out of “immersed in the story” mode, and realized what happened, I was going to pick him up, but by that time he had left—disgusted by my behavior. Such is the danger of writing about a book you deeply connected with emotionally. 🙂 It sure gave me a laugh afterward, though!

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