By Norris Burkes May 12 2024

I have a great trivia question to start Mother’s Day weekend.

Do you remember who made famous the catchphrase, “Let’s be careful out there”?

If you guessed Michael Conrad playing Sergeant Phil Esterhaus in the TV show “Hill Street Blues” (1981-1987), you’d be half right. Esterhaus, the desk sergeant, sent his officers onto the street with a heartfelt, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Why is this a Mother’s Day trivia question? Because it’s a little-known fact that TV writers got that phrase from my mom.

That’s right. At least twice a week during my adolescence, Mom sent me out into the world telling me, “Be careful out there.”

Your mom probably said the same thing too, but I’m sure you didn’t reply with the sarcasm I did.

“Be careful of what, Mom?” I’d ask. “Be specific. Are you telling me I can’t walk the freeway to school anymore?

“Why do I have to be careful? I promised my buddies I’d drive them to the beach so we can swim with the sharks.”

I’m sure she got my point. Her admonition was short of specific tips so it wasn’t going to significantly change my plans to do stupid things.

Nevertheless, she’d send me out with a smile, rebuffing my sarcasm, saying, “Just be careful!, OK?”

Still, I loved her concern. She spoke as a person of faith and her warning to “be careful” carried the sentiment of the Apostle Paul.

Whether you consider yourself to be religious or not, I think there’s good motherly advice in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, asking congregants to “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.”

The passage continues with astonishing specificity, naming four goals to living wisely. (Ephesians 5:15-20)

First, from verse 18, “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life.”

My mom, a Baptist preacher’s wife was definitely a teetotaler. Still, I think she’d like the alternative as it’s suggested in The Message – “Drink the Spirit of God, huge drafts of him.”

The latter half of the verse names a second goal: “Become filled with the Spirit of God.”

I’m not sure what kind of spirit my mom saw in her youngest child. But I do know she encouraged me to let God reflect the divine image He placed in me. Even today, I know she sees in me “fightings within and fears without,” much like the hymn “Just As I Am,”

The third goal Paul mentions is “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (v.19).

That’s a bit confusing. Are we supposed to sing to one another as if we are characters in a musical?

No. I think Paul is saying, “Speak to each other as if God was speaking his love through you.”

My mom’s translation of this – and probably your mom’s too — was, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. But by all means, say nice things!”

Finally, verse 20 tells us to be careful that we are “always giving thanks to God for everything.”

Thank God for everything.  REALLY?


Paul’s writings, here and elsewhere, emphasize that we take care to maintain the spirit of thanksgiving for all situations, both visible and invisible.

On this Mother’s Day, I’m thankful that, at age 91, my mom is still around to tell me to be careful with my grammar, my speech and my posture.

Which proves my last catchphrase for the day: “There’s no place like home.” -The Wizard of Oz, 1939.


Readers: I’m grateful that my mom gives $100 a month to support Chispa Project in providing library access to four children. Give online today at or make check to “Chispa Project.”

Send checks or comments to 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Email or message at (843) 608-9715.