Perception

Being a writer, it amused me when I got up early and walked into the living room to find our two big stuffed bears perched in the chair as if they had just returned from a nighttime frolic. It was easy to understand how authors had been inspired to write children’s stories about toys coming alive at night and frolicking. It’s all a matter of perception.

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Being a Christian, when I see a rainbow bending its bright colors across the sky, I think of God’s promises. Those who put rainbows on flags think of something else. It’s a matter of perception.

The gun issue raging in the U.S. is also a matter of perception. Some think outlawing guns will make it safe. They blame guns for violence. Others know that the problem is not in lifeless weapons that are powerless on their own, but rather in hearts full of hate. It takes a finger on a trigger to make a gun fire.

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Growing up in the country, it was essential to have a gun. My baby brother was saved by a gun when a copperhead snake, head raised in a striking position, locked its gaze on my youngest brother. We took guns to school for shooting classes. But there was never a school shooting, nor a single student injured. Learning to shoot a gun was considered as essential as driving lessons. Cars and guns are both tools, and both can be used beneficially or lethally.

Guns are essential in the Texas Hill Country where it’s not unusual to need a gun to stop the charge of a rabid animal, kill a rattlesnake, or protect livestock from predators.

My son was killed in a violent plane accident while on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. I understand a parent’s grief. I mourn with parents who have lost their children from any horror—including illness.

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Some claim it’s a matter of perception, but I can’t understand how the same people who want to take away guns from non-violent people are okay with killing innocent, defenseless babies in the womb. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution promises life and liberty to all its citizens. I don’t understand the perception of denying the protection of the First Amendment to citizens who need the greatest measure of protection. That’s why I wrote “Love’s Beating Heart.”

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Some things are not perception. Some things are sin. Murder is a sin. Hiding hate in your heart that would lead to violence and murder is a sin. Killing babies and labeling it with socially acceptable labels like “choice” and “abortion” is a sin. Some values are not open to interpretation—they are set in stone by God.

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Coincidence? Not.

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My mother, who lived most of her life as an atheist but died a Christian, would have called it “coincidence.” That was her favorite description for anything lacking a logical explanation.

Luke was 10 when we started back to Texas from Montana. For Texas folks, Montana winters are brutal and “summers” are weak. When we arrived in August with our Texas tans, everyone asked where we were from. Five months later on January 1, we headed back to Texas. It was -12F. When we got to Jackpot, Nevada, it was still snowing, but Luke and I walked around with no coats because 32F felt warm.

Our route took us through Reno. It was still snowing. We stopped briefly for gas and food. Miles later, I wondered if we should have stayed. Snow grew deeper with every mile, but we were crossing the Dreaded 40-mile Desert and there was no place to stop. I hid my anxiety from Luke and told myself that as we continued south, it would get warmer.

There were sandwich boards signs along the interstate, but I couldn’t read them. They were covered with snow. And I was still tense from the frightening signs in Montana’s Blue Mountains: “Watch For Ice Heaves.” What was an ice heave? Where did I watch for one? Would it race across the road in front of us? Would it fall from the sky? Would it fly from a tree and smash our windshield? What if there were deep pits in the road and we fell into one? Why put up a sign warning about ice heaves without explaining what they were?

So…I ignored the sandwich board signs, although a diminutive pocket of common sense nudged me: suppose the signs were warnings that the interstate was closed? Would I get arrested?

In another of Mom’s “coincidences,” a semi-trailer truck parked on the side of the road pulled out in front of us. I followed that big rig’s tire tracks all the way across the desert to the next town. I knew that if I lost that truck, we would get stuck in a snow drift. By this time, I was fairly certain the signs warned: “Interstate Closed.”

When the semi pulled off on the exit to Lovelock, Nevada, I pulled off, laughing when a string of headlights followed. Other drivers either couldn’t read the signs or had ignored them. Not a single pair of headlights continued straight.

My truck made it through town until it got directly in front of our former pastor’s house. It stopped in the middle of the road and would not budge. Pastor Ted and Jenny Kern were kind and lovely (and still are). They invited us to spend the night. They said the interstate was closed, motels were full, and people were camped out inside the police station.

The next day when enough snow had been cleared, I drove to the local supermarket. The interstate was still closed. I couldn’t leave for Texas. Nevada State Troopers were stationed at the interstate ramps turning drivers back.

Coincidence? As I stood in the snow, arms outstretched, praying and asking God what to do, friends of ours from a gold mine drove up. “Hey, girl,” Ed hollered. “Need a job? Clo broke her arm. We need some help.”

Luke was ecstatic. What boy wouldn’t love roaming the desert and exploring a gold mine? We drove 40 miles out to the mine, Ed’s truck behind ours so he could push us forward every time my truck stopped.

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More coincidence? Months later, Clo sent me into town for the mail. I parked in front of the post office, collected the mail, and got back into the truck. The gear shift lever fell to the pavement. Not knowing what else to do, Luke and I walked over to the Kern’s house for assistance. Jenny called a church friend to fix the truck, painfully shy Thomas Logue, a strong Christian who loved helping people and fixing things—and could repair or build almost anything.

A few months later, Pastor Ted married us. Luke gained the most wonderful stepfather any child could have in Tom, who died of cancer in 2014. The Marine Corps sent Luke home from Iraq for the memorial service.

Coincidence, Mom? I think now you would agree with me that there are no coincidences. They are all God incidents.

(Pastor Theodore Kern pastors Crescent Valley Baptist Church in Battle Mountain Nevada, along with three mission churches in outlying areas. Jenny just retired from her teaching career to spend more time with grandchildren and also plays the piano for church services.)

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Let’s Consider

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Let’s consider a wagon train traveling from the east coast to California during the ‘49er Gold Rush, a distance of between 2,600, and 3,000 miles which took months to complete. No, let’s don’t.

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We have just survived a bit over two weeks with no internet and still have no phone or phone number. It’s painful.

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Lost communication gives the isolated person the same loss of power feeling as going down the road in a vehicle and having the steering wheel break off in your hands. You can turn the wheel, shake the wheel, or throw it out the window with the same lack of response.

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One thing for which I am endlessly grateful is that with God—loss of communication is not possible. We don’t need a phone or internet to talk to the Creator of the universe and to hear His still, small voice. It sounds in the roar of the sea, the breath of the wind, joyful bird songs.

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God answers back in glorious artwork in the sky, the majestic rise of mountains, the soft, cold touch of snow, and the light, shadows, and colors of the unique and wonderful world He created for us. We are never sans communication when we open our hearts to God.

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Not Obvious to Me

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When I was four, my worried mom took me to an eye doctor. He asked her why she thought I couldn’t see, and she explained that I didn’t color between the lines in my coloring books. I sat there thinking, “Oh, that’s what those lines are for.”

What was obvious to just about everyone else was not obvious to me. No one had explained that the object of coloring books was to color within the lines. To me, coloring books offered exciting pages of opportunity to create magic with my favorite colors. Lines were unimportant.

When I was in first grade, my teacher scolded me for not coloring tree trunks brown and the sky blue. I feel vindicated now in not noticing the brown-blue fact that was obvious to my teacher: do you know how few tree trunks in Scotland are brown and how rarely the sky is blue?

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When I was six, my grandmother ordered me to quit climbing up the hill to play with the children there. They were my friends and I didn’t understand the edict, especially after Grandmother’s long-winded explanation ending with, “Why do you think we fought the Civil War?” I had never even heard of the Civil War. When I sought clarification from Mom, she explained that the children up on the hill were black. I had never noticed. Friends are friends. Color is unimportant.

At my last newspaper job, I got sent to interview a visiting Scottish minister because the person who had been assigned the story missed work. When I asked with concern what was wrong with her, the boss fixed me with a hard stare and said, “You don’t know she’s an alcoholic? Everyone knows. Where have you been?”

As usual, I had been sheltering from the obvious. Obvious is not always joyful or friendly. This time, being clueless proved a blessing. The subject I interviewed is now my husband author Alan T McKean who writes exciting, historically accurate time travel novels. (https://www.amazon.com/Alan-T.-McKean/e/B00BR1PM5Y/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0)

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More recently, we were invited to “tea.” Being Texan and accustomed to iced tea on the porch, I found myself eating three complete meals that evening: one before leaving home for what I assumed would be hot tea, once at “tea” which proved a complete meal, and the third at a friend’s house who had invited us for dinner that night. Not observing the obvious can be fun…but filling.

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I have learned that being oblivious to the obvious frees the mind from contentious thoughts about things that are wrong in this world which we are powerless to fix. Besides; I’m in good standing with Job, my hero of faith who proclaimed, “From where then does wisdom come? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, but God understand its way and knows its place.” (Job 18:23-23)

I’m content to leave hidden things to God (things hidden to me) Who made a way for the rain and a path for the thunderbolt. Obvious has never been my friend.

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Things I Love, Things I Hate

I hate cold, I hate winter, I hate snow – I hate Santa. That sounds more like an opening line for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” than my usual upbeat, positive blog, yet all these statements are true.

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I hate snow because it’s cold and I hate cold and being cold. Probably dates back to childhood, surviving in sub-standard houses, some of which had no heat. Then cutting and gathering firewood in the ice and snow with no gloves or warm outer garments. As for Santa, he gets bashed because if you teach children Santa brings them gifts and then they learn it’s not true, will they believe in God?

Thanks to all of you who read my blogs. I love and am thankful for each one of you. And I’ll forget about stacking icy firewood with raw bleeding hands and take a positive turn.  I’ve just released a new mystery-romance-suspense book, “I’m the Grasshopper.” Releasing a new book always raises my cheerful volume, even in the cold, cold winter.

Newspaper staff writer Stacy Estes has never forgotten the fate of her childhood pet – a grasshopper – when it encountered a spider. Her failed romances make her view herself as the grasshopper and men as spiders. She. Is. Done. With. Romance.

Stacy is a runner and hider. Until she trips over a body at her grandmother’s house and goes from reporting the news to being the news. Stacy fights to keep her secrets intact, including her physical disability, especially from the first love of her life who has moved back to the community. Lost treasure? Gold mining in Texas? Flying saucers on her grandmother’s hill? And what about the men who go into the Comanche Cliff store – but never come out again? Mysteries entangle and endanger Stacy. When a local poacher is jailed for murder, Stay’s life unravels.

Her investigation into the murder victim on her grandmother’s property takes her to the strange world of boanthropy, where people believe they are cows. It sends her into a confrontation with satanic worshiper “Snake.” And she is slated for the next sacrifice.

“I’m the Grasshopper” is a great Christmas read, clean enough that the kids or Grandma can pick it up and read it, yet packed with excitement, adventure, mystery and love. Stacy has a physical disability, but does that make her a “cripple,” as a heartless co-worker labels her?

To give credit where it belongs, the Bible promises in Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” Being in extreme pain and on crutches for months gave me the idea for the story and characters. God is always faithful to His word. I’ve since had successful spinal surgery, so it will be a very Merry Christmas for me.

To all of you reading this blog, have a Very Merry Christmas and a Deeply Blessed New Year. Thanks for being there! God bless.

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Things to Remember; Things to Forget

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So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

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No Fear…Absolutely

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There are no easy answers for why bad things happen to good people, and why a loving God allows them to happen.

There are a lot of chipper, upbeat standard answers that sometimes make those afflicted with pain and suffering angry. Sure, they may be true – but in the midst of pain who wants to hear: Everything that happens in your life is a consequence of the decisions you’ve made and your actions. True or not, I can’t imagine walking into a hospice ward to visit a person with lung cancer and saying, “Well, this is your fault for smoking.”

True or not, in the center of a storm of pain, hardship, and suffering – telling someone that God created a perfect world, which was ruined by sin, and that God never intended bad to enter His perfect creation is not much comfort. Action to help the person is needed more than all the glib clichés one can deliver.

Please, I welcome your prayers, but the following is Not a plea for sympathy. When my hip pain started a few years ago, I ignored it. I declared stoutly, “I don’t need to go to the doctor. Even if an x-ray shows a problem, I will never let anyone cut me open. So why go?” So I exercised, ran, and prayed the pain away. I was a Texan, after all, and just like my character Texas Miz Mike in my mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge” series, Texans stand up to crisis. They don’t back down even from rattlesnakes.

Prayer works. From the time I was a new Christian and God removed my warts, to the time my son was scheduled to have a metal rod inserted in his spine and God healed him instead, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and Jesus heals. Prayer works. But sometimes we don’t get the answer we want or expect. Sometimes God answers “No.” Sometimes He answers “Wait.” For me this time, God’s answer was “NO.” For whatever reason, God did not heal me and I became increasingly worse. By worse, I am on crutches. I can’t open my mouth to take a bite of food without throwing the utensil down and hollering in pain.  Sneezing, yawning, coughing – the pain is so intense that it would knock down an elephant. Fortunately, I’m a Texan.

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The MRI showed a “huge” bulging disc in my spine that presses directly into the nerve. Instead of my right hip, the pain has spread to both hips and makes it impossible for me to drive because I can’t lift my foot and press down on the clutch. Why do I have this pain? Why has God not healed me? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible says to give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus. So I give thanks. I know that everything works together for good to those who love the Lord. Everything. How is this horrific pain working together for my good? I don’t know exactly, but I have an idea.

No fear. The greatest fear a person faces in life is death. Once that fear is eliminated – there’s nothing to fear. I lost my fear of death when my 37-year-old son died in a plane crash four years ago. He’s in Heaven and I will get to see him again when I get there. Everyone must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get to Heaven. But shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt. Shadows are an illusion. No fear.

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However, I love mobility. I want to walk, run, swim, climb mountains – keep moving. Therefore…I was determined that no doctor, no surgeon was ever going to touch my spine. Until…the pain. It took severe pain to grow me past the fear of having surgery. My surgery is scheduled for next week and I would be jumping in joy – if jumping didn’t hurt so much and if I could lift my feet. I am thrilled. I am totally unafraid and totally ready to surrender my life, health, and spine to whatever surgeon God provides. Trusting God totally and totally without fear.

I can’t answer the question of why bad things happen, or why Jesus didn’t heal me this time as He has in the past. Mysteries belong to God, even though I write them in books. But this I know, pain has pushed me to grow beyond fear. Totally.

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Where Is That Girl?

DSCF7038Where is the little girl who chased fireflies through corn stalks and thought at least some of them were actually fairies? Where is the little girl who believed in princes and knights and happy ever after endings? Where is the little girl who searched the skies for rainbows believing in that pot of gold at the end? Where is the little girl who scanned the night skies for UFOs and saved her money to build a hot air balloon and look for the Loch Ness Monster? Where is the little girl who held an injured sparrow in the palms of her hands and watched in wonder as the bird’s transparent blue spirit rose above the bird and shot upward when the bird died?

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Sometimes it seems that little girl who believed in a world of miracles died. Then something as simple as soap bubbles rising over the sink in rainbow colors when she does dishes brings her back to life.

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The miracle of flaming colors streaked across the sky to announce a new day, the miracle of a curious robin in the garden, the miracle of a child’s laughter, the miracle of ebbing and flowing tides, the miracle of changing seasons…life is a miracle. God is a constant Miracle Worker and every breath, every season of life is a gift.

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I Used To Think…

I used to think I was patient. I taught preschoolers for more than seven years. I parented a hyperactive son before ADHD became a buzz word. People who saw us thought I was a bad parent, unable to discipline my child.

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I used to think I was kind. I’ve rescued grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, frogs, possums, and tried to befriend people who find themselves a target of unkindness. When I was eleven, I hit an adult three times my size with a metal fence post because he was savagely beating his runaway pony on our property.

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Now I know I am not patient. Suffering brutal pain for so long from a huge bulging disc in my back that is pressing directly into my spinal cord has robbed me of patience. I feel like limping to the nearest hospital on my crutches and refusing to leave until the problem is fixed – or until I get arrested and forcibly removed. I’m not suicidal – yet – but death doesn’t scare me: it means the pain would stop.

Now I know I am not kind. Pain that takes my breath away and makes me fall down on the floor if I happen to sneeze or cough when I’m standing up has robbed me of kindness. Some days I think I would walk over the back of my grandmother to get to the operating table first.

I am thankful for this pain. It has been an opportunity to learn – really learn. Never judge another person. Never. You don’t know what storm of pain or difficulty they are passing through. Next time, it could be you.

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I am thankful for this pain because it has humbled me. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, rather soberly as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:5

With the Lord’s inspiration, I’ve written a lot of books. (Without Him I could never have written even one.) Yet, how do my books benefit the world if I am impatient? Or unkind?

I am a broken person inside and out. But with this self-knowledge comes the opportunity to change and get things right.

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Whilst watching the news……

Excellent post from author Phill Syron-Jones.

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This morning while watching the news there was a piece on Sexual harassment. Now, this is something that has been going on for years and is utterly wrong. What these poor women that have to endure the inappropriate advances by work colleagues or worse still bosses, is unfathomable.

Yes, more should be done to help these women. It is a form of abuse which should not be shrugged off.It should have a voice, they should have a voice.

However, as they interviewed women in the street to get their opinion, it became apparent most women don’t understand what unwanted advances mean. And unfortunately, this in itself can lead to a massive cry wolf situation and get many innocent people marked. But worse still get the attention drawn away from people who really are abused and need help.

PEOPLE…did he just says, people? Yes, because, believe it or not, men can…

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