And Then I See…

My emotions get trampled along with the troops and helpless victims in Russia’s war against the Ukraine, and my burdened heart slows my steps. I shake my head in despair and mutter, “Evil. There is no hope in the world.” And then I see a flower.

Rising prices, rising taxes, shrinking finances—I shake my head in despair. And then the little birds in the tree outside my window sing their spring songs of love, joy, and praise and my heart rises higher than food and gas prices, higher than taxes. No one can tax a bird song.

Aches and pains tempt me to stay inside reclining in a chair and let the calories I’ve consumed for the day settle comfortably wherever they want. But I push myself up from the chair to take the dog on a walk and then I see the first spring green on a tree and my heart fills with joy that no physical pain can steal.

Loved ones—sick, weak, or dying to this world. So sad. So helpless. So hopeless. And then I remember the empty tomb and the fact that Jesus lives—and because He lives—hope returns. Because He lives, we will live again after this life in a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, no suffering, no illness, no death, no parting. I smile.

It’s a cold and dreary day. Grey inside. Grey outside. Grey everywhere. And then I see a flower.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—mediate on these things. Philippians 4:8

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Labels

I hate labels. Every person God created is unique, special, and priceless. Not every person has the same talents, gifts, or outward appearance—but each person is born with the fire of God burning in their souls.

Labels separate and divide. “Black Lives Matter.” “White Lives Matter.” All lives matter. All life matters.

Labels are destructive, not instructive. Allowing people to choose their pronouns makes about as much sense as referring to Mount Everest as a “hill” so people in other countries won’t be offended that their mountains are not the tallest in the world. Or deciding that it’s okay to run through a campfire with bare feet because you have designated the burning embers “water.” Labels do not change reality.

This fallen world will never be perfect. We are all travelers passing through. Some spend less time here than others—but no one stays. Nor do humanly-mandated labels. You can slap a label on a can of green beans and call them “Peaches,” but they will still be green beans. I could print posters labeling me as a professional singer—but no one would hire me. I can’t carry a tune—not even in a dump truck.

If a person convicted of violent crimes escapes from prison and the police are forced to use the pronoun “they” to keep from using he, or she—and that same person is loose in your neighborhood and has already killed someone and the police warn you to watch for they and call them immediately if you see they—what the heck are you looking for?

God is a God of order and common sense. Humans can attempt to delete God from their lives by labeling Him out—but it won’t change His creation. Humans can’t move Mount Everest even if they call it a hill. A baby in a mother’s womb is a person, a separate entity from its mother with its own DNA—not tissue or a blob. Abortion doesn’t make a woman unpregnant; it makes her the mother of a dead child even when abortion is labeled “choice.”

Politicians can rant attempting to sway voters with oration; movie companies can throw paint on evil and ugly attempting to transform it into good, and media outlets can choose their own agendas…but Mount Everest won’t fall down—and someday—all humans will fall regardless of the labels they have chosen for their lives.

There are only two labels in this world that make a difference: good and evil. Everything good is from God. Everything bad is from satan. The only eternal labels that exist are accepting God or rejecting God.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.

As for being a “hill” or a “Mount Everest” in this life; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, but if you show partiality, you commit sin.” James 2:9.

Labels belong on food.

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Perfect R Not Us

Some folks believe they are perfect. Perhaps they are, but probably not. Perfection is a stress-inducing condition from which I can cheerfully proclaim I do not suffer.

I can’t imagine the burden of needing to always be right—or to have other people think that you are—or of never making a mistake (or thinking you never do). Some of the most miserable folks I know are perfectionists. Stress is a killer. It starts on the face by killing the smile and turning it upside down.

Some of my mistakes have been notable: spending an extra $100 from my bank account because I read the teller’s receipt wrong and thought the money was there (so did the bank—so the Lord saved me on that one); turning our wedding cake into body shield armor by cooking an artificial sweetener for the frosting instead of powdered sugar; showing up at the wrong place at the wrong time because I always get lost—the list is long. Most recently, it was the first of the two books I wrote while I was stuck in the hospital with an infection in a hip replacement. I decided that the title “Utopia House Murder” had more punch than my first choice, “Murder at Utopia House.” I sent the change to the cover illustrator, but not to my editor. Oops! The book came out on Amazon as “Murder at Utopia House,” but the cover was “Utopia House Murder.” Fortunately, most mistakes can be rectified and the title now matches in both places. Whew!

Utopia House Murder is—like most of the other books I have written—a Christian cozy mystery-romance-suspense, but at the same time—it is unlike any of the other books I have written. Sadly, I can’t differentiate between the two here because that would be impossible without dropping a spoiler. And for a writer—spoilers are unforgiveable mistakes.

We, as humans, make mistakes. “As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Psalm 18:30.

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It Really Is the Little Things

Folks often say, “It’s the little things that count.” They are right.

After spending more than two-and-a-half months in the hospital, it’s the little things that bring me unspeakable joy; getting to take a shower for the first time instead of a sponge bath because the dressing is finally off my wound; feeling the atmosphere God created on my face instead of the manmade unnatural hospital air that dries out skin; getting to freely wash my hair; cooking something I will enjoy eating…the little things.

After I recovered enough from my second hip replacement surgery (to remove the original hip replacement and clean it out because it had become infected) to get up out of bed and wash myself—I still wasn’t allowed to wash my hair. I was restricted to sponge baths because I had a machine (several during the months) hanging around my neck that sucked poison out of my wound. I couldn’t get it wet. I can’t stand it when my hair is dirty—and after two weeks of not being allowed to wash my hair I took a page out of my hero author and friend Val Poore’s book and washed my hair in the basin after I washed myself. I reminded myself of Val’s ingenuity and how she had constructed a little shower on her barge. She has to sit down under it and the water supply is limited. I’m no Val Poore, but I’ve learned from her remarkable books and the basin trick worked until I finally defied the “no washing hair in the sink because of covid” rule and washed it in the sink when I knew the nurses would be out of the room for a while. That rule made no sense whatsoever; the nurses were in the room handling patients who had covid—we all did even though I was the only one who did NOT have two injections and a booster—and after handling covid patients they washed their hands in the same sink I wanted to use to wash my hair.

After I got home, cooking was a bit of a challenge at first—not the actual cooking—but the standing long enough to cook. My right hip is still weak from two invasive surgeries and I’m missing a part of the back of my leg that used to be there—so I have a strange dip and crease along the wound.

They served “spaghetti” in the hospital. It had no meat in it. The overcooked pasta had been introduced to a splash of tomato sauce—but they didn’t even get close enough to shake hands apparently, because there was no spaghetti sauce on the spaghetti. So the first thing I cooked when I got home—was a copious amount of meatballs to put into the generous sauce I made with an appetizing amount of green peppers, onions, and carrots. Then I not only introduced the pasta to the sauce—I made sure they got really well acquainted! It’s the little things.

‘There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a feeble folk, yet they make their homes in the crags; the locusts have no king, yet they all advance in ranks; the spider skillfully grasps with its hands, and is the kings’ palaces.” Proverbs 30:24.

Never forget the little things.

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No Matter What

There are two Bible verses around which I have built my life: In everything give thanks, and ALL things work together for good to those who love the Lord.

It is easy to memorize these verses. It is easy to repeat them. But to live them? Hmm…that can be more difficult.

When I was virtually snatched from my home and sent to the hospital unexpectedly a few months ago with an infection after hip replacement surgery, it was a challenge to be thankful and accept it as good. The dog had to go to the kennel. My husband had to call in care givers to take my place. Me? I faced another surgery. The hip that had just been put in on December 5, 2021, had to be taken out, cleaned, and put back in. And that was followed by months of antibiotic treatments—IV bags at the hospital. Furthermore, if that didn’t’ work—the cleaned out hip would be removed again, a temporary spacer filled with antibiotics would be put in, and some months later—the spacer would be removed and a new hip joint would finally be put in to stay…hopefully to stay…after more months of hospital IV treatments.

Wow.

But God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Our Dunoon New Life Christian Fellowship Church family was brilliant. They fed Alan and gave him the support he needed. The couple running the kennel treated Savannah like a family pet. And after having little and big machines sucking the horrible, stinky discharge out of my leg for months—so much discharge that it kept filling up the machines and killing them—I was released to go home.

While I was in the hospital I completed two new Christian cozy mystery-romance books. One is at the editors already, and one is waiting for me to have time to proofread it—because I’m home now. Home now means stopping the proofing to walk the dog, help my spouse, cook meals, and return to life outside hospital walls.

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

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Give Away What God Gave

Greenock, Scotland artist Jim Stracaan is a professional artist who commands high prices for his work—except for what he gives away like the 40-foot long “Garden of Care” mural in the basement of Inverclyde Royal Hospital. His heart project began during covid to express his appreciation for hospital staff who continued treating patients in spite of the world-wide fear and uncertainty. When the mural is finished, it will include 60 portraits of staff members.

One of the panels shows gardeners—nurses and doctors—nurturing flowers. That particular panel pays homage to cancer treatment specialists at the hospital.

Why does Jim Stracaan do it? He loves to give away what God has given him—his creativity and artistic talent.

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The Secret Language of Hospitals

You don’t want to be in the hospital—you would rather be home. But remember that the hospital staff doesn’t want you either. You increase their workload and add to the financial burden of providing food, electricity, and clean linens. So to make the hospital transition easier, I am decoding the secret language of hospitals. I can do that. I’ve been here for weeks with an infected hip replacement joint and may continue here for several more months.

Once you are installed in your bed, room, ward—or whatever term is used in your part of the world—you will be handed a “buzzer” and told to ring the nurse if you need anything. Keep in mind that the person who told you this made no promises. You will ring the buzzer and for a long time—no one will come. Eventually, someone from the lower echelon of nursing will come—to turn off the buzzer. Don’t expect this person to solve your problem. Their rank means that they are only allowed to bring towels, and water, etc. The buzzer-minder will fly into the room, turn off the red button, ask you if you need anything. When you reply—he or she will say, “I’ll ask the Nurse.”

Maybe the buzzer minder does ask the nurse. Maybe he or she forgets in their hurried flight around the corridor turning off red buttons. In any event, Nurse will not show up to fix your problem until it fits into Nurse’s schedule.

Now a word about time in the hospital. It’s relative. Here is a basic guide: when someone says, “I’ll be back in one wee second,” it actually means five minutes. “Two wee seconds” usually translates to within 45 minutes. Usually. If someone says, “I’ve told Nurse. She/he is with another patient and will be here as soon as possible—rip those lines and tubes out of your body and flee. The other patient takes priority over you. They all take priority over you.

When you are told, “a wee scratch,” grab the bed frame and hang on. It’s gonna hurt.

When you are told, “Someone will be here after we hand off the patients to the new shift”…keep yourself entertained by eavesdropping. Don’t worry about stealth—no matter how late at night or how early in the morning—they won’t be quiet. Each new shift begins with a party as the old-comers greet the new comers. You can pick up some fascinating stories just by listening. Maybe even about you.

Please don’t take this as a criticism of any hospital in any country, and certainly not the one in which I’m residing at the moment. The staff is busy and overworked and the patient load is heavy. That’s actually to your benefit. See, if you are as naïve and trusting as I am—when someone promises or says they are going to do something—you believe them. Shame on you. Wise up. A hospital stay is the perfect vehicle to teach patience and skepticism. When you live long enough, you will realize that people seldom mean what they say. They don’t always keep promises. After a hospital stay, those truths will become engrained. You will be amazed when someone does follow through on their words. It will make you thankful. It will create in you new levels of appreciation. And we can all benefit from a grateful heart full of appreciation.

Pray and have others pray for you. You’re going to make it. Perhaps not on your timescale, but God loves you. You may not feel like anyone’s favorite at the hospital or like you rate first place—but you rate first place with God and He will never leave you or forsake you. And He will come alongside you during those long dark nights in between the boisterous parties at the nurses’ station and give you strength and peace.

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Letting Go…

So much of life is about learning to let go. For me, these past two weeks in the hospital have been a refresher course in…letting go…

Turning the care of my covid-positive husband over to someone else. Putting our collie in the kennel. Letting go of the beverage that has sustained me through a lifetime of highs and lows—Diet Coke. Keeping up with family and friends on social media. No internet connection. Even writing. The mouse died. I’m helpless without it.

My hip replacement surgery on December 5, 2021, seemed to be successful. I could walk again—almost without pain—almost without crutches. Then infection roared in with all the fervency and cruelty of an invading army. Abruptly, pain returned, lameness returned, and I had to let go and go to the hospital for emergency surgery. They opened up the recent surgery site, cleaned everything out, and placed me on intravenous antibiotics. Within two days I went from walking Savannah and cooking for Alan to maneuvering between a jumble of lines and tubes. I let go of normalcy.

After the surgery, they have me a little machine to carry around that quacks like a duck. It’s kind of comforting. Like keeping a pet in my hospital room. The machine is attached to my wound and sucks out the infection matter. It has a pretty circle of rotating green stars at the top. Then one of the nurses pointed out that two stars that had left the circle and were twinkling on their own. “It only lives for seven days,” she said. “When all the stars leave the circle, the machine dies.” Letting go…

The one thing I didn’t let go of was…God. Through the pain and confusion, He was there for me. The first night after the surgery, He gifted me with the song of a nightingale through the early hours. It was God. There are no nightingales here.

On the morning I read and prayed my favorite Psalm, Psalm, 27, He provided a miracle. I could have stayed in the hospital for another two months. Many people with an infection like mine in a joint replacement do. But my infection numbers plummeted. I went from intravenous antibiotics to pills and was told I probably would not need another surgery and would be able to go home soon. It was God. The surgeon who did the wound and hip joint cleaning expected me to stay in the hospital for at least another month.

Letting go is never easy. But never let go of God.

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army—of infection or any other horrible thing—may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. In the time of trouble, He will hide me. I will sing praises to the LORD. I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the LORD!” Psalm 27.

Learn to let go, but never let go of God.

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Crutch-free 2022

I’ve heard atheists say of Christians, “They are so weak that they need a crutch.”

As someone who has spent most of the past five years on crutches—I laugh. There is nothing easy about moving one’s body weight on a couple of sticks. It takes strength, determination, and grit.

My first experience motivating everywhere with crutches was prior to back surgery. Next it was a two-year wait for a knee replacement. Now it is recovery from hip replacement surgery. One of my nurses laughed at me for having my name written on my crutches. She didn’t understand that they were the dependable tools that enabled me to get up, get down, and move around putting one foot in front of another. They were my lifeline to freedom of movement.

Still, after my recent hip replacement surgery, I am looking forward to a crutch-free 2022. I think my sticks have earned a rest!

I’ve been asked what I’m going to do with my crutches when I no longer need them. I think I will keep them as a reminder to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Jesus has done so much for me. Yes, He is my Crutch. He is my Weight Bearer. Because He lives, I am not afraid to die. When a person does not fear death—there is nothing left to fear.

Because Jesus lives, I am unmoved by the fear-mongering over the pandemic. With Jesus bearing the weight, I can walk through life unafraid, leaning on Him when I need to lean, and letting Him pick me up and carry me when I am weary. Because Jesus is my Crutch—One whom I will keep not only through 2022, but through the rest of my life—I have peace and joy that passes all understanding.

Yes, I have a Crutch. And I am so proud of Him.

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Dysfunctional at Christmas

I enter into the joyous Christmas season the same every year—dysfunctional.

If I were Santa, virtually no one would get a Christmas present. First, I would lose the list of “naughty” and “nice.” There would be no checking the list twice—it would be more like searching all over the North Pole to find the blasted thing.

If I were Santa, I wouldn’t even start thinking about Christmas until December 24. By then, stores would be sold out of things on the list—if I had even found the list by then. It would be impossible to purchase, wrap, and load all those gifts. I would probably just pop a few of them into gift bags and drop down the nearest chimney.

If I were Santa, my reindeer wouldn’t fly. They would be too fat and lazy from snuggling around me on the bed to keep me warm. I hate being cold. I hate cold weather. I hate snow. The only good thing I would find in living at the North Pole would be getting to leave once a year.

And if I were Santa, I would spoil the tradition of eating the cookies and drinking the milk that was left out for me. I’m trying to lose weight. Besides; I only like chocolate cookies and chocolate milk.

Nope. It’s a good thing I’m not Santa. The world is dysfunctional enough without me adding to its woes. Besides; I don’t want to live in North-Anything. I’d insist on the tropics.

Fortunately, I’m not Santa and feeling dysfunctional at Christmas doesn’t matter—because Christmas isn’t about me—it’s a birthday! Christmas isn’t about pretty trees, precious gifts, and perfect plans—it is about Jesus. It is a celebration of God loving the world so much that He gave His only Son as a gift that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. There is no way any human can make Christmas better—or worse. (Whew! That’s a relief.) No human can add anything more important to Christmas, because God already gave His all.

‘’Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’’

Christmas. It’s people-proof.

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