Avoidance

When faced with flight or fight, our rough collie Savannah will run every time. She rarely barks and, as far as I know, has never growled in the first two years of her life.

I used to laugh at her fleeing tendencies—until I realized that I was the same. What many people don’t comprehend is that writers work. This seems to be especially true of people who are retired and think that retirement consists of watching TV, talking on the phone, and sending private messages through Facebook. They don’t realize that for writers—there is no retirement.

When I go to Facebook briefly to catch up with family members and someone who doesn’t realize that authors are working even when they haven’t punched a time clock starts sending multiple messages and ignores my explanation that I don’t have time to chat—I drop off Facebook to avoid hurting their feelings when I get frustrated by their interruptions.

I laughed at myself yesterday when I went several blocks out of the way to avoid a somewhat toxic woman who leans out her window and yells down to engage me in conversation. Keep in mind that I’ve recently had knee replacement surgery and am still in the process of building up strength in my legs after two years on crutches—and I really don’t need the extra distance.

This woman’s words are always the same and I could probably type them out ahead of her faster than she can speak them: the other people in her flat are noisy; they are terrible neighbors; they have no respect for other people; the authorities won’t do anything; she’s too old to move (she just turned 60); her family won’t help her, her family won’t spend time with her…

Rather than walking several blocks out of the way, I could just stop and listen…again. No particular effort is needed except to stand in one place a long time. She supplies all the exertion.

I found Bible wisdom that makes me feel a bit better about my avoidance tendencies. “Do not be deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners.”

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8.

But the Bible also says that laughter does good like medicine, so the next time our dog runs from a flapping plastic bag—I will probably laugh!

Beware of “Experts”

Several years ago an “expert” dog trainer on a TV program said dogs only have a seven-second memory. He said to use the command “sit,” but not “sit down,” because by the time you said “down,” the dog had already forgotten “sit.” I knew that wasn’t true. Our half-collie Esther remembered every trick son Luke had ever taught her no matter how long between his deployments, and remembered everyone she had ever met—even years later.

Earlier this week, I released Savannah from her leash so she could chase the ball. Instead, she chased a low-flying bird. She actually caught up to the poor terrified creature and it fluttered under the wire of a fallen fence. When I reached the fence, I was relieved to find the bird unharmed. I picked up the wire and the bird flew away. Today, three days later, I removed Savannah’s leash in the same area so she could chase the ball. Instead, she ran straight to the fence where she had left her trapped bird. Three-second memory?

“Experts” in these convoluted covid days are at odds with one another over prevention, dangers, vaccines, lockdowns…and everything else connected with the virus. If they are “experts”—and if they are correct—they should all voice the same answers.

Bible “experts” explain away miracles throughout the Bible by attributing them to natural phenomenon. “Experts” downsize Easter by claiming that Jesus wasn’t really dead when He was placed in the tomb, and that the disciples believed He had risen from the dead because they didn’t know any better—or conversely—that it was a deception and they went along with it. Yet those same twelve disciples were not only willing to die for their faith in Jesus—they did. Out of the twelve, only John died of natural causes. The others were brutally tortured and killed.

I wouldn’t give up my life to keep a deception going.

I know Jesus is alive. He lives inside my heart in the form of the Holy Spirit. I don’t need an “expert” to tell me what I should believe. “Experts” would have a difficult time explaining away the many miracles I’ve experienced in my life including supernatural healings and provision. Even my marriage. How did a Texas gal meet and marry a Scottish pastor? What are the “expert” calculations of how likely it is for a newspaper reporter in a small Texas town to get assigned to do an interview with a visiting pastor from Scotland who was leaving the next day because the person assigned to do the interview originally was ill—and then marry the subject of that interview three years later?

Don’t let “experts” steal your joy and hope. If God has promised to do it—He will.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23.  

“Where are you From?”

Living here in Scotland, I get asked on a regular basis, “Where are you from,” yet I never expect that question. My answer is always, “I thought I sounded just like y’all.”

I grew up in Georgia. Folks in Georgia would ask me, “Where are you from?” I would say, “Texas.” I was born in Texas and was always proud of my native state. When I moved back to Texas, folks would ask, “Where are you from?” So I would say, “Georgia.” When I moved to Nevada, folks would ask me, “Where are you from?” That gave me a choice: I could say either Georgia or Texas.

It looks like I’m destined to go through the rest of my life answering the question, “Where are you from?” I’m okay with that. Where I’m from doesn’t matter compared to where I’m going. I’m going to Heaven where there is no more death, dying, pain, sorrow, illness, or parting.

The great thing about Destination Heaven is that it doesn’t matter where you are from. You can get there if you are rich, poor, ill, well, disabled, able-bodied, well-educated, poorly educated. You can get there no matter what color your skin is. No matter what color your eyes are. No matter what color your hair is. And for Destination Heaven—you don’t even have to pack. You can’t take anything with you, and even if you could—what’s in Heaven is so good that you wouldn’t want earth junk anyway.

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me has everlasting life.” Whoever includes whoever you are and wherever you are from.

Training and Untraining

Label it “sin,” or “habit.” The label doesn’t change the fact. When one does something repeatedly over a long time—it becomes ingrained.

Because of bone-on-bone arthritis in my left knee, I spent two years on crutches and two years limping. Now, Praise the Lord, my knee has been replaced and the pain is gone…but I must learn to walk again without limping. My legs have become programmed to throw my weight to the right and untraining (or retraining to be grammatically correct) that tendency is proving difficult.

This makes me think about habits, lifestyles, and sin. Sin is not a popular word in today’s culture. We want to believe that we have a right to our own bodies and a right to make our own choices—and it’s true that God gives us freedom of choice. But it is also true that the Bible warns us not to do anything that destroys our bodies. Smoking, drugs, alcohol, over-eating, gratuitous sex—all these destroy the body God gave us, and our bodies are God’s holy temple.

Repeat frequently, and these sins, habits, and lifestyle choices grow into monsters that we cannot slay. The bad thing about monsters is that they start out so small and trivial that we barely notice when they move into our lives. By the time they reach maturity—they are virtually too strong to shove back outside. I wrote a book about that a few years ago, “Growing Your Monster,” which has a 5-Star Rating. Growing Your Monster – Kindle edition by McKean, Stephanie Parker, Potter, Victoria M. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Centuries before I wrote “Growing Your Monster,” Jesus warned about monsters in the Bible: “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” God never leaves us without a solution to our problems, even if they are problems we created for ourselves and monsters that we have nurtured. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD.” (Zechariah 4:6)

God’s Holy Spirit is a monster-slayer.

Teaching Tidbits

With the UK lockdown, parents must teach their children at home—even parents who work every day to survive financially, and/or parents who are ill-equipped to teach. It reminds me of my teaching days.

I taught four-and-five-year-olds using Christian curriculums. Zeke, who started my class at four, wrote and illustrated his own books by the end of the school year. He loved looking up information on bugs and animals and learning about them, then writing his own stories. His parents were flabbergasted by his progress. So was I.

Sean captivated my heart. His eyes were as wide and green as a tropical sea. He crafted each letter with such perfection that they almost looked like printed fonts. His older brother bullied him and his parents were too busy for him, so he always wore a slightly sad countenance that made me want to take him home with me.

Teachers always have at least one hyperactive child in each class. At least—I did. Beau was such a challenge that his dad told me to call him at work when he got out of control so he could come to the school and discipline him. One day we started out with a short Bible story as usual and talked about how to please God. I told the children that God was pleased when they obeyed their parents—and their teachers, but displeased when they disobeyed. Next on the schedule was singing the alphabet song. I used a long wooden yardstick to point to the letters as we sang. Beau was especially wild, even standing up in his desk seat and jumping up and down. I finally got him to sit in the desk so we could start singing—but Beau laughed and shouted and pretended he was in a boat riding waves on a stormy sea. His desk rocked so violently that instead of walking up to the front of the room as usual, I stood by Beau’s desk to grab whatever tipped over first—him or the desk. When I lifted up the yardstick to point to the letters—the end hit the light fixture over Beau’s desk. It shattered over Beau’s head. Fortunately, Beau was unscathed by the incident. But he thought God had thrown the light down on his head because of his bad behavior. I never had to call Beau’s dad again for the rest of the year.

One of my favorite students was Gloria, even though her mind lacked compartments. She would begin writing letters and end up turning them into pictures. She loved animals and was so kind that she came to me screaming and crying one day because fire ants were stinging a caterpillar. I rescued the creature from the murderous ants and Gloria made a nest in her lunch box for it and carried it home with her. At recess, she carried insects around the playground in her hand, chatting to them like best friends. But Gloria could not learn, not even with all the extra time and help I gave her. By the end of the year when the other students read sentences out of their sixth reading book like, “Hoist the Flag and rejoice,” Gloria stumbled over sentences in the first reading book: “The hat is on the cat.” Years later, I found out that both her parents were heavy drug users and had been arrested for possessing and selling drugs—and suddenly the lack of compartments in Gloria’s brain made sense.

Hyperactive Velma ended my teaching career. She was the youngest of several girls and her mother was a basket case after a recent divorce. Mom came home at night, zoned out on tranquilizers and left the girls to fight it out and either kill each other, or survive until they finally went to sleep. Before a doctor put Velma on Ritalin, she would become angry over her school work and threaten to run away from school and back home. She would not just threaten—she would put the plan into action and I would have to catch her and hold her until she calmed down. The school was on a busy highway with sharp curves and no shoulders. Velma could easily have been killed if she escaped—but I could easily have been sentenced to prison for “abusing” her.

Kudos to teachers everywhere including parents.

One former student changed the course of my life and sent me rushing to writing. I’m thankful to her. I hope I left her with something lasting too.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

Christmas Lights & Colorful Nights

Our Christmas lights are still up, still turned on. Several of our neighbors also have their lights up and burning. Several of us were discussing this phenomenon. Where we live in Scotland it is definitely a marvel because so few people even bother to put up lights or to decorate for Christmas.

We all agreed that with Scotland in a brutal lockdown due to covid, the lights functioned as envoys of hope and cheer. The fact that colored lights spark joy and wonder is explained – as is everything else significant – in the Bible. Jesus is the Light of the World and in Him is no darkness. We gravitate toward light because God’s Spirit is light.

Why colored lights? Jesus created color and flooded the earth with it for our awe and joy. Each petal of every flower in every nuance of shade and shape, Jesus crafted for our enjoyment. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John 1:1

I don’t know how long we will leave our lights up, and I don’t know how long our neighbors will leave up theirs. I don’t know what they think as they gaze into the stunning mix of colors and brightness. But I know what my thoughts are: God is in control. Jesus has the victory in life and in death. He has the victory over covid. Humans can attempt to legislate the virus and control it through human means and with human reasoning and intelligence – but victory, the only victory – is from Jesus who died and rose from the dead and lives again in us. His reflection sparkles in the joyful brightness of Christmas lights.

Don’t Dis Jellyfish

Jellyfish taught me to swim.

When I was five, my father, grandmother, and I travelled from California to Florida. It was before the construction of interstates and we hugged the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a hot summer day and we stopped along a Mississippi beach to swim. I couldn’t swim, but I loved the water. I wadded out deeper and deeper until the salt water was up to my chin. Suddenly my father shouted, “Jellyfish. Get out of the water.”

Rotating my head, I saw three clear blobs, long dangling tentacles intertwined, riding the top of the waves just behind me. I swam.

I’m not sure I knew what jellyfish were back then. I’m not sure I knew they stung. It was the panic in my father’s voice that transmitted danger to me. Like the time he came home from work and found me happily playing with my new best friend. My fascinating friend crawled around in the bottom of an empty tin can with me watching it—blissfully unaware of danger. It was a scorpion.

The jellyfish incident taught me not to disrespect danger. Recognizing the danger of smoking, drugs, and alcohol has kept my life free of them. The Bible warns that “At the last they bite like a serpent, and sting like a viper.” (Proverbs  23:32) I don’t like being stung.

Don’t dis jellyfish. They can teach us how to safely navigate life.

2020 Kindness

To me, the ultimate image of human kindness is opening up the door on a dark, gale-force-wind stormy night to a neighbor with water and sleet streaming off his face and running down his clothes and the humble offer, “Want me to walk your dog for you?”

Rather than reflecting on the stress, hardship, and unpleasantness the covid-19 virus brought to 2020, I choose to reflect on the kindness. The first day a major lockdown was announced for Scotland in March, I set out on crutches as usual to walk our dog Savannah with whispered prayer along the way. The streets around our house were empty. No moving cars, no people. I felt like the last person alive on planet earth. There had been scant news about the virus—how it spread, where it lurked, and how to avoid it. Being the only person moving outside the walls of a house—I wondered if the virus was airborne and if I inhaled death at every step.

Given Alan’s age and physical condition—diabetes—I did our grocery shopping. Masks were not mandatory at the time, but folks lined up six feet apart outside the store and went in a few at a time to sanitize hands and then follow a one-way route through the store. Every sinus cough after a trip to the store brought a certain level of apprehension. Still, I had an anchor: the knowledge that God is in Control. No matter what. “Those who dwell in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust. Surely He shall deliver…” Psalm 91:1.

 Gradually, other dog walkers rejoined me along our street. The neighbor several houses away quit criticizing me (he has a yard, or garden, for their dogs—we have neither) for walking my dog more than twice a day, as per lockdown regulations for outdoor exercise. Neighbors whom I had never met in the two years since we moved to Dunoon sat outside in their small yards and we introduced ourselves and chatted. God was good. We had an unusual prolonged stretch of dry, fairly warm weather—perfect for making new friends across the top of rock fences.

Kindness prevailed. The small grocery store in our neighborhood stayed open when virtually all other small businesses closed. The owners delivered merchandise to the door for customers who were afraid to enter the store. Up and down the street, kind people delivered groceries, prescriptions, and other necessities to those who were sheltering or merely afraid. Some folks put up their Christmas lights again to usher in a bit of hope and cheer.

Finally, after a two-year wait—I had my knee replacement surgery. While I was in the hospital, kind neighbors and friends from church delivered meals to Alan. When I arrived back home, I was met with cards, chocolate, offers of help, and encouraging messages and prayer via Facebook. Neighbors came along to walk Savannah. A friend from church took me grocery shopping since I can’t scrunch up enough to fit into our small car since the surgery. District nurses came by to take out the staples, dress the wound, and get a course of antibiotics started when the incision became infected.

My overwhelming memory of 2020 is kindness. And why not? “Praise the LORD…for His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the LORD endures forever.” Psalm 117.

The epitome of kindness came to our door the day after Christmas: Paul coated with sleet and rain asking softly, “Want me to walk your dog for you?”

Kindness. May 2021 follow the example.

Christmas Gift of Pain

Pain for Christmas? Don’t knock it. Pain makes a great gift. My Christmas gift this year is knee replacement surgery. The sets of exercises four times a day make me yelp and bring tears to my eyes—but even that doesn’t rob me of the joy of knowing that after struggling along on crutches for two years—I will finally be able to walk normally again.

But no Christmas gift of pain can exceed the One God gave us. We love celebrating Baby Jesus being born into the world at Christmas. Nativity sets grace mantels, shelves, displays outside of homes and churches. It is a sweet and comfortable image. We sing beautiful hymns about Jesus coming into the world. Yet Baby Jesus is only the first half of the story.

We seldom contemplate the second half of the Christmas story. Jesus was not born to stay forever in our minds and on our mantels as a sweet baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in a manger. He came to die. He came to be beat and buffeted, have a crown of thorns pounded into His head, and hang naked on a cross to die in shame and reproach. Pain. No one ever suffered more pain than Jesus, Son of God, suffered. He died. Jesus didn’t come as an eternal Baby for Christmas scenes and plays—He came to die.

Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, we can face death unafraid. Death is swallowed up in victory. Death is a harmless shadow that threatens large upon the wall of our lives in moving, scary images—and vanishes impotently as soon as Jesus, the Light of the World, shines on it.

Pain is real. Few people enjoy pain. Even when it turns into a good gift. And what better gift is there than eternal life?

Christmas Carrots

When as many meals are needed as the amount for a large hospital, it is easy to understand bulk purchases. Still, we will not be having carrots for Christmas at this house.

I just got home from spending six days at the hospital following a knee replacement. The surgery went well. The care level was exceptional. The meals were… torture. A person came around each day with choices for the evening meal. One seldom received the choice they had given—but as a bonus prize—there was a generous supply of diced, boiled carrots. Lunch, mystery meat with carrots. Dinner, mystery meat with gravy and carrots. Every. Single. Day.

The ward I was in had no toaster, so toast for breakfast was not an option. It was either cereal or porridge, neither which I eat. Not to worry. Day or night – carrots were always an option.

One patient seemed perky, bouncy, friendly, and likeable. She was. As long as she got her way. When anything crossed her—she threw such a hissy fit with a tail on it that extra help was recruited from other wings to calm her down and bring her under control. I don’t blame her. I blame… carrots. She just got tired of diced, boiled carrots. And if she remains in the hospital through Christmas, and for anyone else who remains in that hospital for Christmas—she will have diced, boiled carrots for Christmas Day Dinner.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds with visions of carrots dancing in their heads…

Nope. We are done with carrots at this house until sometime after Christmas. I’m thinking of re-introducing them in 2023.