The Biggest Losers

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Look up loser or biggest loser on the internet and you will find folks who have lost huge amounts of weight—or huge amounts of money. These are not the biggest losers.

The biggest losers are those—no matter how successful, professional, or well known—who find no joy in a child’s smile, a kitten’s soft fur, or the unconditional love looking back at them from the eyes of a dog. The biggest losers are those who have never stopped in awe to enjoy the riotous glory of spring wildflowers, a flaming sunrise, or a full moon playing tag with night-touched clouds.

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The biggest losers are those so seeped in their own self-importance that they have no time to notice the tears on a lonely face, the meager clothing and frail frame of the homeless, the expectant face of an elderly person hoping for a greeting.

The biggest losers are those who have no time to contemplate God and the perfection of creation, no time to sit in church and feed their souls, no time to give any of their time to help another person, a homeless animal, or a needy charitable organization.

Biggest losers of weight are applauded. Biggest losers of money are scorned. God is only interested in one kind of loss—sin.

“Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14.

Biggest losers, biggest winners.

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Not Offended

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Still find it hard to believe that the British Medical Association told its staff not to use the term ‘expectant mother’ as it could offend transgender people.

We are heading toward a future population who will find cause to be offended at myriad incidents instead of using the opportunity of opposition to grow in strength and character.

Like any other “handicapped” child, Aimee Mullins was mocked. She was born without calf bones and both her legs were amputated when she was a year old. Instead of hiding away “offended” by cruel remarks – she learned to fly. She is a world class runner who broke world records in 100 meters, 200 meters and the long jump – while competing against “able-bodied” athletes.

Shakespeare’s poems and plays are still popular around the world some 400 years after his death. He used more words from the English language than any other writer ever has – and was taunted by some of his contemporaries, including Robert Greene who called him among other things an “upstart crow.”

Vincent Van Gogh painted his inner feelings of depression and was labeled a failure and “mentally ill.” He rose from poverty and mocking to praise and riches. His “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” was one of the world’s most expensive paintings and is now valued at $155 million.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, couldn’t get into law school, borrowed money for a business and went bankrupt, and lost five elections before he became President. Personal tragedies included losing his mother when he was nine; the deaths of a sister, a sweetheart, and three of four sons. He also suffered a broken engagement and was diagnosed with clinical depression, spending six months in bed after a nervous breakdown.

The world was perfect when God created it. But when sin came into the world, that perfection was marred. We now live in a world of “hard knocks.” Being given permission to be offended at every real and imagined slight will never build us into individuals who can grow in grace, character, and strength.

I am so thankful that I never “fit in” as a child. Because I learned at an early age not to seek peer approval, I escaped the rampant drug culture when I went to college. Because I care more what God thinks about me than what other people do, I can write hard books that get flak: pro-life “Heart Shadows;” abused child turned serial killer “Killer Conversations,” and soon-to-be-released Texas Miz Mike mystery-romance-suspense #7, “Bridge Home.” The easy to love, bonkers Miz Mike is the same in “Bridge Home,” but there is an added dimension. Should Christians be in favor of, or opposed to same sex marriage? Miz Mike faces that dilemma when her fiancé is falsely arrested for killing one of two women who requested a same-sex marriage ceremony in his church.

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The release of “Bridge Home” should prove interesting. My hope and prayer is that readers will love it and welcome it as another of Miz Mike’s “pickle-making” mysteries. But I’m prepared for flak and one-star reviews because, thankfully, when I was growing up I didn’t have the British Medical Association looking out for me.

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“Experts”

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The earliest “expert” I remember was my first grade teacher who chided me for coloring trees and sky such bright “unrealistic” colors. Over and over she intoned, “Trees are green, tree trunks are brown, sky is blue.”

I guess she had never seen a sunset, or autumn foliage, and she was ignorantly unaware that tree trunks are different colors, mostly grey in the Texas Hill Country.

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Education is awesome—but I eschew “experts.”

My son Luke used to get upset when a high school teacher, an expert in science, repeatedly informed the class that dogs could be trained—but they couldn’t think. Luke knew better. We had a half-collie named Esther. Our other dog, Shad, would stretch out in the middle of the couch so that Esther had no room at either end and would have to take the floor. One day Esther trotted over to the front door and barked. Shad launched himself off the couch in a frenzied attack mode. Esther calmly walked back to the couch and took Shad’s place. After that, whenever she wanted the couch, Esther repeated the performance. (Shad never learned.) Trained? I think not.

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One dog training expert claimed dogs only have a seven-second memory. “Never say sit down,” this expert advised. “Just say sit, because by the time you get to down, the dog has forgotten the first word.” Really?

Our dog Angel Joy hasn’t seen Andy the coal man for three years. He’s a nice guy, but scares her to death because he’s so big. If we say Andy, or coal—or heaven forbid, Andy the coal man—our usually quiet, calm Angel Joy goes ballistic.

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There are health experts who are overweight. There are education experts who have never taught a class. There are parenting experts who don’t have children. There are writing experts who give advice on how to write and market books—and their own books aren’t selling.

Wise people, and those knowledgeable in their fields are blessings, but I’ve learned to question “experts.”

Experts in Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ day, the late 1400s and early 1500s, thought the world was flat and ships would fall off if they sailed too far. Columbus read in the Bible in Isaiah 40:22 that God “sits above the circle of the earth.” He reasoned that if God sits above the circle of the earth, the earth must be round. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When I need an expert, I’ll stick with that same God, the One who “made a law for the rain and a path for the thunderbolt.” (Job 28:36)

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Death, the Lasting Adventure

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When I was 12, my spooky horse Allie jumped over a ditch to the road. His shadow hit the red clay dirt and he spooked. He leaped sideways bucking, threw me off, and ran home.

Allie was afraid of shadows. He thought shadows were real. He thought shadows would hurt him.

A lot of people are like Allie. They fear shadows. They think shadows are real. They think shadows will hurt them. We have either forgotten or chosen not to believe Psalm 23 in the Bible, “Yea, though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Because people know I’m a Christian, I often get prayer requests. I’m thrilled to pray for others and I rejoice when God answers their prayers. But some requests are impossible for God to fulfill because they are not within His plan.

We plant “dead” seeds and marvel when bright, new, healthy plants spring up from the dead-looking kernels. God never wanted death to be a part of the world He created. He designed human bodies to heal and live forever. But when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world. Because of that, God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place so we could live forever. Jesus didn’t just die—He rose from the dead to prove to us that we also can live again.

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After we “die” to this world, we live forever in Heaven with Jesus in bright, new, healthy spiritual bodies that will never suffer death, illness, pain, suffering, or sorrow. But first—we must pass through the shadow.

It’s alarming to get prayer requests from people who are afraid of the shadow and don’t trust God’s promise about what is on the other side. I don’t know what to say or how to pray when someone grabs my arm and pleads, “Please pray for Momma. She’s 92 and her kidneys have stopped working, and she has heart and lung disease, and now she has cancer.”

 

What I want to say, and should be honest enough to say is, “Sweetie, let go of your poor Momma. Let her go home to God. He will give her a new healthy body.” But I’ve discovered that folks who are afraid of shadows hate truth.

Death is an adventure. An everlasting adventure. Between us and that lasting adventure is a shadow. All of us must pass through that shadow to get to our new life and claim our new body.

Perhaps we should repeat often, “Death is a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. Shadows can’t hurt us.”

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Falling Pianos

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Someone criticized a wise mother for telling her son who was learning to drive, “Watch out for pianos falling from the sky!” She was right. Pianos do fall from the sky.

Recently, I took driving lessons. One criticism leveled against me by the instructor was erring on the side of caution: expecting pedestrians to step off the sidewalk in front of me, dogs on a leash to rush into the street, or vehicles to appear unexpectedly when I stopped at a “Give Way” sign. (No simple “Stop” signs at intersections in this part of Scotland.) The instructor didn’t understand. I’ve had my share of falling pianos.

When a doctor tells you, “Your spouse has cancer. It’s terminal,” that’s a piano falling out of the sky. When your boss says, “You’re laid off,” that’s a piano falling from the sky. When an editor tells you, “I like your writing style, but your books aren’t selling, so I’m releasing you from your contract, it’s a falling piano. When you get word that your son died in a plane crash – that’s a huge piano that keeps crashing down from the sky.

Perhaps a good New Year’s Resolution would be: Learn to Expect Falling Pianos. And when one of them falls into your life, comfort yourself with Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

We dodged a falling piano today. We took our six-year-old rough collie to the vet to talk about letting her go. It was heartbreaking. But as if Angel Joy understood our conversation, she rallied herself against the nerve disorder that is stealing her life and health and showed enough spark that the vet said, “It might be a bit premature to make that decision today.” Whew! The piano fell out of the sky without hitting anyone!

May all of y’all be blessed in 2017. May any piano from the sky that falls into your life this year make a harmless landing.

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Mysteries

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I love mysteries. That’s why I write them.

One of my recent blogs showcased a mystery about the “angel bus.” I was in downtown Inverness waiting for a city bus that never came. The overhead sign kept promising the bus would arrive—but it never did. It was freezing with sleety rain and my fingers were numb and throbbing even inside gloves. Finally an old white bus with no city markings and no lettering at all limped to a stop in front of me and the door opened. When I asked the driver if the bus went to the retail park, he said, “If that’s where you want to go.” I got on the bus. It was empty. Momentarily, I thought I had been kidnapped, but quickly dismissed that idea. I’m too poor to garner a ransom. The old bus deposited me at my location. I’ve been back to Inverness several times since then. I have never seen that bus again. To me, it will always be an angel bus.

Now the mystery of the angel glove—or more aptly—the glove that an angel returned. This close to Christmas, with extra services and visiting, the last thing a pastor has time (or money) to do is rush into the city to buy a pair of new gloves, yet one of Alan’s gloves was missing. We hunted for it in the house. We crawled around on our hands and knees searching the car. We walked the cement slab path between the car and the house several times. We looked under the rosebushes. No glove.

Yesterday, after several days of vainly pursuing said lost glove and trying to figure out a good time to go into town to buy a new pair before the forecast winter weather mix hit—we found the missing glove. In plain sight. I was returning from handing out Christmas cards and cookies when I spotted the lost glove right beside the cement slab path where we had searched so diligently. We use that path several times a day.

Doubters will claim that neither Alan or I are getting any younger and that at our age, the eyes can fail. Doubters will claim that it’s a busy time of year and we were just too rushed to look as conscientiously for the lost glove as we thought we had. If doubters are happy walking around under their weight of normalcy, that’s fine. But I love mysteries! I love solving mysteries. My solution to this mystery is that the glove was indeed lost. Alan had accidentally dropped it somewhere between our house and Inverness. God realized our low ebb of money and energy—and He sent an angel to bring it back to us.

God loves His human creations so much that He intervenes in their daily lives to bring them joy. He sent Jesus to us as a gift for eternity and the angels sang over His birth with joy. Our Christmas glove brings us joy. I have my angel bus—Alan has his angel glove.

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Christmas = Freedom

One of the hardest things I’ve done in my adult life was to complete driving lessons here in the U.K. and take the driving test. After 48 years of driving my way – I had to learn to drive someone else’s way.

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Until a person passes the driving test here, they must attach “L” plates (Learner Driver) on their vehicle every time they get behind the wheel. The L plates must be taken off again when a licensed driver gets behind the wheel. We’ve been held captive by L plates four years, putting them on when I drive, taking them off when Alan drives, and replacing them when the wind blows them away. Needless to say, a learner driver can only drive the car with a licensed driver beside them.

If I had realized what a sense of freedom would follow passing the test and discarding the L plates, I would have done it sooner. It’s a Christmas gift to myself – freedom. This spring, I can take the car out hunting for adders to photograph. Alan, who is not keen on snakes of any size or kind, can stay home.

Christmas is about freedom. We decorate in glad joyful colors, we send Christmas card with Baby Jesus in the manger, we cook a lovely meal for family and friends, we exchange gifts – but the reason for the season is freedom.

Jesus was born into this world as a baby, but that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is His death – which purchased our freedom. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Jesus died for us, but that’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is His resurrection. Jesus arose from the grave and lives forever. He lives inside us in the form of the Holy Spirit if we invite Him.

Christmas = Freedom. “O Death, where is your sing? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as UK law can no more hold me to having another driver beside me or putting L plates on the car because passing the test purchased my freedom from that law, Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection purchased our freedom from death and gifted us with eternal life.

Jesus is the reason for the season – but so is freedom.

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Big Dogs, Small Dogs

scot-puppyFirst the disclaimer. I am not a dog expert, “dog whisperer,” or dog trainer. The dogs in my books like the lovely rough collie Shiloh in “Bridge to Brigadoon,” plus the equally lovely collie in “Bridge to Desert Desire” and “Bridge Back” are based on dogs that have owned me and buried their memories in my heart. That said, I had an epiphany this morning about big dogs versus small dogs.

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Small dogs are often fearless. They launch themselves at an “enemy” so much bigger than they are that it makes us laugh. Often, while they are tilting at canine windmills, bigger dogs are scrunching up to hide behind something too small when they perceive human displeasure directed at them.

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I believe small dogs are courageous because their human owners constantly lavish them with love and attention. A small dog can be held on a lap and cuddled. They realize they are the center of their human’s universe and that builds them up on the inside resulting in self-confidence.

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Bigger dogs don’t fit on laps after they outgrow the puppy stage. They get pushed off, ordered off furniture, stuck outside in the yard – and are often, perhaps, in trouble for being able to reach and destroy human belongings that small dogs can’t reach. Unlike small dogs, their self-confidence never gets bolstered.

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If this surmise is true, it should be a reminder to parents to love their children and lavish attention on them. Children can never be “spoiled” by too much love. Lack of discipline will “spoil” a child, but lack of love cripples them for life. We should love our children at every age, every stage.

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Now what does this have to do with Christmas? It’s just a reminder to love our family at Christmas and on every day of the year. Our days on this earth are limited. Our love shouldn’t be.

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My Version of Hell

Most have probably heard the Biblical description of hell: a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies.

My version of hell is a bit different. Cold.

I like to inject humor into the things I write, both my books and my blog. But, honestly, I just don’t find cold or being cold funny.

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Cold was funny when we were kids. My siblings and I would throw lemon drops across the frozen pond and watch our Great Danes slip, slide, and skate across the ice to snatch the candy. We laughed like maniacs as the poor long-legged beasts sprawled time and again on the ice. But now…that seems cruel, not funny. What if the ice had broken and the dogs had drowned? What if they had broken their legs or sustained permanent soft tissue damage? Of course, we were out there slipping, sliding and falling right along with them.

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Seriously, how can one find humor in something like cold that can kill you? I remember the time we walked two miles to a neighbor’s house to get two adorable puppies with the idea that our parents would let us keep them once we had them. Wrong. They were the cutest bundles of fluffy brown and white that we had ever seen. We sneaked them past our house and stashed them temporarily in our neighbor’s barn. That meant walking through ice and snow several times a day to feed them, because it was an unusually cold winter. We all suffered frostbite. To this day, my fingers become numb and burn after only a short time in the cold—even when I’m wearing gloves, and my toes are not far behind. It was humiliating to be forced to return the puppies to their owner and admit that our parents would not let us keep them. We cried the two miles from our house to their house to take the precious pups back home. Yet what I remember being even more painful…was the cold.

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Another cold-induced misery I remember is when, as an adult, I went on a church outing in northern Nevada so Luke could have the joy of picking out his own Christmas tree. He had the proper coat and boots for the occasion, and although he got cold like the rest of us, I don’t remember him suffering. As a single parent, I had only been able to outfit one of us with water-proof boots. So while he tromped around in the snow with the other children, engaging in snow battles and building a snow fort while searching for the perfect tree, I walked around in tennis shoes. I think it was the next day before I could feel my toes again.

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Oh, and not to forget the time I caught a snake at the pond to see if it was poisonous or harmless. It was venomous. The water moccasin took exception to being caught and bit me. So while the hospital waited for the anti-venom to be flown in from Atlanta, they froze my arm in a tub of ice water. Once they administered the shot, they thawed my arm. To this day I’m not sure whether it hurt worse to have my arm freeze or thaw.

Nope. I do not find snow beautiful, nor do I weather cold climates well. I’m amazed that after five years of almost never being warm, I’m still in Scotland. It is a lovely country with scenic views in every direction…but it is COLD.

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So keep your Biblical version of hell as a place of raging fire and worms feeding off flesh. That’s the way Jesus described it and Jesus is always right. But I will keep my personal version of a place where it never warms up, my teeth are clattering like ice cubes hitting a glass, and every muscle in my body is stretched painfully tight until I feel like I’m shriveling up like an abandoned pumpkin after Thanksgiving. Oh, yes…and there would be fire in my version of hell because my fingers and toes would burn.

Thankfully, I won’t ever go to hell to see what it’s like because I have Jesus in my heart and He promised, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

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And, thankfully, readers—you won’t have to go find out for yourselves either. Sometimes the best knowledge and wisdom we possess comes not from sticking our hand in the flame to see if it really burns—but in watching someone else and making the decision not to follow their example.

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Angel Bus

It wasn’t until I wrote about the experience later in the day that I was struck by the thought…had it been an Angel Bus?

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Our rough collie has digestive problems and can only eat prescription dog food. As long as she eats that dog food – and that dog food only – she does well. Because of Angel Joy’s chronic illness, she can tolerate only one type of treat, which most stores don’t stock.

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I took a bus to Inverness, Scotland, and waited at the bus station at the designated stand for the connection needed. It never came. It was cold, rainy, and windy (imagine that in Scotland!), and my fingers and toes were growing numb. I finally asked the driver of another bus if his bus went to the retail center. He told me I would have to walk to the stand in the town center. So I went…and that bus never came. It was announced on the flashing sign and I waited through 30 minutes of changing promises that it was arriving in three minutes, two minutes, etc., but it never arrived.

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Without leaving the stand where the sign promised a bus would arrive imminently, and walking some distance in the rain (it hadn’t been raining when I left home, so I was unprepared) to my bank, I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. But I was so cold and miserable that I decided I would either take a taxi – or just go back home without the treats.

Then an old white bus limped to a stop in front of me. It was not painted or marked like a city bus. It resembled a bus from a third world country, like the one in Walt Disney’s 1964 “The Moon-Spinners,” with Hayley Mills. The door opened. I peeked inside the empty bus and asked, “Does this go to the retail center?”

The driver smiled (a rarity for Scottish bus drivers) and said, “If that’s where you want to go.” So dismissing the idea that I might be kidnapped as writer’s imagination (I don’t make enough with my writing to be worth kidnapping), I climbed aboard the empty bus and arrived at the retail park. When I was ready to leave, there were a plethora of city-marked buses coming to collect passengers and take them back to the main bus station.

 

Had it been an Angel Bus? Hebrews 13:2 advises, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” And Psalm 91:11 says that God will give His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.

Not all angels take a human form. I remember the lovely golden retriever that followed Luke home one day and stayed on our porch all night. The dog tackled a drunk intruder and chased him away…then vanished. We could never find the dog or the dog’s owner to thank them.

I think of two of my high school English teachers as angels. Both encouraged me in my writing, no matter how many misspelled words I had or how messy my handwriting was. Miss Greene’s statement, “Stephanie, I believe I will be reading your books someday and teaching them in my literature classes,” kept me going for years no matter how many rejection slips I got on manuscripts. I wanted to prove Miss Greene’s confidence in me had not been misplaced.

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Was it an Angel Bus? I’ll never know for sure, but I do know it’s important to be angels to other people. Who can we encourage today? Being an angel is as important as entertaining one.

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