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.

Christmas & Duckbill Platypuses

Hidden along riverbanks in Australia is an animal that proves God has a sense of humor. God had fun making a duckbill platypus. How else can one explain an egg-laying mammal with a flat, almost comical bill, white patches under its eyes, a torpedo-like body, webbed front feet, and a paddle-like tail?

Some people envision God as stern and judgmental. They forget that He loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus into the world to die in our place that we might receive the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life—and the gift of joy. Psalm 16:11 says that in God’s presence is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore, and that God will comfort those who mourn, give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of mourning.

We serve a joyful Jesus. Jesus said, “I come to you and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” John 17:13.

We celebrate Baby Jesus coming into the world on Christmas. But Baby Jesus came to earth from heaven to die on the cross in our place, then rise from the dead to demonstrate to us that we have eternal life in Him. Before Jesus came to this earth through Virgin Mary, He created. 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. In Him was life…”

I’m so glad Jesus created the duckbill platypus to prove that He is a fun God, that He has a sense of humor, and that He breathes joy into His creation.

Get Wet

Optimistic Scots (an anomaly) proclaim, “A sunshiny shower won’t last half-an-hour. Pessimists reply, “You can get plenty wet in half-an-hour.”

“What is life?” great philosophers have always asked.

“What is life?” hippies used to ask gazing up at cloud people frolicking in the sky.

“What is life?” Beatle George Harrison wrote in a hit song in 1970.

“That’s Life,” Frank Sinatra crooned in his 1966 album.

That’s life
That’s what all the people say
You’re riding high in April, shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June

I said that’s life
And as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stomping on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down
Cause this fine old world, it keeps spinnin’ around

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet
A pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself
Flat on my face
I pick myself up and get
Back in the race

Only Jesus answered the “what’s life” question for all eternity. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” John 14:6.

“Life is what you make it,” numerous people have said.

And sometimes – life is about getting wet.

Christmas Can’t be Stolen

Dr. Seuss’ children’s book “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” pointed out in 1957, that no one can steal Christmas. It’s just as true today as it was then.

Scotland went into another lockdown over the Covid-19 virus and headlines screamed: “Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Lockdown to Save Christmas.”

External circumstances have nothing to do with Christmas. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. For 2020 years, what we call “Christmas” has come every year. Nothing stops the celebration of Jesus’ birthday because it is not about shopping, eating, gifts, days off work, gathering together as families. All those things are good. Wonderful. But even combined—they do not create Christmas.

No person alive on earth is rich enough to buy the Christmas present God gave the world for free; the death of His sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to save all of us from the penalty of sin. No gift to equal that incomparable gift can either be bought or sold. Christmas is about that gift. Christmas is about Jesus.

No food we can buy, cook, bake, fix, or serve can match the unparalleled food that came into the world that very first Christmas. Jesus is the Bread of Life. Taste and see that God is good.

Days off our jobs to celebrate Christmas can never equal the matchless rest found in Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Families are wonderful. But no earthly family can attain the matchless love of God our Father for His family–us.

And nothing and no one can steal Christmas.

Christmas cannot be bought, sold, destroyed, cancelled, or stolen. Christmas is forever—because Jesus is forever.

Getting Pruned

As a writer, or as a person, I don’t like getting pruned. Facing tribulation.

With the world in a panic over covid-19, we are all getting pruned. Limited in where we can go, what we can do, what we can wear—sometimes even what we can purchase. Facing tribulation. It stinks.

Even as a writer, pruning is required. Standard book writing advice when I started writing was to make each chapter in the book as close to 20 pages as possible. Most books were between 19 and 23 chapters. Now books feature short chapters of a few pages each, and can have 50 or more chapters.

Good authors have always researched their books before writing them, but now research is required even to make conversations flow. People nowadays use phrases copiously such as, “no worries,” “so basically,” and “right?” And teens toss in, “dope,” “lit,” “sick,” for good—and “salty,” “thirsty,” and “curve” for bad.

For me, technology is like a pair of pruning shears. First Facebook changed. Then WordPress. When I write a blog—I want to write it, insert a photo, include the link to Amazon, and publish it. I don’t want to be pruned. I don’t want to have to fight and be stretched, shaped, and chopped to figure out the new way of doing it. I don’t want to be pruned. I don’t want to face tribulation. I just want things to be simple.

Simple. No tribulation. No pruning.

A tree made me ashamed of my bad attitude about being pruned. It is a wide, tall, healthy tree working its way up to the sky. At the bottom…a large nearly horizontal stump where the limb at the bottom of the tree was sacrificed to allow the straight tree to flourish. The stump is dark and disfigured. When it was chopped off, the tree cried tears of sap. Trees don’t enjoy pruning any more than I do. But the tall healthy tree is a testimony to the power and benefit of pruning.

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3

Potato Chips & Writing

Why do I write mystery-romance-suspense books? Potato chips. They taught me all I know about deception.

Potato chips are almost as light as air. They are crispy and flavorful, and for folks attempting to lose weight, what could be wrong with consuming something that is nearly as buoyant as air? Right? Wrong.

One of those deceitful, delightful treats contains 10 calories. How is it even possible to capture calories that can make a person fat in something so weightless? Ten calories in one chip—and who eats just one?

It gets worse. A single serving bag of light-as-air chips contains 155 calories, not bad unless one realizes that those bags are small and that after eating an entire bag—one is still hungry.

Chips are masters of deception. “Why is your waist getting bigger? Why are your jeans tight around your middle? What is causing your bathroom scale to creep up? Not us, surely. Look at how small we are and how lightly we sit in your hand. How could we be guilty? Look for the culprit somewhere else.”

Mystery writers are tasked with directing readers from one suspect to another to keep them guessing and to keep them from becoming bored. The closer mystery readers get to the end of the book without knowing whodunit, the better the writing. That requires delving into levels of deception and cooking up deceitful characters.

The world is full of examples of deception and deceivers. Potato chips are the worst.

Leaving Leaves

Some people hate autumn because leaves falling off trees remind them of death and dying. I hate autumn because it leads to winter. I hate cold.

Some people wax poetic about the beauty of leaves changing colors. I love color and beauty, too, but what I love most about fall leaves is their passionate dance with the wind.

Leaves are born to a single tree in the spring. For the first half of their lives—they are stationary. They are held captive by the tree. Wind can tickle them and make them tremble or shiver—but the leaves can’t go anywhere. They are dependent on their attachment to the tree.

Fall arrives. The leaves turn lively colors and die. Trees release them. The wind catches them up—and suddenly—they are no longer “dead.” They have new life, new adventure, new purpose. Piles of fallen leaves warm the ground and protect it from winter cold. Creatures bury themselves under the leaves finding shelter and food. Eventually, the leaves decompose. They enrich the soil and coax new life into existence.

What a marvelous parallel to our lives as humans on planet earth. We live. We “die.” But, because of Jesus—we never really die. Our “death” is a freedom ride to eternity.

Jesus promised those who believe in Him, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”