Brain Training – Your Dog?

Just got an invitation to purchase a book on “Brain Training Your Dog.” That’s funny. My dog doesn’t need brain training—I do.

Every time I take Savannah on a walk Alan always says, “Remember; you are in control.” That’s also funny. Savannah’s brain is fully trained for walks—and so is mine. She leads, I follow. We go in the direction she chooses. We go the distance she chooses. We stop and visit all the friendly dogs and people who are her friends. We stay away from the trio of aggressive pit bulls on the corner. We don’t chase the foxes in the field behind the cottages, or cats, or hedgehogs—but we do chase black birds and blackbirds. I don’t know why. You’d have to ask Savannah.

Savannah never forgets where she leaves anything, nor does she forget where things belong. She is a grueling taskmaster/housekeeper. Everything must be where it belongs at all times and at no time is anything to be on the floor that doesn’t belong there. Except her toys, of course. They apparently belong there.

On walks Savannah picks up lost gloves and deflated soccer balls and carries them until she gets tired. But she never forgets where she left them. She picks them up again on the next walk. I used to attempt to take gloves away from her and put them up where someone would find them, but humans never returned to claim them. Savannah did. And since she carries things to the end of her walk, then brings them back—it really doesn’t matter. They eventually get back to where they started. Me? I can put down a granola bar and not find it again for a week.

I walk through life as if I’m in a bubble. For a writer, I’m not very observant. Savannah notices everything. She spies on the neighbors and looks over fences to see what’s going on. She detects new labels on a rubbish bins and things that have been moved across yards from one side to the other. I’d have to trip over the relocated objects before I noticed. She would be great in a neighborhood watch program if only she could talk.

Some clever person noticed that dog spelled backward is God. Only God is God, but I am thankful that He made dogs.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

What We Want

An old man worked hard ferrying passengers across a wide deep river in his little boat. One day as he was getting the boat ready for his next trip across the water he spotted a muddy lamp under a discarded tire. He pulled the lamp out from under the tire and stuck it in his boat. He took his passengers across the river. On the return trip he pulled the lamp out and dunked it into the water to clean it. A genie swirled out of the spout and told the man he had three wishes.

“My arm hurts,” the old man said. “Heal my arm.”

The genie did.

“I want to be young again,” the old man said. “Make me young again.”

The genie did.

“I want to be rich,” the old man said. “Fill up this boat with gold.”

The genie did.

The boat sank and the man died.

From time to time we all wish for things that have been withheld from us. Perhaps a lovely house overlooking the sea. We envision life in a beautiful home overlooking scenic glory as blissful…but we don’t know what goes on inside the walls.

Perhaps an exotic vacation to foreign lands (for me, a warm foreign land). We imagine the joy and think of the fun we would have—but we don’t see the stress; the sickness caused by bad water; the theft from the hotel room, the passport or stolen bank card.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”

For years, I’ve wanted my hair to grow longer. Every time it got to a decent length, the ends would need to be trimmed and it would be shorter again. With the lockdown, there are no beauty salons open and I’m scandalously bad at cutting or trimming hair. So my hair has finally grown long. And I can’t reach the ends in back when I brush it. It is so fine that it won’t stay in any kind of fastener and it gets hopelessly tangled in the wind. It blows across my eyes so I can’t see. It gets in my mouth. It gets caught under me at night. And…

We all want that boatload of gold. We forget that every physical thing we own on this earth can sink, be stolen, get old, or break. We are pilgrims passing through this earth on the way to Heaven where boats don’t sink.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Shadows

There is one place along our street where the shadows across the sidewalk look so real that—even knowing they are shadows—my feet pause. They look like metal bars across the concrete.

Walking rough collie Savannah at night presents me with an intimate introduction to neighborhood shadows. That bulky man at the corner watching the street and everything that passes—nothing more than two signs a short distance apart that meld together into a menacing form. The guy who is always at work at the back of a parked trailer—actually a large plastic chute from scaffolding and a black trash bag at the end that blows in the wind. And that big dog that I expect to bark at us—really an overturned trash bin next to an empty planter.

Under the covering of darkness with street lights punching holes in the night—neighborhood shadows look real. Some look intimidating. Some look menacing. Some—like the hedgehog that never moves—look interesting. But whatever the size and shape of the shadows, one fact remains; they are not real. No matter how intimidating, no shadow will roar into life and shout. No matter how menacing, no shadow will attack. No matter how interesting, no shadow will lead to an intriguing adventure like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Shadows are illusions. They. Are. Not. Real.

Shadows fascinate me. They play a predominate role in my book “Fear of Shadows,” and the first three books I wrote all have the word “shadows” in the titles. Shadows are deceptive. Some folks go through life fleeing from shadow to shadow.

If we remember that this earth is not our home and we are merely pilgrims passing through and if we do not fear death—shadows lose their ability to haunt us.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” Psalm 23 declares.

Shadows are not real. God is real.

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.