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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Christmas In All Of Its Colors

My husband complains that it is hard to shop for me. I don’t wear jewelry. I don’t want more clothes. I am blessed. I have everything I need. My favorite gifts are rocks and chocolate—and I’m picky about the chocolate.

When son Luke was in USMC basic training in San Diego, a street vendor approached him with a tray of jewelry and said, “Son, buy one of these beautiful necklaces for your mother for Christmas. She will love you forever.”

Luke replied, “My mom doesn’t wear jewelry, sir. What she really wants is a bag of cement for her garden.”

My favorite thing at Christmas is giving. From working two and three jobs at a time as a single parent to other adventures in life, I’ve never had much money to spend at Christmas (or any other time of the year) to enable me to give freely. This year presents even less opportunity for giving, because while recovering from hip replacement surgery—perhaps going back to the cement and rocks?—I can’t drive for six weeks.

So this year, especially, I am thankful that Christmas is not about shopping. It is, however, about giving. It is about One Gift from God. All the colors of Christmas are written in these words:

“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.” Luke, Chapter Two.

This is Christmas.

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Christmas Can’t Be Stolen

Headlines and commercials over here in the UK scream, “Shop early. Covid is going to steal Christmas.”

Christmas can’t be stolen.

Everyone in the world should watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and read Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Christmas can’t be stolen because it is not about rushing out to stores and purchasing gifts and decorations. It is not about a tree. It’s not about cooking a feast and overeating. Christmas is about Jesus. For all of eternity, Jesus is a gift that cannot be stolen. He is the reason for the season. Jesus is the gift of Christmas.

Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth. Christmas can’t be stolen.

“There were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for 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.” Luke, Chapter 2.

Don’t put up a Christmas tree. Don’t decorate. Don’t buy gifts. Don’t plan a big meal. Make December 25 just another day on the calendar. But one thing will never change; Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Son of God came to earth as a baby and suffered and died as a man so that all those who believe in Him will have eternal life. He doesn’t judge us on our skin color, our wealth, how many talents we have, our state of health, whether we are famous, or who our parents are. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16. And that will never change.

Christmas. Can. Not. Be. Stolen.

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Inspired…

Writers are strange creatures. They find inspiration in strange places.

Friend One: “That was a terrible thing that happened to him.”

Friend Two: “What an ironic way to die.”

Writer: “I can use that in a book.”

Not wanting it to sound like I’m exercising false humility, because it’s true—God writes my books. I’m the typist.

Inspiration is like gold. Sometimes it’s lovely and unexpected—a nugget resting on top of desert soil. Sometimes it’s hidden in gravel and discovered after traveling down the riffles in a wet or dry washer—alternatively known as the hardships of life. Sometimes it’s the streak of bright shining metal in a quartz rock—obvious, but needing to be ferreted out.

Nearly all my books are Christian cozy mystery-romances. The idea for “Body in a Tree Murder” sprang from the memory of a Texas Hill Country motorcycle accident I covered for the local newspaper. “Unsigned Card Murder” came from an incident in church where a person refused to sign a birthday card and left me wondering why. The opening paragraph for “Body from the Sky Murder” hit me when I sliced open a bell pepper and found a perfectly formed baby sitting inside. “Balloon Body Murder” fell into place after I read a newspaper article about the new Texas law that allows hunters to shoot feral hogs from balloons, and “Thawed to Death” from a news item about a body found in a freezer.

Inspiration for my newest book, “Signed to Death,” developed after I watched an antiques program on TV and had the random thought, “You could hide a body in one of those old signs.”

“Look out!” Maj yelled as the huge orange gulf gasoline sign with blue letters lumbered toward me down the slopped driveway. The warning came too late. The metal frame hit me. My feet came off the ground. I fell. So did the dead guy inside the sign.

Regardless of the initial source of inspiration for my books, the ultimate author is God. “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”

There is one thing in my books for which I take complete and total credit for—mistakes.

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No Drive Zone

Here in Dunoon, Scotland, a lot of things are “across the water,” which means in Glasgow and the heavily populated areas between the two ferry landings and Glasgow. I don’t drive across the water.

There are several reasons I don’t drive across the water. Coming from the U.S., cars are driven on the wrong side of the road for me here in the UK, and I find roundabouts confusing and somewhat heart-stopping. Then there is my directional challenge, which I include in my soon-to-be-released new cozy mystery, “Signed to Death.” When my sisters and I were in school, we all learned that straight ahead is north, behind is south, east is right, and west is left. What this means for all three of us is that no matter where we go or in what direction we travel—we always face north.

We had to go across the water for a doctor’s appointment this week and instead of going to the main hospital building, we were sent to an adjoining building some distance away. There is no bus service from that building, nor were we able to reach a taxi company, so we asked the nurse for directions on how to get up to the main hospital building so we could catch a bus. I was on crutches. The nurse told us to go to the end of the corridor and take a little jog to the right, and go to the end of that corridor and through the double doors, and through a long glass corridor, and through some more double doors, and then turn right to the elevator. She said to push “3” on the elevator.

We never found the long glass corridor, but we did find the elevator. We got in. The doors shut. There was no “3” on the elevator. We tried to get out again. We couldn’t find a button that would open the doors. We tried every button on the panel—and finally—the doors opened and we skedaddled! We saw an outside path through the double doors next to the elevator. The path looked like it headed toward the main hospital building, so we went outside and followed it. It dead-ended behind the building. We went back to the double doors. They wouldn’t open from outside. So we took the outside steps, me clomping along on my crutches. We finally made it up to the taxi rank. The driver must have thought we were bonkers. We laughed all the way to the ferry.

I get lost, but God doesn’t. He keeps track of everything and everyone. Jesus said to God the Father, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” What a comfort to know that however hopelessly lost I am—God never gets lost—and He will never lose me.

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Waiting…Waiting…Waiting

As a four-year-old child playing on our backyard swing set and repeating endlessly, “Christmas is in two days…” I had no idea how much of life would comprise waiting.

Everyone reading this column knows about waiting, and everyone has their own private waits for life changing events—so it would be supercilious to list examples. When I was a teen, I agonized over the thick black hair covering my legs, yet I was forbidden to shave them. I had to “wait” until I was older, meaning sixteen. I didn’t wait. We only had one razor in the house—my father’s. We were strictly forbidden to use it. I would sneak into the bathroom and use it to shave my legs anyway, and then face his wrath when he discovered that the blade was dull—again. My grandmother was the only one who understood. For Christmas, she bought me an electric razor. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received because of her quiet perceptiveness and support, and I used it until it wore out.

Each time I finish a new book, the time between “The End” and getting it passed through the editor and released seems interminable. I suffer. I physically suffer. Wonder if the medical profession will someday decide that waiting causes illness?

Right now I am waiting for a hip replacement. That is a wait that definitely carries the price tag of suffering. We have taken money out of savings to go private for the surgery. With a special needs husband and dog, waiting is no longer an option. I wake up singing praises to the Lord (in my mind because I can’t sing, and I don’t want to wake up Alan) when I remember that God has made this surgery possible and it is finally imminent.

My next book is finished and waiting for release, too, so I am experiencing a wait-wait instead of a wait. But with God—I can handle it.

From my favorite Psalm, Psalm 27, “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the LORD!

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