I Used To Think…

I used to think I was patient. I taught preschoolers for more than seven years. I parented a hyperactive son before ADHD became a buzz word. People who saw us thought I was a bad parent, unable to discipline my child.

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I used to think I was kind. I’ve rescued grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, frogs, possums, and tried to befriend people who find themselves a target of unkindness. When I was eleven, I hit an adult three times my size with a metal fence post because he was savagely beating his runaway pony on our property.

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Now I know I am not patient. Suffering brutal pain for so long from a huge bulging disc in my back that is pressing directly into my spinal cord has robbed me of patience. I feel like limping to the nearest hospital on my crutches and refusing to leave until the problem is fixed – or until I get arrested and forcibly removed. I’m not suicidal – yet – but death doesn’t scare me: it means the pain would stop.

Now I know I am not kind. Pain that takes my breath away and makes me fall down on the floor if I happen to sneeze or cough when I’m standing up has robbed me of kindness. Some days I think I would walk over the back of my grandmother to get to the operating table first.

I am thankful for this pain. It has been an opportunity to learn – really learn. Never judge another person. Never. You don’t know what storm of pain or difficulty they are passing through. Next time, it could be you.

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I am thankful for this pain because it has humbled me. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, rather soberly as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:5

With the Lord’s inspiration, I’ve written a lot of books. (Without Him I could never have written even one.) Yet, how do my books benefit the world if I am impatient? Or unkind?

I am a broken person inside and out. But with this self-knowledge comes the opportunity to change and get things right.

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Falling Into Joy

tall fall foliageMy mother’s favorite season was fall. With seven children, she had little time for her own pursuits, but when she did – she loved to do paint-by-numbers of autumn-stroked trees.

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I hate autumn. Some folks say they don’t like this time of year because it reminds them of death. Not me. It reminds me of COLD. I hate cold. I hate being cold. Out of 16 published books, I think only one is set in fall. The rest are set in spring or summer. Winter gets exactly zero.

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Still, God’s Word says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1. Daniel 2:21 states that it is God Who changes the times and the seasons. I know better than to fight against God. I never win.

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So I will adopt my mother’s example of appreciating the glorious changing colors of fall. Instead of thinking ahead to the cold winter, I will let the warm colors of autumn ignite a fire in my soul to rejoice and celebrate every day God gives, every season He dictates.

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Signs…and…No Signs

The first time we looked for our rental house in Dunoon, Scotland—we couldn’t find it. Knowing we are directionally challenged, we figured it was our fault. Later we realized…there were no legible street signs.

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We felt vindicated when friends from the Black Isle came to visit and also became lost. Signs are important. Faced with medical or other emergencies, signs attain life or death importance.

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Signs matter. They matter to me especially since I’ve been a sign painter. For one of the first signs I painted, I bought a dictionary to ensure correct spelling. When the 10 signs were delivered, the customer yelled at me for misspelling his signs. When I explained I had looked the word up in a dictionary, he demanded to see the dictionary, so I handed it to him. He was livid as he thumped the cover: Webster’s English Dictionary. Authorize is spelled authorise in the UK.

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We read the rules on a pool sign recently. I don’t know if you’re allowed to bring glass containers into the pool area—but leave the ducks at home.

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Signs of spring, signs of autumn, signs of approaching storms—not all signs are produced by humans.

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My favorite sign is the Bible, God’s Word. Lack of street signs may result in physical misplacement, but lack of spiritual signs result in miserable, misspent years in this life, and risk of eternal separation from God.

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Jesus promised, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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No other sign can match that promise.

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Restrained

Rain is a blessing.

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Yet Genesis in the Bible tells of a flood that covered the earth, and when the waters were restrained – it was a blessing. “Rain from heaven was restrained…and the surface of the ground was dry.” (Genesis 8:2-14)

Sometimes the rain of blessings in our lives is restrained and our hearts grow weary, dry, and brittle. Everything seems to go wrong. Rain falls into other people’s lives and makes their gardens flourish…dry ground surrounds us.

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Alan retired on March 31, after 35 years of ministry and we moved to a perfect little rental house in Dunoon, Scotland. Shortly after we moved in we discovered water and black mold under the floor. The floor in the hall started to break through and tiles in the kitchen cracked. Then, after running three miles one day, I was unable to walk the next. Our own spell of restrained blessings and dry ground…although perhaps “dry” is a poor choice of words since we were literally flooded under the flooring!

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We returned to Dunoon after a marvelous 8.000-mile round trip to visit family in the U.S. (me on crutches) and found ourselves installed in a hotel for three days. With tired bodies, dirty laundry, and three weeks of having been separated from our computers…we were restrained from returning to normal life. Our collie’s mobility is severely impaired from a deteriorating nerve condition, and she and I had to hobble up a flight-and-a-half of stairs several times a day. The palms of my hands blistered from balancing on the crutches going up and down. A season of restraint.

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We are currently camped in a cabin at a holiday village with only a small amount of our belongings. Within a week, we will move to another house for six months while our house is repaired. No stress in retirement! Alan lost his mobile phone going through security in one airport. He lost his passport at the London airport. He cancelled his bank card and credit card when he thought his billfold was lost. Thankfully, it was lost – in the car – while we made rushed trips back and forth from our house to our temporary camp. And me? Still on crutches.

I can’t explain why the Lord has stretched out His hand and supernaturally healed me in the past, but hasn’t healed me now. I can’t explain why I have laid hands on others and prayed for them and they have been healed – but I’m still on crutches. I can’t explain why we are living out of suitcases on a patch of dry, barren ground while riots of flowers and vegetation flourish in other people’s gardens. Thankfully, God doesn’t expect me to explain. The Creator of the universe and all that is in it doesn’t want my understanding, just my trust.

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The Genesis account of the flood is an example of how God transforms restraint into blessing. So, too, the book of Job. Through no fault of his own, Job loses everything: children, possessions, health. His wife tells him to curse God and die. Two friends who come to comfort him mock him. “Job, admit that you’ve sinned. This has happened to you because of what you’ve done wrong. It’s your fault.” (Everyone needs friends like that, right?)

It wasn’t Job’s fault. Job told his friends, “He knows the way that I take. When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” A true statement. “And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than the beginning.” (Job 42:4&12)

So when dry ground crops up around your feet and God seems to be restraining the rain of blessings in your life, rejoice! Rain returns.

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Small & Deadly

Most folks probably fear and flee large critters – but small things can kill.

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One vacationing site on the Scottish Highlands applauded Culicoides Impunctatus, the ferocious Highland Midge. It concluded that if there were fewer midges in the Scottish Highlands there would be more tourists and more tourists would spoil the scenic beauty that tourists come to see. It added cheerfully that no one had ever died from a midge bite. I don’t buy it.

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Painting signs in the Texas Hill Country, I was attacked by the midge’s American cousin, no see ‘ems. While balancing 20 feet up in the air on the metal rungs of a ladder, I battled to keep the invisible biting, stinging gnats out of my eyes. Keeping them out of paint was impossible. They love paint. Thus my straight, neat lines often wobbled as the brush pulled over the bodies of hundreds of still-struggling no see ‘ems.

The Scottish tourist site posted photos of folks wearing head masks and gloves to protect themselves from Scotland’s “nuisances.” Faces under the masks were totally blocked from sight from the layers of midges. Same with the gloves and outer clothing. One photo was a cupped hand piled high with black soil – no – make that “non-deadly” “nuisances,” midges.

With their sight blocked by midges, what if a hill walker gets too close to the edge of a cliff? What if I had fallen off the ladder? No one has died from a midge bite? Are we sure of that?

There’s a delightful folktale Travellers (gypsies) relate about how midges came to Scotland. I included it in my mystery-romance-suspense “Captive of Fear.”

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Watching baby ducks with Mom started me thinking about small things. Bites on my face and neck turned me from thinking cute to thinking kill. But how do you dispatch a cloud of insects that are virtually invisible?

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Something else small is deadly. Words. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Cruel words break hearts, cause fights, and bring about death and suicide. James says, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things…No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Jesus said that we are not defiled by what we put into our mouths – but by the words that come out of our mouths.

Some small things are cute – like baby ducks. Some small things must be handled with care – like words. Some small things are a nuisance – like midges. Are they deadly? I’d maintain that the jury is still out on that one.

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Great Love

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Texas Miz Mike #7 mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge Home” was released—but, wait! It is not the best love story ever written.

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Great love stories light our inner fires and inspire us. Some of the most famous include William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” Leo Tolstory’s “Anna Karenina,” Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Other great love stories revolve around remarkable people like John Smith and the Indian Princess Pocahontas, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

This is just a fleeting mention of some of the world’s greatest love stories because nearly all life-changing, life-impacting stories contain an element of love. Not surprising since God’s Word proclaims, “Love never fails,” and “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians, Chapter 13).

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My favorite love stories tend to be embedded in musicals. The social commentary and unforgettable music in “Show Boat;” faith victorious in “The Sound of Music,” rollicking fun in “Calamity Jane” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and the soul-plumbing “South Pacific.” And of course the musical everyone in Scotland hates—but I’ve always loved, “Brigadoon.”

Whether they end in tragedy, or joy and “happy ever after,” love and love stories make life worth living.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t forget to read the greatest love story ever written. It’s written in God’s blood. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Then He proved it by dying for us.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

God’s love story about us and for us is greater than any love story ever written by humans—even William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” which is still ranked #1 in love stories 400 years after it was written.

As for “Bridge Home,” well, I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, and leave a review—but trust me…it won’t the list.

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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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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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Directions Are Overrated

Directions are not all they’re cracked up to be. Send me into the country. Tell me to take a left past the first cottonwood tree after the low water crossing, follow the fence to the third gap, turn right and stay straight until I see a crooked fence post, turn left at the old tire and go along side the pond until I see a shed on the hill, then turn right at the sheep pen—and I can find it every time. But send me into a city building with rooms on both sides of the corridor and I need an escort to get out again. On city streets, I have been known to turn into a gas station, fill the tank, then pull out and drive the wrong way for miles before I snap to the mistake.

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Directions like east, west, north, and south are the worst. We learned in school that north is in front of us, south is behind us, east is to the right, and west is to the left. Try using that information to navigate. You are always headed north unless you walk backwards or crab walk to one side or the other.

The Highlands of Scotland may not be the worst place in the world to find destinations—but it’s close. The roads aren’t marked. Alan says directional signs were purposefully removed to confuse German paratroopers in the war. Folks, the war is over.

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Additionally, signs are small; street signs are erected so high up on buildings that they are above eye level; they are faded almost beyond legibility, and road signs are in both Gaelic and English making them too crowded to read. And roundabouts. The map may tell you to take the B999351 at the next roundabout. Four roads spin off in four different directions and not one of them is marked.

When I first arrived here five years ago, Alan and I headed to a memorial service. We never got there, in spite of following lines of cars on a one-lane road in two different directions and stopping to ask two different people out walking their dogs how to get there. It’s a good thing Alan wasn’t preaching—five years later, we still haven’t found the place.

Oh…and the death blow, “You can’t miss it.” Perhaps no one else can miss it. But I can. Trust me.

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Yesterday we embarked on a trip the map said would take 29 minutes. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination. Today, we headed out on a 30-minute trip and made it home again within three hours. The road was not marked, so we took it to the end in both directions. Nor were there any numbers on buildings. Nor did the building we were searching for have a sign. So while Alan and I are both directionally-challenged…sometimes it’s not our fault that we get lost.

We have learned to enjoy the scenery while lost. We may be the first folks, for example, to know that the leaves are already turning.

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I’m so thankful the directions God gives in the Bible are easily understood. Even a directionally-challenged person can understand, “Do not covet, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery…love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

Can’t miss it.

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