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.

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.

The Up Side of Down

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Because of bone-on-bone arthritis in my left knee I’ve been on crutches since June. Given that my waiting time for a knee replacement is still 11 months, we took to a ferry, three trains, and a taxi to get to York, England, to a private clinic for help. The first up side of crutches was at the second train station when I was in a waiting line for the women’s restroom. The line stretched down the hall. A station employee motioned me out of that impossibly long, slow-moving line—straight into the handicapped restroom. The up side of down.

Some folks say that since I’m an author I should write an autobiography. It would read like a bad comedy routine. In rainy, 30-degree weather, I wore a long skirt with a pair of shorts under it. My legs were bare. And cold. The idea was if something went wrong and I didn’t have time to change before my appointment, I could slip off the skirt and the doctor could examine my knee.

Alan and I get lost everywhere we go. We always leave early to give us time to get lost and found. This time, we didn’t get lost—the clinic did. We got to York, dropped our backpacks off at the motel, then called a taxi for the clinic. I had the address. I had the postal code. I had the phone number. The cab driver couldn’t find it. He was amazing. Because I was on crutches, he ran into every open business on the street I had as an address and asked if the clinic was there. No one had heard of it. He entered the post code into his cab and we wound up in a dark alley, a dead end with old brick buildings on either side. The buildings had no doors, no windows. So this amazing taxi driver started calling. He called the number, it went to voice mail…over again and again. Then he tried the second number, the one the first number gave for “immediate help.” There was an answer—a woman in Edinburgh whose job was answering after-hour calls for the clinic and taking messages. She had no listing for the York clinic.

At this point, Alan and I did what the Bible says to do, we thanked God. We explained to the taxi driver what we were doing and why. God’s Word says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” And it says, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

Perhaps the timing for treatment was wrong. Perhaps the treatment was wrong. For whatever reason, God stopped the appointment. So we are thanking Him.

Months ago our washing machine went on a rampage and dried all our clothes without washing them first. We thought we had rounded up all the dried, unwashed clothes and put them through another wash. Wrong. I pulled out the jeans I had packed in the bottom of the backpack and nearly fainted from the sour smell. There was nothing I could do except wear the jeans and hope the smell dissipated. We had a train to catch and the only alternative to stinky jeans was to wear the skirt again and get cold. I hate being cold.

We got to the first train station on time, but we couldn’t get to our platform. Because of my crutches, we took the elevator—again and again. Up, down, up, down, up, down. The elevator wasn’t labeled. We couldn’t find our platform. I finally ran down—clomped down—a worker. No, he said, the way to the platform wasn’t marked, but just follow this long tunnel down and it would get to the lift that would take us to the platform. So we did. We made it to the platform in time to catch the train, only to learn that the train we needed was on the other side and had been posted wrong on the electronic sign. There was no time to look for another lift. I clomped up two flights of stairs and across the walkway and we made it to the right platform.

It should have been smooth sailing after this—only it wasn’t. We didn’t have time to stop for lunch and still make all our connections to get Savannah out of the kennel before it closed. So…we skipped lunch until 7 p.m. Like I said…don’t look for an autobiography in the future. It would read like a bad comedy.

Merry Christmas, all of y’all! Happy Birthday, Jesus! Never forget that He is the reason for the season—and all things work to the good of those who love Him. So keep that smile!

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Expletives and Superlatives

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There’s a Texas expression that I’ve never uttered before in my life, nor have I ever used it in one of my books, nor did I ever expect to ever use it: He’s talking out of his butthole.

Because I write clean-reading Christian books, I disdain profanity. Nothing will make me abandon a book more quickly than excessive profanity. Writers should be creative. Instead of repeating the “F” word endlessly, what’s wrong with: profanity dropped from his lips like cigarette ash; he used words that would have shocked his mother; his foul language was so excessive that it fatigued his listeners; her anger made her abandon her last shred of Christian training as she launched into a tirade against her coworker, the air splintered from the impact of cursing…etc.

Few things anger me. This did. An “academic” professor attacked the root of the Christmas story. He said Mary had been raped because she never consented to her pregnancy. This highly esteemed professor has a platform for attempting to destroy the foundational faith of students entrusted to him and is too lazy to research and get it right.

God gives us freedom of choice. Not everyone is a Christian. There are many other religions in the world. Everyone, even an atheist, has the right to choose what he or she believes. But it’s shameful and unforgivable that an “academic professor” who supposedly is better educated and more brilliant than the average gets away with spewing unfounded derisive words as truth.

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” I don’t draw the salary that the university pays that lazy professor, but that sounds like consent to me. (Luke 1:38)

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…For He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Luke 1:49.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be called the Son of the Highest…and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 1:31

The truth, the simple truth behind Christmas, the greatest love story ever written.

I’m trying. I’m really trying. But that professor’s words grate against my spirit and I can’t word it any better than my Texas friends: “he’s speaking out of his butthole.”

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Things I Love, Things I Hate

I hate cold, I hate winter, I hate snow – I hate Santa. That sounds more like an opening line for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” than my usual upbeat, positive blog, yet all these statements are true.

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I hate snow because it’s cold and I hate cold and being cold. Probably dates back to childhood, surviving in sub-standard houses, some of which had no heat. Then cutting and gathering firewood in the ice and snow with no gloves or warm outer garments. As for Santa, he gets bashed because if you teach children Santa brings them gifts and then they learn it’s not true, will they believe in God?

Thanks to all of you who read my blogs. I love and am thankful for each one of you. And I’ll forget about stacking icy firewood with raw bleeding hands and take a positive turn.  I’ve just released a new mystery-romance-suspense book, “I’m the Grasshopper.” Releasing a new book always raises my cheerful volume, even in the cold, cold winter.

Newspaper staff writer Stacy Estes has never forgotten the fate of her childhood pet – a grasshopper – when it encountered a spider. Her failed romances make her view herself as the grasshopper and men as spiders. She. Is. Done. With. Romance.

Stacy is a runner and hider. Until she trips over a body at her grandmother’s house and goes from reporting the news to being the news. Stacy fights to keep her secrets intact, including her physical disability, especially from the first love of her life who has moved back to the community. Lost treasure? Gold mining in Texas? Flying saucers on her grandmother’s hill? And what about the men who go into the Comanche Cliff store – but never come out again? Mysteries entangle and endanger Stacy. When a local poacher is jailed for murder, Stay’s life unravels.

Her investigation into the murder victim on her grandmother’s property takes her to the strange world of boanthropy, where people believe they are cows. It sends her into a confrontation with satanic worshiper “Snake.” And she is slated for the next sacrifice.

“I’m the Grasshopper” is a great Christmas read, clean enough that the kids or Grandma can pick it up and read it, yet packed with excitement, adventure, mystery and love. Stacy has a physical disability, but does that make her a “cripple,” as a heartless co-worker labels her?

To give credit where it belongs, the Bible promises in Romans 8:28 that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” Being in extreme pain and on crutches for months gave me the idea for the story and characters. God is always faithful to His word. I’ve since had successful spinal surgery, so it will be a very Merry Christmas for me.

To all of you reading this blog, have a Very Merry Christmas and a Deeply Blessed New Year. Thanks for being there! God bless.

Grasshopper cover #2

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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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This Queen Serves a King

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From my memory of childhood fairy tales, kings and queens were nearly always portrayed as cruel tyrannical villains. Thus, it was heartening when poor downtrodden folks won a victory over the proud aristocrats.

This perception from childhood made it difficult for me to engage respect and appreciation for the Royal Family when I first arrived in Scotland, but childhood perceptions are often flawed.

Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning monarch in British history. At age 90, she still works 40 hours a week, feeds her own dogs instead of delegating the chore to someone else, and rides a horse. She attends church regularly, even while on vacation. She doesn’t use profanity.

Being a monarch does not insulate anyone from grief, problems, and trouble. The Queen called 1992 ‘Annus Horribilis.’ Tragedies for the Queen included a fire in Windsor Castle; Prince Andrew’s separation from his wife; Princess Anne’s divorcing her husband, and a biography of Diana which confirmed her unhappy marriage to Charles and resulting affair, and Charles’ affair with Camilla. Queen Elizabeth’s response was to thank people for their prayers.

The Queen celebrated Jesus’ Birthday in 2013 by stating, “It is my prayer that on this Christmas Day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.”

The Queen noted in her Christmas 2015 address, “Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout His short life, Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence, but simply that we should love one another.”

Example through leadership is important to Queen Elizabeth. She takes her example from Jesus, quoting: “God sent His only Son to serve, not to be served. He restored love and service to the center of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Happy 90th Birthday on April 21st to Queen Elizabeth II, a queen who serves the King.

(Thanks to Author Alan T McKean http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alan-T.-McKean/e/B00BR1PM5Y/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 for the pictures of Balmoral Castle where Queen Elizabeth stays when she’s in Scotland.)

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