Leaving Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow Distortions

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Where we walk Savannah at night a street light hits a metal railing so strongly that it creates bars across the sidewalk—and they look real. I find myself stopping and looking ahead to make sure the path is not blocked, even though I know the shadows are mere distortions—illusions that lie.

Funny videos show small children and dogs playing with their shadows—attempting unsuccessfully to catch them. When we were kids, we loved shadow displays on the wall. But shadows aren’t real. The shadow of a car can’t run over anyone. The shadow of a wolf can’t bite. The shadow of a snake can’t constrict. The shadow of a knife can’t cut.

When I was a child I loved “The Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I still do. I love all his poems in “A Child’s Garden of Verses.”

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

 

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—

Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;

For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,

And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

 

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,

And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.

He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;

I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

 

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,

I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;

But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,

Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

 

Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s shadow that stayed asleep in bed when the sun was up, shadows vanish. They are not real. They cannot hurt.

Psalm 23 in the Bible says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” We need not fear death for two reasons; one, God is with us, and two, death is a shadow and shadows are illusions. They are not real. They cannot hurt us.

Death is like the period at the end of a sentence. It’s a stopping point in our lives before we move on to the next sentence, the next chapter, the next page—our eternal home in Heaven where God has written our name in His Book of Life.

A shadow did hurt me once. My spooky horse jumped over a red clay bank and his shadow hit the road before he did. He threw me and ran home in a fright, leaving me to walk two miles. That horse got spooked by an illusion. We have more sense. Shadows are not real. They cannot hurt us.

The shadow of death is a reflection of the light of Heaven on the other side.

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Holding off Death

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We all do it: save that last bit of string in case we need it in the future; buy a new gadget and keep the old one for emergencies; store up extra provisions “in case,” and cram our cupboards, houses, and garages full of things that we may never use. We’re not good at letting go.

This “hanging on” tendency applies to life. We hang on to this life fiercely and protectively even though the Bible tells us that we are pilgrims passing through and this earth is not our home. “While we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6

I love praying for other people, but I wish I had the courage to be truthful. When I get prayer requests like: “Pray for healing for my mother who is 92 and has cancer, needs a heart transplant, and now her kidneys are failing;” “Pray for my son who has bone cancer. He’s already lost a lung and been through chemo twice. This time it’s not working and he’s in a coma”—I wish I could be honest. I wish I could explain that true healing will never be possible on this earth. We don’t belong here. It’s not our home. We’re merely passing through. “We are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13. We are all in the process of dying.

We don’t belong here. We need to be willing to let go. Heaven is our final destination and home, a place too wonderful and marvelous for human description. “And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” Revelation 21:4. “They shall neither hunger anymore; the sun shall not strike them…for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We don’t belong here. We need to be willing to let go. But I’m a coward. So the next time I get a message: “Pray for my sister who has had a liver transplant and now both her kidneys are failing from radiation therapy,” I will pray.

I will pray because God is a God of miracles. He holds our lives in His hands and He knows the number of days it will take us to pass through this land on the way home. I don’t know…so I must pray.

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Golden Gates

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The Golden Gate Bridge may be in California, USA, but Scotland has its own set of Golden Gates at Benmore Gardens just outside of Dunoon. They date back to 1872, and were installed as entrance gates to Benmore House, a mansion built in 1850, by John Lamont who died before the mansion was completed.

Benmore Gardens continues to draw tourists. Those who made the 120-acre grounds possible, including James Piers Patrick who planted “Redwood Avenue” with giant sequoias in 1863—are all dead.

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Fortunately, “death” to this world and on this earth is fleeting, no more than a shadow that one must pass through to get to the eternal Light of Heaven. The Bible promises that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:15-16)

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Benmore House and gardens have undergone extensive restoration, expanding, and improvement over the years. Even the Golden Gates have been refurbished. Nothing on this earth is lasting. Everything gets old, wears out, rusts, crumbles, dies, and is destroyed. It’s wonderful and amazing when folks like the Benmore Garden benefactors leave behind a blessing for following generations. But nothing we leave behind on this earth—not even remarkable golden gates, artwork, or writing—can compare to the riches of God in Christ Jesus in Heaven.

And we get to keep them forever.

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No Fear…Absolutely

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There are no easy answers for why bad things happen to good people, and why a loving God allows them to happen.

There are a lot of chipper, upbeat standard answers that sometimes make those afflicted with pain and suffering angry. Sure, they may be true – but in the midst of pain who wants to hear: Everything that happens in your life is a consequence of the decisions you’ve made and your actions. True or not, I can’t imagine walking into a hospice ward to visit a person with lung cancer and saying, “Well, this is your fault for smoking.”

True or not, in the center of a storm of pain, hardship, and suffering – telling someone that God created a perfect world, which was ruined by sin, and that God never intended bad to enter His perfect creation is not much comfort. Action to help the person is needed more than all the glib clichés one can deliver.

Please, I welcome your prayers, but the following is Not a plea for sympathy. When my hip pain started a few years ago, I ignored it. I declared stoutly, “I don’t need to go to the doctor. Even if an x-ray shows a problem, I will never let anyone cut me open. So why go?” So I exercised, ran, and prayed the pain away. I was a Texan, after all, and just like my character Texas Miz Mike in my mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge” series, Texans stand up to crisis. They don’t back down even from rattlesnakes.

Prayer works. From the time I was a new Christian and God removed my warts, to the time my son was scheduled to have a metal rod inserted in his spine and God healed him instead, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and Jesus heals. Prayer works. But sometimes we don’t get the answer we want or expect. Sometimes God answers “No.” Sometimes He answers “Wait.” For me this time, God’s answer was “NO.” For whatever reason, God did not heal me and I became increasingly worse. By worse, I am on crutches. I can’t open my mouth to take a bite of food without throwing the utensil down and hollering in pain.  Sneezing, yawning, coughing – the pain is so intense that it would knock down an elephant. Fortunately, I’m a Texan.

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The MRI showed a “huge” bulging disc in my spine that presses directly into the nerve. Instead of my right hip, the pain has spread to both hips and makes it impossible for me to drive because I can’t lift my foot and press down on the clutch. Why do I have this pain? Why has God not healed me? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible says to give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus. So I give thanks. I know that everything works together for good to those who love the Lord. Everything. How is this horrific pain working together for my good? I don’t know exactly, but I have an idea.

No fear. The greatest fear a person faces in life is death. Once that fear is eliminated – there’s nothing to fear. I lost my fear of death when my 37-year-old son died in a plane crash four years ago. He’s in Heaven and I will get to see him again when I get there. Everyone must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get to Heaven. But shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt. Shadows are an illusion. No fear.

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However, I love mobility. I want to walk, run, swim, climb mountains – keep moving. Therefore…I was determined that no doctor, no surgeon was ever going to touch my spine. Until…the pain. It took severe pain to grow me past the fear of having surgery. My surgery is scheduled for next week and I would be jumping in joy – if jumping didn’t hurt so much and if I could lift my feet. I am thrilled. I am totally unafraid and totally ready to surrender my life, health, and spine to whatever surgeon God provides. Trusting God totally and totally without fear.

I can’t answer the question of why bad things happen, or why Jesus didn’t heal me this time as He has in the past. Mysteries belong to God, even though I write them in books. But this I know, pain has pushed me to grow beyond fear. Totally.

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Where Is That Girl?

DSCF7038Where is the little girl who chased fireflies through corn stalks and thought at least some of them were actually fairies? Where is the little girl who believed in princes and knights and happy ever after endings? Where is the little girl who searched the skies for rainbows believing in that pot of gold at the end? Where is the little girl who scanned the night skies for UFOs and saved her money to build a hot air balloon and look for the Loch Ness Monster? Where is the little girl who held an injured sparrow in the palms of her hands and watched in wonder as the bird’s transparent blue spirit rose above the bird and shot upward when the bird died?

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Sometimes it seems that little girl who believed in a world of miracles died. Then something as simple as soap bubbles rising over the sink in rainbow colors when she does dishes brings her back to life.

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The miracle of flaming colors streaked across the sky to announce a new day, the miracle of a curious robin in the garden, the miracle of a child’s laughter, the miracle of ebbing and flowing tides, the miracle of changing seasons…life is a miracle. God is a constant Miracle Worker and every breath, every season of life is a gift.

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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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Life or Death?

What do you see when you look at overblown thistles? Life? Death?

I see life. The wind grasps each feathery seed and tumbles it into the air and away from the parent plant before dropping it on new ground. Not all of the wind-deposited seeds will grow into new thistles, but many will.

Prickly purple thistle became the emblem of Scotland during the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286). Norway’s King Haakon led his army in a surprise night attack in an effort to conquer the Scots. The surprise attack failed after the Norsemen removed their footwear for stealth – and stood on thistles. Their shrieks of pain alerted the Scots – who won the battle – which in turn won a victory of reverence for the prickly plants.

Death creates life. Or as the Bible states, “What you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain – perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body…So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” (I Corinthians 15:35-42)

Vegetation produces blooms, then seeds. The blooms must die first to turn into seeds. The seeds must die before they can be planted and burst into new life. When trees fall in the forest, they decay and enrich the soil contributing to new life. The cycle of life and death repeats endlessly with death feeding new life. The greatest example of this is the life, death, and life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death on the cross brought life and eternity down to earth for all of us because he rose again from the dead. He lives! Because Jesus lives, we will live again.

We have no need to fear death. Death is an illusion. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality…Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sing 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.” (I Corinthians 15:53-57)

Heralded by dying leaves falling off trees and flowers dying and drying into seed, Fall can make us melancholy unless we remember that death creates new life.

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The good in Goodbye

One Meredith Wilson song in the 1962 film “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, is “Sincere.” Singing it, The Buffalo Bills lament, “where is the sin in sincere, what is good in goodbye?”

Goodbyes can be good.

This is the time of year in Fortrose-Rosemarkie, Scotland, when adult seagulls say goodbye to their young. Hearing the frantic, anxious calls of the abandoned youngsters rips my heart. The baby seagulls don’t understand why parents that have so lovingly cared for them suddenly leave and ignore their agonized cries. Big, fluffy, grey baby gulls walk along the edge of the water and sit on rooftops calling their absent parents. But this time, no matter how gut-wrenching the cries – the parents don’t respond.

I wonder if it is as hard on the parents to ignore the hurt cries of their young as it is on me. If so, they ignore the sharp, biting heart pains and distance themselves – using the wisdom God instilled in them – so the babies will be forced to exercise the feeding and flying skills that the parents have so diligently taught them. If they continued to care for their babies, the babies would continue to live on handouts and never learn self-sufficiency. A winged example of the popular cliché “tough love.”

All parents experience the hurt and learn the benefits of goodbyes when their children are still young. Goodbyes are a part of sending children to school to learn, sending them to visit grandparents and friends, sending them to summer camps…sending them away to universities, jobs, and distant locations. Without the goodbyes, children would never grow into their full potential and learn God’s will for their lives. Goodbyes can be good – but they still hurt.

The longest, hardest goodbye is when someone we love “dies.” It’s been nearly a year since my wonderful, talented son, USMC Major Luke Parker, “died” to this world. Perhaps my deep inner hurt and emptiness magnifies the anguished cries of the baby seagulls and makes me hypersensitive.

Everyone who has ever said goodbye to a loved one who departed from this world, however, has an advantage over those confused, lonely baby gulls. If we are Christians, we know that the separation is temporary. We will join our loved ones again in Heaven with Jesus lighting the way. What an awesome comfort! Death is not an end, it’s the doorway into eternity and the beginning of living a life without pain and loss.

As for the gulls…they are forced to use the life skills they have been taught. They will pass them on to their youngsters. But will they ever see their parents again? I hope so. I really hope so.

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If This is all There is to Life, Why was I Born?

With Easter Resurrection Sunday approaching, it seemed a good time to ask the question: if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

I don’t count my life as a total failure. My dream has always been to be an author and I have six Christian mystery-romance-suspense books published and another one featuring sassy Miz Mike – Bridge Beyond Betrayal – being released this summer by Sunpenny Publishing.

Yet, I’ve never had as much money as other people have; I’ve never driven as new a vehicle as most people do; I’ve never lived in as grand a house as many people do; never been able to spend lavishly on Christmas gifts for other people at Christmas, or buy expensive gifts for others during the rest of the year. Because I haven’t been able to afford it, I’ve never been on a cruise; never gone to Disney Land; never taken a vacation to Greece or Rome or some other exotic place. So if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

I’ve had problems, trials, troubles, heartbreaks and sorrow. Having two abortions forced on me to hide the crime of constant childhood sexual abuse inflicted on me; escaping that abuse and living under a bridge; being cold, tired, hungry and despairing; spending years as a single parent and working two to three jobs to make ends meet; caring for a husband who died from cancer, and the most recent tragedy – the loss of my 37-year-old son in a plane crash. So if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

First of all, I don’t have a patent on hardships. My landscape is not the only one darkened by life’s storms. Job 5:17, written in 1520 BC, states, “A man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Job would know. All in one day he lost everything he possessed on earth, including his children. All he had left was his wife. She told him to curse God and die. Job replied, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”

I am fortunate to have a loving, supporting husband in fellow author Alan T McKean (time travel series The Scent of Home, The Scent of Time) who stands beside me under the darkest clouds as a bright light and never tempts me to tempt God.

Most encouraging, this is not all there is to life. Jesus, the Son of God, was born to a human in human form so that He could experience everything we do as non-deities and set the example of resisting temptation, loving one another, and obeying God. Jesus came to earth to die. After healing multitudes of people from multitudes of illnesses, diseases, injuries and infirmities, He allowed Himself to be lifted up on a cross to die that we might live. Nails didn’t hold Jesus to the cross, love did.

The story doesn’t end there. After three days – after going to hell and wresting the keys of death and hell away from satan – Jesus rose from the grave victorious! Because He lives, we know that we will live again. Death is an illusion. Death is not an ending – it is the beginning of eternal life with God.

Victory in Jesus!

Bring on the sorrows, trials, problems, temptations, illness and hurts. They are temporary. Jesus is eternal.

I’m glad I was born.

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