Things to Remember; Things to Forget

view from Hillfoot Street Dunoon

So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

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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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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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Looking for Gold in All the Wrong Places

It was 1982, and I knew all the warnings about picking up hitchhikers. But this was a couple at the edge of the dreaded 40-mile desert between Fernley and Lovelock, Nevada – and surely picking up a couple was safe, right?

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My six-year-old son was with me in the cab of our little Ford Ranger truck, but Danni and Sam said they would ride in the back. I felt even better after that. How could they present a danger riding in the back?

They explained they were homeless and working their way to California where they hoped to start a Christmas tree farm. I told them I could take them only as far as Lovelock.  I was working for friends at their gold mine. Danni and Sam insisted that they would love to work there, too. Ed and Clo were in their 70s and welcomed all the help they could get. Their mine was 14 miles from a paved road and 40 miles from the nearest town. No electricity or running water. So…I took Danni and Sam with me.

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Luke and I could only spend the weekend. I had to return to my regular job, and he had to return to school. Two weeks later, we returned to the mine. Not seeing Danni and Sam, we asked about them. Ed and Clo chuckled, then Ed sat back in his chair and roared with laughter.

“Well, girl, it was like this,” he finally said, wiping tears off his leathery face. “Danni and Clo got along real good. Sam and me…not so good. He didn’t want to haul water, dig fence posts, run the dozer, drive the dump truck, or shovel gravel into the wet washer. He complained ‘bout not getting run to town. Didn’t understand why we couldn’t make that 80-mile round trip ‘cepting a couple of times a month. Didn’t like watching out for rattlers, using the outhouse, or listening to the coyotes at night.

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“Clo and me had to run to Lovelock to get family when their truck broke down. Felt sure them kids would want to go with us, but Sam said they’d stay here and work.” Ed rumbled with laughter. “Oh, they worked!

“You know the shed where I do all the welding? Well, Sam snooped around in there while he was lazing off and found brass dross on the floor from welding. Thought it was gold. So them kids scrapped up every bit of dross they could find. They got the keys to that old truck that don’t hardly run, and headed to Winnemucca to sell their gold. Truck broke down on ‘em, so they left it sitting on the side of the road and went by foot until they could catch a ride. When they showed up in Winnemucca to sell their gold at the assay office, they got arrested on outstanding warrants from Reno. Breaking and entering, theft, burglary…reckon they won’t be coming back here to work for quite a bit, girl.”

The funny part about this story is that there was gold – real gold at the mine. Ed kept a big locked box under their bed. It was full of gold, including the 10-ounce gold nugget with embedded crystal, worth a huge chunk of money. Sam and Danni could have been rich…but they went looking for gold in the wrong places.

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Sadly, had Sam and Danni stayed with Ed and Clo, they would have garnered real riches. Ed was generous and paid well. Anyone who visited the mine was handed a metal detector. Any gold they found, they could keep. With no electricity, nights were spent laughing, talking, and playing board games under a kerosene lantern. So far out in the desert without city distractions, the feeling of health and freedom was so poignant that it brought tears to the eyes. That was real gold.

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Sam and Danni turned their back on real gold for worthless brass doss and prison bars. But not to judge them. So many do the same thing by choosing this world’s temporary wealth over eternal riches that will never rust or corrode or be stolen.

Real gold is found in God. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” 1 Timothy 6:17.

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Rain…And Then Some

Joyful that it was out, I spun around to look into the sun…and found it was a streetlight. It was nine o’clock in the morning and so rainy and misty that all the street lights were still on. Rain. And. Then. Some.

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A worker was out diligently mowing a huge expanse of grass with a handheld weed eater. Here in Scotland, they call them strimmers. I was astonished. I had never seen anyone out mowing the grass before in the rain. Then I remembered: it rains here every day. Rain. And. Then. Some.

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Sometimes our lives are filled with rain—and—then some. Illness, pain, relationship problems, financial worries, tragedy…unremitting storms rock our lives and threaten to capsize our joy and scuttle our desire to keep on sailing.

When that happens, it is easy to distance oneself from God and question His existence. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, always-present God let bad things happen? Why would He allow bad things to happen to us?

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Rain. And. Then. Some. But every raindrop, every dreary day presents an opportunity to draw close to God and build our faith. Without storms to strengthen them, tree roots would not dig into the soil and tether mighty trees. If our lives were easy, filled with fun, sunshiny days, we would never mature and grow equal to the task of living full, abundant lives.

The same rain that makes us groan when we focus on our discomfort sends a shower of beauty across the land and provides life-giving moisture for all of God’s creation. Rain. And. Then. Some.

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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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Non-Verbal Communication

Our dog Angel Joy is skilled in non-verbal communication. Without using words—or even her voice—she chooses directions on walks, tells us when to refill her food dish, when to stop everything and spend time with her, and when it’s bedtime. Sometimes she uses her voice to remind us of when it’s time to take her pills or when she deserves a treat, but those reminders are elucidated without benefit of words.

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Words are not needed to convey the emotions behind a child’s tears, a smile, a hug, a kiss. Without words, a person’s face transmits messages: a grimace of pain, a glimmer of amusement, joy and expectation, despair and disillusionment. Words are powerful, the swords of our spirits, but non-verbal communication can be equally powerful.

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Even silence speaks. The quiet of an enchanting forest, the sparks of glory in a sunrise, the rolling splendor of an unspoiled landscape, the marvel of flower faces.

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As a writer, I love words. It’s hard to admit that the world can survive and continue without the addition of my words. Foolish pride. No matter how much time I put into crafting a perfect sentence, my words fall short of describing or explaining this marvelous universe created by God.

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“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1. A witness without words.

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Yet, as writers, we use our words. Words keep us alive. Thankfully, sometimes they are needed.

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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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Crutches

Atheists attack Christians for using their faith as a “crutch.” Having just completed a 4,000-mile trip to visit family in the U.S., I am forever indebted to crutches.

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Not that I initially planned to include crutches on the trip. Oh, no! This Texan was going to meet family standing tall and straight in her own strength and leave the crutches at home. However, while I was born Texan, one hip must have come from a neighboring state. When we left on the trip, the crutches traveled with us. What a blessing they were!

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First, they helped me walk – especially on those long stretches through multiple airports. An unexpected benefit was preferential treatment. I never requested help. I confidentially swung along the endless corridors on metal crutches. Airport personnel, however, put Alan and I at the front of the lines and even changed our seats to the front of the plane for one flight. On two of the flights, we would have missed our connections had it not been for the hated crutches. We were personally walked through the additional boarding pass we needed and then Security by an American Airlines employee (I called him our angel since the plane was already boarding by the time we got there). Next, we were whisked through the endless reaches of airport terminals on a wheelchair – or at least – I was in the wheelchair. Without that “crutch,” we would have missed our flight.

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Visiting SeaWorld with granddaughter Dulcinea and her mom won further accolades for the resented crutches. Crutches transformed into a wheelchair which sent us to the front of long lines. It was not planned, it just happened. While I had eschewed the use of crutches on the trip and feared they would be an embarrassment – my granddaughter and her mom were thrilled at how beneficial they proved.

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But the main benefit of crutches proved my restored belief in people’s kindness. Everywhere I walked on crutches, strangers of both sexes and every ethnicity rushed to help me. With smiling faces and sympathetic nods, they lifted and carried my bags and opened doors. With all the negative news focusing on violence and hatred around the world, what a blessing to find out that kindness is alive and operating generously.

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I’ve repented and asked God’s forgiveness for my resentful attitude about the crutches. Even though I know and believe my two favorite Bible verses, “in everything give thanks,” and “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord,” my pride took a hit from my mobility weakness. God transformed the crutchy experience into a beneficial one.

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Another favorite verse of mine has always been “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5 & 6.

So…is Christianity a crutch? Hey, who cares? Crutches rock!

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