I love Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems.
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?
As a child I couldn’t understand why parents would make their children go to bed so early that the sky would still be clear and blue, because where we lived it was always dark by bedtime. Epiphany. Living in Scotland one discovers that in the summer it stays light until 11 p.m. A reminder that not everyone experiences the same things in life. Not everyone likes the same food, the same style of dress, the same vocations, or the same anything else. We are all individuals and we are all shaped by our past experiences—even one so seemingly insignificant as the length of day and night where we live.
When we meet others whose ways seem strange to us—we should remember that because of our different backgrounds, our ways likely seem strange to them. Living in a different country than the country of one’s birth presents perception challenges even when the same language is spoken.
For all of y’all from Texas and the South U.S., tea over here is hot—not a sweetened icy beverage that you drink sitting on your porch while you’re visiting with family and friends. Houses over here don’t have porches. “Hot dogs” come in jars—not from the cold meat section of a grocery store. There are no dill pickles, Nestle’s chocolate chips, blue cheese dressing, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, or chicken fried steaks—and God bless your pea-picking heart if you’re a woman with size 11 feet—because women’s shoes only go up to size 9.
The light switch for the bathroom is outside the bathroom, not inside, and there no plug outlets in the bathroom for hairdryers, etc. Refrigerators are small. Ours, which is about the average size of the ones here would fit inside a U.S. fridge and only take up half the room. When it gets above 21 Celsius (70 degrees F) here folks say they are “broiling,” and when you explain that summer in Texas means days of 100-plus F temps (37C)—they don’t believe it.
However, it is the similarly in people, not the differences that matter. God created us all and He loves us all. He has no favorite person and no favorite country. And no matter what time it gets dark in our corner of the world—God is as close as our next heartbeat.
“The angel of the LORD encamps all around those who fear Him.” Psalm 34:7
It’s easy for me to thank God for everything He has given me—but things He has withheld from me?
When husband Alan retired after 35 years in the ministry he was offered a Church of Scotland rental house at a reduced rate. The first house we looked at was in Grantown-on-Spey—and we loved it. We told the property manager that we would take it…only to be informed that neighbors who had seen us looking at it had decided to purchase it.
God withheld living in Grantown-on-Spey from us and we never knew why until a few days ago when we made a six-hour trip there to visit friends. The area is beautiful, but after two days—we were becoming claustrophobic. Tall fir-tree-clad mountains held Grantown-on-Spey like the sides of a bowl. No, make that a mug. They were tall. Even worse—it was cold. We were miserable. The day we left, blowing snow covered everything. It was already an inch thick before we left. As we got closer to Dunoon, the snow ended. The temperature climbed—as much as it ever climbs in Scotland!
God has withheld other things from me. Singing. My sisters and I memorized songs from every musical and sang them loudly and joyously—to the horror of our parents who could sing on key and in tune. I still have no idea what keys have to do with singing. They unlock doors. As for singing—that’s easy. You just follow the voices and go up and down when they do. In my childhood mind, I sounded just like Julie Andrews, even the accent. But here in Scotland, folks don’t think I sound like Julie Andrews. They ask, “What part of the States are you from?” As for singing, people in different churches I’ve attended say, “Don’t worry if you can’t sing. The Bible says to make a joyful noise to the Lord.” Still, I’m never invited to lead praise or join the choir.
When I changed my major to drama at LaGrange College in Georgia, I wanted desperately to sing. Julie Andrews, right? I wanted the leading female role in the summer musicals we staged at Calloway Gardens. Instead of being awarded even a minor role or a place in the choir, however, I wound up painting backdrops for the productions. They trusted me with a paintbrush, but not with those illusive keys in the sky that I can’t see or hear.
What a blessing that God withheld singing from me. If I could sing, I wouldn’t write. I love singing so much that I would chase the will-o’-the-wisp of fame and fortune and knock down those doors that are locked by that key that I’ll never fathom. Instead, I have 31 published books and another one in progress.
And, instead, I’m a Christian. None of my drama department buddies were Christians. Since I thought I was an atheist back then, I fit right in. I would have continued a lifetime of travel on crowded, busy roads, too rushed and too frantic to hear God’s still small voice.
In Revelation 1:18 Jesus says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. And because He lives—I am glad He withheld singing from me and allowed me to exchange those mystery keys for the keys to Heaven.
When the Lord gave me a children’s book story involving birds, I wrote it. It hasn’t been released yet for publication, but it is finished and waiting.
However, I wrote the story because of the Lord’s inspiration. I didn’t stop to think about birds—they were just the right vehicle to carry the story. I have seen small birds defend their nests from huge predators. I’ve been attacked by seagulls for getting too close to their nests. One of my heartwarming memories is the bird couple that built a nest in my garden center and became so attached to me that—thinking that I needed protection—they squared off against a hawk. When their babies left the nest for the first time, the babies hopped up into my lap for a visit before they flew away.
Most birds mate for life. One of my heartbreaking memories is getting home just in time to see a large raccoon lumber across our neighbor’s yard with blue feathers sticking out of both sides of its mouth and a California scrub jay desperately attacking the coon in an unsuccessful attempt to save its mate. The poor bird sat in the tree where his spouse lost her life for days emitting ear-shattering cries of anguish.
Still, I never realized the nobility of birds until this spring. Perhaps it’s the covid-slowed world that made me recognize it. Birds do. They simply do. They do what God has created them to do. They don’t wait for recognition from a music award ceremony or accolades from their church choir before they sing the songs the Creator of the universe gave them to sing…they just do.
Birds don’t wait for favorable or comfortable conditions to gather food. They do. They just do.
Birds don’t wait for good weather to collect material for their nests…they do. They just do. Birds simply do what God created them to. Without complaining. Without stopping. Without procrastination. Without recognition. Without complaining. And with the courage to send off a predator ten times their size.
The world would be a better place if humans practiced the nobility of birds. If they learned to do what God has created them to do. Without complaining. Without stopping. Without procrastination. Without recognition. Without complaining. And with courage, not fear.
“And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
One of my favorite songs is “The Impossible Dream,” written by Joe Darion and composed by Mitch Leigh. It is the most popular song from the musical “Man of la Mancha.
To dream the impossible dream To fight the unbeatable foe To bear with unbearable sorrow To run where the brave dare not go.
To right the unrightable wrong To be better far than you are To try when your arms are too weary To reach the unreachable star
This is my quest, to follow that star, No matter how hopeless, no matter how far…
I love Man of La Mancha. I love “crazy” knight Don Quixote who tilts at windmills and lives to the extreme rather than allowing his dreams and visions to be tamed by society and turned into cookie-cutter realities.
I’ve spent my entire life and writing career encouraging others to reach for their dreams. I will probably spend the rest of my life giving the same advice. Yet, a comment from a neighbor recently made me realize that perhaps our dreams should in some way be possible. For example, I dreamed of being in my drama department’s musical productions at college and becoming a famous singer. I can’t carry a tune.
This neighbor said, “My husband and I dreamed of buying a two-story house and retiring here. We did, but now our knees have gone and our dream has become a nightmare. We can’t get up and down the stairs—and that’s where our bedroom is.”
With God, all things are possible. All things are possible with God. But wisdom may be contained in knowing how to dream the possible and trust God for the impossible.
For the past two years I’ve seen a lovely child in our neighborhood, and each time I’ve seen her I’ve thought that she would make a stunning character for a book with her striking cobalt blue eyes framed by a sleek curtain of dark smoke-brown hair. Except…her eyes are not blue.
Had I written her in a book, her eyes would have been blue. Had I described her to the police for some reason, her eyes would have been blue. Had I painted a portrait of her from memory, her eyes would have been blue. But they are not blue.
I was shocked recently when I met her and realized that her eyes are an astonishingly deep, dark brown that I’ve never seen in eye color before—almost like dark chocolate, except deep and shining. I actually asked her mother if her eyes had changed color. They hadn’t. It was me. I had been mistaken.
At one time, I did not believe in God. I was every bit as certain that God did not exist as I was that the little girl in our neighborhood had blue eyes. I was mistaken.
God’s name is shouted throughout creation from the seed that grows into a vibrant flower to the stars in the universe. We can plant flowers. We can study flowers. We can engineer new colors and graft fruit trees—but only God can make a seed.
We can build telescopes. We can study stars and planets and name them. But only God can create them.
We can train doctors, and nurses, and scientists, and treat patients for disease or injuries—but only God walking on earth ever defeated death by rising from the dead.
None of us has direct vision. We all see through a filter of past events and experiences.
When I was four, my mother took me to an optometrist because she thought I couldn’t see clearly. She explained to the doctor, “She doesn’t color between the lines.” I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s what those lines are for.” It wasn’t that I couldn’t see them—it was that I was in love with color and spread my favorites thickly across the pages of coloring books in my own patterns and designs. After I knew about the lines—I used them.
When I was four and boarded a bus with my mother for the first time, I saw black people getting on and exclaimed, “Mom, look at all those poor sunburned people.” My embarrassed mom shushed me for my rudeness, but she didn’t understand. It wasn’t rudeness, it was compassion. I had never seen a person with black skin before. I hurt for them because I thought they were badly burned.
What we see depends on what we’ve seen before. None of us has direct vision.
Recently our collie returned to our local vet time and again dehydrated because she would not eat. Time and again, she was hooked her to a drip and we were assured that she was not too thin, and that perhaps—because she’s a smart dog—she played us, refusing to eat until she got something she liked.
None of the vets understood that Savannah…Would. Not. Eat. They had never seen her walk to her food, sniff it, make a face of human disgust, and walk away.
We finally got an appointment for Savannah at a vet hospital that had the equipment to examine her, and the first thing I heard from the vet was the inevitable, “She’s not a bad weight. Maybe we just need to adjust her food.” Her food has been adjusted so many times that we’ve given away cases and bags of various brands and kinds and still have cases more.
Again the questions. Again the subtle suggestion that I might be the problem because I worried too much. Again, the failure to comprehend the fact that Savannah… Would. Not. Eat.
Then the phone call that made me cry for two reasons. One reason, we have a sick little girl whose condition is chronic with few treatment options. And I am not an obsessed doggy mom who worries to distraction. There are physical reasons for Savannah’s lack of appetite: pancreatitis and an inflamed bowel. A vet finally saw the lines.
I was reminded of a Bible story. When Samuel was ordered by God to ordain a king from Jesse’s family, Jesse brought his sons to Samuel one at a time and God rejected all of them. Samuel asked if Jesse had any more sons. He had one more. David, a young boy who was out in the field with his father’s sheep. David, who later killed a giant with a rock and a slingshot. David who wrote most of the Psalms in the Bible. David, who became King David. David whose earthly lineage leads to Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.
When God chose David out of Jesse’s sons, he told Samuel, “The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
My mother—who freely admitted she was no cook—used basically one seasoning in everything she cooked. Seasoning Salt.
Me—who also freely admits that she is no cook—use basically one seasoning in everything I cook. Garlic Salt. It’s a good thing I resort to garlic salt. I’ve never seen seasoning salt here in Scotland.
Because of panic buying due to Covid-19, our store has been out of garlic salt for weeks. So when I found garlic salt today at our store I danced in the aisle. I reminded myself of a character in one of my books.
Life is about celebrating the little things in life.
And remembering to thank God for them. “In everything give thanks.” 1 Thes 5:18
Recent research proves that people in the U.S. who go to church live longer than those who don’t. No surprise. Psalm 119:50 says, “Your word has given me life.”
Worry, anxiety, and anger shorten lives. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious.” “Do not worry.” “Forgive others.”
Peace is a great life-extender. Philippians 4:7 promises, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Long life is not the reason to love God. The fact that God loves us is the reason to love Him. Every petal on every flower is a reason to praise God. Every day of sunrise and sunset is reason to serve God.
Church isn’t essential to love God—but it is essential to love God.
She was 82 years old and started out every morning praying, “I am helpless except in you, O Lord.”
Conception P. Manfil lived in a discarded wooden crate someone brought her from a freight train. She had bought property in Kingman, Arizona, sight unseen and moved there when she retired. When she arrived—she found she had bought an empty lot two miles from town. No water. No electricity. No neighbors.
For twenty years, Conception lived in her crate in the desert. Her only visitors were the prairie dogs that came in through her screen door. She shared her food with them.
Every day, Conception walked two miles to the nearest store to get water and carry it back to her house. Then arthritis hit. It was painful to walk and she hobbled—but she kept walking. Her Social Security checks were just a bit over $100 a month. She couldn’t afford transportation.
Every day, Conception prayed, “I am helpless except in you, O Lord.”
One day a salesman from the local newspaper stopped by. “I love your paper,” she told him. “I get it once a month when I have enough money left over from my Social Security at the end of the month to buy it at the store—but I can’t afford a subscription.”
He left. He came back. He asked if he could take some pictures. “I don’t have any money for pictures,” she said.
“It won’t cost you anything,” he said.
An amazing thing happened. A well driller stopped by and drilled a well. An electrician came and installed an electrical connection and lights. People showed up at Conception’s door with groceries, a refrigerator, clothes, a stove, dishes—and more gifts than Conception’s small crate could hold. Then a house builder arrived.
God had sent help to the 82-year-old woman who was helpless except in Him.
Coronavirus or not, God can do the same for us. We are all helpless except in the Lord Who made heaven and earth.