Joy, Real Joy

 

Dunoon, Scotland sponsored a great event this past weekend, the Cowal Highland Gathering. Tens of thousands attended to watch and participate in the dancing and pipe and drum band competitions. The event wrapped up with a parade down the main street in Dunoon and fireworks at Argyll Ferries.

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The event is so popular that Western Ferries operated a four-boat service with around 550 sailings over a five-day period, and Argyll Ferries operated a three-vessel service during the games on Saturday. It was fun. It was wonderful to see families celebrating together and neighbors greeting one another. I loved watching the dogs that attended the event, so proud to be there with their families.

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It was great fun—but not all of it was joy. Sadly, we watched a teen stumble up the steps to the main street, marijuana joint in hand, pausing to pass it around to his buddies. The kid was so wiped out that he couldn’t walk—he could barely stand. That is not joy.

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Psalm 16:11 says that the fullness of joy is found in the presence of the Lord. Jesus said that the secret of full joy is found in living for Him. The games were fun and entertaining, but those of us who met at New Life Christian Fellowship on Sunday after the games experienced real, lasting joy; joy so full and overflowing that we took it home with us.

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The Change Rose

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Another name for hydrangeas is “change roses.” Hydrangeas are small bushes in the southern U.S. where I grew up. In Scotland with all the rain, they can grow into small trees.

Size is not what earned hydrangeas they nickname “change roses.” They range in color from white, to blue, to light purple, to dark purple, to pink, to red. White hydrangeas lack color pigment and can’t be manipulated to change their colors. The color of other hydrangeas depends on the presence of aluminum ions in the soil and how the plant absorbs them according to the acidity of the soil.

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We are like hydrangeas. What surrounds us that we see, hear, and read changes the focus of our hearts and the direction of our thoughts. Immerse ourselves in negativity, profanity, and impure thoughts and we become soiled like a white garment before flood waters. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

 

IMG_3886The good news about being change roses is that we control the change. We have freedom to decide what we allow to enter through our ears and eyes and what we allow to come out of our mouths. Hydrangeas are static and have no choice but to absorb the soil around their roots and bloom accordingly. We can change our soil by moving: getting up to turn off the TV; refusing to allow negative or toxic people to rent space in our minds; turning a polluted conversation into a clean conversation, going for a walk to remove ourselves from human contamination.

My goal as an author and as a Christian is to keep the soil around my roots pure and bloom for the Lord.

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Mysteries

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I love mysteries. When I was a child, I read every Erle Stanley Gardner “Perry Mason,” and “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine” I could find.

Recently I purchased a kindle book with an intriguing title, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t a mystery. I finished reading it and left a review for the author, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy mysteries.

So much of life is mysterious, especially in our human relationship with God. I’ve often asked God, “How do you do it? How do you give me ideas for books and help me write them?” Some might mistakenly claim that I labor under false humility. I don’t. God writes; I type. I have 19 published books.

My hope is that readers will enjoy “The Fog Busters—Old Bones Detectives.” Alec is nearly blind, John and Peg are nearly deaf, Morag is on a crutch, and the two youngest members of the amateur detective agency—Rory and Susan—are 60. The clean-reading, Christian cozy mystery is intended to entertain older readers, but the gentle humor should entertain readers of any age.

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When the Lord gave me the idea for the new mystery series two years ago, I made excuses for not writing them. I told God that I couldn’t write older Scottish characters because, having grown up in Texas, I wouldn’t understand Scottish-born people well enough to write convincingly. When I quit making excuses and started writing, the Lord took over.

“Black Pudding Murder” will be released soon. It’s been fun to write, but the real mystery isn’t in the book…it’s in how the Lord got involved to make it happen.

Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”  I guess even God is into mysteries.

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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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Conversation Stopper

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus some 740 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah may have been martyred—sawn in two—during the reign of Manasseh for speaking truth. He condemned the wealthy for oppressing the poor; he condemned women who neglected their families in the quest of carnal pleasure; he condemned priests and prophets who became drunken men-pleasers instead of teaching and keeping God’s law.

Isaiah declared God’s displeasure with sin and endeavored to turn his generation away from disobedience to God. He paved a foundation of hope and promise for those who remained true to God by telling them about the birth of Jesus, Savior and Redeemer.

Speaking out against sin and injustice, Isaiah said, “Woe unto…” Yet after he had a vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, Isaiah said of himself, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) Faced with God’s holiness, Isaiah realized that the same sinfulness he had prophesied against in others was found within himself.

That’s why I wrote gritty, real “Killer Conversations.” I’ve been criticized because the narrative of child abuse creating a serial killer is not a fairy tale—it’s painful and haunting. It’s the only book I’ve ever written that has received a one-star review. As Christians, we sometimes use what we perceive as our goodness as an excuse to criticize others. We use the fact that we don’t smoke, drink, curse, etc. as a battering ram against other believers. It’s a temptation to set ourselves up and put others down. We forget: “There by the grace of God go I.”

The Price of Beauty

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For some reason, folks harbor a love affair with snow. They pen poetry about snow, create paintings of snow, feature snow on Christmas cards. They think it’s beautiful.

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Beauty has a price. The same clean whiteness that lights up Christmas cards also clogs roadways, causes accidents, makes structures collapse, shuts down power, closes schools and hospitals, and kills living creatures

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Lush lawns must be mowed. Colorful gardens must be weeded. Beautiful animals must be fed, watered, exercised, brushed, and taken to vet clinics. Lovely homes must be painted and maintained. Beauty comes with a price.

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The only free beauty I know of is God’s. Heaven will be more beautiful than anything we can imagine from our earthly focus. Psalm 27:4, “one thing I have desired of the LORD that I will seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life and behold the beauty of the LORD.”

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Oh…wait a minute. Heaven is not free. It cost the life of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

But Heaven’s beauty is free for us, because Jesus paid the entry fee.

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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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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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The Biggest Losers

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Look up loser or biggest loser on the internet and you will find folks who have lost huge amounts of weight—or huge amounts of money. These are not the biggest losers.

The biggest losers are those—no matter how successful, professional, or well known—who find no joy in a child’s smile, a kitten’s soft fur, or the unconditional love looking back at them from the eyes of a dog. The biggest losers are those who have never stopped in awe to enjoy the riotous glory of spring wildflowers, a flaming sunrise, or a full moon playing tag with night-touched clouds.

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The biggest losers are those so seeped in their own self-importance that they have no time to notice the tears on a lonely face, the meager clothing and frail frame of the homeless, the expectant face of an elderly person hoping for a greeting.

The biggest losers are those who have no time to contemplate God and the perfection of creation, no time to sit in church and feed their souls, no time to give any of their time to help another person, a homeless animal, or a needy charitable organization.

Biggest losers of weight are applauded. Biggest losers of money are scorned. God is only interested in one kind of loss—sin.

“Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13, 14.

Biggest losers, biggest winners.

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Mysteries

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I love mysteries. That’s why I write them.

One of my recent blogs showcased a mystery about the “angel bus.” I was in downtown Inverness waiting for a city bus that never came. The overhead sign kept promising the bus would arrive—but it never did. It was freezing with sleety rain and my fingers were numb and throbbing even inside gloves. Finally an old white bus with no city markings and no lettering at all limped to a stop in front of me and the door opened. When I asked the driver if the bus went to the retail park, he said, “If that’s where you want to go.” I got on the bus. It was empty. Momentarily, I thought I had been kidnapped, but quickly dismissed that idea. I’m too poor to garner a ransom. The old bus deposited me at my location. I’ve been back to Inverness several times since then. I have never seen that bus again. To me, it will always be an angel bus.

Now the mystery of the angel glove—or more aptly—the glove that an angel returned. This close to Christmas, with extra services and visiting, the last thing a pastor has time (or money) to do is rush into the city to buy a pair of new gloves, yet one of Alan’s gloves was missing. We hunted for it in the house. We crawled around on our hands and knees searching the car. We walked the cement slab path between the car and the house several times. We looked under the rosebushes. No glove.

Yesterday, after several days of vainly pursuing said lost glove and trying to figure out a good time to go into town to buy a new pair before the forecast winter weather mix hit—we found the missing glove. In plain sight. I was returning from handing out Christmas cards and cookies when I spotted the lost glove right beside the cement slab path where we had searched so diligently. We use that path several times a day.

Doubters will claim that neither Alan or I are getting any younger and that at our age, the eyes can fail. Doubters will claim that it’s a busy time of year and we were just too rushed to look as conscientiously for the lost glove as we thought we had. If doubters are happy walking around under their weight of normalcy, that’s fine. But I love mysteries! I love solving mysteries. My solution to this mystery is that the glove was indeed lost. Alan had accidentally dropped it somewhere between our house and Inverness. God realized our low ebb of money and energy—and He sent an angel to bring it back to us.

God loves His human creations so much that He intervenes in their daily lives to bring them joy. He sent Jesus to us as a gift for eternity and the angels sang over His birth with joy. Our Christmas glove brings us joy. I have my angel bus—Alan has his angel glove.

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