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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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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My Version of Hell

Most have probably heard the Biblical description of hell: a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies.

My version of hell is a bit different. Cold.

I like to inject humor into the things I write, both my books and my blog. But, honestly, I just don’t find cold or being cold funny.

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Cold was funny when we were kids. My siblings and I would throw lemon drops across the frozen pond and watch our Great Danes slip, slide, and skate across the ice to snatch the candy. We laughed like maniacs as the poor long-legged beasts sprawled time and again on the ice. But now…that seems cruel, not funny. What if the ice had broken and the dogs had drowned? What if they had broken their legs or sustained permanent soft tissue damage? Of course, we were out there slipping, sliding and falling right along with them.

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Seriously, how can one find humor in something like cold that can kill you? I remember the time we walked two miles to a neighbor’s house to get two adorable puppies with the idea that our parents would let us keep them once we had them. Wrong. They were the cutest bundles of fluffy brown and white that we had ever seen. We sneaked them past our house and stashed them temporarily in our neighbor’s barn. That meant walking through ice and snow several times a day to feed them, because it was an unusually cold winter. We all suffered frostbite. To this day, my fingers become numb and burn after only a short time in the cold—even when I’m wearing gloves, and my toes are not far behind. It was humiliating to be forced to return the puppies to their owner and admit that our parents would not let us keep them. We cried the two miles from our house to their house to take the precious pups back home. Yet what I remember being even more painful…was the cold.

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Another cold-induced misery I remember is when, as an adult, I went on a church outing in northern Nevada so Luke could have the joy of picking out his own Christmas tree. He had the proper coat and boots for the occasion, and although he got cold like the rest of us, I don’t remember him suffering. As a single parent, I had only been able to outfit one of us with water-proof boots. So while he tromped around in the snow with the other children, engaging in snow battles and building a snow fort while searching for the perfect tree, I walked around in tennis shoes. I think it was the next day before I could feel my toes again.

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Oh, and not to forget the time I caught a snake at the pond to see if it was poisonous or harmless. It was venomous. The water moccasin took exception to being caught and bit me. So while the hospital waited for the anti-venom to be flown in from Atlanta, they froze my arm in a tub of ice water. Once they administered the shot, they thawed my arm. To this day I’m not sure whether it hurt worse to have my arm freeze or thaw.

Nope. I do not find snow beautiful, nor do I weather cold climates well. I’m amazed that after five years of almost never being warm, I’m still in Scotland. It is a lovely country with scenic views in every direction…but it is COLD.

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So keep your Biblical version of hell as a place of raging fire and worms feeding off flesh. That’s the way Jesus described it and Jesus is always right. But I will keep my personal version of a place where it never warms up, my teeth are clattering like ice cubes hitting a glass, and every muscle in my body is stretched painfully tight until I feel like I’m shriveling up like an abandoned pumpkin after Thanksgiving. Oh, yes…and there would be fire in my version of hell because my fingers and toes would burn.

Thankfully, I won’t ever go to hell to see what it’s like because I have Jesus in my heart and He promised, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

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And, thankfully, readers—you won’t have to go find out for yourselves either. Sometimes the best knowledge and wisdom we possess comes not from sticking our hand in the flame to see if it really burns—but in watching someone else and making the decision not to follow their example.

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Cotton Candy Wolves

A viewer condemned the producer of a wildlife documentary for showing a wolf catching a rabbit and tossing the squealing victim into the air before tearing it into pieces and eating it. The viewer would have been pleased if the production team had taught the wolf to eat cotton candy instead.img_2026

While I might sound like I’m condemning the clueless viewer, I understand. I refuse to watch Old Yeller ever again and I know when to close my eyes during movies and wildlife documentaries.

Just think of a cotton candy world where everything is soft, fluffy, and sweet! Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

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It’s strange even to me that I write mystery-romance-suspense books with unhealthy doses of murder included. Perhaps it’s because my experience in the world so far—starting when I was a child rape victim—has included evil. Writing or reading cotton candy stories doesn’t appeal to me. Evil is real, alive, and lives in this world. Thankfully, so does good – and God gives everyone a choice. The battle between good and evil and the triumph of good is infinitely more fascinating to me than a diet of feathery sugar. And as Evan says in Texas Miz Mike’s Bridge to Brigadoon, “Aye, murder is nicer in books. We are safely distanced from it.”

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Dixie lived next door. She eschewed God and mocked Christians for reciting “do nots” while she “had fun” hanging out in local bars. She was seldom home and her young daughters often called out-of-town grandparents to rescue them when their mother vanished with a new conquest – often a just-released felon from prison. Dixie left this world at 34 in a motorcycle crash just down the road from her favorite bar.

Author Alan McKean’s mom recently turned 100 and received a birthday card signed by Queen Elizabeth II. God holds life and death in His hands. Only He knows the secret of longevity. However, I find it noteworthy that Alan’s mom reads from the Bible, sings hymns, and prays every day.

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Cotton candy wolves will exist in the future. Isaiah, Chapter 11 promises that after Jesus returns, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. The leopard shall lie down with the young goat. The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD.”

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A cotton candy world! Meanwhile…I’ll keep writing mystery-romance-suspense books with an unhealthy dose of murder thrown in because evil is real and present in this world and wolves don’t eat cotton candy…yet.

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