Not Perfect

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We live in Dunoon, Scotland, with good neighbors, friendly folks, a great church, a wonderful pastor, wife, and congregation—and plenty of walking places including along the banks of the Firth of Clyde where the wind whips the salty water and air into a fresh smell that thrills the soul. Walking the back streets of Dunoon in the afternoon is like stepping back in time to an Andy Griffith show: neighborhood children playing together and riding bikes on the sidewalks while the aroma of moms’ cooking steals out of open windows and hangs in the air.

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But Dunoon is not perfect. It’s not just the marine climate, cool temperatures, and scarcity of sun that mars the perfection of our retirement home—it’s that age-old spoiler of all good things—sin. If you lift up the outer edges of life here you see that just like in the rest of the world some people struggle with life-stealing addictions. There is a police station in Dunoon because there is crime, just as there has been on the earth since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the one tree in the entire Garden of Eden that God commanded them not to. Sin never stays small and manageable—it grows and morphs into a monster that kills, steals, and destroys.

Enter Treasury. That’s the world I created from the Bible for my Christian Fantasy, “Voices in the Wind,” which has earned an orange flag as a bestseller and already has one 5-Star review now—mere days after its release. Treasury is such an alluring place to be that I run there at night and hide in its beauty if I have trouble getting to sleep. Treasury is much like Heaven—yet it is not perfect. Rhoda lifts up the curtain of rain and finds herself in Treasury, but must prove her right to stay there by crossing a divide, climbing Verboten Mountain and engaging huge Bullet Train Ants, enormous serpents, armed warriors, and Dino Birds in her bid to stay in Treasury and marry her soul mate. But Rhoda’s cruelest enemy proves to be human.

Treasury is not perfect. Only Heaven, created by God, is perfect. The Bible assures us that once we get to Heaven we will have new bodies and there will be no more sorrow, tears, pain, illness, or parting. Nothing that defiles will be admitted to Heaven. So if you haven’t already joined the throng for Heaven, come on aboard. Believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved. He is driving the train.

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It’s Not the Bombs

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When I was a kid, a siren would sound and we would scramble under our desks to protect ourselves from bombs. I did what I was told. I had no idea what a bomb was or what destruction it would cause. I know about destruction now – and it’s not from bombs.

When I was a kid, our parents would send us out into the yard to dig bomb shelters in the Georgia red clay banks surrounding our house. They weren’t really worried about bombs – they just wanted to keep us occupied. But I know about destruction now – and it’s not from bombs.

Addiction costs the US an estimated $559 billion a year, with $193 billion of that being from alcohol. It costs the UK an estimated 21 billion pounds a year, with 100 billion of that being from alcohol.

But the real cost of addiction is hidden: shattered families, abused and neglected children, abused and dumped pets, vehicle crashes, murder. An alcoholic with a long string of previous arrests shot my brother Greg to death when Greg was 21. (Greg with our pet lion, Eb.)

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 An alcoholic who already had two DUIs crashed into our truck, totaled it, and caused permanent spinal damage to my cancer-suffering husband. A drug addict ran up so much debt against my property that I lost it. All these incidents dropped off the string of statistic-takers’ figures: hidden costs of addiction that cause lifelong hurt and torment for overlooked victims.

The solution is simple. Learn and accept these truths from the Bible and teach them to our children: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians)

Would you stick a cigarette into Jesus’ mouth? Would you hand him a beer or pills to pop? If you are wise enough to realize that God would be offended by these things – keep garbage out of your own mouth and set that example for your children. It’s not the bombs that destroy our lives. It’s the addictions.

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How Does God Do That?

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Sometimes when I’m extremely tired and have life bullets zinging off me in a crazy pattern that doesn’t seem to make sense I have to dig deep into my store of faith to keep believing in God. I spent the first 20-plus years of my life thinking I was an atheist and when I got saved and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my mother thought I was unbalanced and emotionally unstable.

Mom viewed everything strange in life as “coincidence.” Her favorite catch phrase when I tried to share something remarkable God had done in my life was, “That’s coincidence.”

God loves me so much that when I’m digging deep within my heart to rediscover my roots of faith—He sends me a Godincidence. He does something that only He could have done.

We live in a small house built on grounds where a gospel church used to stand. The church has been gone at least 10 years. Today we got a large envelope addressed to “Gospel Hall.”

We had no idea who to contact about the mail, or what to do with it. When I took our 11-week-old collie pup on a walk, she walked further than she usually does. On the way back I spotted an orange cat in a back yard. I stopped to show Savannah the cat. “That’s a cat,” I told her. As I stood there, a woman opened a second story window to throw birdseed down into her yard. She asked about Savannah’s name and age, and said she was on her way to the Gospel Hall in another village. I told her about the envelope I had received just a few hours earlier and she was as astonished as I was. We made plans to exchange the envelope. A Godincidence.

Why is it a Godincidence? I don’t usually walk Savannah at that time or in that direction. I had never walked her that far before. Had the timing not be orchestrated by God, I would not have been standing there at the precise moment the homeowner opened the window to dispense birdseed. Had we not spoken to one another—I would never have known she went to the Gospel Hall, and she would never have known that I had the envelope. Only God could have worked out all those details.

How does God do things like that? I don’t know, but I know He does. And knowing it’s a God thing holds my roots of faith firmly in place when the gale force winds of adversity strike.

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Sacrifice of Love

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Love this Christian song, “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.” Believe me—reading the words are far more enjoyable than listening to me sing them.

Having a puppy in the house again after so many years reminds me of having a baby: the same lack of sleep, the same getting up incredibly early, potty training, picking up after, vigilant for potential dangers inside and out. It’s exhausting.

It’s also fun. While our rough collie puppy Savannah has brought an increased workload into the house, she has also brought increased joy and laughter. Love is worth the sacrifice—and love always demands sacrifice.

Media in the physical world likes to portray love free from danger, sacrifice, and commitment.  “Free” love doesn’t exist.

The greatest love story of all time epitomizes the foundation of love, a foundation that never shifts regardless of how society shoves and beats against it in an effort to bully it into their agenda.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for friends.” Jesus. (John 15:13)

Love is beautiful. Everyone needs love. Everyone wants love. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice for love.

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Loving Rocks

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I love rocks.

I’ve loved rocks since I was a toddler. This I know because one of my earliest memories is my mother’s command to put the rocks down and quit carrying them around before I drop them on my toes. Which I did. But silently, no matter how much it hurt, because Mom also said, “Don’t come crying to me when you drop that rock on your toes.”

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Scotland is intriguing for rock lovers, with amazing rock walls which date back to the 17th century. They were built by hand without masonry cement, without modern tools, and on every landscape gradient. They were built with rocks gathered from the fields, not quarried or cut. Hundreds of years later, they stand.

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I’d like my life to be like a Scottish rock wall and leave something enduring behind. But nothing I accomplish will cleave to history with the tenacity and durability of Scottish dry stone walls.

When my temporary life on earth ends, I will join the Rock of Ages in Heaven. “The LORD is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength in whom I will trust…I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised.” 2 Samuel 22:47.

Jesus, the Rock of eternity, the whisper of the next breath.

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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.”