Loving Where You Live

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We live in Dunoon, Scotland. I love it. It’s beautiful and interesting—but the people make the difference. They are great.

Our rough collie Savannah just turned nine months old. For the past two months, she has battled constant diarrhea and wouldn’t eat. When her diarrhea started occurring every fifteen minutes, I called our local vet practice, Bute & Cowal Vets. Dr. Catriona MacIntyre got up out of bed and met us there at 3:00 a.m., sweeping aside apologies for interrupting her sleep. Savannah was no better on Saturday, so Catriona performed surgery, removing tissue for biopsies. When Savannah was worse on Monday, Catriona sent her to Glasgow to an emergency animal hospital. When Savannah started discharging blood and quickly fouled three diapers in a row, Catriona ran back and forth from her surgery to the taxi cab bringing towels, wet wipes, a huge roll of paper towels. By the time we arrived in Glasgow with Savannah, Catriona was already on the phone to them asking if Savannah had arrived yet and how she was doing.

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For the next three days, Savannah was in the hospital and Catriona called the hospital regularly to check on her. Moreover, when I called Clyde Taxi to schedule a trip home—the dispatcher and the driver who had taken us immediately asked how Savannah was doing.

We got back home to find FB messages and posts asking about Savannah, many from our New Life Christian Fellowship friends, many from FB friends, and some from complete strangers who had seen Savannah’s pictures on FB and who had been praying for her.

Dunoon is a great place to live. Wherever you live is a great place to live. In spite of negative and false news – so is this world. Love it, treasure it, be thankful for it. Neither this world – nor any of us – will last forever. But isn’t it good to know that wherever you live is a great place to be?

“And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17

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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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Stubbornness

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God has blessed us with a lovely, intelligent rough collie puppy. She has only one flaw—stubbornness. When she doesn’t want to go the way we are going it evolves into a tugging match and ends up with me dragging her.

It seems cruel to drag a puppy across the street or down the sidewalk—but when the light changes and cars are coming from both directions, or when there are workers ahead with dangerous equipment—dragging is a kindness that saves her life.

Stubbornness is an admirable trait in a writer. With 150 rejection slips from publishing companies in the U.S. and U.K.—I kept writing. With 40 years of disappointments and agony, I kept hitting the keys. My new Christian Cozy Mystery “Croft Murders,” featuring Mike the Headless rooster, Fiona the pouting rooster, and croft owner Nora whom someone wants to kill would not have been published without stubbornness.

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Nor would I be working on another book after the first review on “Croft Murders” was a three-star from a reader who said I didn’t know enough about Texas. I was born there and moved from Texas to Scotland eight years ago. Texas is indeed “a whole ‘nother country” with every climate and eco system imaginable. The tornado stricken, flat, snowy panhandle; the lovely Texas Hill Country with its plethora of wildlife; the nearly desert environs along the Mexico border; the east Texas piney woods and oil wells, and the west Texas mountains and Big Bend State Park. The reviewer apparently didn’t know much about home of my heart, the Texas Hill Country, because everything I mentioned about Texas in “Croft Murders” reflected a true experience.

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Savannah and I have worked out a compromise. As long as she’s in no physical danger, and as long as it’s not extremely important to go to any one particular place—I put the leash on her and follow her. Now before anyone reaches the conclusion that I’m a coward, or have never trained a dog before, I would just like to justify that compromise by pointing to…writing. Yup, all of y’all, writing.

The characters in my books come alive and take over the plot and action. Without dropping a spoiler about “Croft Murders,” before the characters took over, I planned a completely different outcome for Nora. Therefore, I can justify my decision to “go with the flow” where Savannah is concerned. I’m used to being dragged around.

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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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What I’ve Missed Most

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Spending time in the U.S. again, both in Florida and now in Texas, gives me a new foundation for making comparisons between Scotland—where I’ve spent the past seven years—and America. What I’ve missed most…

Family.

A plethora of churches, every denomination and non-denomination; plenty of “God Bless America” banners, and “Merry Christmas.”

Blue Cheese Dressing. For seven years, salads have never tasted this good.

Buffets. All you can eat from a colossal assortment of restaurants.

Free refills. On beverages at restaurants, along with wait staff who return several times, always with smiles and offers to top up iced tea, coffee, or sodas.

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Outdoor Christmas decorations replete with Nativity Scenes and awash with colored lights on houses, trees and along yard borders.

Sun and warm weather. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt in December.

Steak. Huge, affordable, tender steaks.

Houses of different colors. Here in Laredo, Texas, houses follow the rainbow. Outside colors include lilac, pink, turquoise, blue, purple, yellow, orange, magenta, lime green, red-brown, gold, Jesus Is Alive Green…house colors are only limited by the owner’s imagination and preference.

Cactus. Of all shapes and types—growing in yards and rock flowerbeds.

Wildlife. Including reptiles like turtles, snakes, and lizards.

Family. I’ve missed family most. Blue Cheese Dressing isn’t even in the running…really.

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Marine Climate & Common Sense

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Because I’m from Texas and grew up in southern U.S., I’m accustomed to hot temperatures and extended dry periods.

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Getting acclimatized to Dunoon, Scotland, has been a challenge. It doesn’t rain every day—it rains almost every day. It has probably reached 70F during the “summer” a few times, but it hasn’t gone much above that. Mostly, I wear the same number of layers, the same jackets—and at times even the same woolly hat—summer and winter.

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One of my pet peeves is labels because they are misused. Labels that judge, condemn and hurt are wrong and not beneficial. And I hate politically correct labels like calling abortion “choice” instead of murder, and attempting to soften the blow of transgression by calling sin “risky lifestyles.”

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Some labels create a chuckle: “Warning, take child out before washing.” Or on a garden implement: “Not intended for human consumption.” Way to go me; I eat hammers for breakfast and spit out nails for the rest of the day.

Now I’ve found a label that explains why we wash clothes and hang them around the house (rain outside) and it takes them three days to dry. We live in a “Marine Climate.”

Finally! A common sense label.

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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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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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Thistles, Statues & Vikings

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According to legend, the Scots won the last battle against invading Vikings on October 2, 1263 in Largs when invaders sneaking on shore to slaughter the sleeping Scottish army stepped on thistles and yowled in pain, alerting their victims.

True or false, thistles have been a symbol of Scotland for more than 500 years. And Largs is home to the Pencil, a 65-foot rounded stone tower constructed in 1912, as a memorial to the battle of Largs.

Largs is also home to 16-feet-tall “Magnus,” a statue presented to Largs in 2013 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Largs.

Visiting the tourist-driven seafront village reminded me that life is full of thistles that prick us, memories that overpower us, and giants that threaten us.

Thistles in our lives can be good—no matter how sharp their prick. Thistles remind us of Romans 8:28 in the Bible, “All things work together to good to those who love the Lord.” Walking on thistles is sometimes the road to victory.

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Like “Magnus,” giants come into our lives in the form of major illnesses, job loss, death of loved ones, or broken families. It is natural to cower before giants. They are huge. They are crushing. But we have the same promise today that David gave his son Solomon in 1015 BC, “Be strong and of good courage; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

Memories, like giants, can be crushing. But we have God’s promise in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”

We have victory in treading over thistles when we put on the whole armor of God including the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace. We have victory over giants when we call in reinforcement in the person and presence of God. We have victory over memories when we control them instead of allowing them to control us.

Victory or defeat. The choice is ours.

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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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