Understanding Old Folks

This morning I put on a pair of white socks with sandals. Fashion faux pas? I don’t care. My feet were cold.

We laughed at my grandmother when we were kids. She never wore anything except dresses and sandals. And when her feet were cold—she added socks. She didn’t care what color they were—she just wanted warm feet. I understand now.

We laughed at Grandmother for believing in God. No matter how many people laughed and ridiculed her, Grandmother never lost her faith.

She was prejudiced. We made fun of her for that, too, but she made the best desserts on the planet—and she often cooked for all nine of us in the family (Seven children, three adults). Simply put, my mother was not a cook. My grandmother was. She taught me to make chicken gravy, yeast rolls, and from-scratch hot chocolate—which we called cocoa.

Grandmother was tough. When she was in her late 50s, Grandmother traveled the width of the U.S. in a wood-paneled station wagon, cooked meals over an open fire, and helped my father build a log cabin in the middle of nowhere.

Grandmother was stubborn. When she was in her 60s, she got stung by hundreds of hornets. She was deathly ill and should have gone to the hospital, but she refused because she was too sick to put on her make-up. She never went anywhere without putting on her makeup.

When Grandmother was in her 70s, she lived on a boat in the middle of the river and paddled a rowboat to get to shore. One day while I was visiting my family in the middle of the river I heard a commotion and ran to the source only to find Grandmother hanging upside down on the metal extension ladder that led from the deck down to the kitchen. Grandmother wasn’t upset about hanging upside down, nor was she worried that she might be injured—she was furious that her dress had flown up over her head and her panties were showing.

Grandmother lived into her 90s. When she left the family, she lived on her own with a parrot that bit everyone except her. This was no ordinary bird. His first word was a commercial slogan he heard on TV: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” When Popeye bit someone—he laughed. When he flew off Grandmother’s shoulder and a truck ran over him, he hopped to the curb, flew back up to Grandmother’s shoulder and said, “Poor Popeye.” Every morning he said, “Maybelle, toast, coffee.”

Grandmother had her flaws. We all do. But she taught me a lot about old folks. When I’m wearing sandals and my feet are cold—I’m putting on the socks—even if they are white.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

When I Didn’t Know You, God

You were always there, God, and yet, there was a time I didn’t know you through the love of my mother’s arms,

And I didn’t smell you in the wonder of the first summer rose.

You were always there, God, but there was a time I didn’t hear you in the whisper of the leaves above my head,

And I didn’t feel You in the touch of animal fur beneath my fingers.

You were always there, God, and yet, there was a time I didn’t taste Your sweetness in hymns and Christmas carols,

Nor did I see You in the very things You created.

How could I not know You through the wonder of the senses You gave me with which to experience Your creation?

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

What God Loves

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

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Unforgettable

Forget the fact that Leslie P Garcia is my sister. Yes, I’m proud of her and I’ve always known she’s a brilliant writer. But her new book, “Her Borrowed Angel,” does not end on the last page—because the book simply won’t let the reader go.

The characters are so real and alive that the reader gets sucked into their lives and walks with them step-by-step, page after page. Her Borrowed Angel traces the life of book-smart Madeline Wharton Saldivar from her childhood in rural, deeply segregated Georgia to adulthood in northern Mexico and southern Texas.

Y2K, The Beatles, the Berlin Wall as it fell, Marilyn Monroe, Vietnam, men on the moon, Secretariat, Hank Aaron, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.—we all live history. Sometimes we don’t see it happening around us. Her Borrowed Angel tells the story of Maddie Wharton Saldivar’s journey through life–life at the intersection with horses. And angels.


Maddie’s life, like all lives, plays out against the current events and changing social moods of the times. Deeply committed to family—and horses, or at least the idea of horses—Maddie struggles with the painful truths and impossible situations of abuse and dysfunction within her own small world.
Buoyed by her sister Hattie’s infallible courage, as well as her own ability to catalog life into manageable increments she understands through her book learning and an ability to manufacture faith to lean on, Maddie survives her childhood—only to be disowned when she falls in love with Tavo, an undocumented worker at the dude ranch she flees to when she leaves home to help Hattie escape.


Over her lifetime, Maddie collects more angels than horses and confronts the harsh reality that her half-brother, Wally, might have been right when he warned her that book-smart wasn’t as useful as life-smart.
Wife, mother, and teacher, Maddie’s life changes with the birth of her granddaughter—her borrowed angel.

Well done, Les, well done. Simply unforgettable.

Her Borrowed Angel – Kindle edition by Garcia, Leslie P. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Hedgehog Thinking

You can’t blame the hedgehog. He is small with short legs. The gate separating him from the garden is lengthy. Little steps mean that it takes a long time to get around the gate to the opening into the garden. So he looks for a shortcut.

Not every shortcut is bad. Some are excellent. But this hedgehog’s shortcut failed due to hedgehog thinking—a malfunction common to humans. As the hedgehog journeyed down the alarmingly elongated fence it poked its nose into every piece of metal scrollwork looking for a wider gap so it could get through. However, the factory manufactured fence was uniform and no gap was wider. So the hedgehog took the shortcut anyway—and got stuck. (Not to worry—he was rescued.)

We humans do that in life. Take shortcuts doomed to failure. We want to harvest success in our life, but without the planting, weeding, watering, and nurturing required to guarantee it. We just want it to happen.

We want to skip the training process and get right to the rewarding qualification. We just want it to happen.

We want to lose weight—but not exercise. We want to maintain our perfect body size and shape and still eat everything we enjoy regardless of calories. Perfect health? We just want it to happen.

We want joy, but without giving up resentment, anger, and criticism. We just want it to happen.

We want our lives to be stellar, our trials short, our hardships easy. And when we disagree with something in the Bible, we want to change the words to ones we prefer and reject verses that tell us to endure hardships as a good soldier of Christ, or that remind us that, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10.

Hedgehog thinking. It’s not just about hedgehogs.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Adult

While walking Savannah today I passed some teens engaged in a serious conversation. One said confidently to the other, “You become an adult when you turn eighteen.”

I nearly laughed. I just met someone who is not an adult yet in spite of having divorced after 27 years of marriage—which even with my sketchy math makes him more than eighteen. The divorce is not his fault.

The divorce is his girlfriend’s fault. She talked him into leaving his wife and then dumped him.

Being broke is not his fault. The divorce that is not his fault pushed him into gambling. He lost everything that remained after the divorce.

Having to walk everywhere on a bum knee is not his fault. Pressure from the gambling debt that is not his fault caused him to start drinking. He drove drunk and wiped out his car—which resulted in his aforementioned bum knee.

The bum knee isn’t his fault. The surgeon messed up the surgery. The bum knee is not his fault because the surgeon caused it. The injury from the drunk driving accident is not his fault because it was the result of the pressure from his gambling debt. The gambling debt is not his fault because it resulted from the divorce. The divorce is not his fault—in spite of his infidelity—because his girlfriend caused it.

Because he is broke—which isn’t his fault because he lost everything in the divorce that isn’t his fault and from the gambling that isn’t his fault—he lives in what he says is an uncomfortable house. That is the fault of the government for not engaging fully in socialism.

Wishing those kids in the skateboard park who believe they will magically become adult at age eighteen all the best.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

The Things God Withheld

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.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Too Chili To Die

Usually my blogs are not about my books, although I do include a link to my books at the end. This time, it is about my newly released book—newly meaning today—Christian cozy mystery romance “Too Chili to Die.”

I often tell folks who will understand that God writes my books and I type them. Some folks don’t understand that, so I leave them to their own conclusions.

All I have ever wanted to do since I was nine years old is to write books. Just write. I am blessed by God that I can now do exactly that—after most of my life working two to three jobs at a time and using every stolen minute to write.

The Bible promises that “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” Those very jobs that kept me too busy to write now find their way into the background of my books. Like “Too Chili to Die”—working on a small local newspaper and covering events like chili cook-offs.

Too Chili to Die was fun to write. Hope readers will have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

The Nobility of Birds

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

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

The Day My World Changed

My world changed on Easter Sunday, 2021. My son’s dad died. We had been divorced for 43 years—but my world shifted when he died.

Most of my memories of life with Larry are miserable. Some are funny. A few are good.

The best of the good memories revolve around son Luke. Luke had a speech impediment when he first learned to talk. For a short time Larry rode and raced dirt bikes. He bought Luke a dirt bike when Luke was three. Luke’s bike was a red “Indian.” His dad rode a yellow “Yamaha.” Luke didn’t want his red bike; he wanted a yellow one like his dad, but he stammered over the word “Yamaha.” Larry told him, “When you learn to say, ‘Yamaha,’ I’ll buy you one.” Luke thought for a moment and replied, “Daddy, just get me a sellow one.”

When Larry and I started painting signs together, I painted the signs and he cleaned the brushes. It frustrated him to watch me paint when he couldn’t, so he used his VA benefits to take a commercial art course. He studied diligently and I went from sign painter to brush cleaner. He passed that diligence down to Luke; whatever Luke decided to do—he accomplished. He taught himself to play the trumpet, read music, play the piano, and fly an airplane.

Some of the memories are funny. We were stuck in the parking lot of a motor home repair shop in Kingman Arizona on our fourth anniversary while our motor home was getting fixed. We were headed for a gold dredging expedition on the North Fork of the American River in California. Larry said we should celebrate our anniversary with a meal out instead of our usual sandwiches for lunch. We went to a local resident and Larry purchased one meal. One. He had the hamburger, Luke had the fries, and I had the strawberry shortcake dessert even though I never liked any dessert that wasn’t chocolate. All three of us shared the soft drink that came with the meal.

I can’t sing. Really. I never believed I couldn’t sing until I was in college and our drama professor’s wife—who held a doctorate in music—tried to coach me so I could perform in the summer musicals at Calloway Gardens in Georgia. She finally said, “Stephanie, I don’t know why you can’t sing. I’ve never met anyone before who can’t sing. But—you really can’t sing.” When I first met Larry I thought I was an atheist and that it was my job to covert him. He dragged me to church with him every Sunday. He would elbow me in the side and demand, “sing.” It takes me years and hearing a song 20 or 30 times before I can even approach the tune. But with an elbow in my side, I would try to sing. A few minutes later—the elbow jab in the side again. “Shut up. You sound terrible.”

Larry was a perfectionist. Everything he did had to be perfect. He passed that trait down to Luke. They both cleaned everything and kept everything immaculately clean. I was a changeling in my own home. I drew my joy from writing—not cleaning. Perfection in anything never darkened my door. Larry kept the same pair of sunglasses for 20 years. I could go through three pairs in one year. He clipped and organized coupons. I was too impatient to use them.

There are the really bad memories, but I won’t share those. I’ll share the one that changed my life. Larry dragged me to church every Sunday even though I couldn’t sing, had never heard the songs before, and had no idea what the pastor was talking about. I went because Larry was more stubborn than I was. And because of that, I gave my life to Jesus. I was saved. I was born again, and my life was never the same after that.

When I heard that Larry was dying of cancer in a VA Hospital I tried to call him and thank him for dragging to church with him. He never woke up enough to take a phone call, but two of the nurses passed my message along. I hope it gave him some comfort and peace.

My world changed this Easter Sunday when Larry left this earth. But it changed most of all on that very first Easter when Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose again on Easter Sunday. Because He lives, I will live again when this body dies. Just like Larry. Just like Luke who preceded both of us in death on November 17, 2013, in a plane crash, at age 37.

I owe my place in eternity to a man who could play a guitar, sing, fix anything with a pocket knife, and was more stubborn than me.

Amazon.com: Stephanie Parker McKean: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle