Christmas Can’t Be Stolen

Headlines and commercials over here in the UK scream, “Shop early. Covid is going to steal Christmas.”

Christmas can’t be stolen.

Everyone in the world should watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and read Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Christmas can’t be stolen because it is not about rushing out to stores and purchasing gifts and decorations. It is not about a tree. It’s not about cooking a feast and overeating. Christmas is about Jesus. For all of eternity, Jesus is a gift that cannot be stolen. He is the reason for the season. Jesus is the gift of Christmas.

Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth. Christmas can’t be stolen.

“There were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke, Chapter 2.

Don’t put up a Christmas tree. Don’t decorate. Don’t buy gifts. Don’t plan a big meal. Make December 25 just another day on the calendar. But one thing will never change; Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Son of God came to earth as a baby and suffered and died as a man so that all those who believe in Him will have eternal life. He doesn’t judge us on our skin color, our wealth, how many talents we have, our state of health, whether we are famous, or who our parents are. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16. And that will never change.

Christmas. Can. Not. Be. Stolen.

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

Inspired…

Writers are strange creatures. They find inspiration in strange places.

Friend One: “That was a terrible thing that happened to him.”

Friend Two: “What an ironic way to die.”

Writer: “I can use that in a book.”

Not wanting it to sound like I’m exercising false humility, because it’s true—God writes my books. I’m the typist.

Inspiration is like gold. Sometimes it’s lovely and unexpected—a nugget resting on top of desert soil. Sometimes it’s hidden in gravel and discovered after traveling down the riffles in a wet or dry washer—alternatively known as the hardships of life. Sometimes it’s the streak of bright shining metal in a quartz rock—obvious, but needing to be ferreted out.

Nearly all my books are Christian cozy mystery-romances. The idea for “Body in a Tree Murder” sprang from the memory of a Texas Hill Country motorcycle accident I covered for the local newspaper. “Unsigned Card Murder” came from an incident in church where a person refused to sign a birthday card and left me wondering why. The opening paragraph for “Body from the Sky Murder” hit me when I sliced open a bell pepper and found a perfectly formed baby sitting inside. “Balloon Body Murder” fell into place after I read a newspaper article about the new Texas law that allows hunters to shoot feral hogs from balloons, and “Thawed to Death” from a news item about a body found in a freezer.

Inspiration for my newest book, “Signed to Death,” developed after I watched an antiques program on TV and had the random thought, “You could hide a body in one of those old signs.”

“Look out!” Maj yelled as the huge orange gulf gasoline sign with blue letters lumbered toward me down the slopped driveway. The warning came too late. The metal frame hit me. My feet came off the ground. I fell. So did the dead guy inside the sign.

Regardless of the initial source of inspiration for my books, the ultimate author is God. “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”

There is one thing in my books for which I take complete and total credit for—mistakes.

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No Drive Zone

Here in Dunoon, Scotland, a lot of things are “across the water,” which means in Glasgow and the heavily populated areas between the two ferry landings and Glasgow. I don’t drive across the water.

There are several reasons I don’t drive across the water. Coming from the U.S., cars are driven on the wrong side of the road for me here in the UK, and I find roundabouts confusing and somewhat heart-stopping. Then there is my directional challenge, which I include in my soon-to-be-released new cozy mystery, “Signed to Death.” When my sisters and I were in school, we all learned that straight ahead is north, behind is south, east is right, and west is left. What this means for all three of us is that no matter where we go or in what direction we travel—we always face north.

We had to go across the water for a doctor’s appointment this week and instead of going to the main hospital building, we were sent to an adjoining building some distance away. There is no bus service from that building, nor were we able to reach a taxi company, so we asked the nurse for directions on how to get up to the main hospital building so we could catch a bus. I was on crutches. The nurse told us to go to the end of the corridor and take a little jog to the right, and go to the end of that corridor and through the double doors, and through a long glass corridor, and through some more double doors, and then turn right to the elevator. She said to push “3” on the elevator.

We never found the long glass corridor, but we did find the elevator. We got in. The doors shut. There was no “3” on the elevator. We tried to get out again. We couldn’t find a button that would open the doors. We tried every button on the panel—and finally—the doors opened and we skedaddled! We saw an outside path through the double doors next to the elevator. The path looked like it headed toward the main hospital building, so we went outside and followed it. It dead-ended behind the building. We went back to the double doors. They wouldn’t open from outside. So we took the outside steps, me clomping along on my crutches. We finally made it up to the taxi rank. The driver must have thought we were bonkers. We laughed all the way to the ferry.

I get lost, but God doesn’t. He keeps track of everything and everyone. Jesus said to God the Father, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” What a comfort to know that however hopelessly lost I am—God never gets lost—and He will never lose me.

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Waiting…Waiting…Waiting

As a four-year-old child playing on our backyard swing set and repeating endlessly, “Christmas is in two days…” I had no idea how much of life would comprise waiting.

Everyone reading this column knows about waiting, and everyone has their own private waits for life changing events—so it would be supercilious to list examples. When I was a teen, I agonized over the thick black hair covering my legs, yet I was forbidden to shave them. I had to “wait” until I was older, meaning sixteen. I didn’t wait. We only had one razor in the house—my father’s. We were strictly forbidden to use it. I would sneak into the bathroom and use it to shave my legs anyway, and then face his wrath when he discovered that the blade was dull—again. My grandmother was the only one who understood. For Christmas, she bought me an electric razor. It was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received because of her quiet perceptiveness and support, and I used it until it wore out.

Each time I finish a new book, the time between “The End” and getting it passed through the editor and released seems interminable. I suffer. I physically suffer. Wonder if the medical profession will someday decide that waiting causes illness?

Right now I am waiting for a hip replacement. That is a wait that definitely carries the price tag of suffering. We have taken money out of savings to go private for the surgery. With a special needs husband and dog, waiting is no longer an option. I wake up singing praises to the Lord (in my mind because I can’t sing, and I don’t want to wake up Alan) when I remember that God has made this surgery possible and it is finally imminent.

My next book is finished and waiting for release, too, so I am experiencing a wait-wait instead of a wait. But with God—I can handle it.

From my favorite Psalm, Psalm 27, “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the LORD!

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Spider Webs and Thoughts

This morning when I sat down at my computer I realized I had walked through a spider web on one side of my desk. I use the computer every day. Every. Single. Day. The spider web had not been there at 11 p.m. the night before, yet at 6 a.m.—there it was. It made me realize again how fast life changes.

Sometimes the fast changes in life are heartbreaking—the sudden death of a loved one or the sudden diagnosis of a horrific disease. Perhaps a sudden accident with life-changing results. But health and happiness spring from focusing on all the times sudden life changes are good.

Just as quickly as a heart is broken…it can heal. Depression and despair can lift off a life just as gently as rays of morning sun sliding over treetops. An answered prayer. The birth of a baby. The opening of a bud. The ripening of the first tomato. Life’s little miracles, often overlooked, but always precious.

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of a good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8.

Life can change for the better in a flash of a thought.

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Autumn Disrobed

English poet John Keats (1795-1821) wrote the famous lines about autumn, ‘’Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun.’’

Keats was a great poet. His poems are striking and poignant. But the part about autumn—I am not impressed.

Regardless of the lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red adorning trees, ripening fruit, and mists playing chase over the hills—autumn means only one thing to me…cold. It is already colder than it was and it will be getting colder still. I hate cold. I hate being cold. I counter my negative winter thoughts with remembering and singing (to the best of my ability which unfortunately isn’t much) “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.’’ And I do rejoice in the things that God has made. I do rejoice in the day. Every day that God has made. And I am glad. Over the years I have developed an attitude of gratitude…except for autumn, except for winter, except for cold, except for getting cold or being cold.

I do not like winter. I already don’t like winter this year—and it hasn’t even arrived yet. I’ve memorized Psalm 74:17, “You have made summer and winter.’’ Also Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”

But every year when Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness arrives—I just want to bring back spring.

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Norma Jean

Every October when a cloudless autumn sky blooms cerulean—I remember Norma Jean. She died on a day like that.

Norma Jean was in my ninth grade class. I didn’t know her well. She didn’t sit close to me in class. She didn’t hang out with me at recess. But one day our homeroom teacher came into the room and said, “Class, Norma Jean will not be coming back to school this year. She has cancer. She is dying.”

Shock glued me to my desk. I wrote a poem about Norma Jean. I didn’t pray for her—I wasn’t a Christian back then. I didn’t know how to pray. My parents were atheists. We didn’t go to church. We didn’t have a Bible in our house. God and Jesus were only mentioned as swear words—words that kids were not allowed to use.

Up until our teacher’s announcement, I didn’t realize that children could get cancer. I didn’t realize that they could die young. My adolescent mind had never grappled with hard truths like that.

Nora Jean died 55 years ago in rural Georgia. I wonder how any other people remember her? Many of us will never achieve fame or fortune. But if we can have even one person remember us 55 years after our death the way I remember Norma Jean in October when an autumn sky blooms cerulean—we will have lived well.

“My soul still remembers.” Lamentations 3:20

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

Giving Birth

Writers of both sexes understand giving birth. It’s exhausting. Writers give birth every time they release a new book, or new words for any media. It’s a moment of extreme pain—wondering if they got it right, if it will grab readers, if they will get good reviews, if readers will like it. It’s a moment of great joy. Holding a book inside is—to quote Jeremiah in the Bible—like fire burning in your bones. It has to get out before the flames can be quenched.

“Body in a Tree Murder” is number 31, or 34 for me—depending on how one counts. I don’t usually count the first three. They were written under a different last name and so long ago that I’m not sure they are still available. I certainly never get any money for them!

My atheist father wrote four anti-God books before his publisher was killed in a car wreck and my father quit writing. When I first started writing my goal was to write at least one more than he did to counterbalance any derogatory or lasting effects his books had wielded. However, writing is so much more than that to me. It is simply something that I cannot not do. I am only alive when I am writing and giving birth. No matter how much it hurts.

And it Came to Pass

More than two years ago when all the media hype and scare tactics began about covid, I knew this was coming. I tried to tell others. When I didn’t get shot down by those who had bought into the fear, my voice got drowned out by the fear-induced clamor. Now when one attempts to post anything about covid or vaccinations on Facebook—it automatically gets covered up at the top with an approved “facts on covid” or “facts on vaccinations.” No one wants the word to get out about those who have died or developed serious health issues from the jabs. Alan, for example, went into such extreme Parkinson’s Disease after his second injection that he was hospitalized and couldn’t walk. He is still recovering.

For those who think the Bible is just another book, this was written in AD 95: “He (meaning God’s enemy satan) causes all to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark, or the name of the beast…” Revelation 13:16. And those who accept the name of the beast will not enter heaven.

The Scottish government has just passed a law that people must show proof of being double vaccinated to attend large events. Instead of paper proof, they are requiring an app on peoples’ phones. Think about that. What’s going to happen when folks start losing their phones or stealing phones…guess what the next step is and how quickly the size of the gatherings requiring proof will shrink. The next step is so obviously a computer chip just like the ones that are even now required by law for dogs.

The Bible is true. It is always right. Doesn’t the fact that the book of Revelation warned about today’s events in AD 95 prove it? I think it’s about time we all got back to reading our Bibles, believing God’s words, and accepting His wisdom as our final authority for every situation in life.

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

Vacation-Vacation

Vacations are good for many reasons including expanding experiences. Writers are often advised to write about what they know. Research is great, but there are still things one will probably not learn through research alone.

Had I not moved to Scotland, I would never have known that it stays light up until 11 p.m. in the summer. I would never have known that it is cool to cold even in the “summer” and that it rains almost every day—especially in the marine climate where we live. I would not have known that when something is sickening it scunners people; when something is shaky it is shoogly; wet, grey, and rainy days are dreich; imagining things is havering; juice is any kind of drink besides coffee and tea – meaning all sodas; that tea is not only tea to drink but also the evening meal; that when someone is sick they look peelie-wallie, and that paddocks are frogs.

We just got back from a vacation, an enjoyable bus tour to “the borders” between Scotland and England. My favorite part of the vacation was the evening meal that I did not have to cook. We visited interesting places including Abbotsford, the castle-like home of author Sir Walter Scott who is famous for his literary works, his compassion and appreciation of people from all stations in life—an oddity during his lifespan from 1771 to 1832, and his quotes: “Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last and final awakening.” “The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon.” “Love rules the court, the camp, the grave, and men below, and the saints above, for love is heaven and heaven is love.”

Some of the tour was a bit like hard work; rising early for breakfast and boarding the bus, uncomfortable adventures like getting stuck in bathrooms, and—for someone like me who hates shopping—getting dropped off in cities and left to wander up and down the streets looking at things that I have no interest in purchasing. On a hip that needs replacing.

Getting home and back to the computer was more than a joy to me. It was a vacation-vacation. Reconnecting with family and friends to share their needs for prayer and to celebrate their achievements, getting back to work on the book I started before we left, and spending time with our precious Savannah again and taking her on walks. As Sir Walter Scott said, the tragedy of dog ownership is that we outlive them and that makes every day with them—every walk with them—priceless.

Writing is hard work. But God works too. “Praise the LORD! His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonderful works to be remembered.” Psalm 111: 1-4.

You don’t need to leave your house to have a vacation if you love your life and your work.

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