Old vs New

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I love old cars and old houses. Given my childhood, it’s strange that I would favor old over new.

After our house burned down when I was in the ninth grade, I never had an indoor bathroom or running water in my house until after I left home. Back then, I was embarrassed by the holes in my jeans. Nowadays, I would be in style.

We never thought of ourselves as poor, yet my mother never had enough money for groceries or new clothes and new shoes for our family. I went to school often with the soles of my shoes held on with a thick rubber band from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper.

We lived briefly in an old antebellum house in Georgia that Sherman missed on his march to the sea. One winter the roof fell down in my brothers’ bedroom. Bees lived in the walls of the bedroom I shared with my sisters. We frequently got stung. There was no heating in the house. Nor was there a bathroom or any running water. We carried water from town in empty milk jugs. The house was so cold in the winter that the jugs of water lined up in the kitchen froze. We had to use that frozen water to take a sponge bath with before we left for school.

As bad as living conditions were in that house, it had a classic beauty that I loved. And it was an improvement over the unfinished log cabin in Splendora, Texas. That house had only half a roof and when a hurricane came inland from the Gulf, the water in the house was so deep that our grandmother had to stand on a folding metal chair to cook for us kids. We were on the only bed in the house and the water level was up to the mattress. My grandmother was scared to death of snakes, but when a poisonous water moccasin floated into the cabin and across to the bed where we kids huddled, my grandmother went after that snake with a broom. The goats and chickens came into the cabin with us to get out of the rain—which was funny since we were nearly as wet as they were.

Then there was the plywood shell of a house in the Texas Hill Country…it had a finished roof, but a dirt floor. No heating, no air conditioning, no running water or indoor plumbing.

Still, I love old houses and old cars. The craftsmen who built them followed their eye for beauty and the integrity of their hearts to produce a legacy.

However, growing up in old houses with no heat in the winter might explain why I hate cold and winter now.

Still, when I see a classic old vehicle or pass a historic old home, my heart trespasses into another era.

Not so with my flesh. New visits of pain and weakness get no welcome from me. I remember what Jesus said—warned? “When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” John 21:18.

I’ll pick an old car or an old house over an old body any day!

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

Wise Fear – Foolish Fear

One of my favorite things to point out to folks is that God put 365 “Fear Nots” into the Bible, one for each day. We need to trust God and not fear the future. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good, and all things work together for good to those who love the Lord.

However, God put the capacity of fear into us when He created us—good fear. Good fear warns us of imminent danger and gives us the wisdom we need to stay clear of danger.

Looking back at the foolish things I’ve done during my lifetime has given me empathy for our rough collie Savannah and her obstinate fear.

Folks in the UK have long memories—like Savannah. She never forgets anything. Back in 1605, a man named Guy Fawkes was involved in a gunpowder plot to blow up parliament. The plot was discovered and Fawkes was executed. So every November 5—the sky lights up with fireworks for Guy Fawkes Night, a night to celebrate the failure of the gunpowder plot. Or perhaps just for an excuse to have a good time and make a lot of noise.

In any event, animals don’t like fireworks, and some animals—like Savannah—are terrorized by them. With the absence of the usual rain this year, the sky lit up with fireworks and the boom-booms echoed around our neighborhood. Not expecting the intensity this year, I was taking Savannah on a long walk when the displays started. She ran to the end of her leash and continued running as I held her to a walking pace. She attempted to pull me up into the hills—which is the complete opposite of where we live. I had to drag her to get her home and her harness nearly pulled off several times.

It is now 25 days and counting since Guy Fawkes Night. Savannah will not go outside after dark. Every night I put her harness on, put my coat and rain gear on (it is nearly always raining), and try to walk Savannah. She will finally go from the side door to the front of our house. Period. End of walk. So I have started leaving her behind and taking myself on a walk in hopes that she will feel abandoned and decide to come with me. Of course, by the time this works—the sky will be lighting up again for New Year’s and the boom-booms will be thundering all around our house.

I will continue sharing one of my favorite reminders from the Bible: the 365 “Fear Nots.” I will continue trusting God and losing my fears in His power and goodness. But I must admit that in a way I admire Savannah’s obstinate fear. When I remember the silly, dangerous stunts I’ve pulled during my lifetime and the resulting pickles—I’m wishing I had possessed some of my dog’s obstinate fear. Sour pickles are good on burgers—but there’s a limit to how many one can pull out of the jar and eat.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Psalm 111:10. Fear should be spent wisely, not foolishly.

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

Some Days Are Like That

Perhaps The Day began before the day began—meaning while I was still asleep and dreamed I was unpacking a large new laptop from a box and installing it on my desk. I say that because after I actually woke up and turned on the computer—it wasn’t new and the keys were still sticking. When a person touch types, it is especially aggravating when keys stick, because one can type in sentences to paragraphs before looking up and seeing all the misspelled words that are missing because of the letters that stick—M, V, C, X—well, the X isn’t so bad—and the punctuation marks like : “ ‘.

The day did not improve from the disappointing start of sticking keys. To the optician to get an eye appointment (I haven’t had one in 11 years) so I can get new glasses and not need to wear two pairs at a time, one on top of the other to read small print—like my Bible. No appointment available until the end of December. To the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my husband…and the important pills he needed were not in the bag. To the electronic and everything shop to fix a lamp for our 90-year-old housebound friend…and the store is closed on Mondays. Several other stops and a lot of walking…and it was COLD. Just above freezing with a grey overcast sky and a determined wind that knew how to get around and under any number of layers. When it is cold…I. Am. Not. A. Happy. Camper.

Then the kicker. We shopped for Thanksgiving. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK and turkeys are hard to find until right before Christmas. But we do celebrate Thanksgiving and we did find a small frozen turkey. That was good, but the results of putting the groceries in the trunk of the car were not good. We had a standup heater we had let our elderly friend borrow when her boiler was out and she had no heat. Somehow when I pushed the heater to the side to get the groceries into the trunk the heater cord got stuck in the trunk latch. Like…really stuck. Like really, really, really stuck. So stuck that it would not have been possible to get it out even if we had cut the cord and tried to pull it out from one side or the other. The cord would not move and it would not slide, so we would have destroyed the heater for nothing.

I tried to explain this to my husband. I told him I would take the car to the garage in the morning and let them fix it so we wouldn’t break anything. But a man has to do what a man has to do even if he has Parkinson’s and shouldn’t do it. Alan got into the back seat of the car to fix things. Then he needed fixing. Because of the Parkinson’s, he couldn’t get out again. Our car is small and has front doors, but none for the back seat. Alan was so hopelessly stuck in the back seat that I contemplated taking out a pillow and blanket for him and letting the garage folks unstick him in the morning along with the cord. I looked around for neighbors to help me pull him out—but they were all off on their own errands. I finally braced my feet and pulled like I’ve never pulled anything before—and got him out. But not without consequences. It turned into an aspirin kind of an evening to ease the muscles I pulled.

Some days are like that. But other days are fantastic. It’s all in the balance—and fortunately God holds the balance beam.

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

The Problem with Coffee

My morning cup of coffee is a Diet Coke. So, too, other members of my family even though our parents drank coffee from waking up to going to bed. I keep saying that when I grow up—I’ll learn to drink coffee.

I don’t have a problem with coffee. I love the smell. I don’t have a problem with folks depending on it to kick start the day. That’s why I drink my soda. But I don’t share or like the coffee memes on social media that intend humor while offering excuses for bad behavior and elevating coffee to divine status: I can’t function until I’ve had my coffee; don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee; my sanity is in a cup—a cup of coffee; coffee saves lives—ask my kids; humanity runs on coffee; great ideas start with coffee, today’s good mood is sponsored by coffee.

Memes that credit coffee with super powers it does not possess take our focus off Jesus, the Savior of the world and give our praise to an inanimate object instead of God.

We don’t need coffee to function—we need God. We couldn’t take the next breath without Him. Great ideas start with God. God controls humanity, not coffee. Today’s good mood is a choice—our choice—regardless of whether we start off the day with coffee, a soda, tea, water, etc. If we breathe, that breath comes from God.

“In Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28.

But as for chocolate…a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands…

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

Too Late

For weeks every time I took our collie Savannah on a walk we passed a beautiful vine dressed with bright red leaves hanging over a wooden fence. Every time we passed it I thought, “That’s lovely. I need to take a picture.” Then I kept walking because…it was raining…or the camera was in the other coat…or I was in a time crunch.

Today I passed that once glorious vine—and the leaves were gone. Only one leaf remained on the twisty branches, only one leaf flaunted its bright color and beauty against the fence. I was too late.

There was a couple in one of my husband’s parishes. The wife spent the days of their marriage flogging her husband. If he did dishes—she did them over because he didn’t do a good enough job. If he vacuumed the floor—she did it over because he missed spots. They lived in one of the best houses in the village and had all the furnishings and conveniences that anyone could want. He even rode the bus to work so she would have the car during the day. Still she complained: he didn’t spend enough time with the children when they were young; he didn’t help her enough around the house; he wasn’t romantic…he was a total failure as a husband. She should have married a classmate who had become a physician.

Sadly, she was a Christian. But since she didn’t apply Biblical wisdom to her marriage, she remained miserable and transferred that misery to her husband. One day, however, she got her Bible out and read it deeply. She turned to Proverbs because she thought Proverbs would be easy to understand. One verse lacerated her heart: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” She thought about how she had snapped at her husband that morning for spilling toast crumbs on the tablecloth and hanging up the towel in the bathroom crookedly. She decided to change.

She baked his favorite cake—a Victorian sponge—and prepared his favorite meal—mince and tatties. She donned her best clothes and prepared to meet him at the bus stop close to their house. She hurried to the stop. He got off the bus…staggered…and fell across the curb dead. He had suffered a heart attack.

As a writer, I would want to change this ending. I would want the wife’s sudden turn to sweetness to last and bring sunshine and roses into the last and best years of their marriage. I would want forgiveness, healing and growth. But…this is a true story. It was too late for a happy ending.

Ecclesiastes 3 says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted…a time to laugh; a time to mourn…

Yes, indeed. There is a time and a season. But there is also a time when it is too late.

So love your family and your pets today and everyday and never let them doubt how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate them. When that last leaf falls from the vine…it is too late.

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

Always Remembered

A plaque in a local hospital commemorates a former worker for more than 40 years of service—but the plaque was erected more than 20 years ago—and no one remembers her now.

Donald Davies was a computer scientist and mathematician who transformed global communication and influenced the development of the internet. Yet few people recognize his name.

James Harrison found he had an unusual plasma composition in his blood that could treat Rhesus disease. He spent the next 57 years of his life making more than 1,000 blood donations that saved the lives of 2.4 million babies. He is mostly forgotten now.

Vasili Arkhipov, a senior officer on a soviet submarine refused to follow his captain’s order to launch a nuclear torpedo at U.S. warships in October 1962, thus preventing the start of World War III. An unsung hero. Few remember.

Nils Bohlin invented car seat belts while working at Volvo. He gave away the patent for free to reduce manufacturing costs and thus save lives. His name and contribution is largely forgotten.

Polish doctor Eugene Lazowski saved 8,000 Jews during Holocaust by injecting them with dead typhus cells. They were healthy, but tested positive for typhus and the Germans were afraid to deport them to concentration camps. A great hero—a forgotten hero—an unsung hero.

Neerja Bhanot, 22, an air hostess wound up on a hijacked plane. She helped hide 41 American passports—because the hijackers were targeting Americans—and died shielding three children with her body. One of the children grew up and became a pilot because of the respect he had for her courage. However, her name has mostly passed out of memory now.

The gorgeous and realistically illustrated Little Golden Books that I loved and grew up reading—and then read to my son—were illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. The editor at Golden Books called her “the soul” of the publications. She died in October, 1987, and while many of the books she illustrated became classics in children literature—few people remember her now.

All different—all heroes. They gave every human effort and strength they possessed—yet years later—they are forgotten.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, crucified on a cross 2,000 years ago…never forgotten.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Jesus.

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Mow That Grass!

One of the places we lived when I was a child was an old antebellum house in Georgia that survived Sherman’s march to the sea. A former carriage road ran in front of the graceful (but falling down) house which was serviced by an outhouse just off the carriage road. The house had no bathroom, no running water. A log cabin off to one side of the house and surrounded by a sea of yellow daffodils in the spring was the first slave cabin in our county. The house had history galore…but no comfort.

The highway ran behind the house instead of in front of it. Every school morning we had a long trek down the red clay driveway to the bus stop. Because the field surrounding the house was by default our front yard, one of my jobs was to mow it with a push mower. Mowing the actual front yard that adjoined the carriage road was a relatively quick and easy job except for twice—once when a swarm of bees took objection to the mower and once when I moved some debris out of the way and unknowingly disturbed a wasp nest. Mowing the three-acre back yard/front yard, however, was pretty much an all-day job.

No one else in the family—parents, grandmother, six younger siblings—wanted to mow. They rather questioned my sanity for enjoying the arduous task. That’s because they didn’t know my secret.

My secret was that even though I pushed the mower through grass and weeds, picking up rocks that were in the path, and avoiding harmless snakes and baby rabbits—I wasn’t just mowing the yard. I was building stories. With every forward thrust of the mower characters emerged and conversations evolved. Every time I tugged the mower to life with the pull rope and started through the enormous field—new stories, new conversations, new book plots materialized from the green expanse in front of me.

I don’t remember if I ever came in from mowing and wrote down any of the stories. I rather doubt it. I was probably too hot, too tired, too sweaty—and with no running water in the house and no bathroom—I couldn’t jump into the shower and wash off the sweat. With a household of ten and no privacy, baths were sponge baths in a basin and timing them right for the sake of modesty was challenging. Nonetheless, I loved to mow. I still do.

Any physical task that requires more brawn than brain is an ideal opportunity to people my head with characters, conversations, and story plots. It’s not work, it’s not a chore—it’s an exercise in imagination building.

The Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10.

Work presents an opportunity for imagination building.

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

Fear of Orange

My late brother Gregory with our “pet” lion Ebenezer

I’ve faced a lot of fear in my lifetime. Bitten by a water moccasin snake; accidentally found a bear’s den in Florida; unknowingly ran over a fallen tree in Georgia—with a black bear under it; attacked by a400-pound “pet” lion; kicked in the face by my horse when I fell off while he was bucking; spent a lot of years working two and three jobs to support a child as a single parent, never knowing if there would be a next meal; back surgery, knee surgery, hip surgery, 2 ½ month stay in the hospital with an infection—and yet—out of all these—the color orange scares me to death.

I love orange as a color. The favorite place where I ever lived was a mobile home in the desert of Lovelock, Nevada. The kitchen was frosted orange and touches of orange were repeated in every room. It was a clean, refreshing color and I inhaled a deep breath of satisfaction every time I walked into my home. Even now, I remember it as a place of dreams—both the desert and the trailer with the orange decor.

Orange flowered dresses and clothes; orange cars and vans; orange handled kitchen appliances; orange fruits and veggies; orange doggie toys; orange towels. No problem. It’s when the orange creeps outside that I panic—orange flowers on the wild lilies; orange leaves on the trees. The end of summer.

I hate winter. I hate cold. No matter how adequate my clothes or how many layers I don—I hate winter weather. Yet, every year—the wild orange lily blooms and the trees release their beautiful verdant leaves and go orange…and I go scared.

It’s that time of the year again, the flowers turn orange, my heart turns sad—and I wish I could bring back the childhood fears of facing bears and lions instead of facing another winter.

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

Endings

After a two-year hiatus due to covid, the Cowal Family Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland, kicked off this year with a huge attendance. Not only that—for once it didn’t rain and it was even…gulp!…sunny.

Writers rarely get days off, so I didn’t attend the festivities that were practically in our backyard. However, when I walked Savannah past the stadium we watched the excitement and happiness on the other side of the chain link fence. It was wonderful to see families—many complete with their canine members—having fun. The joy was electric.

Then came Sunday morning. Instead of electric joy, I felt deflating sadness as I heard clinks and clatters and saw tents and carnival equipment coming down. Endings. I hate them. Such a rare and perfect day of sunshine and celebration after two long years of lockdown—I doubt anyone was ready for it to end.

Some writers get excited when they write “The End” on their books. Not me. It means the fun and joy and excitement I was privileged to experience for approximately 300 pages is suddenly gone. It means that I need to hunt down another idea and come up with 300 new pages—even though my head feels as empty as the fluff from last spring’s dandelion stalks.

So many sad endings of things we don’t want to end: vacations, a good meal, visits with family and friends, spring, summer, comfortable shoes, favorite clothes—and death.

Thankfully, some endings are good: the end of pain, cold, disease, sorrow—and death.

Death makes both lists of endings because death isn’t real. It’s a shadow, an illusion. With Jesus, there is life beyond this life we are living now…and Heaven is the end of sorrow, parting, illness, pain, disease. We do not belong to this earth. We are passing through to our eternal destination in Christ Jesus.

Still…I hate endings. Especially the end of spring and summer. Death I do not fear. But winter and snow give me the cold shivers.

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Grab That Bed!

Balance. From the time we are born we learn to balance. To roll over. To sit. To stand. To walk. Gradually the lessons in balance become more difficult. Balancing time. Balancing Family. Balancing God’s word with personal life. Balancing health choices and eating habits. Life seems to stretch out along a long and uncertain balance beam.

Mostly, I’m a positive person. I eschew negative and attempt to surround myself with positive people and flee from negative thought-poison brokers. Yet at times—balance rears its mystifying existence and I teeter on the balance beam.

God never intended death to be a part of this life. He gave Adam and Eve the gift of free choice and they chose sin. Because sin came into the world people get ill and die.

Enter Jesus who defeated sin and death at the cross. After He comes into our hearts—we have eternal life. We live again after we pass through the shadow of death. Shadows are not real.

I know people who have defeated cancer and other life-stealing and spoiling diseases with prayer and positive attitudes. The Bible says that “by Jesus’ stripes we are healed.” Over the years Jesus has healed me multiple times, yet He also allowed me to go through a knee replacement, hip replacement, and three months of hospitalization due to an infection.

It would be difficult to find a more positive Christian and prayer warrior than Joni Eareckson Tada. She was only 17 when she dove into shallow water and broke her spine. As a quadriplegic, Joni writes books and paints—with implements stuck between her teeth. She founded a Christian ministry to help those who are disabled. She is positive. She prays. But she remains a quadriplegic.

My former husband was sent home from the hospital to die. He had cancer and Chron’s Disease, was down to 90 pounds, his skin had turned yellow from liver failure, and he could only walk with me walking behind him holding him up. A Christian couple came to visit and held a cheerleading event for him. “Don’t think of death,” they told him, “think of life. You’re going to get well. You’re going to beat this thing. You just need to exercise. You just need to get up out of your chair and walk.”

The friends meant well, but I’m sure they made him feel terrible. He must have thought it was his fault he was dying because he wasn’t trying hard enough to live.

It’s in the balance.

Jesus healed a paralyzed man. He told the man to take up his bed and walk—and the man did.

But if we don’t have the power of Jesus flowing out of us—instead of telling someone to “get up and walk,” we need to grab that bed, hoist the person over our shoulders and do the walking.

No matter how positive, no matter how much faith we have, no matter how much we pray—our health will eventually fail and we will walk through the shadow of death.

When we get to that point, we don’t need a cheerleader. We need a worker who will take up our bed, hoist us over their shoulders and do the walking.

Given the uncertain art of balancing, I’m thankful that God holds the balance beam.

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