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.

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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.

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SAD

Blog SAD

I saw an exceptionally sad banner recently. Parents wished their son a happy 21st birthday. It was sad because it was filled with images of beer cans, whiskey bottles and tipped champagne glasses as if the only proud thing to celebrate about living for 21 years was being old enough to drink.

Twenty-one years. Some of us still have twenty-one years left to make the world a better place. But achievement is never found in the bottom of a whiskey bottle.

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

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Fear Mongers Seek New Material

My counting is far from quintessential, but I think we’ve had three days of “summer” in this part of Scotland—meaning three days of sunshine where it has gone over the 70-degree mark. Fear mongers’ numbers differ. They say pets and people are calculated to die in the current killer heat wave sweeping across the UK. “Beware! Stay inside. Stay hydrated. Don’t walk your pets in the heat.”

I talked to a few fellow dog walkers who had bought into the ridiculous hype. They were wearing lightweight jackets, yet made the following statements: “I’m just taking him on a short walk because of the heat”; “she didn’t really want to go out because it’s so hot”; “I waited until it cooled down before taking Maxi on her walk”; “I’m thinking about getting some doggie booties for his poor little feet to protect him from the hot pavement”, and—“isn’t your dog (a rough collie) suffering in this heat?”

It was pointless to point out to the loving pet owners—although I did—that it wasn’t that hot and, after all, they themselves were wearing jackets. The fear mongers had shouted on newscasts and in paper headlines that climate change had resulted in a heat wave and folks and pets were going to pay for it by dying. Me, scratching my head, “I thought ‘summer’ was supposed to be hot.

The heat wave hype was expected. Fear mongers needed new material; new focus. Most folks who have had covid a couple of times in spite of flocking to get vaccinated twice and then getting a booster are no longer living in fear of covid. Some aren’t living at all. Some at age 40-something have died abruptly from heart attacks and strokes. Some are living with life-challenging neurological conditions from having followed the fear mongers’ insistence that they had to take the jag for their country, because even if it didn’t stop them from getting covid—it would protect others, and it make covid milder if they did get it.

Between the heat wave and covid, of course, there was the cost of living hype with “heat or eat,” and dire predictions of how no one was coming out of the current financial situation alive. Yeah…it’s tough. We’ve been impacted just like everyone else. But I remember hearing what extraordinary challenges folks faced during the Great Depression—and I feel blessed. And I feel cold. It’s ‘summer here and all the way up to 55.4 degrees with the typical canopy of clouds. And I feel angry because my husband was one of those who followed the lure of the fear mongers and took the jags—and now has Parkinson’s Disease. While the fear mongers try desperately to make the killer heat wave last…I watch my husband stumble through the house and catch the door frames between rooms to keep from falling. I see him struggle, making up to five failed attempts to get out of a chair. I see his inability to get in and out of bed at night; zip his jacket; get out of the shower; fasten his seatbelt, get out of the car.

Meanwhile, I think of all the Bible truths that the fear mongers could shout to the world to help instead of scare. Like the 365 “fear nots” in the Bible. Like trusting God in all circumstances. Like Psalm 91: 9, “Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling, for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

No fear here.

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What’s the Message?

I was rather flabbergasted when an extremely attractive woman in her 50s said she was competing on a game show to win enough money for cosmetic surgery. She said parts of her body had “gone south,” and she wanted to win enough money to prop them up again.

Folks are entitled to use their money, or their winnings from a game show, for whatever they choose. What flabbergasted me was that the woman was a gospel singer. It made me wonder if she just memorized the songs and parroted them without hearing the message contained within the words. For example, Lauren Daigle’s, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

This world is not our home. We are here only a short time. If we turn our eyes upon Jesus, our Creator and the Creator and Savior of heaven and earth—our focus is not on us—but on Him. How God sees us is more important than how other people see us and pleasing people fades in the light and brightness of pleasing Jesus.

God doesn’t look at our hair color or style, our makeup, our tattoos, our body or other jewelry, our outward appearance—God looks at our heart. Things like cosmetic surgery and makeovers are temporary—like the petals of a flower falling from the bloom. Our kindness, gentleness, love, joy, peace, self-control, goodness and faithfulness are forever, treasures stored ahead of us in heaven waiting to be reclaimed when we get there.

The LORD said, “Do not look at his appearance, or his physical stature…for the LORD does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the hearts.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

Knowing that the Lord is watching our hearts rather than our aging bodies should give us all comfort and peace. And just think of how much money it saves!

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

Where Newton Got it Wrong

Most people know how Sir Isaac Newton sat under an apple tree and an apple fell and hit him on the head. Anyone else would have yelled, “Ouch!” But Newton discovered the law of gravity.

Newton was a brilliant scientist and theologian and he can’t be blamed for not discovering the second principle of gravity—because he was only 22 in 1665 when the apple hit him on the head. Gravity’s pull on a person grows stronger as the person grows older and weaker. Even now—I am typing with a broken arm. Gravity. The older a person is the easier they fall because the pull of gravity increases with age. Thus the body parts “gone south” truism.

First it was the left knee. Doctors called it arthritis, but I know it was gravity. The cartilage got tired of supporting the top half and the bottom half of the knee and said, “Vacation time! I’m out of here.” It left and forgot to come back. Bone-to-bone, the two halves of the left leg couldn’t get along. Their lack of cooperation made it impossible to walk pain free and nearly impossible to walk at all. Thus a human adjustment to neutralize the power of gravity so the top and bottom half of the leg would stop bickering. A knee replacement.

And if this isn’t enough proof of gravity’s increasing power on aging bodies, the right hip joined the fray. Again, the orthopedic surgeon called it arthritis, but it’s not his fault that he never heard about the second part of Newton’s law. Newton was brilliant. He advanced to other spectacular achievements like building a reflecting telescope and discovering the theory of color. Plus, he was a professor of mathematics—and that would keep anyone busy.

Then it was the arm. My final proof that the fall of the knee and the fall of the hip were gravity-related. I’m sitting here typing with a cast on my left arm and arthritis is not involved. The culprit was gravity. I fell. As people age, they fall more easily. God is good all the time and all the time God is good. I did not land on my newly installed left knee or my newly twice-installed right hip. I landed on my good right knee—and my arm. While I am ever so thankful to God for His protection, I am still pondering His creation and installation of that natural law of gravity—especially the second part. Suddenly those moon shots look pretty good. And I am wishing that Sir Isaac Newton had carried his theory to completion so we could have learned it in school and expected it in latter life: as the body ages and grows weaker, the pull of gravity magnifies and grows stronger.

God rules. Psalm 59:13

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Proper Support

Nearly two weeks ago I fell in the kitchen and fractured my wrist.

First the x-ray machine at the hospital was broken. I got sent home with a splint and told to take some pain relief and come back the next day when the machine was fixed. As a result of the x-ray, I was instructed to keep the splint on day and night and wait for a referral to the fracture clinic.

The splint helped and within a few days I no longer needed pain relief. I went back to my normal activities, ignoring the frequent aching and bursts of sharp pain when I twisted the wrist wrong or put too much weight on it.

Finally, I got the appointment to the fracture clinic. They put a hard cast on my wrist. Wow! Suddenly the aching pain was gone. I can use my arm without bursts of pain, because now that my wrist has the proper support it doesn’t twist or turn in awkward positions. I can even get to sleep quickly without moving my arm all around the bed in experimental positions.

Proper support.

Everyone needs a good support system in life. Spouses, family members, friends, pets—all valuable members of our support team. All endeavor to keep us from twisting and turning in painful directions when life shatters us. Sadly, our support team members can fail us due to their temporary natures. All of them are subject to leaving holes in our lives when death claims them.

We have one permanent support team member who will never fail us. God is everlasting.  “God will comfort all who mourn. He will give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isaiah 61:3.

Proper support.

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