What He Left Behind

My son Luke, known by some as U.S. Marine Corps Major Luke Parker, left this earth on November 27, 2013, at the age of 45. He left behind love and memories in the hearts of friends and family. He also left behind: a spanking new truck with all the extras; a WWII Jeep he restored; a two-story house near the beach; a Stetson hat and western boots and apparel; one of the last 19 remaining Focke Wulf airplanes in the world (which crashed with him), and even the Bible he carried with him everywhere—a tattered and underlined Bible that sits next to me at my desk.

At age 45, after achieving the rank of Major in the USMC, graduating from Stephen F. Austin, learning to pilot an airplane, and fathering a lovely and intelligent daughter—Luke left it all behind. Unexpectedly. Unplanned. Abruptly. In the blink of an eye, Luke passed from earth to heaven taking with him only the spirit that God breathed into him at his conception.

I see commercials on TV begging for funds to help people who have been traumatized by covid 19 and the resulting lockdowns. These traumatized people don’t need money, they need the assurance that comes only from God; that we are strangers and pilgrims passing through this world on our way to an eternal life where there will be no illness, no death, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering, no lack of any good thing.

They need to look around them at everything they own and realize that it is temporary. When they leave this earth, it won’t go with them. They will leave it all behind—just like Luke did.

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

Who Would Know

My mother actually cringed every time some well-intentioned friend sent her a pink card for a special occasion. My mother hated pink. For all the years we lived at home, the three of us girls never had anything pink hanging in our closets. We still don’t. But who would know?

People who know me know I love chocolate. But with increasing age and girth—I’ve become selective about chocolate. Other than my favorite chocolates, I rarely eat sweets. If I’m going to intake extra calories I want it to be from something that I really enjoy.

However, I appreciate gifts of kindness regardless of what color or flavor they are. It really is the thought that counts. Kindness looks good in any color and is sweet on any tongue.

God is kind in every language, and to every person and creature.

God knows everything about us—right down to our color preferences. He even knows our secret flaws and failures—and yet—He loves us anyway. “O LORD, You have searched me and known me; You know…You understand…” Psalm 139:1

“We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19.

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

Getting to Know You

Alan and I have been married for ten years. I just found out that he hates Chinese food. We’ve been eating Chinese food for ten years.

Alan and I have been married for ten years. I just found out that he likes watching Scottish football. Last night was the first time he switched on a football game in the ten years we’ve been married.

I’ve heard judgmental folks say, “How can someone marry someone and not realize that they are alcoholics, or drug users, or spouse abusers, or… It happens. It really happens.

Before Alan and I married we tried to be totally honest with one another. I told him that I do not iron, and I do not sew. I love walking and working outdoors and if I’m going to sit—it’s going to be in front of the computer writing books. He told me he had diabetes.

There is a reason typical marriage vows include the clause, “in sickness and in health.” The day before our wedding, Alan took a photo of me hoisting up an 85-pound bag of cement. I didn’t warn him about my future physical ailments—I didn’t know I had any. Ten years later, I have arthritis. I’ve had back surgery, a knee replacement, and need a hip replacement. And Alan has recently received a diagnosis of Parkinson ’s disease.

One of the songs in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The King and I” is “Getting to Know You.” “Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you. Getting to like you. Getting to hope you like me…” But can we ever really know all about someone? Isn’t it comforting that God knows all about us—the good, bad, beautiful, and ugly—and still loves us.

“For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13.

When we got married, Alan knew I loved animals. He told folks that being married to me was like being married to Dr. Doolittle. But I’m sure he never envisioned me opening up the glass door in the kitchen and inviting a wild pigeon to walk in and spend the night after it knocked on the door.

And I never expected to find my husband of ten years sitting in front of a football game on TV.

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

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