Small & Deadly

Most folks probably fear and flee large critters – but small things can kill.

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One vacationing site on the Scottish Highlands applauded Culicoides Impunctatus, the ferocious Highland Midge. It concluded that if there were fewer midges in the Scottish Highlands there would be more tourists and more tourists would spoil the scenic beauty that tourists come to see. It added cheerfully that no one had ever died from a midge bite. I don’t buy it.

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Painting signs in the Texas Hill Country, I was attacked by the midge’s American cousin, no see ‘ems. While balancing 20 feet up in the air on the metal rungs of a ladder, I battled to keep the invisible biting, stinging gnats out of my eyes. Keeping them out of paint was impossible. They love paint. Thus my straight, neat lines often wobbled as the brush pulled over the bodies of hundreds of still-struggling no see ‘ems.

The Scottish tourist site posted photos of folks wearing head masks and gloves to protect themselves from Scotland’s “nuisances.” Faces under the masks were totally blocked from sight from the layers of midges. Same with the gloves and outer clothing. One photo was a cupped hand piled high with black soil – no – make that “non-deadly” “nuisances,” midges.

With their sight blocked by midges, what if a hill walker gets too close to the edge of a cliff? What if I had fallen off the ladder? No one has died from a midge bite? Are we sure of that?

There’s a delightful folktale Travellers (gypsies) relate about how midges came to Scotland. I included it in my mystery-romance-suspense “Captive of Fear.”

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Watching baby ducks with Mom started me thinking about small things. Bites on my face and neck turned me from thinking cute to thinking kill. But how do you dispatch a cloud of insects that are virtually invisible?

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Something else small is deadly. Words. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Cruel words break hearts, cause fights, and bring about death and suicide. James says, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things…No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Jesus said that we are not defiled by what we put into our mouths – but by the words that come out of our mouths.

Some small things are cute – like baby ducks. Some small things must be handled with care – like words. Some small things are a nuisance – like midges. Are they deadly? I’d maintain that the jury is still out on that one.

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Great Love

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Texas Miz Mike #7 mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge Home” was released—but, wait! It is not the best love story ever written.

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Great love stories light our inner fires and inspire us. Some of the most famous include William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” Leo Tolstory’s “Anna Karenina,” Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Other great love stories revolve around remarkable people like John Smith and the Indian Princess Pocahontas, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

This is just a fleeting mention of some of the world’s greatest love stories because nearly all life-changing, life-impacting stories contain an element of love. Not surprising since God’s Word proclaims, “Love never fails,” and “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians, Chapter 13).

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My favorite love stories tend to be embedded in musicals. The social commentary and unforgettable music in “Show Boat;” faith victorious in “The Sound of Music,” rollicking fun in “Calamity Jane” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and the soul-plumbing “South Pacific.” And of course the musical everyone in Scotland hates—but I’ve always loved, “Brigadoon.”

Whether they end in tragedy, or joy and “happy ever after,” love and love stories make life worth living.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t forget to read the greatest love story ever written. It’s written in God’s blood. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Then He proved it by dying for us.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

God’s love story about us and for us is greater than any love story ever written by humans—even William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” which is still ranked #1 in love stories 400 years after it was written.

As for “Bridge Home,” well, I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, and leave a review—but trust me…it won’t the list.

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

 

“Experts”

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The earliest “expert” I remember was my first grade teacher who chided me for coloring trees and sky such bright “unrealistic” colors. Over and over she intoned, “Trees are green, tree trunks are brown, sky is blue.”

I guess she had never seen a sunset, or autumn foliage, and she was ignorantly unaware that tree trunks are different colors, mostly grey in the Texas Hill Country.

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Education is awesome—but I eschew “experts.”

My son Luke used to get upset when a high school teacher, an expert in science, repeatedly informed the class that dogs could be trained—but they couldn’t think. Luke knew better. We had a half-collie named Esther. Our other dog, Shad, would stretch out in the middle of the couch so that Esther had no room at either end and would have to take the floor. One day Esther trotted over to the front door and barked. Shad launched himself off the couch in a frenzied attack mode. Esther calmly walked back to the couch and took Shad’s place. After that, whenever she wanted the couch, Esther repeated the performance. (Shad never learned.) Trained? I think not.

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One dog training expert claimed dogs only have a seven-second memory. “Never say sit down,” this expert advised. “Just say sit, because by the time you get to down, the dog has forgotten the first word.” Really?

Our dog Angel Joy hasn’t seen Andy the coal man for three years. He’s a nice guy, but scares her to death because he’s so big. If we say Andy, or coal—or heaven forbid, Andy the coal man—our usually quiet, calm Angel Joy goes ballistic.

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There are health experts who are overweight. There are education experts who have never taught a class. There are parenting experts who don’t have children. There are writing experts who give advice on how to write and market books—and their own books aren’t selling.

Wise people, and those knowledgeable in their fields are blessings, but I’ve learned to question “experts.”

Experts in Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ day, the late 1400s and early 1500s, thought the world was flat and ships would fall off if they sailed too far. Columbus read in the Bible in Isaiah 40:22 that God “sits above the circle of the earth.” He reasoned that if God sits above the circle of the earth, the earth must be round. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When I need an expert, I’ll stick with that same God, the One who “made a law for the rain and a path for the thunderbolt.” (Job 28:36)

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Death, the Lasting Adventure

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When I was 12, my spooky horse Allie jumped over a ditch to the road. His shadow hit the red clay dirt and he spooked. He leaped sideways bucking, threw me off, and ran home.

Allie was afraid of shadows. He thought shadows were real. He thought shadows would hurt him.

A lot of people are like Allie. They fear shadows. They think shadows are real. They think shadows will hurt them. We have either forgotten or chosen not to believe Psalm 23 in the Bible, “Yea, though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Because people know I’m a Christian, I often get prayer requests. I’m thrilled to pray for others and I rejoice when God answers their prayers. But some requests are impossible for God to fulfill because they are not within His plan.

We plant “dead” seeds and marvel when bright, new, healthy plants spring up from the dead-looking kernels. God never wanted death to be a part of the world He created. He designed human bodies to heal and live forever. But when Adam and Eve sinned, death entered the world. Because of that, God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place so we could live forever. Jesus didn’t just die—He rose from the dead to prove to us that we also can live again.

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After we “die” to this world, we live forever in Heaven with Jesus in bright, new, healthy spiritual bodies that will never suffer death, illness, pain, suffering, or sorrow. But first—we must pass through the shadow.

It’s alarming to get prayer requests from people who are afraid of the shadow and don’t trust God’s promise about what is on the other side. I don’t know what to say or how to pray when someone grabs my arm and pleads, “Please pray for Momma. She’s 92 and her kidneys have stopped working, and she has heart and lung disease, and now she has cancer.”

 

What I want to say, and should be honest enough to say is, “Sweetie, let go of your poor Momma. Let her go home to God. He will give her a new healthy body.” But I’ve discovered that folks who are afraid of shadows hate truth.

Death is an adventure. An everlasting adventure. Between us and that lasting adventure is a shadow. All of us must pass through that shadow to get to our new life and claim our new body.

Perhaps we should repeat often, “Death is a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. Shadows can’t hurt us.”

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Angel Bus

It wasn’t until I wrote about the experience later in the day that I was struck by the thought…had it been an Angel Bus?

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Our rough collie has digestive problems and can only eat prescription dog food. As long as she eats that dog food – and that dog food only – she does well. Because of Angel Joy’s chronic illness, she can tolerate only one type of treat, which most stores don’t stock.

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I took a bus to Inverness, Scotland, and waited at the bus station at the designated stand for the connection needed. It never came. It was cold, rainy, and windy (imagine that in Scotland!), and my fingers and toes were growing numb. I finally asked the driver of another bus if his bus went to the retail center. He told me I would have to walk to the stand in the town center. So I went…and that bus never came. It was announced on the flashing sign and I waited through 30 minutes of changing promises that it was arriving in three minutes, two minutes, etc., but it never arrived.

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Without leaving the stand where the sign promised a bus would arrive imminently, and walking some distance in the rain (it hadn’t been raining when I left home, so I was unprepared) to my bank, I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. But I was so cold and miserable that I decided I would either take a taxi – or just go back home without the treats.

Then an old white bus limped to a stop in front of me. It was not painted or marked like a city bus. It resembled a bus from a third world country, like the one in Walt Disney’s 1964 “The Moon-Spinners,” with Hayley Mills. The door opened. I peeked inside the empty bus and asked, “Does this go to the retail center?”

The driver smiled (a rarity for Scottish bus drivers) and said, “If that’s where you want to go.” So dismissing the idea that I might be kidnapped as writer’s imagination (I don’t make enough with my writing to be worth kidnapping), I climbed aboard the empty bus and arrived at the retail park. When I was ready to leave, there were a plethora of city-marked buses coming to collect passengers and take them back to the main bus station.

 

Had it been an Angel Bus? Hebrews 13:2 advises, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” And Psalm 91:11 says that God will give His angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways.

Not all angels take a human form. I remember the lovely golden retriever that followed Luke home one day and stayed on our porch all night. The dog tackled a drunk intruder and chased him away…then vanished. We could never find the dog or the dog’s owner to thank them.

I think of two of my high school English teachers as angels. Both encouraged me in my writing, no matter how many misspelled words I had or how messy my handwriting was. Miss Greene’s statement, “Stephanie, I believe I will be reading your books someday and teaching them in my literature classes,” kept me going for years no matter how many rejection slips I got on manuscripts. I wanted to prove Miss Greene’s confidence in me had not been misplaced.

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Was it an Angel Bus? I’ll never know for sure, but I do know it’s important to be angels to other people. Who can we encourage today? Being an angel is as important as entertaining one.

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Directions Are Overrated

Directions are not all they’re cracked up to be. Send me into the country. Tell me to take a left past the first cottonwood tree after the low water crossing, follow the fence to the third gap, turn right and stay straight until I see a crooked fence post, turn left at the old tire and go along side the pond until I see a shed on the hill, then turn right at the sheep pen—and I can find it every time. But send me into a city building with rooms on both sides of the corridor and I need an escort to get out again. On city streets, I have been known to turn into a gas station, fill the tank, then pull out and drive the wrong way for miles before I snap to the mistake.

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Directions like east, west, north, and south are the worst. We learned in school that north is in front of us, south is behind us, east is to the right, and west is to the left. Try using that information to navigate. You are always headed north unless you walk backwards or crab walk to one side or the other.

The Highlands of Scotland may not be the worst place in the world to find destinations—but it’s close. The roads aren’t marked. Alan says directional signs were purposefully removed to confuse German paratroopers in the war. Folks, the war is over.

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Additionally, signs are small; street signs are erected so high up on buildings that they are above eye level; they are faded almost beyond legibility, and road signs are in both Gaelic and English making them too crowded to read. And roundabouts. The map may tell you to take the B999351 at the next roundabout. Four roads spin off in four different directions and not one of them is marked.

When I first arrived here five years ago, Alan and I headed to a memorial service. We never got there, in spite of following lines of cars on a one-lane road in two different directions and stopping to ask two different people out walking their dogs how to get there. It’s a good thing Alan wasn’t preaching—five years later, we still haven’t found the place.

Oh…and the death blow, “You can’t miss it.” Perhaps no one else can miss it. But I can. Trust me.

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Yesterday we embarked on a trip the map said would take 29 minutes. Two hours later, we arrived at our destination. Today, we headed out on a 30-minute trip and made it home again within three hours. The road was not marked, so we took it to the end in both directions. Nor were there any numbers on buildings. Nor did the building we were searching for have a sign. So while Alan and I are both directionally-challenged…sometimes it’s not our fault that we get lost.

We have learned to enjoy the scenery while lost. We may be the first folks, for example, to know that the leaves are already turning.

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I’m so thankful the directions God gives in the Bible are easily understood. Even a directionally-challenged person can understand, “Do not covet, Do not steal, Do not commit adultery…love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

Can’t miss it.

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The Cure

The Bible tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and God looked at his creation and saw that “it was good.”

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Then Adam and Eve sinned and sin entered the world, bringing death and destruction with it. God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake…both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth.” To me…that explains nettles, fire ants, scorpions—and all the other uglies and nasties. They came into the perfect world God created when sin ruined the perfection.

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My first exposure to Scottish nettles was…rather embarrassing. That expression, “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” The gotta hit me during a long woodland hike soon after I arrived in Scotland from Texas. So I waded into high weeds away from the path to do the necessary. Let me just say…you don’t ever want to expose bare skin on any part of your body to nettles—especially not that part!

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But where sin brought a curse, God placed a cure. Broad-leafed plants called dockens will stop the pain and burning when applied to the affected area.

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Most recently, I accidentally ran the back of my hand across nettles when I was walking the dog. I couldn’t find a docken. We were eating dinner when I mentioned the pain to my husband. Alan looked at the redness and swelling…then…just like Brigadoon, he vanished. He was gone so long that I thought about going to look for him. He returned with docken leaves and they stopped the burning and pain almost immediately.

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Because we are living in a sin-infested, imperfect world—there will always be nettles, either physical or spiritual. But where there is a curse, there is a cure. Jesus died to set the captives free from sin, pain, sorrow, illness, and the finality of death. He is the ultimate cure.

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From Texas to Scotland with Love

Imagine exchanging everything you know and love within a 24-hour period of time: going from a 100F summer to a 59F summer; exchanging Mexican food for fish and chips; switching from driving on the right side of the road to the left; leaving the safety and comfort of traffic lights and stop signs for confusing roundabouts; searching for light switches in bathrooms—because they are on the outside; getting either scalded or splashed by water because the faucets are on separate sides of the sink and the cold water is unexpectedly powerful; discovering that shower curtains are barely needed because the water only sprays within a small, weak circumference, and learning words you’ve never heard before—havering, scunnered, puddock (frog), puggled (tired out), shoogly, stushie, manky, dreich, breeks, glaekit, toerag, dauner, drookit, blether…it can happen. If you love someone enough, it can happen.

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God blessed me with a Scottish husband, Reverend Alan McKean, in 2011. That took me from sunny South USA to the cold and cloudy Scottish Highlands. It’s been quite a trip! Even after I learned that “pavement” means a pedestrian sidewalk (after getting yelled at by an irate bus driver because when he told me to get on the pavement I obediently stepped down to the asphalt in front of the bus), and even after knowing that biscuits are cookies and scones are biscuits, and words have extra letters in them (program is programme), it is still daunting at times. The cold never leaves and summer never comes. There are no dill pickles. Nestle House chocolate chips must (like dill pickles) be shipped in from the U.S. and forget ice tea; it simply doesn’t happen.

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Scotland is a lovely country with awesome scenery in every direction. The people are great. I wouldn’t want to offend them because they are convinced that no one else in the world is like a Scottish Highlander…but one reason I love them so much and feel so welcome here is that they are a bit like Texans. They don’t say “howdy,” “y’all,” “fixinto,” and ain’t, and they are too reserved to go in for hugs unless you really get to know them—but they are warm, friendly, and independent. Great folks.

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So…it had to happen. A Texas writer in Scotland? Scotland got into the books. Two of the Texas Miz Mike mystery-romance-suspense books are set in Scotland. “Bridge to Brigadoon” finds Miz Mike on a vacation on the lovely Black Isle that is neither restful nor predictable. And the newly released “Bridge Back” has Miz Mike coming back to Scotland to marry…but with the differences in language, climate, and culture—will the wedding take place? Not to mention the mystery that threatens her life.

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Funny? Gut-bustingly funny! From start to finish, “Bridge Back” is a hoot. It’s even fun for me to read…and I wrote it.

The Bible guarantees that laughter is good medicine. So if something has you down and a chuckle would lift you up, give “Bridge Back” a read.

And, thanks, y’all!

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

 

Year Without Fear

As we journey through 2016, it’s a good resolve to live the New Year without fear. There are 365 “fear not”s in the Bible, one for every day of the year.

When I arrived in Scotland from Texas four years ago I was told “Don’t talk about your Christian faith openly because UK folk are reserved and expect others to act with the same restraint. Advice I ignored.

Four years later I have told countless people, “God bless.” I have stopped to pray with complete strangers. I have exclaimed repeatedly, “Praise Jesus! A beautiful day!” I’ve suffered only two verbal rebukes, one from a woman who said she wished I hadn’t asked God to bless her, and one from a person who informed me, “We don’t want any of your American Fundamentalism over here.”

Had I blindly accepted the advice to keep quiet, I would have missed both blessings and opportunities to share God’s blessings with others. God has provided occasions to pray with others for healing; the healing of pets, recovery from alcoholism, rescue from depression, mending after the loss of a loved one.

Fearing what people might say or think above what God had directed would have robbed the past four years of meaning and blessing.

There are other ways to walk in God’s love. The Christian walk is a designer walk. Tell the maintenance person he or she is doing a good job. Thank the post person. Thank the folks who come to pick up the garbage. Compliment a person on his or her parenting skills. Commend a teacher for a job well done. Tell the cashier to have a lovely rest of the day. Smile. If words freeze between the brain and the lips…just smile.

Live the New Year without fear. Smile! A smile is the same in every language, easily given and almost always returned.

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Life or Death?

What do you see when you look at overblown thistles? Life? Death?

I see life. The wind grasps each feathery seed and tumbles it into the air and away from the parent plant before dropping it on new ground. Not all of the wind-deposited seeds will grow into new thistles, but many will.

Prickly purple thistle became the emblem of Scotland during the reign of Alexander III (1249-1286). Norway’s King Haakon led his army in a surprise night attack in an effort to conquer the Scots. The surprise attack failed after the Norsemen removed their footwear for stealth – and stood on thistles. Their shrieks of pain alerted the Scots – who won the battle – which in turn won a victory of reverence for the prickly plants.

Death creates life. Or as the Bible states, “What you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain – perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body…So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.” (I Corinthians 15:35-42)

Vegetation produces blooms, then seeds. The blooms must die first to turn into seeds. The seeds must die before they can be planted and burst into new life. When trees fall in the forest, they decay and enrich the soil contributing to new life. The cycle of life and death repeats endlessly with death feeding new life. The greatest example of this is the life, death, and life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His death on the cross brought life and eternity down to earth for all of us because he rose again from the dead. He lives! Because Jesus lives, we will live again.

We have no need to fear death. Death is an illusion. “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality…Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sing of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:53-57)

Heralded by dying leaves falling off trees and flowers dying and drying into seed, Fall can make us melancholy unless we remember that death creates new life.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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