No Fear…Absolutely

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There are no easy answers for why bad things happen to good people, and why a loving God allows them to happen.

There are a lot of chipper, upbeat standard answers that sometimes make those afflicted with pain and suffering angry. Sure, they may be true – but in the midst of pain who wants to hear: Everything that happens in your life is a consequence of the decisions you’ve made and your actions. True or not, I can’t imagine walking into a hospice ward to visit a person with lung cancer and saying, “Well, this is your fault for smoking.”

True or not, in the center of a storm of pain, hardship, and suffering – telling someone that God created a perfect world, which was ruined by sin, and that God never intended bad to enter His perfect creation is not much comfort. Action to help the person is needed more than all the glib clichés one can deliver.

Please, I welcome your prayers, but the following is Not a plea for sympathy. When my hip pain started a few years ago, I ignored it. I declared stoutly, “I don’t need to go to the doctor. Even if an x-ray shows a problem, I will never let anyone cut me open. So why go?” So I exercised, ran, and prayed the pain away. I was a Texan, after all, and just like my character Texas Miz Mike in my mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge” series, Texans stand up to crisis. They don’t back down even from rattlesnakes.

Prayer works. From the time I was a new Christian and God removed my warts, to the time my son was scheduled to have a metal rod inserted in his spine and God healed him instead, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and Jesus heals. Prayer works. But sometimes we don’t get the answer we want or expect. Sometimes God answers “No.” Sometimes He answers “Wait.” For me this time, God’s answer was “NO.” For whatever reason, God did not heal me and I became increasingly worse. By worse, I am on crutches. I can’t open my mouth to take a bite of food without throwing the utensil down and hollering in pain.  Sneezing, yawning, coughing – the pain is so intense that it would knock down an elephant. Fortunately, I’m a Texan.

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The MRI showed a “huge” bulging disc in my spine that presses directly into the nerve. Instead of my right hip, the pain has spread to both hips and makes it impossible for me to drive because I can’t lift my foot and press down on the clutch. Why do I have this pain? Why has God not healed me? I don’t know. I do know that the Bible says to give thanks in everything, because this is the will of God for me in Christ Jesus. So I give thanks. I know that everything works together for good to those who love the Lord. Everything. How is this horrific pain working together for my good? I don’t know exactly, but I have an idea.

No fear. The greatest fear a person faces in life is death. Once that fear is eliminated – there’s nothing to fear. I lost my fear of death when my 37-year-old son died in a plane crash four years ago. He’s in Heaven and I will get to see him again when I get there. Everyone must walk through the valley of the shadow of death to get to Heaven. But shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt. Shadows are an illusion. No fear.

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However, I love mobility. I want to walk, run, swim, climb mountains – keep moving. Therefore…I was determined that no doctor, no surgeon was ever going to touch my spine. Until…the pain. It took severe pain to grow me past the fear of having surgery. My surgery is scheduled for next week and I would be jumping in joy – if jumping didn’t hurt so much and if I could lift my feet. I am thrilled. I am totally unafraid and totally ready to surrender my life, health, and spine to whatever surgeon God provides. Trusting God totally and totally without fear.

I can’t answer the question of why bad things happen, or why Jesus didn’t heal me this time as He has in the past. Mysteries belong to God, even though I write them in books. But this I know, pain has pushed me to grow beyond fear. Totally.

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Where Is That Girl?

DSCF7038Where is the little girl who chased fireflies through corn stalks and thought at least some of them were actually fairies? Where is the little girl who believed in princes and knights and happy ever after endings? Where is the little girl who searched the skies for rainbows believing in that pot of gold at the end? Where is the little girl who scanned the night skies for UFOs and saved her money to build a hot air balloon and look for the Loch Ness Monster? Where is the little girl who held an injured sparrow in the palms of her hands and watched in wonder as the bird’s transparent blue spirit rose above the bird and shot upward when the bird died?

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Sometimes it seems that little girl who believed in a world of miracles died. Then something as simple as soap bubbles rising over the sink in rainbow colors when she does dishes brings her back to life.

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The miracle of flaming colors streaked across the sky to announce a new day, the miracle of a curious robin in the garden, the miracle of a child’s laughter, the miracle of ebbing and flowing tides, the miracle of changing seasons…life is a miracle. God is a constant Miracle Worker and every breath, every season of life is a gift.

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

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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The good in Goodbye

One Meredith Wilson song in the 1962 film “The Music Man,” starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, is “Sincere.” Singing it, The Buffalo Bills lament, “where is the sin in sincere, what is good in goodbye?”

Goodbyes can be good.

This is the time of year in Fortrose-Rosemarkie, Scotland, when adult seagulls say goodbye to their young. Hearing the frantic, anxious calls of the abandoned youngsters rips my heart. The baby seagulls don’t understand why parents that have so lovingly cared for them suddenly leave and ignore their agonized cries. Big, fluffy, grey baby gulls walk along the edge of the water and sit on rooftops calling their absent parents. But this time, no matter how gut-wrenching the cries – the parents don’t respond.

I wonder if it is as hard on the parents to ignore the hurt cries of their young as it is on me. If so, they ignore the sharp, biting heart pains and distance themselves – using the wisdom God instilled in them – so the babies will be forced to exercise the feeding and flying skills that the parents have so diligently taught them. If they continued to care for their babies, the babies would continue to live on handouts and never learn self-sufficiency. A winged example of the popular cliché “tough love.”

All parents experience the hurt and learn the benefits of goodbyes when their children are still young. Goodbyes are a part of sending children to school to learn, sending them to visit grandparents and friends, sending them to summer camps…sending them away to universities, jobs, and distant locations. Without the goodbyes, children would never grow into their full potential and learn God’s will for their lives. Goodbyes can be good – but they still hurt.

The longest, hardest goodbye is when someone we love “dies.” It’s been nearly a year since my wonderful, talented son, USMC Major Luke Parker, “died” to this world. Perhaps my deep inner hurt and emptiness magnifies the anguished cries of the baby seagulls and makes me hypersensitive.

Everyone who has ever said goodbye to a loved one who departed from this world, however, has an advantage over those confused, lonely baby gulls. If we are Christians, we know that the separation is temporary. We will join our loved ones again in Heaven with Jesus lighting the way. What an awesome comfort! Death is not an end, it’s the doorway into eternity and the beginning of living a life without pain and loss.

As for the gulls…they are forced to use the life skills they have been taught. They will pass them on to their youngsters. But will they ever see their parents again? I hope so. I really hope so.

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

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If This is all There is to Life, Why was I Born?

With Easter Resurrection Sunday approaching, it seemed a good time to ask the question: if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

I don’t count my life as a total failure. My dream has always been to be an author and I have six Christian mystery-romance-suspense books published and another one featuring sassy Miz Mike – Bridge Beyond Betrayal – being released this summer by Sunpenny Publishing.

Yet, I’ve never had as much money as other people have; I’ve never driven as new a vehicle as most people do; I’ve never lived in as grand a house as many people do; never been able to spend lavishly on Christmas gifts for other people at Christmas, or buy expensive gifts for others during the rest of the year. Because I haven’t been able to afford it, I’ve never been on a cruise; never gone to Disney Land; never taken a vacation to Greece or Rome or some other exotic place. So if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

I’ve had problems, trials, troubles, heartbreaks and sorrow. Having two abortions forced on me to hide the crime of constant childhood sexual abuse inflicted on me; escaping that abuse and living under a bridge; being cold, tired, hungry and despairing; spending years as a single parent and working two to three jobs to make ends meet; caring for a husband who died from cancer, and the most recent tragedy – the loss of my 37-year-old son in a plane crash. So if this is all there is to life, why was I born?

First of all, I don’t have a patent on hardships. My landscape is not the only one darkened by life’s storms. Job 5:17, written in 1520 BC, states, “A man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Job would know. All in one day he lost everything he possessed on earth, including his children. All he had left was his wife. She told him to curse God and die. Job replied, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”

I am fortunate to have a loving, supporting husband in fellow author Alan T McKean (time travel series The Scent of Home, The Scent of Time) who stands beside me under the darkest clouds as a bright light and never tempts me to tempt God.

Most encouraging, this is not all there is to life. Jesus, the Son of God, was born to a human in human form so that He could experience everything we do as non-deities and set the example of resisting temptation, loving one another, and obeying God. Jesus came to earth to die. After healing multitudes of people from multitudes of illnesses, diseases, injuries and infirmities, He allowed Himself to be lifted up on a cross to die that we might live. Nails didn’t hold Jesus to the cross, love did.

The story doesn’t end there. After three days – after going to hell and wresting the keys of death and hell away from satan – Jesus rose from the grave victorious! Because He lives, we know that we will live again. Death is an illusion. Death is not an ending – it is the beginning of eternal life with God.

Victory in Jesus!

Bring on the sorrows, trials, problems, temptations, illness and hurts. They are temporary. Jesus is eternal.

I’m glad I was born.

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Dying to Live

The oldest inscription on a gravestone at the Rosemarkyne, Scotland – since changed to Rosemarkie – churchyard dates back to 1644. The present church building was constructed in 1821, on ground claimed for worship since the first century – 6 AD.

One family of pastors shepherded the flock for a combined total of 150 years. The salutary import of this glimpse of history is to demonstrate the truth Jesus taught: we must die to live.

Easter, or Resurrection Sunday is quickly approaching. Jesus said (Matthew 16:24-26) let those who want to follow Me deny themselves and be willing to accept the difficulties that following Me will bring. Whoever is afraid of public criticism and denies Me to win public approval will lose their lives. Whoever refuses to be swayed by fear of public opinion and serves Me will find life in Me and blessings. What profit is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?

Once we are not afraid of dying – either physically or socially – we can live in the fullness of joy, because fear of death is the ultimate fear.

Walking through a land peopled by grave markers illustrates the frailty of our human bodies and the intransigent nature of death. We will die. All of us will die no matter what race, sex, nationality, or religious creed we claim. No one has ever out-maneuvered, out-run, or out-distanced death. Even Jesus died.

With death certain, our only hope and comfort is that Jesus is alive. Death could not keep Him, the grave could not hold Him. Because Jesus lives, we will live. Because Jesus lives, we can die to live, confident that we are not living to die.

One headstone in the Rosemarkie churchyard is a quintessential example of how to die to live instead of living to die: a cross resting on the Rock of the Ages with an open Bible next to it. That’s an earthly reminder of a heavenly citizen who understood that death is just a shadow that can’t hurt us. We must all pass through the false shadow of “death” to enter eternal life where there is no more sorrow, illness, death or dying.

Our earthly journey is short. We own the choice to live it victoriously in Jesus, or in meaningless comfort, seeking the approval of other people who – like us – will die.

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

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Look at me, Mom!

Our rough collie, Angel Joy, reminds me of a child. When we meet other dogs along the beach, she wants to show off. When she makes an especially good leap and catch, she holds the ball in her mouth and looks around to see if anyone observed her brilliance. She covets praise.

It reminds me of my son Luke when he was a child. “Mom, look!” Every parent can relate to that. “Mom, did you see that?” “Mom, guess what I did today!”

There were times when I wanted to be left alone to read a good book or do almost anything else than watch the same antics over and over, “Mom, did you see that! Look, Mom! Watch what I can do!”

Yet, as a parent – especially a single parent – I knew how important it was to give my son undivided attention even when he was acting immature and silly and I had other things to do than provide a loving, encouraging audience. How thankful I am now that I usually managed to pretend great interest in his endless somersaults, jumps off high objects, and riding a sky line down from a tree to the ground – over and over and over.

Luke graduated from earth to heaven at age 37, and I will never again have the chance to watch him, encourage him, praise him. He’s lost to me in this life.

Before Luke’s death, it was the same thing during phone calls – but it was Luke praising his daughter. “Mom, she’s so smart. I’m so proud of this girl.” “Let me tell you what she did today!” “She’s an angel!” She’s so smart and beautiful and brave.” “She can rock climb better than me.” “Let me tell you, that girl is just awesome and amazing!”

Dulcinea was only ten when she lost her daddy, but she can hold tightly to the memories of her father’s love for her and praise of her. Never did Luke speak one critical, angry or disparaging word about his daughter – my granddaughter. Dulcinea will never have to question whether or not her daddy loved her and was proud of her. She knows.

I challenge parents to watch your children at every opportunity – even if they are performing the same monotonous “trick” over and over to what seems like infinity. It isn’t. Your investment of time in your children will never leave you with regrets when God repossesses His loan. Children are gifts from God and they are only on loan to their parents.

Children are the only thing we have on this earth that will join us in Heaven. Give them what they need more than money, toys, or electronics – your time and love.

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Luke Gaines Parker, Aug. 19, 1976 – Nov. 17, 2013, with daughter Dulcinea

Books by Stephanie Parker McKean:

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

Death, Dying and Shadows

Having just said goodbye to my 37-year-old son, U.S. Marine Corps Major Luke Gaines Parker, (Aug. 19, 1976 – Nov. 17, 2013), I feel qualified to write about death, dying and shadows. Death because a memorial service was held for Luke; shadows because they are illusions.

Luke was born hyperactive before it became a buzz word and was diagnosed with learning disabilities, all of which he overcame. When Luke wanted to learn something, he did. He learned to whitewater raft, rock climb, scuba dive, play a trumpet and piano, fly an airplane. When he wanted his own plane, he found and purchased one of 19 remaining Focke Wulfs in the world. He worked his way up from learner, to instructor, to an instrument rating. He performed aerobatic maneuvers at air shows and wrote smoke messages in the sky.

As a Marine, Luke worked his way up from enlisted to Major. He served six tours of duty in war zones – saw many of his Marine Corps buddies die – and returned home from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which he overcame. But this isn’t about Luke – it’s about shadows.

Shadows are illusions. Shadows aren’t real. They can’t hurt you. People can make shadow animals on the wall – even sharks and wolves – but the shadow critters are harmless. They can’t bite.

Death is unpopular. It gets bad PR. People think of death as an end. It’s scary. They see death as the worst thing that can happen. Death is not the end of life; it’s the beginning of eternal life. Death is what we label the passage from this earth into Heaven where there is no more death, dying, sorrow, illness, pain or sorrow. Death stands between this restless world and eternal joy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today at a nursing home, I saw the worst; lonely people with no one to visit them or care; people whose bodies and minds have worn out ahead of death’s arrival. Some screamed and cried for help because imaginary fiends – real to them – bit and crawled under their clothing. Some slumped over in their chairs, lacking strength to straighten up. Some sat, head lolling, drooling, useless arms ending in claw-like appendages that had once been functional hands.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today at a prison, I saw hopelessness in eyes once bright with wonder; human bodies held captive in cold metal cages, trapped in a dreamless land of no hope, no future.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw a drug addict with bleeding gums and pussy sores on his face sitting in the cold rain, shivering, and talking to invisible companions as he held a paper cup and begged for money for his next fix.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw an alcoholic mother in an uncontrollable spate of weeping because her young daughter had run away from home and she had sobered up enough to realize that it was her neglect and abuse that sent the young girl rushing out into a dangerous, uncertain future.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Today I saw an abused child with cigarette burns and bruises on his thin arms and face and shattered trust written across his face because the parents who should have loved and protected him had turned on him with anger and hate.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Jesus asked, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” If this life is all there is to life – then death is indeed an enemy and the worst thing that can happen.

Luke lived his 37 years to the fullest because he walked with God. Even when other people around him did, Luke never drank alcohol or used profanity. He attended church, read his Bible, and was a great father to his young daughter. Within three days of his death, I received 850 messages expressing sorrow and commending his life – because it was a life lived with God. He flew his beloved Focke Wulf through the shadow of death into the arms of Jesus.

Do I miss my son? Dreadfully. Am I incapacitated by grief? No. Death is a shadow. Shadows are harmless, powerless illusions. Death doesn’t deserve such a bum rap. There are many things in this life worse than death.

Link to six Christian mystery-romance-suspense novels: http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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Love Stinks

It takes courage to love – because love stinks.

Okay, so I write Christian mystery-romance-suspense books. I should march through life expounding a giddy procession of clichés about love’s virtues. But honestly – love stinks.

Love stinks because only those we love possess the power to hurt us. We can be callous and indifferent when taunted by enemies, but when someone we love criticizes us, we shatter.

Love stinks because it ends. I met a fellow dog walker today. We fell into each others arms and cried – me because my son had graduated from earth to heaven, she because her loyal doggie companion had done the same. No matter what the object of one’s love, the pain of loss is devastating.

Husband, wife, friend, lover, companion, child, pet, wildlife, flower, tree – every object that we find the courage to love will be lost to us someday. I can write romance novels. I can write happy endings. But I can’t take the hurt out of love. I can’t make it smell good.

Yet, without love, life would be a desert wasteland. Love splashes life and color into every drab corner of human existence. Love fires the souls of writers, poets, dreamers, achievers. Love is the only heart condition that makes living worth the pain and effort. The Bible promises that love never fails.

Love stunk for Jesus, too. Because He loved us, Jesus allowed Himself to be mocked, whipped, have His beard plucked out and thorns pounded into His head. Love nailed Jesus to the cross. Love kept Him there. He could have called angels to rescue Him, but Jesus chose to stay on the cross and die for our sins. Love stinks.

Jesus spent three days in hell – because I’m bad, not because He was bad. Then Jesus snatched the keys of death away from satan, and rose victorious. Jesus broke the power of sin and death and handed us the victory.

Without the stinking love of Jesus, Heaven would be out of reach for us.

Love won’t stink in Heaven. Love will be a fragrant perfume that never dissipates and that lasts for all eternity.

So perhaps love doesn’t stink. Perhaps I can keep writing romance novels, some with happy endings. When sorrow finds a resting place inside my heart, a rose will bloom in its shadow.

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

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