Beautiful Tree

tree after storms

 

This is a beautiful tree. It speaks. Look at it intently and listen to it whisper, “endurance.”

Poets memorialize heart-tugging moments in life. Authors, painters, and artists of all media catch fleeting moments of life and expound on them. One word whispers through all the art forms, through all the ages. The same word the tree whispers into the wind, “endurance.”

“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:7. Even seaweed blooms, but, oh, so briefly.

It’s God’s job to send the sun and the rain to create blooms. Our job is to endure.

seaweed blooms

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Adventure Outside Books

FB back Dunoon

Most of my books are mystery-romance-suspense and revolve around adventure, but sometimes adventure is overrated. Most of my adventures outside books revolve around getting lost—or similar calamities.

God has a sense of humor. Both my husband and I are directionally challenged, yet God put us together. Sometimes getting lost is a positive experience. Getting lost led us to Scotland’s historic Ballachulish, a slate quarry which opened in 1692 and employed up to 300 men for more than 250 years. Roofing slates were shipped to Scottish cities, with a record 26 million Ballachuish slates produced in 1845. It is now a tourist attraction of walking trails and poignant memories carved in rock.

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We just returned from two days of travel, six hours of driving both days. We only got temporarily lost on the way up to the Black Isle, and twice on the way back, so it was good other than the eight road work delays. Due to time constraints, we couldn’t stop to take pictures on the way up. We planned to stop on the way back. Never count on the next day for good weather in Scotland—we should know that.

When we finally reached the hotel booked for any time after 2 p.m., it was closed. Every door in the front was locked and no one answered our incessant doorbell ringing—incessant because I was desperate to get to a toilet. It was after 5 p.m., and there was not even a light inside. We stood there in the rain and cold wind (me with my legs squeezed together) considering our options. I walked around to the back and found an open door to what was apparently a linen closet and workshop. First I shouted, then getting no reply – I walked in, still shouting. No answer, but I found an unlocked door that led into the motel. I could see a bathroom in the gloom. Steps led up into the bowels of the historic hotel, which was built in 1892, a listed two-story square rubble stone building with dormer windows, a Tudor hood mold at the main entrance, and spacious rooms with elaborate trim around the high ceilings inside.

My husband was appalled (or perhaps frightened) by my bold adventuring, so he was back in front of the building waiting in the rain. The entrance along the main road opened into a bar and I got a chuckle thinking that people passing by and seeing Alan waiting might wonder if he had retired from the ministry to indulge in drink. Eventually two other people showed up—and unlike us—they had cell phones and called someone.

We finally made it to our room, which was grand and beautiful—but as cold as the outside stones. The restaurant was closed, so it was back out into the rain to walk across the street and get take-away Indian curry, which we ate in the closed restaurant.

The shower was good once I finally snapped to the fact that it was not a power shower and the reason I couldn’t find a button to push to turn it on was because there were no buttons. The bathroom heater didn’t work, so we were nearly as cold the next morning as we had been the previous night.

Then the trip home, driving through a rain/snow mix over mountains and behind slow moving vehicles and watching with pounding hearts as impatient drivers put their lives at risk attempting to pass big trucks in limited visibility.

Sadly, when we were almost to Dunoon, I looked in the rear mirror to see a car zooming along a line of seven vehicles attempting to pass all of them and realized with horror that an oncoming car was about to smash into it. We went around a hairpin turn and I couldn’t see what happened. A few minutes later, police cars with flashing lights rushed past us, and when I looked back in the rear view mirror, only two vehicles of the seven remained behind us…and there was no sign of the car with the impatient driver. So we started praying for everyone involved in the accident and thanked the Lord for our own safe travels.

Some adventures are better missed.

FB back Dunoon 2

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Conversation Stopper

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus some 740 years before Jesus was born. Isaiah may have been martyred—sawn in two—during the reign of Manasseh for speaking truth. He condemned the wealthy for oppressing the poor; he condemned women who neglected their families in the quest of carnal pleasure; he condemned priests and prophets who became drunken men-pleasers instead of teaching and keeping God’s law.

Isaiah declared God’s displeasure with sin and endeavored to turn his generation away from disobedience to God. He paved a foundation of hope and promise for those who remained true to God by telling them about the birth of Jesus, Savior and Redeemer.

Speaking out against sin and injustice, Isaiah said, “Woe unto…” Yet after he had a vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, Isaiah said of himself, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) Faced with God’s holiness, Isaiah realized that the same sinfulness he had prophesied against in others was found within himself.

That’s why I wrote gritty, real “Killer Conversations.” I’ve been criticized because the narrative of child abuse creating a serial killer is not a fairy tale—it’s painful and haunting. It’s the only book I’ve ever written that has received a one-star review. As Christians, we sometimes use what we perceive as our goodness as an excuse to criticize others. We use the fact that we don’t smoke, drink, curse, etc. as a battering ram against other believers. It’s a temptation to set ourselves up and put others down. We forget: “There by the grace of God go I.”

The Price of Beauty

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For some reason, folks harbor a love affair with snow. They pen poetry about snow, create paintings of snow, feature snow on Christmas cards. They think it’s beautiful.

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Beauty has a price. The same clean whiteness that lights up Christmas cards also clogs roadways, causes accidents, makes structures collapse, shuts down power, closes schools and hospitals, and kills living creatures

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Lush lawns must be mowed. Colorful gardens must be weeded. Beautiful animals must be fed, watered, exercised, brushed, and taken to vet clinics. Lovely homes must be painted and maintained. Beauty comes with a price.

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The only free beauty I know of is God’s. Heaven will be more beautiful than anything we can imagine from our earthly focus. Psalm 27:4, “one thing I have desired of the LORD that I will seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life and behold the beauty of the LORD.”

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Oh…wait a minute. Heaven is not free. It cost the life of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

But Heaven’s beauty is free for us, because Jesus paid the entry fee.

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Coincidence? Not.

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My mother, who lived most of her life as an atheist but died a Christian, would have called it “coincidence.” That was her favorite description for anything lacking a logical explanation.

Luke was 10 when we started back to Texas from Montana. For Texas folks, Montana winters are brutal and “summers” are weak. When we arrived in August with our Texas tans, everyone asked where we were from. Five months later on January 1, we headed back to Texas. It was -12F. When we got to Jackpot, Nevada, it was still snowing, but Luke and I walked around with no coats because 32F felt warm.

Our route took us through Reno. It was still snowing. We stopped briefly for gas and food. Miles later, I wondered if we should have stayed. Snow grew deeper with every mile, but we were crossing the Dreaded 40-mile Desert and there was no place to stop. I hid my anxiety from Luke and told myself that as we continued south, it would get warmer.

There were sandwich boards signs along the interstate, but I couldn’t read them. They were covered with snow. And I was still tense from the frightening signs in Montana’s Blue Mountains: “Watch For Ice Heaves.” What was an ice heave? Where did I watch for one? Would it race across the road in front of us? Would it fall from the sky? Would it fly from a tree and smash our windshield? What if there were deep pits in the road and we fell into one? Why put up a sign warning about ice heaves without explaining what they were?

So…I ignored the sandwich board signs, although a diminutive pocket of common sense nudged me: suppose the signs were warnings that the interstate was closed? Would I get arrested?

In another of Mom’s “coincidences,” a semi-trailer truck parked on the side of the road pulled out in front of us. I followed that big rig’s tire tracks all the way across the desert to the next town. I knew that if I lost that truck, we would get stuck in a snow drift. By this time, I was fairly certain the signs warned: “Interstate Closed.”

When the semi pulled off on the exit to Lovelock, Nevada, I pulled off, laughing when a string of headlights followed. Other drivers either couldn’t read the signs or had ignored them. Not a single pair of headlights continued straight.

My truck made it through town until it got directly in front of our former pastor’s house. It stopped in the middle of the road and would not budge. Pastor Ted and Jenny Kern were kind and lovely (and still are). They invited us to spend the night. They said the interstate was closed, motels were full, and people were camped out inside the police station.

The next day when enough snow had been cleared, I drove to the local supermarket. The interstate was still closed. I couldn’t leave for Texas. Nevada State Troopers were stationed at the interstate ramps turning drivers back.

Coincidence? As I stood in the snow, arms outstretched, praying and asking God what to do, friends of ours from a gold mine drove up. “Hey, girl,” Ed hollered. “Need a job? Clo broke her arm. We need some help.”

Luke was ecstatic. What boy wouldn’t love roaming the desert and exploring a gold mine? We drove 40 miles out to the mine, Ed’s truck behind ours so he could push us forward every time my truck stopped.

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More coincidence? Months later, Clo sent me into town for the mail. I parked in front of the post office, collected the mail, and got back into the truck. The gear shift lever fell to the pavement. Not knowing what else to do, Luke and I walked over to the Kern’s house for assistance. Jenny called a church friend to fix the truck, painfully shy Thomas Logue, a strong Christian who loved helping people and fixing things—and could repair or build almost anything.

A few months later, Pastor Ted married us. Luke gained the most wonderful stepfather any child could have in Tom, who died of cancer in 2014. The Marine Corps sent Luke home from Iraq for the memorial service.

Coincidence, Mom? I think now you would agree with me that there are no coincidences. They are all God incidents.

(Pastor Theodore Kern pastors Crescent Valley Baptist Church in Battle Mountain Nevada, along with three mission churches in outlying areas. Jenny just retired from her teaching career to spend more time with grandchildren and also plays the piano for church services.)

Blog WheelerSnow

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Things to Remember; Things to Forget

view from Hillfoot Street Dunoon

So at some point in this blog about my recent hospital stay, I should write something funny about the food. I can’t. It wasn’t funny.

Scotland’s National Health Service is under attack from every angle. Criticisms, some justified, are as copious as rainfall, and for those who have never lived here – it rains nearly every day. My surgeon was skilled, hospital employees were caring and competent, and the facilities were outstanding. No way would I bash the health care system which literally saved my life. Chronic, agonizing pain is a killer. Cauda Equina Syndrome is synonymous with killer pain.

As a title of respect in the UK, surgeons are introduced as “Mr.,” not “Doctor.” So it is with upmost respect that I thank my surgeon, Mr. Bhattathiri,” not only for his skillfulness in surgery, but for his genuine compassion. His name may be spelled with a “B,” but he genuinely put the “care” in caring.

I believe the Bible, including 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “I everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I know that I know that I know that, “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.”

I don’t know why this happened to me. I don’t know why I had to have major back surgery. But I do know that I’ve been blessed by all the years of good health that God has given me. Soon, Cauda Equina Syndrome will be merely a memory.

The food? Not so much.

Scotland robin #2

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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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I Used To Think…

I used to think I was patient. I taught preschoolers for more than seven years. I parented a hyperactive son before ADHD became a buzz word. People who saw us thought I was a bad parent, unable to discipline my child.

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I used to think I was kind. I’ve rescued grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, frogs, possums, and tried to befriend people who find themselves a target of unkindness. When I was eleven, I hit an adult three times my size with a metal fence post because he was savagely beating his runaway pony on our property.

Luke_Raven

Now I know I am not patient. Suffering brutal pain for so long from a huge bulging disc in my back that is pressing directly into my spinal cord has robbed me of patience. I feel like limping to the nearest hospital on my crutches and refusing to leave until the problem is fixed – or until I get arrested and forcibly removed. I’m not suicidal – yet – but death doesn’t scare me: it means the pain would stop.

Now I know I am not kind. Pain that takes my breath away and makes me fall down on the floor if I happen to sneeze or cough when I’m standing up has robbed me of kindness. Some days I think I would walk over the back of my grandmother to get to the operating table first.

I am thankful for this pain. It has been an opportunity to learn – really learn. Never judge another person. Never. You don’t know what storm of pain or difficulty they are passing through. Next time, it could be you.

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I am thankful for this pain because it has humbled me. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, rather soberly as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:5

With the Lord’s inspiration, I’ve written a lot of books. (Without Him I could never have written even one.) Yet, how do my books benefit the world if I am impatient? Or unkind?

I am a broken person inside and out. But with this self-knowledge comes the opportunity to change and get things right.

light on path

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Looking for Gold in All the Wrong Places

It was 1982, and I knew all the warnings about picking up hitchhikers. But this was a couple at the edge of the dreaded 40-mile desert between Fernley and Lovelock, Nevada – and surely picking up a couple was safe, right?

40j mile desert

My six-year-old son was with me in the cab of our little Ford Ranger truck, but Danni and Sam said they would ride in the back. I felt even better after that. How could they present a danger riding in the back?

They explained they were homeless and working their way to California where they hoped to start a Christmas tree farm. I told them I could take them only as far as Lovelock.  I was working for friends at their gold mine. Danni and Sam insisted that they would love to work there, too. Ed and Clo were in their 70s and welcomed all the help they could get. Their mine was 14 miles from a paved road and 40 miles from the nearest town. No electricity or running water. So…I took Danni and Sam with me.

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Luke and I could only spend the weekend. I had to return to my regular job, and he had to return to school. Two weeks later, we returned to the mine. Not seeing Danni and Sam, we asked about them. Ed and Clo chuckled, then Ed sat back in his chair and roared with laughter.

“Well, girl, it was like this,” he finally said, wiping tears off his leathery face. “Danni and Clo got along real good. Sam and me…not so good. He didn’t want to haul water, dig fence posts, run the dozer, drive the dump truck, or shovel gravel into the wet washer. He complained ‘bout not getting run to town. Didn’t understand why we couldn’t make that 80-mile round trip ‘cepting a couple of times a month. Didn’t like watching out for rattlers, using the outhouse, or listening to the coyotes at night.

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“Clo and me had to run to Lovelock to get family when their truck broke down. Felt sure them kids would want to go with us, but Sam said they’d stay here and work.” Ed rumbled with laughter. “Oh, they worked!

“You know the shed where I do all the welding? Well, Sam snooped around in there while he was lazing off and found brass dross on the floor from welding. Thought it was gold. So them kids scrapped up every bit of dross they could find. They got the keys to that old truck that don’t hardly run, and headed to Winnemucca to sell their gold. Truck broke down on ‘em, so they left it sitting on the side of the road and went by foot until they could catch a ride. When they showed up in Winnemucca to sell their gold at the assay office, they got arrested on outstanding warrants from Reno. Breaking and entering, theft, burglary…reckon they won’t be coming back here to work for quite a bit, girl.”

The funny part about this story is that there was gold – real gold at the mine. Ed kept a big locked box under their bed. It was full of gold, including the 10-ounce gold nugget with embedded crystal, worth a huge chunk of money. Sam and Danni could have been rich…but they went looking for gold in the wrong places.

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Sadly, had Sam and Danni stayed with Ed and Clo, they would have garnered real riches. Ed was generous and paid well. Anyone who visited the mine was handed a metal detector. Any gold they found, they could keep. With no electricity, nights were spent laughing, talking, and playing board games under a kerosene lantern. So far out in the desert without city distractions, the feeling of health and freedom was so poignant that it brought tears to the eyes. That was real gold.

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Sam and Danni turned their back on real gold for worthless brass doss and prison bars. But not to judge them. So many do the same thing by choosing this world’s temporary wealth over eternal riches that will never rust or corrode or be stolen.

Real gold is found in God. “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, not to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” 1 Timothy 6:17.

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