No Drive Zone

Here in Dunoon, Scotland, a lot of things are “across the water,” which means in Glasgow and the heavily populated areas between the two ferry landings and Glasgow. I don’t drive across the water.

There are several reasons I don’t drive across the water. Coming from the U.S., cars are driven on the wrong side of the road for me here in the UK, and I find roundabouts confusing and somewhat heart-stopping. Then there is my directional challenge, which I include in my soon-to-be-released new cozy mystery, “Signed to Death.” When my sisters and I were in school, we all learned that straight ahead is north, behind is south, east is right, and west is left. What this means for all three of us is that no matter where we go or in what direction we travel—we always face north.

We had to go across the water for a doctor’s appointment this week and instead of going to the main hospital building, we were sent to an adjoining building some distance away. There is no bus service from that building, nor were we able to reach a taxi company, so we asked the nurse for directions on how to get up to the main hospital building so we could catch a bus. I was on crutches. The nurse told us to go to the end of the corridor and take a little jog to the right, and go to the end of that corridor and through the double doors, and through a long glass corridor, and through some more double doors, and then turn right to the elevator. She said to push “3” on the elevator.

We never found the long glass corridor, but we did find the elevator. We got in. The doors shut. There was no “3” on the elevator. We tried to get out again. We couldn’t find a button that would open the doors. We tried every button on the panel—and finally—the doors opened and we skedaddled! We saw an outside path through the double doors next to the elevator. The path looked like it headed toward the main hospital building, so we went outside and followed it. It dead-ended behind the building. We went back to the double doors. They wouldn’t open from outside. So we took the outside steps, me clomping along on my crutches. We finally made it up to the taxi rank. The driver must have thought we were bonkers. We laughed all the way to the ferry.

I get lost, but God doesn’t. He keeps track of everything and everyone. Jesus said to God the Father, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” What a comfort to know that however hopelessly lost I am—God never gets lost—and He will never lose me.

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

Why I Write Clean Books

When I was around 13 or 14, I used profanity in an effort to fit in with my friends. That never happened. I’ve never “fit in,” and probably not just because I have big feet. Then I started reading Moody Bible books and met the Sugar Creek Gang and kid characters like them. I wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t read the Bible. I didn’t go to church. Conversation around our table at meals consisted of my father telling us that God didn’t exist.

The clean living characters in those mystery/adventure books resonated with me and I vowed that I would never use profanity again. I haven’t. Not even in my books. I want my book characters to be like my son Luke, who made it from enlisted to major before a plane crash changed his address from earth to heaven. While Luke was still a captain in the USMC, one of his enlisted men wrote in the platoon newsletter: “We can’t make Captain Parker swear no matter what we do to him.” I want my characters to set good examples—not by preaching it, but by living it.

Readers also will not find people smoking, using drugs, drinking alcohol, or having gratuitous sex in my books, because the Bible tells us that our bodies are God’s holy temples and that we are not to do anything that destroys them.

One of my friends is dying of lung cancer right now. I used to work with her. I begged her to quit smoking. So did a lot of other people. She was smoking long before I met her. But just suppose that she had fallen in love with a character in one of my books and started smoking because my character made it seem so “cool.” How devastating would that be?

“You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20.

Thawed to Death – Kindle edition by McKean, Stephanie Parker, Potter, Victoria M. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Negative Neighbor

I met negative neighbor again today. “I love your dress,” I said truthfully.

“It’s not a dress. It’s a skirt and top.”

“Well, it’s beautiful.”

“It’s old.”

“Well, you couldn’t buy anything new that is any prettier.”

“I’d like to try. I’d like to go shopping. This stupid lockdown has messed everything up.”

“The lockdown is easing,” I said, “A lot of stores are open again already.”

“I can’t go shopping now. I’d be afraid of getting covid.”

Moment of silence. Couldn’t get away from her. She blocked my escape route. “How are your mom and dad?”

“Fine, thanks to me. They take a lot of looking after.”

“But I’m sure you’re glad to still have them. So many people have lost their parents.”

“Looking after them takes up all my time.”

“They are fortunate to have you.”

“My dad wants to get a dog.”

“Dogs are wonderful companions.”

“I’m the one who would have to take care of it. I don’t like dogs.”

Still blocking the escape route…

“And Mum wants me to do more in the garden.”

“Well, it’s been lovely, warm weather for working in the garden.”

“It’s too hot. It hasn’t rained enough. I have to water everything. It’s hard work.”

“Well, it’s good exercise.”

“I hate exercise. Mum won’t do her exercises. She would be better if she did. She would be easier to look after. I hate exercising, but I do mine.”

“I’m sure you set a good example for your mom. She might decide to do what you do.”

“She won’t. She’s stubborn.”

Me: edging toward what I hope is an escape route.

“I also play the organ for two different venues.”

“How lovely that you have musical talent. Playing beautiful music must lift your soul.”

“It makes my back hurt.”

Me: edging closer to the car next to mine that has me trapped in the parking lot and hoping I can make it around her. Escape foiled. She moves directly in front of me.

“And now they have other instruments joining in with the organ. I have to practice a lot.”

“God created music. All musical instruments glorify Him. God must be pleased by the lovely praise.”

“It’s more like the instruments are talking to each other than it is like music.”

“But the final outcome is still praise to God.”

“With all those different noises? It’s confusing. I don’t like confusion.”

I push around her and run for the store—forgetting that I can’t run because of my knee replacement and the hip that still needs replacing. Sometimes fleeing negativity is the best answer. Especially when the negative person missed the Bible reading on the day it focused on 1 Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

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

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

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

The Nobility of Birds

When the Lord gave me a children’s book story involving birds, I wrote it. It hasn’t been released yet for publication, but it is finished and waiting.

However, I wrote the story because of the Lord’s inspiration. I didn’t stop to think about birds—they were just the right vehicle to carry the story. I have seen small birds defend their nests from huge predators. I’ve been attacked by seagulls for getting too close to their nests. One of my heartwarming memories is the bird couple that built a nest in my garden center and became so attached to me that—thinking that I needed protection—they squared off against a hawk. When their babies left the nest for the first time, the babies hopped up into my lap for a visit before they flew away.

Most birds mate for life. One of my heartbreaking memories is getting home just in time to see a large raccoon lumber across our neighbor’s yard with blue feathers sticking out of both sides of its mouth and a California scrub jay desperately attacking the coon in an unsuccessful attempt to save its mate. The poor bird sat in the tree where his spouse lost her life for days emitting ear-shattering cries of anguish.

Still, I never realized the nobility of birds until this spring. Perhaps it’s the covid-slowed world that made me recognize it. Birds do. They simply do. They do what God has created them to do. They don’t wait for recognition from a music award ceremony or accolades from their church choir before they sing the songs the Creator of the universe gave them to sing…they just do.

Birds don’t wait for favorable or comfortable conditions to gather food. They do. They just do.

Birds don’t wait for good weather to collect material for their nests…they do. They just do. Birds simply do what God created them to. Without complaining. Without stopping. Without procrastination. Without recognition. Without complaining. And with the courage to send off a predator ten times their size.

The world would be a better place if humans practiced the nobility of birds. If they learned to do what God has created them to do. Without complaining. Without stopping. Without procrastination. Without recognition. Without complaining. And with courage, not fear.

“And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

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

Dream Possible

One of my favorite songs is “The Impossible Dream,” written by Joe Darion and composed by Mitch Leigh. It is the most popular song from the musical “Man of la Mancha.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go.

To right the unrightable wrong
To be better far than you are
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far…

I love Man of La Mancha. I love “crazy” knight Don Quixote who tilts at windmills and lives to the extreme rather than allowing his dreams and visions to be tamed by society and turned into cookie-cutter realities.

I’ve spent my entire life and writing career encouraging others to reach for their dreams. I will probably spend the rest of my life giving the same advice. Yet, a comment from a neighbor recently made me realize that perhaps our dreams should in some way be possible. For example, I dreamed of being in my drama department’s musical productions at college and becoming a famous singer. I can’t carry a tune.

This neighbor said, “My husband and I dreamed of buying a two-story house and retiring here. We did, but now our knees have gone and our dream has become a nightmare. We can’t get up and down the stairs—and that’s where our bedroom is.”

With God, all things are possible. All things are possible with God. But wisdom may be contained in knowing how to dream the possible and trust God for the impossible.

Mistaken

bannana in sun

For the past two years I’ve seen a lovely child in our neighborhood, and each time I’ve seen her I’ve thought that she would make a stunning character for a book with her striking cobalt blue eyes framed by a sleek curtain of dark smoke-brown hair. Except…her eyes are not blue.

Had I written her in a book, her eyes would have been blue. Had I described her to the police for some reason, her eyes would have been blue. Had I painted a portrait of her from memory, her eyes would have been blue. But they are not blue.

I was shocked recently when I met her and realized that her eyes are an astonishingly deep, dark brown that I’ve never seen in eye color before—almost like dark chocolate, except deep and shining. I actually asked her mother if her eyes had changed color. They hadn’t. It was me. I had been mistaken.

At one time, I did not believe in God. I was every bit as certain that God did not exist as I was that the little girl in our neighborhood had blue eyes. I was mistaken.

God’s name is shouted throughout creation from the seed that grows into a vibrant flower to the stars in the universe. We can plant flowers. We can study flowers. We can engineer new colors and graft fruit trees—but only God can make a seed.

We can build telescopes. We can study stars and planets and name them. But only God can create them.

We can train doctors, and nurses, and scientists, and treat patients for disease or injuries—but only God walking on earth ever defeated death by rising from the dead.

I used to not believe in God. I was mistaken.

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