Finding Beauty in Unusual Places

Beauty will save the world. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Indeed, beauty is a powerful thing. It stirs us. Calls something out in us. Something deep and true that breaks through the fog of everyday living. It has been said that beauty has the power to elevate even the most mundane things.

Rick and I got a taste of that this morning. We were downtown Kent for a breakfast date. It was early and the usually bustling streets were quiet save the men out watering the lamppost hanging baskets and a few groggy students coming to study at the local coffee shop.

So, in the stillness of those early hours, we decided to take a walk through town.

When we saw the first vase, we both stopped to comment, noting that it was a thoughtful thing for someone to do. I mean, who takes the time to leave fresh flowers next to a corner bench?

But, as we rounded the corner we saw more… sweet paper-wrapped bundles of flowers that had been intentionally left in shop doorways or near benches. Bundles and vases every few yards. Many of them had encouraging hand-written notes attached. And, it went on for blocks. It became like a treasure hunt for us as we looked for them all along Main Street and Water Street.

At one point, a smiling shop owner came out to retrieve a vase full of flowers from her stoop. I asked her about it and she said she’d never seen anything like it. What started as a routine for her to come in and open the store, had become an inspiration. Overcome by the gesture, she couldn’t wipe the grin away.

Beauty. Invading the mundane.

I realize that some of you might be thinking, “So what?” After all it’s just a few bouquets of flowers left along the sidewalk. That money probably could have been spent on something more practical. Like buying canned goods for the local food pantry.
True. And, yet, I think beauty has its own value. Because it points us to something bigger. SomeONE bigger.

In her book Captivating, Staci Eldredge says that beauty has purpose. “Beauty beckons us,” Eldredge writes. “Beauty invites us. Come, explore, immerse yourself. God – who is Beauty Himself – invites us to know Him. Taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8).”

Ahhhh, yes. Those flowers are pointers. Pointers to a God who is the Master Artist. I don’t know if the person who left them even knows Him. But, as an image-bearer of the One who made her/him, that person was reminding us that the LORD is good. That He makes beautiful things. That He Himself is beautiful. And, that a day is coming when His beauty will fill the earth once again and we won’t need reminded. Because the beauty will be ever-visible.

012bacb966ee98a3fe38da4dd1fca4c79f84b02230 010b84c089cb59b0d38beeeeae5c3a268ae6a42b56 01ff0dbe16ffde27e3a6aad8a2f890b84996628423 01d93a344a2be4b43f77b1ab71cccb0b2ee2f75523So, dear friend, let me ask you: How are you doing at recognizing the pointers? Are you taking the time to see beauty? And what about leaving pointers as you go about life?  How are you leaving beauty imprints on the world around you? 

01021d82dbbbb850a76dd3897378468a89b267fdb2 0124f71f9b13ff49e996c873146cb1a04c946689d2 0118df66ef62f5a834487a3737a58248dbd6b8038c 017a98fe4403b0a57f6c338db3abc7fcddfb2a7a8bThe world needs your beauty because ultimately it needs His beauty.

Indeed, beauty WILL save the world.

Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee

September’s Challenge and A Long-Awaited Letter

Bible: 66 Letters from the Lover of My SoulIf you’re part of my church family, you’ve probably heard about Pastor Rick’s September Challenge. I was so refreshed and invigorated by his reminder and challenge to us. (If you don’t go to our church or you do but you weren’t there on Sunday, you really should go listen to it here. Before September begins, please. It’s half-an-hour… you can do it while you make dinner or fold your laundry piles.)

When he talked about the Bible being like a personal letter, it reminded me of this post I wrote a few years ago. I thought I’d reshare it with you today (with a few edits to update it for 2014).  Here you go:

You know that prickly sensation when you’re in anticipation of something? I like to think of reading the Bible like that.

Sort of like we might feel if we didn’t have instant messaging or tweeting or email or even phone service. And we had to wait for letters to come great distances to hear from the ones we loved. I imagine it like the early immigrants to America might have felt. Maybe a letter has just arrived from our Grandad who still lives in the Old Country. How we all grab for it and want to read it first. Instead we gather around in the fire – brothers, sisters, cousins, all of us together. And one of us reads it out loud. And maybe his Scottish brogue comes through thick in his writing and Mom has to explain this or that because our own memories of “home” have grown dim. We didn’t really mean to forget. Not really. But, truth be told, it’s hard to remember what he looks like anymore or the way his hug feels after a walk in the meadow. And the littlest among us barely knew him at all before we left.

But when Momma reads we remember. We hang on every word. And I get goosebumps as I listen to words penned by his precious hand. A bit of him. Here. With us now.

That’s how I feel about getting to open my Bible and pour over its Words. It’s an imperfect analogy, I know. But, it gets at the heart of it for me. Sometimes we open the letter together, all gathered around the Book while someone reads it aloud. But, I’ve also got to acknowledge that the letter is for me alone also. It’s God’s communication to ME.

SONY DSCFor, I did receive a letter from a great distance. Only it’s not from Grandad. Naw – it’s even better. This letter is from the very One who called the stars out by name and told the proud ocean waves where to stop. And knew me while I was still being knit together in my mother’s womb. The One whose mercies are new every morning. He who heaps grace on me – grace upon grace. He has spoken. Written down all the things He wanted me to know for this life. Fantastic accounts of love spurned and the relentless pursuit of a Suitor. A picture of the cheater wooed back. Of a love that wins and a future hope that awaits me.

A letter like that shouldn’t be sitting pristine on a shelf. Friends, do you know that men died so that we could get this letter? And read it in our own language? This is a letter that deserves to be poured over. Read again and again. Slowly, savoring every word. Pages worn thin from getting it out over and over again.

I know I need the letter. Oh how I need it. Because, I’ll be honest, sometimes I forget. I forget what He’s like and how His story has become my history. Let’s face it, there are lots of other voices competing with the letter. Trying to keep me from it. Some even mock the letter. “How do you even know it’s from Him? What if it’s a fake? Or been altered by the deliveryman?”

But I know better. Aside from apologetic proof upon proof, there is the reality that His fingerprints are all over His correspondence. His heart beating with the very idea of something so impossible as grace. There’s nothing like it in all the wide world. No ancient text from any other religion that quite reads like this one. I both need and WANT to hear what He has to say. To be reminded afresh.

I know, right? You felt it too. Goosebumps. So what are you waiting for? Go get your letter and soak in the words from the heart of your Suitor. Go find out for yourself what it is that makes Him so worthy of your affection.

Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee






50 Shades of… Poop {A Guest Post}

My man is a preacher. A teacher and communicator at heart. But, he’s usually speaking not writing. So, when I can have him on my blog, I consider it an honor. He writes today about a topic that is very troubling to both of us and has been the topic of many conversations between us. Without further ado, Rick McKee’s first post at In a Mirror Dimly… 

50 ShadesFunny thing, I don’t study poop so that I can classify it into 50 different shades. I recognize it as poop, so I move away from it. I don’t savor it, wallow in it, roll in it, read it, watch it, or recommend it.

I’m sitting here on the front porch of our vacation rental. It’s our last day before returning home. I should be relaxing, walking on the beach, hanging with our friends or getting an ice cream cone. Instead, I’m blue. My pastor’s heart is restless and sad. I’ve seen one too many ladies post about her excitement – loved the book and can’t wait for the movie version of 50 Shades of Grey.

Because it’s my vacation, I’ll get to the point. It’s porn. The book is classified as erotic fiction. That means it is intended to arouse the reader sexually. It’s about an illicit sexual relationship. A wealthy, powerful, controlling man maneuvers a young woman into BDSM. That’s it. That’s the plot.

Folks, that’s porn. If you’re a Christian, you’ve no business reading it, watching it, recommending it, or gleefully posting about your excitement. Try to imagine reading it aloud to Jesus. Or, would you go watch the movie with your Lord?

Have I read it? No. What? I haven’t read it! How can I condemn it? I also haven’t seen Debbie Does Dallas, and yet I would still recommend against it. Are we saying that one can’t speak against porn unless they first soak it in? Stop it.

Am I a prude? Nope. My God made sex. If he made anything better, I think he kept it for himself. Sex, in its proper context, is fantastic. It is one of God’s good gifts to be celebrated. The proper context? Between a husband and his wife (or a wife and her husband, if you prefer). And, should be about giving, not taking. A communication of love, not control or pain. Those are concepts I learned from God’s Word as a follower of Jesus.

So, why is my heart tied in knots? I’m concerned for the women in my congregation.

If the stats hold, many in my own congregation have read the book. I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to help many folks start walking with Jesus. Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” If a ministry is going to be fruitful, it should be reaching new people with the gospel. But, that gets messy. Many churches prefer a clean, empty stable. I prefer a full barn. I like it messy and fruitful better than clean and sterile. So, many in our congregation are just starting to learn the implications (and blessings) of discipleship to Jesus.

Beside, I would be naïve to think that only seekers, new Christians and non-Christians have read 50 Shades of Grey. The tentacles of porn have woven themselves into many Christians’ lives.

I’m no exception. I was first exposed to porn when I was in 2nd grade. I felt its grip for decades. Even when walking with Jesus. Even when in ministry. Like an alcoholic that never says he is “recovered” but only says he is recovering, I still fight the temptation. I know the terrible impact of porn. And I praise God for each passing day that is free from its grip. Blissful freedom.

It concerns me to see porn become so normalized. Some have labeled this book/movie as “mommy porn.” When Christian moms openly read and recommend porn, how can we condemn any porn? I’m sure that most of these wives would be aghast at the idea of their husbands consuming porn, let alone recommending it on Facebook.

That’s where this becomes so dangerous. When a Christian dude consumes porn, he usually knows it, feels convicted about it, is ashamed of it, and hides it. In this case, we have Christian women consuming porn, but they’re posting on social media instead of moving toward conviction and repentance.

Just because sin goes mainstream doesn’t mean it is okay for the followers of Jesus. My kids and I have call and response. I say, “When the world is going to hell in a hand-basket?” They respond, “Different is good.”

Ladies, I beg you, go to God for your view of self, love and sexuality. Just because your neighborhood book club is reading erotic fiction doesn’t make it right for a follower of Jesus. Different is good.

And, if you’ve already gone toward porn, as I often did, turn toward Jesus. Trust the Creator, not the world. Repent of your sin. And, savor God’s grace.

For a woman’s take and her reasons why she won’t be reading 50 Shades of Grey, I would recommend this blog post.

Now, please step away from the poop.



So… You Want to Ask About Their Adoption {a guide}

If you’ve been around me for more than four or five seconds, you’ve probably heard me talk about my church family. Seriously. I love those people. I could list a whole plethora of reasons but that might (a) bore you or (#2) make you jealous. Not a good blog outcome either way.

But, I will take this opportunity to tell you just one of the things I love about them. I love their collective heart for adoption. We are a people who has been captured by the idea. Why? Two reasons come readily to mind:

First, because it is such a beautiful picture of the way God loves people and “adopts” them into His family. We cry out in a spirit of adoption, calling Him our Abba. Intimacy. Love. Family. It’s all about the relationship… not duty-bound religion.

But that’s not all; we’re bullish on adoption because we see God’s heart for the orphan all throughout the Bible. As we come to know Him, our heart mirrors His. For a whole host of reasons and circumstances, the heartbreaking truth is that there are children who have been left behind by their biological parents. We want to be a people who steps into that void and takes some of those children into our own families. Some of our families came to that place because they also struggled with infertility. Some did not. Either way, they have joined in God’s plan to love orphans by bringing them home and making them their own, very real sons and daughters.

While each of my friends would absolutely call their kiddos blessings, I know it hasn’t always been without struggle for them. Parenting never is. But, adoption comes with its own set of wrinkles. Not regret, mind you. But unique challenges just the same. One of those is the comments and questions that come from others – especially if their child is visibly of a different ethnicity.

Yesterday over at Rage Against the Minivan, Kristen shared this video that a friend of hers put together. It’s a great poke at some of the questions that sometimes come to adoptive parents. I pass it on as a good laugh but also as a reminder to be thoughtful as you inquire about these precious ones.

Video credit: Rain City Church on Vimeo.

Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee

Balance in Motherhood

Balance. It seems to be an elusive goal for most modern women. We want to be able to do it all. To keep all the balls in the air – each one weighted perfectly so that we can keep this whole act going. I have my suspicions that balance might be nothing more than a buzzword. A modern construct that we talk about a lot but don’t really grasp.

What’s more, I’m not sure it’s even a laudable goal – does the Bible call us to balance? I don’t think it does.

Over at The Better Mom, we set out to tackle some of these very questions in an April series about Balance. As I read the pieces from my fellow contributors, I see many of them coming to the same place I have – questioning this notion of balance all together.

On Monday I shared some of my perspective in a post about “balancing” ministry and motherhood. Yes, I know Monday was two days ago. Sorry. I blame it on the marriage class that Rick and I are leading on Monday nights. And Caleb’s LAX season. And, Easter preparations. And, my friend in surgery. And… well, you know how it goes. Clearly, I am not keeping all the balls in the air. {wink}


Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee

Grouchy Mommas?


Over at The Better Mom this month, we’ve been exploring the topic of anger. We’re calling the series “From Grouchy to Great.” And, it’s one that has resonated with moms like crazy. It’s been unbelievable to see moms responding to our posts by pouring their hearts out back to us in response.

I guess that means we’re on to something that a lot of moms wrestle with. And, it’s one of those things that probably comes with a lot of guilt and feeling alone. It’s not easy to admit that you wanted to (or actually did) cuss when you were talking to your teenager. Or that your anger boiled to the point of wanting to hit your child purely out of frustration. So, usually we hide those things, carrying our shame and hopelessness around with us all the time.

This month, my post there brought me out of hiding. I share one of my fails with you and the lessons God is teaching me as I learn to let my failures drive me to lean into His grace. You can read it here.

Also, if you’d like to read the whole series, you can go here. My favorite post all month was by my friend Ruth, who tried to get to the root of our anger. When I try to understand why I get so frustrated with my kids at times, I think it really is about my own idols. Ruth does a great job of exploring that.

Some of the posts were also very practical, which can be so helpful when you’re feeling hopeless. So, take some time to poke around over there (after you read my post, of course) (wink). I’m honored to write with these women who are so sincerely seeking the Lord.

Thanks for doing life with me,

Shannon McKee

Gathering in the Big Room {Bible Study}

BreadTime02Earlier this week more than 140 women came out on a cold, winter Monday night to gather together in the Big Room. It wasn’t a wine-tasting or a movie night or a girls-night-out or shop-at-home party. It was a Bible study. That’s it.

They came simply to study and talk about the Bible.

Some of them came desperate. “This is the last chance I’m giving it. I’ve tried to study the Bible before and it just isn’t working.”

Some of them came fearful. “Sometimes I’m afraid to even try because I often fail to follow through.”

And they came honest. “I try to read my Bible but I get distracted so easily. One minute I’m reading and the next minute I’m thinking about how I should go switch another load of laundry.”

A lot of them came with a mixed bag of emotions. Guilt. Anticipation. Hopefulness. Failure. Burden. Delight.

There’s a lot going on their lives. It intrigues me when I think about the fact that it’s a room full of 140+ stories. Every woman there has a story. A story of spiritual ups and downs and encounters with God and desert times where she wondered if God even exists at all. They each have stories of brokenness and stories of success.

For example, on this past Monday, I knew of one woman who had just received a promotion to become a partner in her firm. In that same room was another woman preparing for her D&C and grieving the baby who died before she ever got to meet him/her. Could they be in two more different places?

And, yet, they both came. We all came, crowding into the Big Room for Monday nights. To bring our stories – our lives, really – before God’s Word. To mingle them with the stories of other women and the women who have gone before us, and to submit it all to His order of things. His perspective. The Creator, Sustainer, and Rescuer. We peek into His heart and that peek makes sense of all the rest of it.

Is that not one of the most profound things you’ve ever heard? God’s story – alive in the center of 140 stories!


A Hip-Hip-Hooray for Soup

The weather has turned here in Northeast Ohio. Less Fall. Definitely more Winter.

Yesterday was one of those days when big, wet flakes fell all day long. (It was a bit magical really.) In the kitchen, this signals my soup season. Bowls of steamy soups and stews with their accompanying warm breads will attend our table for many of the winter evenings ahead. Soup does something to my heart. Something really good and wholesome and real. I’m not sure I can really explain it but I found a couple of paragraph’s in Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine that seemed to capture it for me. Shauna must be a kindred spirit. {wink}

Soup, it seems, is the ultimate comfort food – warm, soft, slipping down the throat with ease. We eat soup when we’re sick, when we’re snowed in, when we’re heartbroken… when we need to be soothed in some deep way.

Soup is cold-weather-dark-sky food. Soup is peasant food – odds and ends, bits and pieces, a way to stretch a piece of meat or a handful of rice. And the best soups are made, I think, when we treat them as such – earthy, simple, slow, soothing. Soup is the wool sweater, not the little black dress. It’s the cardigan with the elbow patches, not the pressed shirt and tie.

I love that line near the end: Soup is the wool sweater, not the little black dress. I am a wool sweater girl in the deepest places of my heart, I think.

So yesterday when the snow was layering our yard with its frosty sprinkles, I did the most logical thing I could think of. I made soup.

Not just any soup, mind you. It was my Beef Barley & Mushroom Soup. It has barley in it. And that makes me think of Ireland. Ireland is the place where some piece of my soul resides, I’m pretty sure. Waiting there for me with a cuppa.

And now, I am offering you a little bit of myself: my Beef Barley & Mushroom Soup recipe. Which I almost always make with Beer Bread. (You can find that recipe here.)

Enjoy. Just promise me that you’ll share it with some people you love AND with some people that need an invitation to welcome.

Beef Barley & Mushroom Soup

Serves 6
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 2 hours
Total time 2 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Soup
Misc Serve Hot
By author Shannon McKee


  • 1lb ground beef
  • 4 carrots (sliced)
  • 1 Medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms (sliced)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 2/3 cups pearled barley


Step 1
Brown ground beef and onion in a dutch oven or large soup pot. (I have a big Calphalon pot that Rick got me for Christmas one year. When I’m not using the slow cooker, it’s my favorite soup pot of all time.) Drain off the grease.
Step 2
Add remaining ingredients except barley and bring to a boil.
Step 3
Add the barley, bring the boil down to a simmer, and cover. (Note: Pearled barley can be hard to find. For those of you that are local, I get mine from Kent Natural Foods, which Rick has affectionately termed my hippie store.)
Step 4
Simmer 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Uncover the last 15 minutes.
Step 5
The kids really like it when I put out a bowl of co-jack cheese as a soup garnish.

The Beer Bread takes about one hour to bake so I start it shortly after I cover the simmering soup. Add a spinach salad and ‘ta da’ – a healthy, heartwarming meal is served.

Grace and peace around your table this winter,

Shannon McKee

In Which I Come Out from Hiding {A 31 Days Confession}

peek-a-booOK, it’s time. So this is my way of slinking back onto the blog. I’m feeling a little sheepish about the whole thing because I totally tanked on my 31 Days of Hospitality. I mean, like, epically tanked. Like, didn’t even make it halfway through.

So, I thought if I just crawled off to a nook somewhere and ignored you guys for a month, that it would make it better. Hiding is what I do sometimes. {Yuck.}

But, it didn’t make it better because when I visit the blog today in December, it looks just like it did in November. And at the end of October. With that Day 13 of what was supposed to be 31 Days of Hospitality posts. And, it just stares at me and says “fail.” I hate that part. Stupid blog. {wink}

(That’s the funny thing about hiding. The thing you were hiding from is usually still there when you come out. Just older and more complicated now that it’s been sitting a few days – or months, or years.)

So, this is me. Coming back out of hiding. To stare that epic fail right down. Even though it just reminds me about my weakness in following through. My ongoing struggle. Rearing its ugly head even when I’m really excited about something and have the best of intentions.

No more hiding. For today, anyway. (Maybe never, by God’s grace. Oh, how I need His grace.)

I think I’m going to finish that 31 Days.( Just not in a row. Obviously.)

I need to finish it. I need to follow through. Because: #1, I believe what I’m writing about; and #2, I’m desperate for God to take my broken places and make me into a woman who follows through. Even on blog posts. Because it’s really an issue of my word.

What’s that you say? “Oh, it’s just a blog post, Shan. What’s the big deal?” Well, true. On the face of it, that’s true. But, it’s a pointer to the deeper things of yielding my life to Christ and letting Him work in those hidey holes that I go to. When I feel like I’ve failed or like I’m not following thru on things He puts on my heart.

And, so now you know what Rick and kids have known all along. I don’t always follow through. And, then I usually “hide” to try and cover it up.

But, I’m back… not just to finish the 31 Days. But, to keep wrestling through life with you all, my precious readers and friends.  Let’s keep peering through the glass together (dimly though it might be), until we get Home and we can see clearly.

Home – where I’ll never, ever need another hidey hole in which to hide.

Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee

31 Days of Cultivating Hospitality: Day 13 {The Decline of Hospitality}

obstaclesObstacles. Those things that get in the way of forward progress. The great thing about them is that they can be overcome. With a little effort and forward thinking, of course. But they’re not impassable.

There are certainly obstacles to genuine hospitality. There are simply things that get in the way. Things that hinder us.

There is no question that something is holding us back from welcoming people in. According to Focus on the Family Canada, hospitality is really struggling. Take these realities from an article on their site by the Coughlins: during the mid to late 1970s, the average American entertained 14 to 15 times a year. By the late 1990s, that figure fell to eight times per year – a decline of 45 per cent. They conclude that if this trend continues, the blessing of hospitality will be nearly extinct in less than one generation.

So what IS holding us back? I think that some of the things that hold us back are a result of the culture we live in. Others are personal to us.

Let’s talk first about our culture (because that’s a little safer than talking about us, isn’t it?!?)

We live in an American culture that values independence.

Let’s face it, our culture doesn’t encourage us to be vulnerable and dependent on each other. The very foundations of our society encourage us to our personal rights and happiness as a primary pursuit. Even our most intimate of relationships are hampered by things like pre-nups and ways out and the like. We keep each other at arms length and we, frankly, sort of like it that way. It has been said of us that we build the largest houses in the world, but nobody is home.  And, when we are, we’re in our perfectly equipped home theaters or our private backyards. Which, could be kind of cool for sharing with friends but I would posit that most of those spaces sit alone. Rare is the person who builds those spaces and actually uses them to extend invitation.

Author Ken Gire states it this way: “We have big things – we know big things. But we don’t look into each other’s eyes. We’re starved for a life that not only senses the sacred in the world around us but savors it. We’re famished for experiences that are real and relationships that are deep.”

I think he’s right – we sense the soul sickness and the relational disconnect. But, we’re hesitant or ill-equipped to change it. So, we stick with the status quo.

Which brings me to my second observation about our culture: Restaurant Living.

When we do find ourselves reaching out to fill that void, we’re much more likely to meet a friend out. At a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or movie theater. The rise of eat-out opportunities have replaced much of what used to take place in each other’s homes. I’m not against restaurants – it’s a nice break to eat a great meal out. But it simply is not the same as being in someone’s home.  The lingering and the life sharing don’t take place in a restaurant like they do at home. As well, when you’re in someone’s home you get a feel for who they are and how they live. It’s a glimpse that you can’t get at a restaurant.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about two other cultural issues that hinder us in our pursuit of hospitality: the media issue and the overprogramming.

In the meantime, do either of these resonate with you? What is it about our culture that keeps you from practicing hospitality?

Grace and peace,

Shannon McKee


31 Days HospitalityThis post is the 13th in a series of 31 days of posts where I’ll be exploring the topic of hospitality. If you missed the beginning, you’ll want to go here to get caught up. I’m linking up with other 31 Dayers here, if you’re intrigued and you’d like to see more or check out some other bloggers who are writing on a variety of topics. I’d love it if you came back to join me for all 31 Days so feel free to subscribe and get my little blog delivered right to your inbox. You can do so in the top right corner of this page.

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