Friday, November 24, 2017

Time for a Change

This is my first blog post, my first attempt at writing anything, as J.L. Riffle. "Why the change, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, I don't know exactly, but I know it's time.

I don't know a lot about a lot, but I do know one thing with 100% certainty: change is a part of life. Often it's the hardest part of life, but sometimes it's a breath of fresh air. Like, for example, that first warm spring breeze after the deep freeze of winter. That's one of my favorite changes, topped only by the crisp, woodsy scent of fall after a scorcher of a summer. You know what I'm talking about, right?

Jen Stephens was my name when I didn't like who I was. No, that's not correct. I didn't KNOW who I was. I was married. I had two great kids. I was a teacher and I had a fun hobby as a writer. But who was I? Sadly, I had to go through a valley to figure it out, and unfortunately so did people I care about, but the thing I learned about valleys is they can be a moment of rest and relief if you let them. No, you don't have a mountaintop view. Yes, there are long, dark shadows. Yes, there is loneliness, and often confusion, as well as the utter desperation, but when you scream out, "WHO AM I AND WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE CONTRIBUTING TO THIS WORLD???" and you hear your own voice echoing back to you, it's kind of a bit of a revelation.

I am ME! And I have a voice! I have a big heart and consequently a lot of feelings, which isn't always a great thing, but it allows me to connect with people on a personal level. I've been through hardships, I've caused some hardships, but now I feel like I understand myself and my unique place in this great big world a little better. It's time.

When I was young, I think I mentioned this in my previous blog post a few months ago, my dad and stepmom would take my sister and me on vacations, usually into the Great Smoky Mountains and often on a hike or two. Over Christmas break when we would visit, I remember going cross country skiing on trails in the Michigan woods. I didn't know it then, but an intense passion for nature and hiking was being instilled in me.

Fast forward about 25-30 years. I was a newly divorced single mom with another failed relationship under my belt (talk about a slam to your self-worth), and a friend, whom I met through his daughter and one of my students, suggested that I "get out of the house." He took me on the first hike I'd been on in years and years. It felt nice. A few months later, we decided to try having a relationship. Truthfully, there wasn't much trying involved. Some, yes, but this relationship was as much a breath of fresh air - and as NEEDED - as that hike. Yes, I needed this relationship to open my eyes and see what a good relationship looked and felt like. It was time. I was ready. And four years, and MANY hikes later, I am so blessed to call Brian my husband and my hiking partner for life.

"Why are you telling us all this, Jen?" you may be asking. Well, because it's time. And it's not anything most of you don't already know. I'm a pretty open book. I'm not opposed to sharing my struggles as well as my triumphs because I know I'm not a phenomenon. I know there are individuals who are experiencing the same things, and while they don't want to hear, "I know what you're going through, and everything will be alright," they also don't want to feel alone. You are never alone. And I am living and breathing proof that as long as you keep putting your feet on the floor each morning, God's not done with you yet. Grieve the chapter you just finished for as long as you need to, and then turn the page and start writing a new one.

I'm also telling you this because it is time to take Harvest Bay outdoors. My brilliant and supportive husband has encouraged me to write about what I love - nature and hiking, traveling and camping. So, I'm in the process of beginning book #1 of the Harvest Bay Outdoors series. It will likely take me some time as I am also working on completing my Masters of Education in Reading this year, but the process has begun. The working title ("working" means it IS subject to change) is Wilderness Experience and it will feature Kennedy, the sister of Adam and Owen, for those of you who have read The Heart's Journey Home and The Heart's Lullaby.

I will also be working on turning this blog into a travel blog of sorts written in the viewpoints of some of my characters. (That was my husband's idea!) It's taken me some time to wrap my brain around this idea, but now that I have, I think it will be FUN! I hope you will think so, too. I also hope it gives you the inspiration to get outdoors and experience nature with the ones you love. In my opinion, it's my favorite way to get quality time with my husband and girls, and quality time is the best gift to can give a person - it's priceless, it can't be taken back, and it comes in one size fits all. Lots of happy memories have been made on the trail!

On that note, happy belated Thanksgiving! I hope this holiday season is the most memorable yet!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Everything There is a Season

The thing about seasons is they never last long. Some may SEEM to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R (for me this would be winter) while some SEEM to be over in the blink of an eye (for me this would definitely be summer), but in reality they all last about 4-ish months. Similarly, life's seasons come and go. Some don't even last 4 months, some last years and years.

My third book, The Heart's Hostage, took a long time to write and finally was released last summer (June 2016). Since then, I've taken some time off while teaching and pursuing my Masters of Education in Reading.

Also, during this time period, I've rediscovered a passion of mine - hiking! It's a passion that was instilled a long time ago on vacations with my dad. Even as a child, I understood the value of walking with my family in nature and making precious memories by just slowing down and taking in God's beautiful creation. There is so much in this country and world to experience! It's exciting!!!

But there is indeed a time to write. And I have become inspired again. I'm hoping to continue the Harvest Bay Series, but I'm also intending to returning to this blog in a different way than before. With my husband's encouragement, I'm planning on revamping this site into a TRAVEL BLOG and sharing the many adventures my husband and I and the rest of our family enjoy together, as well as including updates about my writing.

That's it for now. Forgive any grammatical errors. I'm actually writing this blog post on my phone from inside my hammock. I hope you are as excited about this new endeavor as I am. The bottom line is life is short. We all know that. But I think some of us don't know how to live. We as a society are tied to our jobs and our other commitments. I will be the first to admit I am. It's part of being an adult! But I'm trying to learn how to really live each and every day. This is a start. It's a journey. It's an adventure. Until next time, friends . . .

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Who Are You???

I am Jennifer Lynn (Dominick) Stephens, born May 26, 19somethingsomething ;o). My parents divorced when I was a baby, both remarried and I can say I have 4 great parents. I have 3 sisters who are my best friends. I am a single mom of the 2 most beautiful girls on the planet. I have the best, most supportive friends anyone could ever ask for. But who am I??? I am a writer. I have to write like I have to breathe. It is in my soul. I am a teacher. I love working with children and helping them to reach goals they didn't believe they could. I am a student, trying out a new scary path in my life. I am a runner. I love pushing my body to its limit, getting faster and stronger day by day. I am a dancer, feeling the rhythm of music and allowing myself to be led in a beautiful movement to it. I am a true country girl. I like to be barefoot and pick tomatoes from my garden. I am a lover of good food and coffee ... thus the passion for being physically active. I have an adventurous spirit and I love to laugh. Laughing to the point of tears is one of my favorite things in the world. Is there a better feeling than that??? I am an encourager. I hope and I dream and I believe and I try my best to share that hope with others. Keep moving on this life journey and I promise I will walk with you the whole way. You'll never be alone. But who am I??? Does all this DEFINE me? All of these are little pieces to the puzzle of who I am. I'm not just one of these alone - I'm not just a daughter or sister or mother or friend - but a beautiful combination of everything I just mentioned and more. When it all comes together, the big finished picture, the answer is clear. Who am I? I am Jennifer Lynn (Dominick) Stephens, daughter of the King of kings, a child of the Most High God, a follower of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. THAT'S who I am! I'm a princess and a servant all rolled into one. *shrug* It's as simple and as complicated as that. But I think it's the most satisfying way to live. It adds purpose and meaning to everything I do, to all those little puzzle pieces that make up this crazy girl. And that is pretty cool! So, now tell me ... who are you???

Monday, January 27, 2014

Compass

Been writing. Been teaching. Been going back to school. Been the best mama I know how to be to the 2 greatest kids on the planet. Been trying to find my way in this new phase in my life. And I had this thought:

The heart truly is a compass. Follow it and it'll lead you to happiness and to where you belong - HOME. Choose not to follow it, to do things your own way, and you will find yourself lost and alone.

Want to know why I believe this is? Because I believe what the Word says that God created us in His image. Because our heart is God's heart, our "compass" is always pointing us to our eternal home and down a path that will lead us there. Any other path will make us lost, confused, and miserable. That's just my simple-minded way of looking at things.

I'm gonna leave you with the lyrics to a song that I love by Lady Antebellum and a promise that next time, I'm going to post my simple-minded way of looking at something else I love - dancing. In the meantime, friends, follow your compass. :o)

 "Yeah it's been a bumpy road
Roller coasters
High and low
Fill the tank and drive the car
Pedal fast, pedal hard
You won't have to go that far

You wanna give up 'cause it's dark
We're really not that far apart

So let your heart, sweetheart,
Be your compass when you're lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it's all said and done
You can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone 
Never be alone oh oh oh
Never be alone oh oh oh

Forgot directions on your way
Don't close your eyes don't be afraid
We might be crazy late at night I can't wait til you arrive
Follow stars you'll be alright

You wanna give up 'cause it's dark
We're really not that far apart

So let your heart, sweetheart,
Be your compass when you're lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it's all said and done
You can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone 
Never be alone oh oh oh
Never be alone oh oh oh

You wanna give up 'cause it's dark
We're really not that far apart

So let your heart, sweetheart
Be your compass when you're lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it's all said and done
You can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone 
Never be alone oh oh oh
Never be alone oh oh oh

When it's all said and done
You can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone" 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Running the Race

I'm a runner. Not really, but I like to think I am. A friend of mine says we are "casual joggers". I enjoy running. I LOVE how I feel after a run. It's my cardio exercise of choice. Do I make it a priority? Well, no. Especially not at this time of the year. Would I like to make it a priority? Sure! . . . As long as it fit into my schedule.

1 Corinthians 9:24 says, "Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!" 

As a Christian: If I go back up into that first paragraph and replace "runner" with Christian, there were times when it'd probably still be a true statement. Oh, sure, I've had seasons where I wanted to eat, breathe, and sleep everything Christ. I couldn't get enough. And then I've had seasons, recently as a matter of fact, where "life" took priority. Jesus just didn't fit into my schedule as a single mom working 2 jobs just to make ends meet. I just didn't have time to spend in the Word. The Word didn't pay my rent, did it? I didn't have time for more than a quick "get us home safe" prayer while driving on snow covered roads. Prayer didn't get the laundry and dishes done, supper on the table, and the girls each to their separate basketball practices, right??? Ever been there??? 

Was I "running to win", as the Scripture says? Nope. Even though I'm active in my church and am a Christian Women's Fiction author, it just wasn't my priority. If it fit into my schedule, perfect! Otherwise, I just didn't have time. Ugh! I wish I could describe how much I HATED just typing those words! But I'm being reminded little by little, step by step, day by day, with the help of some remarkable people, that life is a race. Everyone is running it, but not all in the same way. We can choose to run it one of two ways: we can focus on the race itself (our relationships, our job, our health, our money and possessions, our habits and hobbies) . . . or we can focus on the FINISH LINE. 

What's wrong with focusing a lil bit on "the race"? Races are exciting and energized. They are a fun and rewarding event to be a part of. I get that. But, THEY END. They all come to an end eventually. Relationships may come and go. You may wake up one day and find you are unemployed or get a bad report from your doctor. The one thing that will never, ever end is Jesus' love for us and His gift to us of everlasting life. THAT, my friends, is the finish line and I promise if we keep our sights there, everything else will fall into place. 

As a mother: So how do I apply this as a mom of 2 preteen daughters? With all the running I do taking them to practices and games, I FEEL like I'm in a race! Haha! And let me tell you, some days (typically mornings - just imagine 3 girls sharing 1 bathroom. Oh, Lordy, if my walls could talk!) I really fight the urge to quit this leg of the race altogether. Have you ever seen the YouTube video of the Olympic runner who pulled a hamstring during a race? Even though he was in excruciating pain he got up and tried to keep going. HE HAD TO FINISH THE RACE. Who do you suppose came out to the track to help him hobble the rest of the way? That's right. His dad. 

I helped bring 2 beautiful girls into this race. They are brilliant and determined and bursting with all kinds of potential. And they can change the world if they so desire. (I'm only slightly biased. ;o) ) And just like that father was there to help his son, and my father in Heaven never, ever leaves me, I will always be there to help them "run to win". Here's the bonus: just like the act of running while in the race helps make your body stronger, guiding and helping and spending time with the very little people I helped bring into this race makes me a stronger woman. I can't quit on those 2 beautiful girls. As crazy as they make me, they are my whole world and they are making me better every day just by getting to be their mama.  

As a teacher: This is just a little bit different because your students are not your own children and you typically have a classroom full that changes every year. They all have their individual needs and learning abilities. A teacher cannot give up trying to reach each one of her students. Some days it seems impossible. Believe me, I know. But every day that you care about another person's child, every day you keep him safe, every day you give her a little hug and tell her you're proud of her, is a day you've "run to win". And it has been my experience, similarly to my own girls, that by the end of the school year, I've learned and grown just as much from my students as they have from me. Teach them the race route. Encourage them to try their best and stay focused. And then let them take off! But be right there if they need you. I'm always amazed at what my students can do, usually going above and beyond my expectations. It's a pretty cool thing! 

As a writer: Some days the story is just not coming to me. Like when you try to run and your legs feel like cement? It's like that. Some days it's great and my fingers are flying over the keyboard . . . and then comes the editing process and I realize what I thought was just genius work needs to get scratched. For me it's a long, learning process. Very much like a marathon. And very often I'd like to take a little break. Sometimes I have to because of work or the girls or any other "life" event. The key is to get right back in the race and to push just a lil bit harder. As a writer, I have to stay focused on the big picture, the finish line. And not just typing the imaginary "The End". As a Christian Women's Fiction author, I have to remember Who is the real Author of this story and Whose story I'm telling. Nothing I write is about me or anything I want. It is all about the big picture. The FINISH LINE. 

And this time I'm in it to win it!