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!  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hostage

According to Dictionary.com, the word hostage means: "a person given or held as security for the fulfillment of certain conditions or terms, promises, etc., by another." (Emphasis added.)

Have you ever been in a relationship of any kind - romantic, friendship, work, etc. - where your needs are not being met, but you feel trapped because your heart keeps you there? Your promises and obligations keep you there. The Heart's Hostage follows a married couple, neither one meeting the other's needs, both secretly longing for freedom but trapped by their vow to each other. Eventually, they individually come to the conclusion that the freedom they desire isn't the freedom they NEED. But will they reach this understanding too late???

I will periodically post snippets of The Heart's Hostage here, as I've done with my previous books. I hope you are as excited about this "baby" as I am. This book is so important to me for many reasons. I only pray I'm telling the story well enough to touch the hearts of my readers and cause some hope and healing to occur in whatever situation you may be facing. I know one thing about relationships of any kind: they are hard and everyone has some sort of baggage, unresolved past hurts, barriers to break down. There are ups and downs and more ups, twists and turns, and every now and then a loop-the-loop. Kinda like a roller coaster (and everyone knows roller coasters make me sick, which would most definitely explain my current situation). That's just how life goes, right? I'm not for sure on this, there's so much I still need to learn, but I think that when two people figure out how to enjoy the ride - celebrate each other's similarities, appreciate each other's differences, support each other's dreams, and communicate each other's needs - that roller coaster will be the most fulfilling, biggest thrill of their lives.

I'm a mama, a teacher, a writer, and, most of all, a Christian. I'm most certainly NOT perfect at ANY of those. Lordy, have I screwed up a time or two, but I believe if I try every day to walk closer to Christ (cause some days I'm way far away) I'll do pretty okay at everything else. Will you walk with me??? My plan is to choose a Scripture passage that speaks to me on a personal level and then relate it to my role as a mama, a teacher, and a writer. That's my plan, and those who know me know I love to have a plan 100% as much as I hate roller coasters. I'd also love to know you're walking beside me on this faith journey. Where ever you are in life, please remember, we "can do everything through Christ, who gives (us) strength." ~Philippians 4:13. And we can do it together!

So until next time, dear friends, enjoy the ride!          

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Roots and Wings, Hope and Healing

I had an epiphany moment just a little bit ago. It's a pretty neat little story, I think, and I wanted to share it with you with the hopes that it'll touch your heart. Maybe you'll get something out of it. Maybe it'll just be an entertaining story for you. Of course there's always the possibility that you'll think it was a waste of your time. If you want to take the chance, read on . . .

The girls and I are spending our spring break with my step-mom in East Tennessee, one of our favorite places in the whole world. For me, it's a very spiritual place. Something about it centers me, brings me back to who I am. While the majority of my roots are in Ohio, a line stretches all the way to this area of the world. My dad and step-mom would bring us on vacations to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg for as long as I can remember and they built their home just east of the famous vacation spot about 20 years ago. So part of who I am at heart is right here in the Smoky Mountains.

This morning was a beautiful, brisk morning, bright and sunny, about 40 degrees. So I decided to take a run/walk to clear my head, get back to who I am, and just breathe. As I was running along, a song by Kelly Clarkson, Breakaway, came on my ipod. The words of the chorus are:

"I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly
I'll do what it takes 'til I touch the sky
And I'll make a wish, take a chance, make a change
And breakaway."


Fitting song, given my recent circumstances. Listening to the song, I drifted back to the last time I took that same walk with my dad. My dad. My hero. I tried to remember what we talked about and couldn't. It wasn't important. What was important was BEING WITH HIM. I wondered what he would say to me if we were walking together now. Would he be proud that I'm a teacher and published author? Would he understand that I'm now a single mother? Just like Forrest Gump's mama, he always knew what to say to make things make sense. 

Nearing the end of our together walk all those years ago, I said to him, "Race ya up the hill!" Of course, he took the challenge. And he beat me! But when we got to the top of the hill, he pointed and said, "Look." And there was a Bald Eagle soaring right above us! It was beautiful and majestic. THat was one of the few perfect moments of my life. The memory has faded some - it's probably been 14 years - but I'll never forget that moment as long as I live. And today healing occurred as I shared that memory with my step-mom's new husband as we walked up that same hill together.

That's when I realized the complexity and yet at the same time the simplicity of the twists and turns of life. You never know what to expect, but one thing you can count on is life moves on. There IS life after death. There IS healing after heartache. There can be beautiful relationships after a broken marriage. And there is ALWAYS hope. Always.