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!