Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dwindling Days of Summer

Tomorrow, yes, folks, to-mor-row, I have my first inservice day of the school year! Our first full day of school is next Friday, the 8th. I've already spent countless hours just this week in my classroom arranging and decorating it. Oh, where have you gone, my dear sweet summer?!

Don't think I'm not looking forward to going back. I love teaching and especially love the beginning of a new school year. It's so full of life and . . . promise! The kids are excited to be back. The parents are really excited to have their kids back in school! :) And the teachers are excited to see their coworkers and all of the fresh, new faces in their classroom, ready and eager to dive into that wonderful pool of knowledge.

Of course I'm looking forward to it, just like I do every year, but this closing of another summer vacation reminds me of how quickly time just slips away from us. And there's nothing that anyone can do about it. Like a freight train, time just keeps chugging along. I suppose we can either hop aboard and enjoy the ride, or let it pass us by (as I just did) and wonder how it can slip away so fast. At the next stop, I'm hopping on. How about you?

Are you waiting for some reading material??? How about the synopsis tonight? Okay! Here goes:

The Heart’s Journey Home

Home is where the heart is . . . or is it?

Three years after Kate Sterling's heart was shattered by the unexpected death of her husband, home is about loyalty and practicality. So she packs up what is left of her life in Nashville, Tennessee, and moves back to Harvest Bay in north central Ohio with her young daughter. Expecting her hometown to be the same sleepy little community she grew up in, she discovers that some things have changed.

First, Adam Sullivan, the once goof-off jock she avoided in high school, breaks down her initial defenses and becomes Kate’s confidante. Having experienced hardships of his own, he understands her in a way no one else can. He is gentle, insightful, compassionate . . . and miraculously makes her broken heart perform acrobatics. But in order for their relationship to grow closer, Kate not only has to get past the pain of losing her husband, but she also has to deal with the fact that Adam is not a Christian. With her own faith on shaky ground, does she have the passion and fire to lead someone else to Christ?

Then Kate learns the town’s doctor is expanding his office and her brother-in-law, Nathan Sterling, is leaving his successful Vanderbilt practice to accept the open physician position, and she finds her head spinning. At first it’s almost like having a piece of her husband back . . . until Nathan confesses his love for her, leaving her emotions torn.

It isn’t until Kate suffers another devastating loss that she finally understands that the God who loves and cares for her has given her a second chance at love. Now she must make a decision: Is God leading her to a love linked to the past . . . or to one who will walk with her into the future? Which road will Kate take on The Heart’s Journey Home.

Prayer Concerns: Please continue to pray for my grandma, Angela Dominick, who fell a week and a half ago and broke her hip. Also, please continue to pray for my very dear friend from high school, Patty Smith, who is battling ovarian cancer. Pray for William Hickson, who has mitochondrial disease, and for his family as they deal with the daily struggles. Also, please pray for my sister, Julie Roder, who is expecting her second child sometime in March and that she'll have a safe, healthy pregnancy. If you have a prayer concern (even if it is unspoken - God knows all of our needs after all) please email me personally through my profile and I will be happy to post it. There IS power in prayer!

P.S. Happy birthday, Bonnie! I hope it was a great one! Love ya!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Extreme Makeover "Blog" Edition

Well? What do you think of the new look? I read an article today in this month's Guideposts magazine on Ty Pennington - the Extreme Makeover Home Edition guy (the cute, loud one) - and thought, "Hmm. Maybe it's time to give the blog a new look, eh?" I think it's a good change . . . for now. Please notice the Prayer Concerns list on the left. Names are listed there with the date of the post where you can find the specific details for their needs. If you or someone you know is in need of prayer, please email me directly (you can get to it through my profile) and I'll be happy to post it for you! There IS power in prayer!

School starts for me next Friday, August the 1st. I'm not disappointed to be going back to school. On the contrary, I'm looking forward to seeing all of my wonderful friends and getting a fresh class of eager third-graders. By this point in the summer, Ali and Livi are eager to go back and start using all of their new school supplies that I've been trying to keep them out of for a week now! Preparing for a new school year is so exciting! No, I'm NOT disappointed about going back to school, but I AM disappointed that I didn't get more work done on The Heart's Journey Home this summer. Of course, there's only so much you can do when you're a mom . . . and a wife . . . and a teacher . . . and a . . . Do I need to go on??? I've been convincing myself for months now that I'm not super woman nor am I anything even in that ball park. One look around my house will make that blatantly obvious! But I did manage to set a reasonable goal for myself (and reasonable is the key word here) and as long as the Lord keeps me inspired, I'll be able to move into editing stages by late October.

That's where YOU come into the picture. The former headmaster of our school was big on accountability. It really IS a good thing! I would love to hear from you - my supporters, my lifeline - periodically checking on my progress. Keep those nominations coming. I can't tell you how they inspire me. (Oh, and did I mention earlier that the winners of the contest would get signed copies of The Heart's Journey Home?) And spread the word of what I'm doing here. Forward this blog address to anyone that you think would be even remotely interested. It only takes a minute. In return . . . let me guess. You want an unedited snippet. Well . . . okay.

Today's snippet comes from a little further on in the book. Kate has been struggling with her faith ever since her husband's death, but she's been asked to do something that will require her to use faith. I chose this scene because I've found with me personally getting busy in day to day life, I sometimes forget that God is closer to me than anyone else - my husband, my children, my family or my friends. He's right there in my heart.

Finally, she came to the sanctuary.

She pulled open a door, slipped inside, and walked up the aisle in the eerie silence. The only light was from the late afternoon sun streaming in through the large stained glass windows, and the two spot lights illuminating the mammoth cross that hung just behind the alter.
Kate slid into the first pew and just sat there staring at the cross. The burdens it represented were so great in comparison to hers and yet at the moment she was so overwhelmed she couldn’t even think straight.

She stayed there for what seemed like a long time, perfectly still, soaking up the quiet and waiting for the peace that was supposed to come simultaneously, showering down around her like a gentle rain, but the worry and fear never left her heart.

“I . . . I need Your help tonight. I don’t know if I can do this without You.” She sighed deeply. Her shoulders sagged. “I came here to find You, but I still feel alone.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” a voice said from behind her, cutting through the silence like a switchblade, causing Kate to nearly jump out of her skin. She put a hand over her racing heart and turned as Pastor Ben slid into the pew behind her.

“You scared me.”

“Expecting someone of a . . .” Pastor Ben glanced heavenward, then back at her with a light expression. “higher stature.”

Kate offered a weak, lopsided grin, which fell with her gaze a second later. “No. Hoping, maybe, but not expecting.”

Pastor Ben leaned forward and rested his forearms on the back of the pew Kate was sitting in. “Kate, sometimes we can see God all around us, every where we look.” Pastor Ben paused. “And sometimes we have to search deep inside ourselves.”

Kate looked at Pastor Ben. She didn’t want to admit to him what she had confessed to Grandpa Clayton and Elizabeth, but she knew she couldn’t pretend either. “I don’t think I’ll find Him there either.”

“Are you sure? Because I found Him there.”

Kate scrunched her brows in confusion. “I don’t understand how. It’s kind of been a while since I’ve experienced a close relationship with the Lord.” Kate paused, then quietly added, “Or any kind of a relationship at all.”

“So you still haven’t done what I told you to do the day that I asked you to consider leading the support group.”

Alarmed, Kate sat up straighter. She was an excellent planner and equally skilled at organization. She couldn’t stand the though of leaving something undone. “What do you mean? What haven’t I done?”

“Search your heart.”

Kate’s rigid posture melted away. “Oh.”

“Of course, I imagine it would be difficult to sift through the rubble of something that’s been so broken.”

Kate wished she could’ve thought of something to say, even if it was an excuse, but nothing, besides a sharp stab of shame, came to her.

“He’s there, Kate. You can ignore Him, try to run or hide from Him, even convince yourself that He’s not there, but He promised us that he would never leave or forsake us.” Pastor Ben tipped his head to the side. “Kind of like how you promised not to leave Maggie when she was going through labor. Maggie still had to go through it. You couldn’t take the pain away, but you were there to hold her hand, to encourage her, to make sure she knew she wasn’t alone, and, when it was all said and done, something beautiful came out of what she endured.”

Kate pondered his analogy, tears of understanding filling her eyes.

Pastor Ben watched her with an expression of deep compassion. “I know sometimes it’s hard when things don’t make sense and you have so many questions, but you just have to trust Him, Kate, and you will end up with something beautiful, too.”

Prayer concerns: Please pray for my grandma, Angela Dominick, who fell on Tuesday and broke her hip. Also, please continue to pray for my best friend from high school, Patty Smith, who continues to battle ovarian cancer. William Hickson is my friend's little boy who has mitochondrial disorder (please see the Caring Bridge link on the right to learn more about him and his wonderful family). My friend and fellow teacher, Alicia Sharpton, just got out of the hospital after having gall bladder surgery. Please pray for a speedy recovery for her. And on a happy note, my sister and brother-in-law, Julie and Jon Roeder, are expecting their second child sometime in March! Please pray for a safe and healthy pregnancy for Julie.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who Would I Choose?

I was thinking about the "What a Difference You Made in My Life" contest earlier today and I thought, "Who would I choose if I were going to nominate someone?", which I'm not because it's my contest, so that wouldn't be fair, but it is fair to give credit where credit is due. Obviously, someone had to have made a difference in my life or I wouldn't be where I am today. And the truth of the matter is, there are A LOT of people who have made a profound impact in my life. But the rule is one male and/or female, right? So . . .

The male that I would choose would be my daddy, Frank Dominick (with my husband, Chris, being a close second!). And now I'm sitting here and I'm at a loss for words (yes, folks, you read it correctly - I'm at a loss for words) to describe to you what a wonderful, caring, loving man he was. That is how special he was. Daddy taught me how to ride my bike (a story that will likely be told for generations in my family!). Daddy taught me how to fish (really fish, I mean, bait the hook, take the fish off, and everything and my father-in-law can attest that I STILL do it!). Daddy taught me about baseball (I'm still a Tigers fan!). In fact, I used to be the "bat girl" when he coached his company team. It was so fun. Here's a good one: Daddy taught me how to dunk an Oreo cookie and how to twist it apart and lick off the "white stuff"! Oreos were his favorite. Daddy was a very brilliant, successful man, but I never felt like he was ever too busy for me, and I'm sure my sister would say the same thing. That is something that I deeply appreciate now that I have children of my own and I regret to say that sometimes I do say those dreaded words to my two precious little girls, "I'm busy." Daddy appreciated people, I mean, really appreciated people, and people were drawn to him. He was compassionate toward people's needs and always tried to help out if he could and sometimes even when he couldn't. Daddy taught me how to laugh (he was so funny!), how to love (he was a very affectionate father, as you can see), how to learn (when I was still in school, he gently pushed and when I dug my feet in he pushed harder because he knew, as I do now, how important education is) and how to LIVE (reach for your goals, but have a plan, and be prepared to pay your dues and, above all else, nurture your relationships, and spend time with the people you love while you can because LIFE IS SHORT). He taught me so many more things during his time here on this earth that I could write and write and write about, and maybe I'll dedicate another post to him and pick up where I left off, but I wanted to close with something he taught me that is dear to my heart: Daddy taught me how to write, how to express myself on paper, how to slip into a world of make-believe where anything is possible. I know I'm writing today because of my father. I'm so thankful to him and I miss him so much, but I can sometimes feel him with me in those still moments.

Onto the female nominee . . . I have had many women make a huge impact in my life - my mother, my step mom, any of my three sisters (who are also my very best friends), my Granny Moltz or my Grandma Dominick. I had a pastor, Pastor Janis, who was a great influence to me. I worked under a principal once, Donna Miller, who taught me an enormous amout about teaching and life in general. Of course, my publisher, Joan, has grown to be a very special mentor and person to me. And I've been blessed bountifully with friends all who have touched my life in a very special way, but I wouldn't nominate them because they haven't made an impact like one very special little girl . . . my first born daughter, Alison.
Now, don't think I'm playing favorites. Those of you who know my little Olivia are very aware that she is every bit as darling (and as ornery) as Alison. Olivia is my baby and that's a very special bond seperate from the bond of the first born - they're different and the same, if that makes sense. But I have a very deep admiration for Alison because she was born with a cleft palate. Alison has had challenges that she's had to face since birth. When she was first born, it was feeding issues and she had to use a special bottle. When she was eleven months old she had her first surgery - cleft palate repair and her first set of ear tubes (which is the picture to the right). She started speech therapy shortly after that. She was a little more than a year old when she said her first word - Mama. I remember that day very clearly. I was beyond happy! And she has come SO far with her speech! She has since had four or five more sets of ear tubes, a surgery to help with her speech, a tonsilectomy, and the latest is that she is going through a sleep study trial because of apnea. In a few days she will be getting a CPAP mask to sleep with at night. And the most humbling part of this for me as her mother is that she has been so brave, so resilient through every ordeal. And what I think is very special about Alison is that where other kids might have felt sorry for themselves or allowed their self esteem to falter because they don't talk like the other kids or they have to wear a mask to bed at night, her confidence level has remained untouched. She knows that God has made her exactly the way He wants her and she's totally cool with that. So cool, in fact, that she has sung solos in church a couple times and in her school Christmas program! And she's actually looking forward to getting her CPAP mask so that she can decorate it with glittery stickers! She's amazing! In addition to going through her medical issues, she is so incredibly smart! She has a passion for learning - she just soaks it up like a little sponge. Also, she has found a love of swimming. I wouldn't be surprised if one day she grew a tail and some scales and changed her name to Ariel! When I look at my little girl and remember all she's gone through (and may very well still have to go through) I am so awestruck that God would deem me worthy to be the mother of such an extraordinary, beautiful child.

So now you know who I would nominate, if I could. Who will you nominate????

Friday, July 18, 2008

Where are all of the Ladies?

The "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" contest is in full swing and it has been interesting to say the least. Everyone could nominate a male and/or a female, but several who have entered have nominated just a male. It's probably my fault. Maybe I didn't explain it clearly enough, or maybe I did and those individuals chose to enter just a male. Now I know you all have a granny or a teacher or a friend, etc., etc., etc., that has made a difference in your life. What would it take for you to email me her name and a few short sentences about her? Standing on my head again? (Of course, you've figured out by now that my version of standing on my head is providing you with a small chunk of unedited reading material, right?) Well, you've got it!

But first, I absolutely MUST update you on our cover photo shoot that took place yesterday late morning/early afternoon. Honestly, though, I can't find the words to describe it and for me to be speechless, you know it would have to have been pretty spectacular! I've spent a good portion of the day just going back and looking through a few of the photos. Terri, my photographer, really, truly, and honestly captured the essence of this of this story and my Kate (Carie) and Madeline (Eva Grace) were absolutely perfect. But don't just take my word for it. See for yourself!

This is just one of the shots we got and, of course, photo editing will be done here and there, but, wow, if that doesn't illustrate "The Heart's Journey Home", what would??? Thank you so much, Terri, Carie, and Eva Grace (and Rhonda, Eva Grace's mama)! You have made this first experience for me very special and memorable.

Now, I guess it's time for me to stand on my head. Tonight I'm choosing a snippet of a conversation between Kate, Madeline, and Kate's mother, Rebecca, on their first night in Harvest Bay. I thought it would be appropriate to stick with the "ladies" theme since I need some more, but this is also a very special scene to me because, like Madeline, my daddy's in Heaven. When I write Madeline's character, some may think I'm modeling her after one of my two little girls, but she's really a part of me, as are most of my characters. Somedays I just feel like a little girl who misses her daddy. In addition, I received a nomination tonight from a lady whose husband had died, leaving her and her little boy. Maybe this excerpt will be a blessing to all of you who have been through some sort of loss:

. . . Madeline crawled into the bed and snuggled down between the sheets, hugging her favorite stuffed puppy. Kate tucked the covers in around Madeline and kissed her on the forehead.


“Yes, Baby?”

“Does Daddy know that we are here?”

The question sucked the air out of Kate. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, and quickly gathering her wits about her, she sat on the edge of the bed. “Yes, he does. He’s here with us, too. Remember what I told you? We’ll keep him in our hearts and take him with us everywhere we go.”

“Does Daddy miss us?”

Tears stung Kate’s eyes, but she quickly dammed them up. They’d had a great day together, and she would not spoil it now. “I’m sure he does, very much.”

“But we learned in Sunday school that Heaven is such a cool place that you don’t cry or hurt anymore.”

At that moment, Kate detested the Sunday school teachers at their Nashville church for being so good that her daughter took in and held on to their every word. How was she supposed to give her daughter an answer when she didn’t understand it herself? Thankfully, she didn’t have to as her mother came to the rescue.

“Your daddy misses you very much, and he wishes he could be here with you, but he is busy with a very important job,” Rebecca said entering the dimly lit room. She knelt beside the twin bed, and discreetly placed a comforting hand over Kate’s.

“What kind of a job, Grammy?”

“Your daddy is helping Jesus prepare a special place in Heaven just for you and your mama.”

“Really? Daddy is helping Jesus?”

“That’s what I believe.”

“I believe it, too!”

Rebecca chuckled, leaned forward, and kissed Madeline on her forehead. “That’s good, Honey. Now have pleasant dreams.”

Madeline hugged her puppy tighter. “Okay, but Grammy?”


“I don’t think I want to go to Heaven just yet. I wanna stay right here with you and Papa.”

Rebecca got to her feet, and Kate joined her. “I’ll keep you here with me as long as I can. Good night, my darling.” Then Rebecca turned and left the room.

Kate kissed Madeline once more and followed her mother, who was waiting just outside the door with her arms outstretched. Kate stepped into her mother’s embrace as the dam burst and silent tears streamed down her face.

“Oh, Mom, I’ve needed you so much.” It was barely more than a whisper.

“Shhh. You’re home now, and everything’s gonna be alright.” Rebecca smoothed Kate’s hair and gently rocked her back and forth just as she did when Kate was a child.

And at that moment, Kate believed her mother . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Say Cheese!

That's what I'm going to be telling my two beautiful models tomorrow afternoon when we go on location to shoot the cover of The Heart's Journey Home! It's not really that big 'a deal - the "location" is a little country road just down from the photographer's house. It won't take that long and it shouldn't be that hard, but this is all just so unbelievable to me! I mean, we're shooting the cover to my book! How did I even get to this point? I just have to shake my head and thank the Lord for this opportunity and pray that I glorify His name the very best that I can 'cause that is what this is all about, what EVERYTHING is all about. Even still, I'm shaking my head. Unbelievable. You will definitely be updated and I will post the cover when it's ready, but that won't be for months. In the meantime, I hope to give you lots of other good reading material. (And I am vowing to myself right now that I will make a post at least every other night so be sure to type your email address in the little box in the left-hand corner so that you will be automatically notified when I make a new post. It's very easy and it only take a minute.)

If you live in my hometown of Monroeville, or any of the neighboring towns, hopefully you picked up some reading material earlier today - the Norwalk Reflector. Journalist Aaron Krause was kind enough to write an article on me and what I'm doing. It's too long for me to post the whole thing, but I'll share some tidbits:

Stephen’s future novel The Heart’s Journey Home is scheduled for publication in 2010. For the immediate future, the 31-year old Nashville, Tenn.-area resident is asking people to think about important individuals in their lives. She wants the names of those people, and requests an email in which you state how they profoundly influenced you. After the Sept. 7 contest deadline, Stephens will pick a male and female name “out of the hat." Stephens plans to write a paragraph about the lucky individuals in the acknowledgment section of The Heart’s Journey Home. In addition, the author and third grade teacher will create a minor character in her novel, based on the people picked. “I want to make people happy and I want to be a blessing to others,” she said. “That’s why I love teaching so much.”

More details regarding the contest that Aaron was talking about can be found in the last two posts. Believe me, you don't want to miss out on it. It will be a fun way for YOU to bless a loved one. So make sure you check it out.

What? More reading material? You want more?! Well . . . okay. You talked me into it. In the last entry you met Kate and Nathan. (Feel free to go back and review!) Today, I want you to meet Adam Sullivan. I'm not going to tell you too much about him, just that, as you will probably figure out, he has reached a very low point of his life. This is an unedited conversation between Adam and his mother:

“A penny for your thoughts,” a gentle voice offered from behind.

Adam didn’t have to look to know it was his mother. “Have you ever felt like you were living someone else’s life?”

“Hmm. I think so.”

“This isn’t exactly how I expected my life would go.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?”

“What do you mean? What can I do?”

“Let me put it to you this way: if you went out to ride Moses one day and he bucked you off, what would you do?”

“I’d get back on him, and let him know that he didn’t win.” It took only a moment for the dawning to occur. “But this is different. My divorce has only been final for a little over a year.”

Anna Sullivan put her hands on her hips. “True, but you were separated for almost a year before that.”

“I know you mean well, but dating again is out of the question.”

“Chloe needs to see you begin to pick up the pieces. She needs to know that life goes on.”

Adam crossed his arms. “There’s not much hope in my meeting someone new when I spend all of my time either here on the farm bailing hay or at school getting ready for the new football season. Practice starts in just a few weeks, and I really think that we have a chance at a state championship this year.”

Anna reached up and placed her hands on Adam’s shoulders. “You may not believe what I’m about to say after all you’ve been through, but, Son, I’m proud of you, of all of your accomplishments. Even though things haven’t turned out for you the way you’d hoped, God has a plan for your life. You have to believe that.”

Adam resisted arguing with his mother, but he couldn’t meet her gaze.

Anna sighed. “Just promise me that you won’t let an opportunity pass you by.”

“I promise.”

Since I just gave you a snipit, there are probably some things you are unclear about . . . just in case you needed a reason to read the book when it comes out! Bottom line is this: the three characters you've met in this "online interactive journal", like many of you who are reading this, are all on a journey . . . and so are their hearts.

Until next time . . .

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Standing On My Head For You

My goodness you all have been quiet this week! Either my contest scared you off or you're at home deep in thought about who you will nominate to have their name, short bio, and a minor character modeled after them FOREVER in print. I only have 1 contest entry so far (thank you, Mom!) so you all leave me no choice . . .

No! I'm not standing on my head, but close. Here is the unedited version of the Prologue to The Heart's Journey Home:

Kate Sterling leaned against the door of her cobalt blue Explorer and sighed heavily. This morning had come quickly, too quickly. She had always loved the Fourth of July, but now Independence Day took on a whole new meaning. She folded her hands in front of her and brought them to her chin almost as if in prayer, though prayer was not something that came easily to her these days.

“She fell back to sleep,” Kate’s brother-in-law, Nathan, said coming around the front of the vehicle after he buckled Kate’s six-year-old daughter, Madeline, into her booster seat.

“That’s good. I have a feeling this is going to be a long trip for us.” It was only an eight-hour drive from her home in Nashville, Tennessee, to Harvest Bay, her Ohio hometown situated on the bank of Lake Erie, and Kate had made it a handful of times with Madeline as her only companion.

This time, though, they wouldn’t be coming back.

Nathan leaned against the Explorer shoulder to shoulder with Kate and crossed his arms in front of him. “I’m really going to miss Maddie.”

A thick lump of sorrow rose in Kate’s throat and she swallowed hard. “She’ll miss you, too. We both will.”

“Don’t start doubting yourself, Kate. You’re doing the right thing.”

Kate nodded. “I know. There’s nothing keeping me here now that Ryan’s gone and I really need to be closer to my family, especially with Grandpa Clayton’s declining health.”

“So then why the hesitation?”

Kate shrugged. “The idea of moving ‘back home’ seems so foreign to me. I’ve lived here for so long that Harvest Bay has evolved into a vacation destination of sorts, just a sleepy little town where we go to visit with family and friends. It’s not home anymore.”

“Does this feel like home?” Nathan gestured to the stately brick house that Kate and her husband, Ryan, had bought together shortly after he graduated from medical school at Vanderbilt and was offered a position in the office where Nathan was already a practicing physician.

The still-dark sky was Kate’s ally, concealing the moisture that pooled in her eyes and tickled her nose. “Not for three years.”

Nathan turned to face Kate and took her by the shoulders. “It’s time for you to move on and start over.” Nathan’s expression softened. “You know it’s what Ryan would want for you and Maddie both.”

“I still miss him so much,” Kate said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Nathan pulled her into his arms. “Me, too,” he murmured into her hair. “Me, too.”

After a moment, Kate’s strength was renewed in Nathan’s embrace. She took a deep cleansing breath and stepped back. “Nathan, I can’t begin to thank you enough for everything you’ve done for Maddie and me since Ryan died. We never would have made it through the past three years without you.”

“I’ll always be there for you and Maddie, no matter how far you go, okay?”

Kate nodded.

“And don’t forget to remind Pipsqueak that I’m coming up next month for her birthday.”

“I’ll tell her.” Kate glanced at her watch, and then up into Nathan’s face. “Well, I guess I’d better hit the road. It’s not getting any earlier, and Mom and Dad will be expecting us later this afternoon.” Kate opened the door, slipped into the seat, and started the engine.
Nathan pushed the button to roll her window down and then shut the door. “Just keep telling yourself, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

Kate looked at her brother-in-law suddenly aware that once she left she wouldn’t see him again for several weeks and only a few times a year after that. She reached out and touched his face as it became blurry behind her fresh tears. “Right now I’m thinking of what Dorothy says to the Scarecrow.”

“What’s that?”

“I believe she said, ‘I think I’ll miss you most of all.’”

Hope you enjoyed your little teaser. I hope it left you wanting more, wanting to know what will happen with Kate and Nathan and who will come into their lives as they are both on a journey - life's journey. I'll post more here and there, but not too much! Don't want to spoil the surprise! :)

In the mean time, think about whose name you'd love to see in this book. Drop me a paragraph or two telling me all about that person and what he and/or she means to you. (Remember you can nominate a male and a female, but not two of one gender.) It'll only take a minute of your time, but what a special gift it would be if your loved one is chosen! And, hey, it just may get you out of standing on your head for them!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"What A Difference You've Made in My Life" Contest

Surprise! You didn't expect to hear from me so soon, did ya? Well, I'm posting tonight with some very exciting news that I just can't wait any longer to get to you! So without further ado . . .

Every writer (I think, though, I don't know for sure because I'm so new at this, but I'm pretty sure) wants their work to touch somebody. Maybe not always profoundly, but certainly no writer sits down to their computer or laptop and says, "Okay, I'm gonna write a mediocre story today!" Call me naive but I want to really make a difference. I always have. That's why I love teaching. And now I have the opportunity to make a difference with the stories I create, too. First and foremost, I always want to honor the Lord with my writing. Secondly, I want to honor my family, and I want to honor you and your loved ones.

But how? So I came up with an idea and, I couldn't believe it!, my publisher actually thought it was a good idea! (Not that my publisher wouldn't have because she's very open-minded, but I had a good idea!) I've decided to establish the "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" contest in honor of my daddy who has made an immeasurable difference in my life and to whom my first novel, The Heart's Journey Home, will be dedicated. Oh, and he was a Ronnie Milsap fan, thus the title of the contest! How does the contest work? Glad you asked!

This is where you, yes, YOU, come in. For two months, until September 7th, I want you to write me either by posting comments to this blog or email me directly (by clicking on my profile and then on contact me) and nominate a female (of any age) and/or a male (of any age) that has made a difference in your life. Let me clarify: you can nominate a male and a female or one or the other, but not multiples of one gender. Otherwise the contest will be lopsided and a lopsided contest is no fun. Tell me as much as you can about this person factually as if you were going to write an article on him/her and tell me why that person has made a difference in your life. That's it. That's all you have to do. On September 8th, I will take all of the nominations I get, separate the males from the females, and draw one name from each of the two categories (yep, the old-fashioned, fair-square way: out of a hat). I will write a special paragraph about the chosen loved ones in or after the acknowledgements section of The Heart's Journey Home and I will create a minor character in my book based on the information you've supplied me about your loved one! Karen Kingsbury did something similar to this and I just thought that it is a wonderful way to honor those that have truly touched your life.

Who to nominate? Anyone that has made an impact in your life. Just as an example, Stan and Alice-Lyle are friends of ours who has a child with Mitochondrial Disease. If they were to nominate little William and he were to be drawn out of the hat, I would write about how special of a little boy he is in or after my acknowledgements and I would create a minor child character who would be based on William. (Oh, and by the way, click on the Caring Bridge link under my blog lists and read William's story. They are a wonderful family.) My mother-in-law has recently lost three of her aunts. She may want to nominate one of them. A pastor, a friend, a teacher, a grandparent or grandchild, a sibling or cousin, anyone who you know you wouldn't be the same without - someone who you feel has helped make you a better person. I want you to be as touched by this as they will be when they see their name in print!

How am I able to do this? Because I am extremely blessed to be working with a wonderful Christian publisher who has given her writers a ton of freedom that other authors, even multi-published authors, don't get the luxury of having. I still don't know why she would want to take a chance on me, being so wet behind the ears and all, but I'm so very thankful that she has seen something in me, and I just hope that I don't let her down. Joan, just in case I haven't told you(in the last day or two), thank you for everything!

Okay, one last assignment for you: make sure everyone you know has a chance to nominate their loved one(s). Call, email, text, fax, or (as a last resort!) snail mail this web address ( to all of your friends and family. I hope you are as excited about this new opportunity as I am. I pray that this contest is a big enough success that I can do it again for the next book . . . and the one after that . . . and the one after that . . . I'll be looking forward to hearing from you and reading all about those that have made a difference in your life!

P.S. Update from earlier poll: I've decided, for a few different reasons, to write as Jen Stephens.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Roots + Wings x Faith = Independence

Happy Independence Day! I prefer Independence Day to 4th of July because the latter is really just a date. Independence Day evokes SO much more feeling. I never really understood what it was all about until I became an adult with babies of my own and I realized how much I, how much we all, have to lose, all the freedoms we take for granted. I am so very grateful for all of our military men and women who have fought and especially for the many that have died for those freedoms!

But have you ever thought that we (yes, you and I) fight for freedom everyday? We do. Freedom from a shameful past or a miserable future; freedom from addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, money, sex, etc., etc., etc.; freedom from illnesses - physical or mental; freedom from the negative thoughts, fueled by society, that constantly bring us down. Our weapons to fight this personalized "War of Independence"? Roots, wings, and faith.

Those of you who were at my wedding nine and a half years ago might remember the short homily that our pastor gave. She quoted one of her favorite authors (whose name I can't remember so if you recognize the saying, feel free to post a comment and let me know who it was) who said something to the effect of: the best gifts a parent can give their children are roots and wings. Roots will keep them grounded - help them remember who they are and where they came from. But here's the thing: have you ever noticed the older a tree gets, the deeper and stronger their roots are? Maybe it's because they NEED their roots more and more. Chris, the girls, and I just got back from visiting my step mom in East Tennessee. She thought, after reading my last post, that I might like to read more of my own poems and short stories that she had saved throughout the years and I thought I'd share a poem with you that I wrote when I was 13-years-old. Like the others that my friends from Ohio told me about, I don't remember writing this and now, 19 years later, it strikes me as very profound. So, here is a sample of my roots (at least as far as writing is concerned):

Two Lonesome Doves

The darkness was overwhelming, but the night was oh so clear.
As the birds cried above, the sound of water was all you could hear.
Jenny sat on the beach by herself, listening and loving where she was at.
When out of the sky flew a dove, and beside her it sat.
Jenny looked at the poor bird, she thought it looked so sad.
She could see what the dove felt, and that made her feel bad.
The bird was feeling lonely, how did she know?

The second weapon I mentioned is wings. Wings take you places, lift you up, and make you soar! Think about it: where would we be today without those individuals who have taken the leap of faith and soared to new heights in our medical and technology fields. Raise your hand if you can remember life withOUT the microwave. And now we could practically activate our microwaves from our cell phones or iPods or, hey, why not go with both and use our iPhones! Is it always a good thing, the head spinning rate that we're advancing? I don't know. It seems old-fashioned letter writing has gone the way of the woolly mammoth, and to me that's sad. But it is important to have a dream just like the colonists did 232+ years ago, and it's equally important for everyone to do our part to make this great country a better place. So whether it's finding a cure for cancer or simply helping a little old lady with her groceries at the Piggly Wiggly down the street, just spread those wings and fly!

The last weapon that I mentioned was not mentioned by the author as one of the greatest gifts you could give your child, and I wonder why. As a teacher, I can attest to what probably all of you already know, that WE NEED FAITH! I'm so grateful that I was raised in a Christian home. I know it must not have been easy to get four girls out the door in the mornings, but my mom diligently made sure my sisters and I were in Sunday school and church almost every Sunday. If I haven't thanked you for that before, Mom, thanks! And now that I'm a mother, I feel a level of satisfaction I've never known to be able to give my girls a Christian education in addition to being active in our church. The thing is that there is so much unexplainable yuck in this world that I don't know how a kid can cope without the hope found in the promises of the Christian faith. What's really cool about the weapon of faith is that when it's applied to a difficult situation, it's multiplied exponentially (thus my equation: roots + wings x faith = independence). Look at what it says in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 "We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing." Isn't that cool?

General George Washington, our country's first commander-in-chief, led an army of ill-equipped farmers, many of whom trudged through snow-covered countryside with holes in the soles of their shoes so bad that their feet were left exposed in the bitter cold, into battle. Not only did they fight the British but they fought diseases such as small pox and scurvy. Seemingly impossible odds? Yes, but I personally believe that they had three very powerful weapons (in addition to their guns and cannons of course!) - roots, wings, and faith.