SUNDAY REFLECTION: Thoughts on Wind and Faith

As it says on the banner above, this blog focuses on matters of reading, writing and life. Today’s post fits squarely in that last category. I hope it resonates as you walk through your day on this second Sunday (at least for us in New Jersey) of heightened regulations due to Covid 19.

I could really hear and feel the wind this morning as I was out on my first walk of the day. As it rustled the new spring leaves and tousled at my hair, I was reminded that God is present in the midst of this pandemic, even if we can’t see Him. And if we open our hearts we will sense His presence. 

But as I walked on, soaking up this beautiful, if brisk, sunny morning, it also struck me that God’s presence isn’t actually unseen. I cannot see the wind, but I can see how it makes flowers dance and branches sway. Likewise, I cannot see God, but I can see His movement as He works through those around me with acts of kindness, compassion, grace and more. I wonder how God will work through me and you today? Blessings, all!

GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL: An Interview with Picture Book Author JEAN MATTHEW HALL plus a GIVEAWAY!

Today I am delighted to welcome debut picture book author Jean Matthew Hall as my guest with an interview as we celebrate the release of her picture book GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL, published by Little Lamb Books and beautifully illustrated by Olya Badulina. The book is part of the four part Bountiful Blessings series. And this interview is part of a larger blog tour. To check out the full tour list, visit Jean’s blog at https://jeanmatthewhall.com/gods-blessings-of-fall/.

Thank you for joining us today, Jean. Let’s get started with my questions in autumn orange to match the beautiful fall palette of your book’s charming cover.

Have you always been a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.

As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!

I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.

Writing for publication is a S-L-O-W process. There is much to learn.

You are so right about the slowness of the process, but good things are worth waiting for and working towards patiently. Thanks for for that reminder, Jean!

What inspired you to write God’s Blessings of Fall?

I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know”, watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.

I’m so glad you were intentional and recognized his joyful play as the spark to a story.

Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall –watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world.

My favorite spread is the first one in the book. The animals are adorable throughout the book, but the barn, the golden fields and falling leaves just shout fall to me.

It was surreal holding the book and seeing the animals and scenes that had been living in my head for years. I felt both proud and humble at the same time. It was a feeling of real accomplishment to see my vision and the illustrator’s vision come together to make a lovely book.

In my experience that feeling never gets old!

What advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?

Live your faith in front of your kids. Let them witness your faith living and at work in your day-to-day life. It shouts authenticity to them. And THAT is what attracts your children to live that kind of faith-filled life. Be careful that your words line up with your actions and attitiudes.

Beautiful advice! Yes!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Where can readers find your books?

God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in the four-book Bountiful Blessings series. Books featuring the other seasons will come over the next 18 months. I also have several holiday stories trying to find homes with interested publishers. Praying that will happen soon!

Thanks, Laura, for helping me share the good news about God’s Blessings of Fall.

Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your story here and along with your wonderful wisdom for laying good faith foundations for our little ones. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I look forward to seeing your other books on shelves everywhere!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jean Matthew Hall has spent most of her life singing songs, reading books, playing games, cutting, coloring and gluing with children of all ages. And, she loves it! Creating encouraging board books and picture books is her idea of fun, but her favorite times are spent with her eight grandchildren. 

Jean’s picture book God’s Blessings of Fall debuted in September 2019. It is the first in her Bountiful Blessings series about the four seasons.

You can contact Jean or learn more about her here:

Website/Blog www.jeanmatthewhall.com

Facebook Jean Matthew Hall Author

Twitter Jean_Hall

Pinterest JeanMatthew_Hall

Now for the GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL (Little Lamb Books, September 2019) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 10/31/19 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced that Friday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here. Thank you to all who entered.

FAITH, HOPE, STRENGTH: Thoughts on BLESSINGS Given and Received

It’s been almost six years since my mother, whose lovely banner still graces this blog, passed away.  And though I no longer mourn her loss in the intense way I did in the months following her death, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- blessing me anew with memories of how faith-filled and strong she was —even the midst of struggle.

The blessing happened again recently as I was sorting through a desk drawer. This particular drawer was stuffed with old journals, letters and photos and, in an effort to thoughtfully thin the contents, I pulled everything out so I could sort into keep and toss piles. That’s when I discovered this: 

I knew what it was immediately – one of my mother’s many sketchbooks, but I wasn’t sure exactly why it was in this drawer, since all the other contents were assorted papers of mine.

I have several sketchbooks of hers and they are all similar – a blend of notes to herself to remember – say – to pick up milk at the store – and sketches she made while sitting in concerts or coffee shops or parks. 

I opened this sketchbook gingerly and it was an instant peek into her soul.  Turning the pages, one by one, my heart filled with love for the hand that had etched each quick sketch and stylized ink creation, for they all reminded me of her. Here are some samples:

Then I turned the page and wow, just wow! Right before my eyes was the answer to a question I’d been longing to confirm for years —and regretting that I had not written down.  It was like an answered prayer —and a renewed blessing to me.

In the spring of 2012, six months before my mother was diagnosed with ALS, but when she was starting to suspect something wasn’t quite right because she was struggling to regain her strength after back surgery, despite intense physical therapy sessions at the gym, she felt overcome by fear and anxiety. So one morning, during her prayer time, she asked God to please grant her faith, hope, and strength for the days ahead. 

When she arrived at the gym she was in for a surprise.  Her regular therapist was not in that day. Instead, a new therapist, one she had never seen before, greeted her. There was nothing particularly different about him. He was just an ordinary guy, but he was kind and sweet with my mom and very soon she noticed three special things about him. First, he had two crosses around his neck (FAITH!).  Second, he had big tattoo on his right bicep that said HOPE!  And, third, as my mom explained to me afterwards, he was very, very strong (STRENGTH!). 

I remember the joy in my mom’s voice as she described this encounter to me, for she immediately saw God in the moment —using that therapist to bring her the promise of FAITH, HOPE and STRENGTH that she so longed for.  And, given my mother’s sense of humor, it arrived in the perfect package.  

It brought her such joy, indeed, that, later that day, she sketched it into her notebook —a soul-nourishing reminder that God hears us when we cry out to Him, and that if we are listening, and waiting expectantly, He will answer. 

Those drawings were primarily for feeding her soul, of course, but my re-discovering them also fed my soul. For me, and I hope for you, too, her sketches are a much needed reminder not to underestimate the power of the still, small voice of God to speak to you in the midst of your struggles – most likely in the way you least suspect – such as through presence of this kind therapist whose appearance, which reflected all three attributes my mother had prayed for that day, was just what she needed.  

Here’s my mind-boggling (at least to me), closing thought.  When that therapist got dressed that day, I’m sure he had no idea that God would use his very presence to bless a worn and discouraged woman who needed a little boost of encouragement.

Think about it. Maybe this very week, or this very day, or this very morning, you might be God’s vehicle —in a way you haven’t even fathomed— to bring Light and Hope to another. I don’t know about you, but that sure motivates me to step out into this day, with all that it brings – in kindness and love.  

May your week be filled with blessings —both received and given!

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: I Want Your Smile Crocodile (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

Over the summer I planned a series for our church’s Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week during July and August, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God.  Over the course of the fall, I will be sharing these and other picture book lessons that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today, I kick off this occasional series by sharing my lesson for I WANT YOUR SMILE CROCODILE (Zonderkidz, 2018) written by Denette Fretz and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Stay tuned for more this fall.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

I WANT YOUR SMILE CROCODILE

by Denette Fretz

PURPOSE:  To recognize that each one of us is a miracle of God, wonderfully made and created with a special purpose and that our Heavenly Father delights in lavishing His love upon us! Praise God!

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Zoo Charade 

Open in prayer, then explain that in today’s story, we will be taking a trip to the zoo. First, have the children write down (on little scraps of paper) several animals you might find at the zoo.  Put the slips of paper in a cup, then let each child pick a slip and then use pantomime to act out which animal they have. No speaking or sounds aloud. The children will have fun guessing and can cheer each other on.

INTRODUCE THE STORY: Introduce Denette Fretz’s I WANT YOUR SMILE, CROCODILE, by showing the book cover. Can they guess what is happening?  Explain that Meerkat has a problem. He’s got a bad case of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome! Can they guess what that is?  It means he thinks he would be happier if he had what others had, instead of what God gave him.  Have they ever wished they had what someone else had?  Did they think it would make them happier?  What do they think God would say in this situation?   Share and ponder together, then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:   After enjoying the story, use these questions to spark meaningful conversation.

1. Who does Jack remind us of? US!!  

2. Who does the zookeeper remind us of?  GOD!

3. Do we need reminders from our zookeeper, GOD, that we too are wonderfully made and created for a special purpose?  YES!

4. And where can we find those reminders?  IN THE BIBLE!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME:

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find beautiful reminders from God that we are wonderfully created and made for His wonderful purposes.  Use these verses to get you started:

Genesis 1:27   Genesis 1:31 Psalm 139:14     I Peter 4:10

STORY-BASED CRAFT TIME:  Craft Stick Crocodiles (from Easy Peasy and Fun!)

This fun crocodile-themed craft which I found on the amazing blog Easy Peasy and Fun (and which I am sharing here with their permission) was a big hit with my class. They especially loved the crocodile’s big, toothy smile. As we made the crocodiles, we chatted about what special gifts God has given us. If not big toothy grins, then what? Their answers were thoughtful and fun. Here’s the link to the craft: https://www.easypeasyandfun.com/craft-stick-crocodile-craft/ or you can follow this helpful video tutorial:

10:25  WRAP UP:  As children are finishing up craft – have them review who the various characters in today’s story are supposed to remind us of. Then, give thanks that God loves us and created us with His special purpose and that He loves us very much. That is the beautiful message of today’s story.

THE BEST LEGACY: A Message from Pastor Noelle Kirchner

I wanted to share a special link with you today to a church service I participated in earlier this month. I know it will be a blessing!

On March 3rd, I was invited by Central Presbyterian Church in Summit to read LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) for the children’s message at their Sunday evening contemporary Wave Service. I was asked because my dear friend, Pastor Noelle Kirchner, was preaching a special sermon where she shared her moving testimony of her grandmother’s miraculous healing from cancer and the beautiful role that played in Noelle’s faith journey.

As a prelude to her sermon, she asked me if I’d share LOVE IS KIND with the children, and by extension with all the adults, too, who were seated coffee house style on sofas and at cafe tables all around the room. She asked me because in addition to being a story about spreading love and kindness, LOVE IS KIND also celebrates the special bond between grandparent and child. Indeed, just as Noelle’s relationship with her grandmother shaped her faith journey, Little Owl’s special relationship with his grammy helped him to see his day through new eyes.

If you have time, or just want to be blessed by a good message, I hope you’ll grab a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy Noelle’s message. (You’ll get to hear me read LOVE IS KIND too!)

Happy watching!

P.S. Noelle also has an amazing blog where she reflects on faith and family. Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://www.noellekirchner.com

Good News! IT’S EASTER!: Five Ways to Engage Little Ones and a GIVEAWAY!

Spring is in the air! And just as the last little piles of snow on my front lawn are melting, look what has arrived on my porch! It’s Glenys Nellist’s newest board book. Published by Discovery House and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley, Good News! IT’S EASTER is an upbeat rhyming introduction to the real meaning of Easter. And today, the author herself, has agreed to share five lovely ways to engage little ones as you read Good News! IT’S EASTER with them. (And in the EXTRA exciting department, Glenys has also offered to give one SIGNED copy of her new board book to one lucky reader! Find out how to enter at the end of the post.) Now, without further ado, here’s Glenys. Enjoy!

FIVE WAYS TO ENGAGE LITTLE ONES WITH GOOD NEWS! IT’S EASTER! by Glenys Nellist

1. Before reading the story, look at the cover together and let your child find and trace the path (featured on every page.)


2. As you begin reading, notice that every page of this book has a picture clue that you can use to invite your child to guess who, or what, will be found when they turn the page over.


3. When you reach the last two pages of the book ask your child to look at the end of the path and ask them what’s changed from the picture on the cover.


4. After reading the story, go on a “good news” hunt in your neighborhood looking for tulips, bunnies, buds, and other signs of spring and new life.


5. Bring the message of the book to life by planting seeds together, enjoy your own Butterfly Kit or take a trip to a butterfly sanctuary or nature reserve where you can observe tadpoles and baby animals. 

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these ideas for sparking conversation using your lovely new book. To learn more about Glenys and her books visit her website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!! (Thank you, Glenys!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of GOOD NEWS! IT’S EASTER written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. address and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday 3/22/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!   THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. Winner announced HERE.

LOVE IS KIND Valentine Tour: FINAL STOP!

This past Sunday, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I read LOVE IS KIND to my Sunday School kids. I focused my lesson on what LOVE is and who the author of love is: GOD! Then we had cupcakes and made valentines.

But, oh, how I wish I had waited a Sunday so that I could use this amazing KidMin (Children’s Ministry) Object Lesson created by fellow Zonderkidz author Denette Fretz. She focuses her LOVE IS KIND Object Lesson on the theme “Kindness is a Choice” and ties it in with the Good Samaritan.

Oh, and there are marbles involved and a cute craft and great puppet idea! It’s not to be missed. Here’s the link. And while you are there be sure to check out her growing collection of picture book based KidMin lessons. They are amazing! (And there’s a giveaway!)

HAPPY WORLD KINDNESS DAY!

IMG_7924
Did you know that today is WORLD KINDNESS DAY?  But where does this gift of kindness and love begin? It begins in our hearts — and in the hearts of our children. And it’s never too early nor late to nurture it. One easy way to do that is to let children brainstorm concrete ways that they can show kindness each day.
So today, in celebration of World Kindness Day (and really every day should be kindness day), I’m over at Noelle Kirchner’s blog with a special LOVE IS KIND guest post sharing a list of ways to be kind from kids from across the country! My wish is that their heartwarming ideas will jumpstart a nice conversation with your own children!
So grab that cup of coffee and head on over. I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link.

Oh, and there’s a GIVEAWAY for one brand new copy of LOVE IS KIND!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT from my PLATE to YOURS: Eat Your Peas!

IMG_5929As a mom, wife, author and, for the past two years, homeschool teacher to my daughter, I continually feel like I have a lot on my plate.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the plate set before me. I rejoice that I have the honor of receiving this plate so full of blessing and purpose.  Still, managing everything on the plate sometimes feels like a lot. That’s why I’ve made a practice of beginning each day by lifting that plate up in prayer.

My prayer each morning is that each portion I’ve been given gets its proper amount of attention and that I don’t avoid the peas!  Peas are my least favorite vegetable and on a real plate, especially as a kid, they were the portion that I always pushed aside.  On my symbolic daily plate, the peas are those tasks and to-dos that, for whatever reason, I avoid.  But, boy oh boy,  does it feel good when I actually eat those peas instead of mushing them under the potatoes or squeezing them off to one side.

Indeed, something wonderful happens when I eat those peas. First, I usually discover that they don’t taste as bad as I thought they would.  Second, without the peas, my daily plate is suddenly less cluttered which means I have more room to tend to the other portions – including my writing.  And writing, for me, is portion of the plate that keeps everything else in balance.  Third, removing those peas opens up space on the plate for the unexpected – like the surprise asparagus or spinach I spotted at the farmer’s market… i.e. the spur of the moment invitation to grab a cup of coffee with an old friend or opportunity help a neighbor (or stranger) in need!

So, what about you? What peas have you been pushing around on your plate?  Wouldn’t it feel great if today you just ate them so that your plate could open up for the other good portions you’ve been given this day?  Try it… I think you’ll find it tastes good.

Happy Monday, all!

HAPPY THANKS-GRIEVING: Reflections on Joy in the Midst of Sadness

I lost my mother early Thanksgiving morning four years ago.

I had awakened early that morning to get a turkey in the oven for dinner at our house later that day. It was heavy and awkward, and involved lots of clean up afterwards, but I was grateful for the normalcy of the act and was looking forward, in a distracted way, to having my husband’s family over for such a traditional, time-honored meal.

But to be honest, at my deepest core, I was struggling to be thankful. The previous December my mother had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – a heart-breaking disease that slowly kills the nerves in your body, paralyzing you till you can no longer walk, move, eat, speak.

And over the previous eleven months, I had watched my mother decline. But her prayer all that year, and mine, and we prayed it often, whether together or apart, was that she would feel Gods’s presence and that He’d give her the courage she needed to live life each day.  We also prayed for mercy and grace.

And God answered our prayers, for even as her muscles steadily atrophied, as she lost the ability to walk and to draw (she was an artist) and to speak and eat, her soul rallied. She adjusted to life, first with a scooter, and then with a wheelchair. Every day she treated herself to long rides out in the sunshine and she always had a wave and a smile for passers-by.  Indeed, I was amazed at how she was able to find the good in each day. She encouraged me to do that too.

So, drawing on her example of strength and blessing even in the midst of great challenges, I resolved that morning to give thanks. In fact, I had just written that in my journal when the phone rang. It was my father calling to say my mom had died. She had gone to bed very tired that night, but apparently fine. However, at 6 am when he went to her bed, she had gone.

In a quick change of plans, I passed the Thanksgiving off to my husband, hastily packed a bag, and drove six hours straight to be with my dad.  As I did, my daughter’s teary voice repeated in my head. “Why Mommy, why did Mattie have to die?  It’s supposed to be HAPPY Thanksgiving.  But instead it’s so SAD.”  Yes, I thought, so terribly sad.

IMG_1776Over the next few days, my dad, sister and I did all the things one has to do when someone dies. We kept ourselves busy, but as we did waves of tears would overcome us. In the evenings we’d sit by the fire alternately talking and being quiet. At one point my dad said my mom had been having panic attacks the last several nights before her death because she felt trapped in her body. So I asked him if he thought she had been afraid.  He answered, “Yes, of course she was afraid, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have courage. She had great courage. God gave that to her.” Having courage, he reminded me, isn’t living in the absence of fear. Courage is having strength as we face our fears.

That got me thinking. It’s kind of the same way with sadness. We are sad. One sure thing in life is that there will be sadness, but there will also be joy.  And just as my mother could at the same time be courageous and yet have fear, we too can rejoice, even in the midst of sadness.

Joy in the midst of sadness – light in the midst of darkness – that’s really what faith in Christ is all about.  My hope for you this Thanksgiving, for all of us really, is that wherever you find your soul this week – you will feel the presence of the One who has overcome it all.  And that just as my mother did, through God’s grace and mercy, even in the midst of her terrible circumstance, each of us will find joy and goodness even in the midst of life’s challenges.

With a heart full of thanks,

Laura