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The Gift of Encouragement

Flowers of Encouragement

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

When I look back on my years in school, I don’t remember much about the food I ate, the clothes I wore, or the desks I sat at. But I do remember the names of the teachers who impacted me — Mrs. Hughes, 2nd grade, Fairview Elementary in Arkansas; Mrs. Jarvis, 4th grade, Rice Elementary in Texas. Though I don’t remember specifics, I know these two teachers helped me along and encouraged me.

Now that I’m a parent, I see the impact teachers and other leaders have upon my sons and their lives. And one such story stands out plainly, one which unfolded last week.

My middle son, 13 years old and in 8th grade, is passionate about basketball. He used to shovel snow under the hoop outside our wall in Prague, and play in muddy dirt/snow for hours in the dark, because there was no gym for them to use. Now that we’re in the US., he lives for basketball.

When his 8th grade season started in November, he tried out with the rest of his peers and was elated to make the team. The next day, he fell on the stairs and compound fractured his big toe. It was tragic.

Though his team last year had an excellent coach, was undefeated, and won the league championship, everything turned out differently this year. They lost early in the tournament, and their coach didn’t even come to one of the team’s games. BUT one of their teachers did. And she wrote something important, incredible, which will change all of their lives.

She wrote each of them a letter that night, the subject line: I’m So Proud of You!

“… It is such an honor to be your teacher. To see you excel on the court is one thing. To see you excel in the classroom is another. But to see you excel in your character is something that leaves me without words at times. Thank you for being so kind. Thank you for being honest. Thank you for being ambitious. Thank you for being caring. Thank you for your diligence in your studies. Thank you for your sincerity. You are all always so respectful to me and to others. … Thanks for showing everyone that in life you don’t have to be either a “nerd” or an “athlete” but you can be a dynamic and powerful combination of the two. Thank you for making me smile everyday for just being you…”

Her words bring tears to my eyes every time I read them. Aren’t these exactly the words each of us need to hear, and hope for our children to hear, often, to dare greatly and to strive to be ourselves?

 

Flowers of Encouragement

Our world, our lives and the lives of our children, are never the same after hearing such powerful words.

Thank you to teachers like Mrs. R., and to those who give the tremendous gift of encouragement.

 

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The Latest from Prague

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

The View of Prague's Spires toward Old Town, from Charles Bridge
The View of Prague’s Spires toward Old Town, from Charles Bridge

If you’ve ever traveled to Prague, you probably flew in and know the airport is outside the city to the west. In recent months, getting from the airport to Prague’s Centrum (Center) is more challenging than it was. Not only is Prague constructing a new subway to the airport, but they’re (still) constructing the Blanca Tunnel under the Vltava River, the Smichov Tunnel under Smichov, and reconstructing the Letunsky Tunnel into Old Town. What that makes is one big Detour sign pointing to the single main road entering the city from the west.

Traffic? Oh, yes. But if you are arriving into Prague and trying to get into the city, the good news is that the remaining open road winds down the hill beside the Prague Castle. The views are stunning, which means that while you near-miss scraping with trams and buses, you’ll have a breathtaking scene for your first Prague photos. Construction or not, Prague is still beautiful, and so is the September weather.

Prague, the view from Petrin Hill
Prague, the view from Petrin Hill

 

Continue reading The Latest from Prague

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11 Great Books: Perfect Gifts for the Hard-to-Buy-For

Library at Strahov Monastery, Prague: A setting in my work-in-progress novel, Water Lily

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  -Franz Kafka

Library at Strahov Monastery, Prague: A setting in my work-in-progress novel, Water Lily
Library at Strahov Monastery, Prague: A setting in my work-in-progress novel, Water Lily

It’s December, and we’ve arrived at the final days of 2011 (already!). Every year, here on my blog, I reflect on the books that I have read and enjoyed over the past year, and post the names and titles. After all, books make the best gifts, especially for the hard-to-buy-for friend or family member, because a great book sticks with us long after we’ve turned the last page to The End.

Here, my top 11 list of books I’ve read in 2011: (linking to books on Barnes and Noble.com (BN.com) because I love their clean and easy to navigate site)

For Women:

  1. The Violets of March by Sarah Jio  (debut novel, part mystery, part love story)
  2. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman  (deep South fiction, coming-of-age, uplifting)
  3. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton  (love Kate Morton’s work, part mystery, part literary family saga)
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern  (magical circus, incredible setting)
  5. A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett  (sweeping Scottish historical)
  6. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum  (a tough read, on the Holocaust and its survivors, but deeply moving)

Classics I Love:

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte *the movie, Jane Eyre 2011, was fabulous!*
  2. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
  3. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (great book for young readers, especially girls age 9-12)
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney *all-time favorite children’s book*

Other book recommendations for Boys (a whole post from June 2011, 10 Books to Hook Your Boys)

Looking ahead to 2012:

I am setting a goal to read more than the 30 books I read this year in 2011 … hoping to read 50 books in 2012. I love to read, and look forward to spending more time with my nose in a book this coming year! As I have for the past couple of years, I post my reading and reviews of books I like at Goodreads. Join me over there– Goodreads is becoming a great place to talk about books with friends (like a giant book club).

Also, several writer friends of mine have books coming out in 2012:

I look forward to interviewing them here as their publication dates approach! (The best way to support an author you love is to write a review of their book, paste it into the review section of online store sites, and to click their Facebook fan pages to stay up to date with their newest work.)

For you: What are your reading goals for the coming year, 2012? What books have been your favorite reads of 2011? I’d love to hear what you have to say! Thanks for leaving a comment!

 

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The Gift of Meeting Face-to-Face

Photo of me and my great literary agent, Chip MacGregor, at ACFW. Thanks to Susan Meissner for the photo!
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one …”
– C.S. Lewis, British Scholar and Novelist 1898-1963
Photo of me and my great literary agent, Chip MacGregor, at ACFW. Thanks to Susan Meissner for the photo!
Photo of me and my great literary agent, Chip MacGregor, at ACFW. Thanks to Susan Meissner for the photo!

Last week, I had the amazing privilege of attending the ACFW conference in Indianapolis. On so many levels, I loved being there, with 650 other great people in the world of writing fiction. Somehow, in the combination of writers and editors and agents and publishers all gathered in one location, synergy happened. And the resulting energy was contagious. There, together, over coffees and classes and sunshine and meals, meaningful conversations happened about books and the words that define them like theme and voice and dialogue and character.

 

There aren’t many ways for this writer to say how wonderful it was to be there, but it was an incredible experience. Now, back in Prague as I unpack and allow conversations and new friends to seep into my thoughts, I return to the great gift in being with like-minded people. We meet, and click, and our lives are changed for the better. A gift.


Though the internet is a powerful force in connecting people, meeting in person allows the live energy between people to flow, for those present to shine and show their depth and colors, and to truly connect. Again, a gift.

So, as I reflect on my writer’s conference experience, I want to thank all the people who made the time possible for me, to thank my family for their unending support. And to the many friends who made the time in the USA a rich experience full of laughter and stories — thank you! All gift.

Truly, time face-to-face with dear friends is one of the greatest gifts in life. I’m so very grateful. 

Starting the conversation: When are times you feel the richest? Time with friends and family?

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Catching Joys

A swath of daisies
Every evening about this time last year, I caught a Wow sight from my kitchen window.


Golden light drenched patches of our backyard, creating pools of beauty where the setting sun mingled with indigo shadows in a final play of Nature’s evening art. Daisies, birdbath, light, stillness—everything contributed to the dramatic beauty over ten minute spells last spring. I looked forward to watching it again this year.

This May, though, the scene happens to be quite different. Not only is the birdbath broken and lopsided, but the daisies surrounding the spot are only halfway in bloom this year. Unfortunately, other plants crowded the daisies out. The Wow sight is nothing of the same this year.

Isn’t that the same with life, though?

Occasions when time is sweet never seem to last, do they?

Time moves, today becomes yesterday, and yesterdays become memories. Time never is the same. Change, however, is inevitable, certain. Tomorrow will be different than today. Today will never be the same again. Wow moments strike once, maybe twice, then flutter away changed forever.

One of my most treasured friends has a wonderful saying:

Catch the JOY as it flies!

The joys in life may be fleeting, but they can be enjoyed, thoroughly, if we are open to them. Perhaps we can be aware of joy as it flitters by, and capture the delight accompanying it, to savor and remember and share. Like a vibrant butterfly, perhaps we can find life’s fragrance in the recognition of its uniqueness and in the celebration of the moment’s beauty. Catching the joy as it flies.

This year, the scene might be different, but it still is beautiful—everywhere, in different ways, if I just look for it … and catch the joy as it flies.

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More Than a Hill of Beans

It doesn’t seem that long ago, coming home from the hospital in Metairie, Louisiana, with our firstborn—a truly memorable experience. The gracious night nurse had just given me a crash course on caring for a newborn … not just any newborn, but my own. It didn’t take long to realize the meaning of the new little life depending on me. Diaper changes, feedings, and all-nighters followed by all-dayers proved to be much more challenging than I had imagined it all to be. Soon, I realized, it adds up. Caring wholeheartedly for someone else takes a toll on the caregiver, on the mom. It wasn’t long after that I realized the best gift coming home from the hospital would have been something unexpected, but entirely needed—a prescription for weekly, or even daily, guilt-free personal time for the mom.
An interview I read in the USA Today (click here for link) with Marie Osmond, mother of eight children, was along these same lines—that women, moms especially, rarely take care of themselves. One of Marie’s sons said to her, “Mom, we think you’re beautiful no matter what you weigh, but we want you to start taking care of yourself. … We want you to be around for us and for our kids, too.” Such truth.

The longer I’ve been a mom, the more I’ve realized the intensity of the need for time to care for myself. When we give, we also earn the need to replenish. It doesn’t matter if the replenishment comes in the form of an undisturbed hour to soak in the tub or daily time to unwind with a walk or a run, but caring for ourselves, in general, is often difficult to justify. There is always another meal to prepare, room to pick up, bill to pay, or dish to wash. But we need time away from drudgeries like clothes ruined by the errant crayon melted in the dryer. We, as human beings, need time and investment in our health—more than an occasional check in a box to say that we are worth more than a hill of beans.

When we invest more than the tired minute at the end of the day in ourselves, we’re able to gain balance, restore or gain personal health. Even more, when we allow ourselves time to reflect and sort the healthy from the harmful, and let go of those things pinning us down under the weight of an oppressive past, we begin to feel a change, a positive awakening to something full and vibrant and real—something authentic. There is nothing more valuable to give to our spouses and children, to the world around us, and to life and living, than an unhindered, authentic love coming from the depth of personal well-being and health … beauty and love at its best.

When we care for ourselves, we care for our families as well. When we invest in our health, we invest in the health of those we love as well. When we continue to learn, exercise, laugh, and enjoy life, we also help those we love to do those very same things. We want the best for those entrusted to our care. Maybe by beginning with something as innocuous as prescription for spending intentional time remembering our own health, we can remember that our health is important, too.

This Mother’s Day, give the gift of encouragement and empowerment to someone you love (even yourself!) so that she may take another step toward becoming all that she can be. It just may be the best gift ever.

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Ten Gifts Wrapped in a Mom’s Life

Back in a different life, I drove with the windows down and U2 playing through the stereo in all its grand fullness. Beautiful days, beautiful times. But one day, I woke up and looked through the rearview mirror of the minivan at the tiny faces staring back and gasped—whoa—how did this happen? Yes, in a blink, a snap, there they are, leaving me as the responsible one, the mom. A new adventure, for sure—and I have to say one of the best adventures of my life.


Today, ten years into the trek across the continent called Motherhood, I’ve discovered the journey to be both wonder-filled and challenging. Though the climbs are often steep, the views are also often breathtaking, the joy full and rich, and the fun unrivaled. Following are ten gifts I’ve found wrapped in my life as a mom.

1. New Talents. Expertise comes lightening-fast in many forms, including but not limited to: taking an accurate temperature in the middle of the night, changing diapers one-handed, processing innumerable loads of laundry per week, cleaning stubborn stains, shuttling players to simultaneous games, and choosing just the perfect Bandaid for every hurt.

2. New Thoughts. Stocking up on Gatorade in early spring out of experience.

3. New Ways to See the World. Coins and outlets and tablecloths at a toddler’s eye-level.

4. New Experiences. Holding wild things for the first time: butterflies, slugs, bunnies, snakes.

5. New Standards. Dust bunnies growing into dust dogs are just fine.

6. New Capacities. Grossness on every level … need more be said?

7. New Jobs. Short-order cook to ravenous and growing mouths. Every day.

8. New Trivia. Every name of every character on not only Seseme Street, but Pokemon, Star Wars, and more.

9. New Appreciations. For quiet.

10. Newfound Loves. This one, I feel deeply … without my kids, I wouldn’t have discovered some of the essences of me … writing, photography, oil painting. My life is forever changed for the better because I have slowed down and listened to something deeper than the norm.

My life has become incalculably richer and more satisfying for the three young lives in my world—one where I’ve learned to savor so many things, including an occasional ride in the minivan, with the windows down and U2 playing.

Even more beautiful days, even more beautiful times.

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A Little Lagniappe

When we lived in New Orleans, I picked up a word from our N’Awlins native neighbors—lagniappe. Though I haven’t much heard the word used north of Interstate 10, I think the concept is applicable everywhere. Lagniappe is a good thing, loosely defined as an unexpected bonus. Like the baker who slips in an extra cookie with your dozen or the extra encore a band plays at the end of their set, lagniappe is always a good thing, something to make others smile, something to warm cold hearts, something like a little gift. Unexpected. And good.


A smile to greet the scowl, an ear to listen despite a busy schedule, a flower to greet the sunshine, a shimmering moon across water—life and living is filled with lagniappe. Life and living is enriched by giving gifts. How special it feels to receive a present, even a simple one, tied carefully with a bow and given as if time and thought had gone into the gift. Gifts are important. There is nothing like a gift.

Could each day be a gift? Is it possible to think of each day as another opportunity to give of ourselves to those around us and those we love? Because if today is a gift, and if the above statements about giving gifts may be true, then putting time and thought into the day and the gift in the present must be important, as well.

Maybe, with thought and care, each task we go about in every day could become a way of giving of ourselves, of offering lagniappe. Maybe, with consideration on how we interact with others, we could put energy into ensuring the recipient of our time feels as if they have received something more than the end of our ropes—more than a gift shoved into a plastic grocery bag. Perhaps one of my favorite clothing store’s slogans carries truth plastered into the bottom of their shopping bags—“Be the Gift.”

Could it be that we might try to be our best each day, and offer ourselves to the world in which we interact with love? Could we be a gift to those around us? A little taste of lagniappe?

Something once said in encouragement to our children has stuck with me, “Never stop trying to be your very best.” If that could be true for adults even, we could take each day and try to be our very best. The key word is Try. Sure, it’s hard to give of ourselves, and even harder to live to be our very best. But if we try to be our very best, try to give of ourselves to others, try to live today as a gift, then by the merit of trying we have succeeded. Lagniappe.

Gifts are important. There is nothing like a well-given gift, to lift the spirits and to smooth the rough edges of life. Today, we can try to be our very best and offer a little lagniappe to others, to soften the hard edges of these times.
Today is a gift, with plenty of opportunities to give and find lagniappe.

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Great Books for Giving

Shopping is not my favorite thing to do. In fact, I think I’m not a very good shopper. These past twelve years, I have to admit I’ve wholeheartedly adopted Brian’s shopping method: have a list, find the items on the list, buy them and get out … quick. I tend to go as long as possible without setting foot in a store besides the grocery, and the mall comes in absolute last. So this shopping season, I’m spending my time on things I enjoy (being with the family, writing, entertaining) instead of things I don’t. And the shopping is getting done in quick spurts.

Given this year’s floundering economy, the publishing industry has come up with a few catchy campaigns to get people to buy books as gifts and bestselling book lists are easy to find. For me, Amazon is my top book source because of its infinite selection of books from which to choose and for their free super saver shipping offer. Amazon is almost a pain-free shopping experience.

To me, Books make great gifts because 1) they’re easy to wrap, 2) they’re easy to buy, and 3) they make great keepsakes when the giver signs inside the cover. So, to start some ideas flowing for great Books to give as Gifts for the 2008 Christmas season, I’m jotting down a few of my favorites and the link to buy them:

For kids:
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney: A great classic story with beautiful illustrations; one of my lifelong favorites
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin: Hysterical read every time

The Gold n’ Honey Bible: We’ve all learned so much from this well-written children’s Bible storybook
The Doppleganger Chronicles by G.P.Taylor: A great new illustra-novel that all kids will love
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: The all-time classic favorite at our house … can’t read it enough!

For adults:
Leadership Promises for Every Day by John Maxwell
Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald
Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors: Both Brian I loved this historical fiction novel—right now it’s bargain priced at Amazon for $6.99!
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner: One of Publishers Weekly’s favorites for the year
The One Year Mini for Busy Women by me, Jennifer King: Not that I’m biased as the author, but I have to be J: For the busy woman of any age

Happy (Quick) Shopping this year!
-JK