My blog archives

After much prayer and thought about the future of my blog – Encouraging Words from Jean Matthew Hall – I’ve concluded that I need to stop writing new posts. I have become seriously involved with my Word Weavers International online critique group, with the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, and with Write2Ignite for Christian Writers of Children’s and YA Literature. The time I spent blogging here will be devoted to those organizations. I’ll also be posting more to Face Book at Jean Matthew Hall and Jean Matthew Hall Author.

I will continue to send out my monthly newsletter where you can keep abreast on my prayer needs and writing adventure. You can sign up for that at the top of the sidebar.

I will keep my posts alive on this site under the Blog Archive tab. You can search by using the Categories in the sidebar. I’ll also transfer some of the posts to the Writers tab.

Thank you, my faithful followers. I believe God is going to use this change of focus for our good and His glory.

Blessings!

Jean

WELCOME

IMG_0811Welcome to Jean Matthew Hall’s home on the web.

By clicking on the Menu tabs above I hope you’ll find bushels of useful information.

Whether you are a fellow writer, a fellow parent or grandparent, or a fellow teacher there’s something here for you. Please let me know if you would like to see other information here. Take a tour, please.

My blog will keep you updated about

  • My Bountiful Blessings picture book series published by Little Lamb Books.
  • Writing friends (old and new) and writing conferences
  • School and Homeschool visits
  • Publication news
  • Stuff for writers

The Blessings of Fall (the first book) is scheduled for release in September, 2019.littlelamb_final_logo1-e1437675387523 I’m scheduling school visits and book signings at this time. If you would like for me to share with your school or store (near Louisville, KY or Charlotte, NC) please email me. Just click on the CONTACT tab above.

I relish your input so, please, leave comments on my blog posts or email me.

Rich blessings to you all!

In my distress

Over the past few months I’ve experienced an avalanche of emotions–most of them negative. I’ve been afraid, stressed, distressed, lonely, confused, worried, sad, angry, hesitant, even paralyzed at times. But I’ve found the secret to coping with those emotions and keeping them in check—or at least in balance.

I’ve found the secret to digging out from under that avalanche. IT’S GOD’S WORD.

Read it. Print it on cards and stick it around your house and in your car. Carry it in your purse or pocket. Sing it. Memorize it. Doodle it. Paint it. Recite as you fall asleep at night.

Here are some verses that have helped me lately. I hope they will do the same for you. These are from the NIV. I plan to post them one at a time on my Face Book Story.

Psalm 71:3

Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 118:7a

The Lord is with me; he is my helper.

Hebrews 13:6

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

2 Samuel 22:3

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me.

Psalm 9:9

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Psalm 18:2

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 36:7

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Psalm 57:1

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 59:16

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.

Psalm 62:7-8

My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Psalm 91:2

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 118:8

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.

Psalm 119:114

You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.

Proverbs 14:26

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.

Peace in distress

When my days seem to be filled with distress I try to fill my heart with God’s Word. For me there’s no better way to keep my heart tuned in to it than through spiritual music.

Shane & Shane’s performance of “I Will Wait for You – Psalm 130” reminds me of the peace I have in the Lord. Find a quiet place to listen and worship.

Writing in rhyme

Children love both rhythm and rhyme. Toddlers and preschoolers can’t help but groove to music that has both elements. Even we adults find ourselves tapping our toes and bouncing to the beat of whatever is coming from our car radios. Rhythm is part of our bodies’ design. God made us to respond emotionally and physically in different ways to different rhythms.

Rhyme resonates with our need for order, organization and prediction. It keeps young minds (and old) attuned to the story or song.

However, there are a few key things to keep in mind when writing in rhyme.

  • Rhyme has to be perfect—exact. No near-misses allowed. No words that almost rhyme. And try to avoid words that are pronounced differently in different English dialects. Words like again, iron, sure, either.
  • The story comes before the rhyme. That’s why I actually start every new picture book project by writing the story in prose with normal paragraphs and punctuation. It may be 1000 to 1500 words long. Way too long for a picture book! Then I pull out the sentences and phrases I love – those that create images in my head – and start building the rhyming lines from those. Once I have the story (characters, plot, setting and theme) nailed down then I can work on the poetry. The rhyme serves the story, not the other way around.
  • Rhythm is as important to rhymed verse as is rhyme. I need to be sure the number of syllables in each line follows a strict pattern. I need to be sure the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line follows a strict pattern. Any deviation will throw the whole pattern off. That distracts from the music (prosody) of the verse. That distracts the reader from the story I’m trying to relay.
  • As the writer I must feel the dominate rhythm of each sentence. Next, I hone that rhythm by word  choices and order that I choose. I search for words with internal rhyme–assonance–and         repeated consonant sounds–consonance–and try to use them strategically to create yet another layer of rhythm.
  • Of course, this becomes a cycle. I have to adjust the story, the rhythm, and the rhyme over and over again. When I change one of those elements it almost always means making changes in the other two. It takes me months or years to get all three elements the best they can be. It makes me think of a Rubik’s Cube. To solve the puzzle, you must continuously manipulate all six sides throughout the process. When the last little cube snaps into place the puzzle is solved.
  • Word order in sentences must make sense. Inverting the order of words simply to create a rhyme does not work. In “olden days” that may have been grammatically correct. But no more. Word order in rhymed verse has to reflect ordinary speech. No “On tippytoes danced she.” allowed.

Breaking these guidelines when we write is the main reason editors don’t want stories written in rhyme unless it is PERFECT. One of the main reasons they reject our manuscripts.

Fun preschool Math Activities

I was recently introduced to the blog Smart Parent Advice by Ryan and Cristin Howard. They offer sound, practical (I do mean PRACTICAL) advice for parents of young children.

Cristin’s post “Fun Activities to Promote Math Skills” contains fun and effective math activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Activities that don’t require a “curriculum.” Please check it out below.

Fun Activities to Promote Math Skills

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

publication–the prize

Time for honest confession here. I know this post is longer than my usual blog posts. But I hope it speaks to someone in cyberspace.

I’ve been writing for publication for almost 15 years. God has given me little bits of publication and I am grateful. But, for those years I have agonized over needing more.

I keep telling God and others that I don’t want any glory for my writing. I say I only want to glorify Him. And I truly mean it! But, over and over again I have internal battles with my desire to succeed at this and everything I attempt.

I’ve also had another spiritual battle for most of my adult life. Pride. I have tried to call it by other names. I’ve reminded myself 1,000 times that God’s Word tells us to humble ourselves. I keep trying. But I have struggled with it for probably 35 years. A couple of years ago I thought this war had been won. VICTORY!

The past few months I’ve been battling my need to succeed again. I reprimand myself. I repent. I beg God to help me overcome this tremendous dread of failure that I possess. It’s a spiritual, emotional, mental, and even physical battle for me. It rages for a few weeks or months. Then I get it under control and feel at peace for six or eight months.

Then the Enemy breaks through the lines and the battle rages again.

Will I ever learn?

I’ve been playing the wrong game!

A few weeks ago, I participated in an online writer’s conference. I really didn’t hear anything I had not heard several times before. Until a speaker delivered a class on branding. I almost decided no to watch and listen. Just the word “branding” makes me feel ill. And the speaker was a person I didn’t care to listen to. But I decided to do it anyway.

I’m truly glad I did for two reasons.

  • The speaker took a totally different tact on the topic.  I heard ideas I had never heard anyone else express relating to branding.
  • God spoke to me through this workshop about my struggles. Actually, God held my chubby little cheeks in His hands, drew my face close to His, and said, “Are you hearing this, Little Girl?”

One of the speaker’s points was that I should know which game I’m playing. Huh? He explained that we play two kinds of games for fun and relaxation. One type has as its objective winning. Being the last one standing, taking all the toys. The second type has as its objective surviving. Staying alive until the game is over.

It hit me that, with writing and publication, I’ve been playing the wrong game. I have been unaware that I play to win! I want and need to succeed by winning the prize of publication. If I don’t get the trophy I crash emotionally. I’m devastated because not winning is the equivalent of failing. And I have NEVER been okay with failing at anything. I asked myself, “Why?” God twisted His mouth and looked at me sideways. “You know why. Pride.”

I’ve been a Christian for 50 years and I never fully internalized that my fear of failure and my need to succeed were the result of pride.

God wants me to play to survive, to last, to continue faithfully to write and seek publication. Success for me shouldn’t mean publication. Success for me should mean finishing the game with integrity.

You might be thinking, “Duh! She didn’t know that?”

Well, yes, I think I knew it in my head some of the time, but, I guess, not in my heart.

When the speaker gave this analogy, the Holy Spirit turned a floodlight on in my head and my heart. I think—

I think this is a turning point for me. I hope so because I’m so desperately fed up with my repeated struggles.

Thank goodness that desperation is the path to God and His wisdom.

Creativity

I recently read Images and Idols—Creativity for the Christian Life by Thomas J. Terry & J. Ryan Lister. It was published by Moody Publishers in 2018. This is a very small book filled with very big ideas. It gave me much to contemplate and to rejoice over. The following are several quotes from the text. I hope you’ll read them and think about them.

We don’t just survive, we create.

Page 17.

We do this because God is the Creator; all creativity stems from Him. He is creativity’s origin point. …

Creativity, though, not only comes from God, but also is for God… But sin constantly corrupts creativity’s purposes… Creativity in our sin-stained hands always becomes self-serving… Reclaiming creativity, on the other hand, is about reorienting creativity back to God’s original and most fulfilling purposes.

Page 26.

God is your creativity’s origin story… His creative work bears the seal of His eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). Simply put, everything He makes sings His creativity.

…His world demonstrates His creativity while His Word interprets it for us.

Page 51.

In His wisdom and grace, the Lord directly or indirectly gives us everything we use to make things. … J. R. R. Tolkien calls our imaginative appropriations of God’s handiwork “sub-creation.” We submit our “fantasy worlds” to the Creator’s original because as image bearers we are the copy, and so is our creative output. Tolkien explains, “We make … because we are made; and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Page 65.

…We do not bear the image of God to serve ourselves. Being made in God’s image is a divine gift, an honor bestowed upon us to play a principal part in filling creation with God’s glory and making paradise a part of the human experience. Your imagination is an instrument for this. God uses it to fulfill His mission, which, in His brilliant providence, often includes our happiness.

Page 66.

So, to borrow again from the great anthropologist Remy, there is something about humans. We don’t just survive, we create. As we create beautiful things, we serve our neighbors. They are confronted with God’s transcendence. They see God’s reflection in our image bearing… With our creativity, we seek to preserve God’s image on His earth, to care for our neighbor and to connect our human worth with the worthiness of God.

A challenge.

What are you doing with your God-given creative nature?

True love

Another beautiful YouTube video. A song about Christ and His true love for us.

Take a moment to thank Him for the unimaginable sacrifice made by God–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Heaven’s temporary loss was truly our eternal gain.

Teaching Kids How to think

Teaching Kids How to Think

My oldest child would have been 51 this year had he continued to live on this earth. He’s in heaven, and his age is eternal. So, I’ve been parenting and grandparenting a long time.

I wanted to teach my three children some important things:

  • How to love others unconditionally
  • How to love Jesus more than any and every other person or thing
  • How to succeed in a career
  • How to be a loving parent
  • How to live with integrity
  • To be honest
  • To work hard
  • To love books and reading
  • To love the Bible
  • To be life-long learners
  • To be kind
  • To think like a Christian

I’m sad to say that it never occurred to me to teach them HOW to think. I worked very hard on instructing them in WHAT they should think. I drilled the truth of God’s Word into their minds and hearts That wasn’t a bad thing. My daughter is in her 30s. My son will turn 50 this year. I see that they can pull out of their hearts and minds those truths that we taught them.

But there were periods in their adult lives when they CHOSE not to live according to those truths. I believe it was partially because we are all rebellious by nature. And that, secondly, I failed to teach them HOW to think their way through choices.

They knew what Mama and Daddy had told them. They knew what the Bible and their Sunday School teacher had taught them. But we failed to teach them how to line their choices up and choose the best ones.

I failed to teach them how to APPLY those truths in their daily lives.

Now, as a grandparent, I am aware of how important it is to teach my grandkids not only the truth, but to rationalize for them why those truths are good and important. I encourage them to make small, insignificant choices for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll be able to apply those choice-making skills to the big decisions in life.

What would I have done differently with my three children?

  • I would have encouraged—no, required—them to make choices. No, I would not have sent them down the overwhelming cereal aisle and said, “Choose the best cereal.” But I would have given them limited options and required them to make choices.
  • I would have told them the truth, then allowed them to question it. I would have encouraged them to ask why, how and what-if more often.
  • I would have allowed them to suffer the consequences of their small bad choices. Annd then helped them to learn from their mistakes. asAgain, hopefully, that would have taught them that big decisions carry big consequences. Hopefully, it would have enabled them to avoid some of the big choices they have made and the sad, scary, frustrating consequences of those bad big choices.

I’m not a psychologist. Just a conscientious mom, grand-mom, and teacher. Please, learn from my mistakes.

Let your children make some bad choices before they are old enough to make tragic choices that can destroy their lives. Support them through the consequences, but don’t bail them out. Help them learn whatever lessons those consequences can teach them.

Tales of my NF PB Biography

Where to Start?

A month ago I was challenged to tackle writing a nonfiction picture book. A biography, specifically. My friend told me to brainstorm topics that interest me and start my research there.

But I quickly became stuck! I am passionate about Christ, my family, leadership, friends and writing. None of those seemed to be exciting enough for a children’s book. What would excite kids in lower elementary school?

Heroes.

That does not mean sports heroes to me. (YAWN) I was thinking unsung heroes. Ordinary people who did extraordinary things. The stuff movies are made of.

So, I Googled “unsung women heroes” and went from there. Hey, “women” is a hot topic in children’s lit right now.

I read snippets and got ideas. Then those Google breadcrumbs showed up. One search led to another to another. Then I found it! Science. Scientists. Women scientists. Award-winning women scientists.

I smiled as it dawned me how much I enjoy research. Reading and learning new factoids about people, inventions, accomplishments.

I was in the research-zone!

When I was administrator of a Christian school, I told parents of prospective students that we “want to turn your child into a life-long learner.” I had forgotten that I am one of those.

I love to learn. About stuff of no real import even. I just love to learn new skills and information for the fun of learning it!

That’s one of the reasons I love to write. I read, I learn, I get enthused, I process, I reformat and share what I’ve learned with others. I write.

Anyway…

I’m glad my friend challenged me. I chose an ordinary person who did great things and started digging. For my Shelter-in-Place research I used:

            Google

            Wikipedia (for a place to start)

            My public library’s “Research Tools” for magazine articles, encyclopedia entries,                                      professional journals, historic documents, government publications, etc.

            A book or two I ordered online

            You Tube – you will be surprised at how many documentaries are archived there.

Next, since I can’t check out books at my library, and I can’t afford to buy a stack of picture books, I headed for an online bookstore. There I read as much as I could about and inside other picture book biographies—about 25 of them. Now I had a feel for the format and wordcount.

Then I used this sponge-like brain God gave me to absorb all the information about my character that I could. Especially anything related to her childhood.

See, to create a picture book I must find a hook, a doorway, into a child’s world. Or my book will read like an encyclopedia. Not fun! So, I focused on smidgens of facts I found about her family, her home, her childhood.

Then, it was time to set my imagination free to create a fact-filled, but fun story.

I really don’t know how good of a job I’ve done with my first draft. I like it. Of course, I do. I wrote it! We’ll see after it goes through a few critiques.

But I really enjoyed the process.

Try your hand at nonfiction. Maybe you’ll spark the life-long learner in you, too.

%d bloggers like this: