New Pages to the Blog

This is a favorite drawing by a former student (8th grade). I included the background because it has details on the whiteboard about the book we were studying  (Gathering Blue), my charts, even the lamp in the back. 

I’ve been working on this blog to improve it in the last few days and hope you will check out the new pages. I have added a booklist of some of the books I recommend for those in grief. I also have a list of websites that provide many types of help for a wide variety of broken hearts.

Please share these resources with people who need them.

The first week in March is packed with several events. Check out the list here. Just added another one this week.

Thank you for all who have purchased my book. Please write a review on Amazon, even if you bought it from me.

Ten Things I Learned in 2018

Emily P. Freeman says, “I believe in order to move toward those things we most want for our lives, it’s vital to first look back.” Each quarter of the year Emily reflects on things she has learned.

Modern Mrs. Darcy makes a list each year of things she has learned.

I learned to make these reflective lists when I began blogging several years ago. It’s such a good practice for reflecting on life and personal growth, so this is my list for 2018.

1. I learned that writing a book is only half the journey; self-publishing seemed harder to me.

www.joymsouder.comNot that writing was easy – it did take me six years to complete it! The process of publishing with Kindle Direct seemed so easy at first, but perhaps I was a bit impatient. Just thankful for the help Gail and David gave me. (See Acknowledgements in the book.) Where Is Joy is available on Amazon.


2. I have incredible encouragers in my life, especially during book writing and publishing.

Family, church family, neighbor, and friends provided me with words of encouragement throughout this whole process. It took a village to get this book finished.

3. I have missed water exercise more than I imagined.

I love to swim; in 2003 I began an early morning routine of swimming laps. The last few years I dropped my YMCA membership but this July I rejoined and began attending an 8:00 water aerobics class. We have a great time — a bunch of seniors who don’t care how our bodies look in swimsuits, a super motivating teacher, and a prayer circle at the end. Inspiring and motivating every day.

4. Writing alone for a week moved me past my biggest hurdles, but by evening I needed to be with people.

A winter sunset in Henderson

In January of this year I spent a week in brother Paul’s empty house to concentrate on writing. I accomplished my goal by completing the 2nd big draft, getting up as early or late as I wanted, snacking, and even watching a few Hallmark movies I had not seen. The quiet and lack of distractions gave me the focus I needed, until the evenings. I needed to talk to people!

Brother Steve and his wife, Marie, just happen to live in Henderson also, and we enjoyed several evening meals together. It was the best of both worlds.

5. Studying and teaching the book of Hebrews led me into a richer understanding of God’s plan for us.

Class Notebook Cover

My co-teacher and I collected our resources for Hebrews, outlined our plan, and led a slow but deep study of this book of the Bible.

Hebrews provides a background for Jewish Christians who probably lived in Rome during severe persecution. You just can’t teach this book without referring to the Old Testament; it opens your eyes to God’s plan from the beginning of time.

We are almost finished! One more chapter.

6. I like to wear dresses again because of tights and leggings!

My newest dress from Zulily!

I’ve only worn pants for years because of pantyhose and the need for comfortable shoes. With leggings and tights and these cute swing dresses, I can be comfortable and warm in the winter.

Old Navy and Zulily have the cutest and convenient sources.

7. The Enneagram is a fascinating way of viewing personality types and learning how to become the person God made me to be. Some days I’m still not sure of my number, but I’m learning to recognize behaviors in myself I need to change.

The Enneagram Institute is a great resource for reading about the Enneagram.   Click on the link to take a test and find out your classification, but every time I take a test I get a different result.

www.joymsouder.comThis book is a short overview that is easy to understand: The Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile.



8. Podcasts are my new favorite listening source in the car. Some of my favorite podcasts are:

For the Love with Jen Hatmaker

Typology with Ian Cron: a great resource for understanding the Enneagram.

The Enneagram Journey with Suzanne Stabile

Newsworthy with Norsworthy with Luke Norsworthy

You can find thousands of podcasts on thousands of subjects! Go to Itunes and start searching.

9. As my extended family has grown to grandchildren and great-grandchildren it’s harder and harder to gather everyone in one spot, but it is important.

An October wedding in a barn during a monsoon is probably not my first choice for a road trip but we enjoyed a great celebration for a nephew who added two little girls along with his bride.


The boys in sunglasses carried the rings!

Thanksgiving provided an opportunity for some cousins to meet for the first time.

Cousins from Arkansas and Texas

Cousins from Texas and Georgia

10. I’m learning to paint! Brenda Frye’s classes provide a great creative outlet that feeds my soul.

Jennifer’s Early Years

Her favorite place – the top of the stairs and her favorite toy – raaraa

Jennifer, before her hair grew!

Birthday in Victoria, TX, 3 yrs. old

Percy Priest Lake hike


Jennifer in first grade

Family picture 2nd grade

I Never Imagined . . .

A Friday morning email stopped me in the middle of breakfast. My prayer for years has been that this book will help people, but I did not expect this.

When I was in the doctoral program at Trevecca, Steve D. and I discovered that our children were friends at Tennessee Tech. Brad lived with several other engineering guys; Jennifer’s boyfriend, Josh, was one of those guys. We laughed about the small world connecting us. But just a few months later Jennifer’s death found us more united.

My email from Steve says he is reading my book, and he bought one for Brad.  Brad’s wife, Becky, has been suffering from an extremely aggressive cancer.

The lives of Brad and Becky, Jennifer and Josh, and several other Tennessee Tech students overlapped, much like a Venn diagram. Becky and Jennifer became friends at Tennessee Tech. Becky’s quiet spirit, love of the outdoors, and her brother, who roomed with Josh, placed her in that circle of Tech friends.

In the summer of 2001, Becky and Jennifer often met to mountain bike together on nearby trails. Jennifer loved having someone to workout with and keep up physical training for a triathlon.

  Becky, Courtney, Jennifer, Samantha

           Becky and Jennifer after a minor biking fall

                      Brad and Becky on their wedding day

After Jennifer died, Brad and Becky fell in love and married. Life took them to Virginia Tech for graduate studies and eventually to Colorado. Three young children completed their family when the cancer diagnosis changed everything.

                  Becky and Brad with their three children

Becky fought bravely for two years, even seeking treatment in Turkey, but after returning home her body was consumed with pain. Sadly, my next email from Steve says the disease won Thursday night.

Becky’s life ended peacefully while surrounded by her three children and the rest of the family.  I can’t help but walk through our days after Jennifer died; the first chapters of my book detail the trauma, support of friends and family, shock, exhaustion, and pain I experienced. How does Brad help his children through this sadness and loss?

This I Know: 

  • God’s grace will be with them, not erasing the pain, not changing the fact that a family is without a mother and wife.
  • God’s ways are not understandable to humans, but the fact is, His Son died also. He understands the pain of loss and chose to sacrifice His only Son for you and me and every other sinner in the world.

Today I Can Be Thankful:

  • Steve bought my book, finished reading it on the plane to Colorado, and has a book for Brad.
  • Becky’s family arrived in time to be with her as she breathed her last.
  • for Brad’s faith in a loving Father.
  • I completed Where Is Joy? and it was available for Steve to purchase.
  • God has used my story to help others.

Print Book Now Available on Amazon!

Finally! The print-on-demand version of Where Is Joy? is now available on Amazon.

Why buy the print version?  It has pictures!

2nd 72dpiFollow this link: Amazon. Please leave a review — it’s the best way to help market this book.

I’ve heard from several people who read the Kindle version who found help reading this book — that has always been my prayer.

Order now to get it before Christmas!

Book Release and Preorder


Large cover300

November 30, 2018 is the official release date of my book.

You can PRE-ORDER it NOW on Amazon. Go to this link:

The Kindle edition is ready for pre-order, and the print edition will be available soon.

Please share this post with others. Sign up to follow my blog on the right side of the blog.

Thank you to all who have liked and shared these pages.

What’s A Mother to Do?

What’s a mother to do on the day of her child’s birth when that child is no longer alive?

Jennifer Souder, age 20

Yesterday was Jennifer’s birthday; she would be 38 years old. She died in 2002, and I’ve had 16 years remembering her birthday without her.
It’s taken me a few years to learn what helps me on these days of remembrance, but some years it creeps up on me. I’m sure I don’t want to go to the cemetery and sit by her grave. I find that going to her grave makes me incredibly sad, and I don’t need a reminder to be sad. Larry and I seldom go to the cemetery, but we understand that it can bring comfort to some.
The first year after Jennifer died I filled the days around her birthday with meeting friends for dinner and going to a bridal shower for Jennifer’s roommate. Even though I was dreadfully sad those days, the morning after her birthday I didn’t think I could get out of bed. I experienced a depression that physically knocked me back to bed. I struggled at school all day, finally put a note to my students on the board: “Yesterday was Jennifer’s birthday.” They were so good, and we made it through the day somehow. But the next day, I knew I needed help. I’d never felt so despondent, feeling nothing. I saw my family doctor and began taking a prescribed anti-depressant. I realized that this exhausted feeling was not just being tired; it was depression, similar to the feeling I had after my mother died several years ago.
Each year following I knew I should take a personal day from school. I did not trust myself to be able to teach. Depression could sap all my energy, and I needed every bit of energy when teaching 8thgraders. I let my students know ahead of time that I would not be at school on the day of Jennifer’s birthday. They were always interested in what I planned to do. Early in the school year I gave my students a brief summary of Jennifer’s death. By doing so I could occasionally refer to something she did or how she earned a college scholarship when it fit with our discussion. I hesitated to share her story at first; it felt like I did it for my benefit, but I eventually learned that my students connected with my grief. Their lives were not the typical middle class family of two parents with steady jobs, living in the suburbs. They were all too familiar with trauma or grief or violence, and they could relate to what had happened to me.
I usually make a specific plan for November 17th.   Some years I met a friend who has traveled this journey with me, and we would have lunch together. Other times I visited someone in need or went to a peaceful garden in town. One year my friends gathered to make cookies to send to soldiers in Iraq as a way of remembering the many ways Jennifer served others. Larry has faithfully tuned in to what I need throughout this journey of grief and knows that recalling memories are not helpful to either of us. I need a distraction, just doing something a little different helps.Where Is Joy?
This year marks the end of a long journey writing a book about my grief. My Girlfriend Circle met Friday night to celebrate the book and remember Jennifer. These five friends have been with me through dark days and through healing. We knew each other when our children were pre-schoolers and though we live in different parts of town we make the effort to see each other.
I thank God for their love and encouragement.


Where Is Joy?

img_0918I always hated my first name, mainly because no one used it. When I heard it used, it wasn’t me.  My middle name is my identifier – Martell, a created name by my parents. Growing up, whenever someone learned my first name, they would use it teasingly, and I would cringe.  On the first day of classes each semester in college, I didn’t respond when my name was called because they always said, “Joy Johnson”. I didn’t even recognize that name!

The irony is that I have a lovely first name – Joy.  I don’t think I truly appreciated this name until I read Ann Voskamp’s book one thousand gifts.  Now I want to use it – put it on my website, use it in my signature because I truly do feel the joy that comes from God’s blessings.

When  I began my first blog I questioned God at times – “where is the joy here?”  I have been in some pretty intense struggles with God at times in the last 10 years.

I’ve had a broken heart that I blamed on God, and He patiently held me, waited for me, loved me. He was the loving Father to an angry and devastated child.  This heart is mending – probably in the best shape, it’s been in the last 10 years.

Ann Voskamp inspired me to write this blog.  Reading her book one thousand gifts gave me a different perspective on living.  I started counting the gifts God gives me each day in March 2012; by December 31, 2012, I had counted 2559 gifts.  Who knew there were so many things to count!  Are some of them repeats?  Sure, but only because they are worth repeating.  I usually counted 10 a day, some days I counted Morning Blessings as well as the gifts at the end of the day. It has become a habit that I seldom skip.