Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Planting Gratefulness in our Children's Hearts: Lessons from my Dad

My dad had the questionable habit of picking up hitchhikers in the mid-eighties, especially in winter.
One icy school morning, my little sister and I snuggled up in the back seat of our station wagon, while my dad pulled over to invite a stranger into the front seat. A few miles later, Dad dropped us off at school with a kiss and headed down the road to take the traveler wherever it was he needed to go.
It seemed completely normal.
Except that evening at dinner, Dad told us about Sam, the hitchhiker he picked up that morning. “He can’t afford milk, so he just eats his cereal with water,” my dad explained. My nine-year-old heart melted.
The next day, my dad took me to a grocery store where he let me load up brown paper sacks with whatever I wanted: milk, eggs, bread, and deli meat. I added pop tarts for good measure. It felt a bit like Christmas morning delivering those groceries to Sam.
My dad planted gratefulness in my heart that day.
As we enter this season, I want to plant seeds of gratefulness in my own children’s hearts that they will carry with them throughout their lives. My parents did this for me in a million small ways. Like careful gardeners, they tended the soil of my heart, planting truths in three ways: thoughts, words, and actions.
Gratefulness start with true thinking. In a culture where truth is relative, my dad taught us to look to the Bible for truth. Biblical truth affects everything in our lives from our view of ourselves, our relationships with others, our possessions, and true contentment and joyful living. My dad embraced a worldview that teaches us we are forgiven, fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who delights in us. It made him so grateful. My dad picked up hitchhikers because he loved the Lord with his entire being, and he believed every person was made in the image of their Creator, worthy of the love and grace of God. As a parent, this kind of thinking is essential for us first if we want to plant gratefulness in our children’s hearts.
Gratefulness can be taught with words. My dad’s relationship with God bubbled out of his heart and came out of his mouth. He couldn’t help teaching us thankfulness. He understood that real treasure is found in the Lord, and not in possessions. He taught us Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasure in heaven….for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” My dad loved reading us Scripture at night before bed. I remember being slightly embarrassed and a little proud of him when he did this even when I had friends over to spend the night. Reading and discussing biblical truths with our children plants seeds of gratefulness in their hearts.
Gratefulness can be modeled with actions. Not only did my dad talk about gratefulness, he modeled gratefulness through a giving spirit. We sometimes need to talk to our kids about how kids around the world don’t have enough to eat, or don’t have parents to love and care for them. But to foster gratefulness, we also need to involve ourselves and our children in the joyous and life-giving work of building the kingdom of God. We need to put them in places where they see needs up close. We can do this through our local church, ministries helping the poor and homeless, mission trips, or just caring for those in need around us. Those seeds of gratefulness take root when we help our kids take action on what we are teaching them.
As I was working on writing this post, my dad ended up in the hospital with a broken sternum from a high fall out of a tree he was trimming. I spent two days there with him observing his grateful spirit, never once complaining, always kind and thankful. While the pain medication sometimes made him forget what day it was, he still took effort to learn the names of all the nurses and show them appreciation. He told a housekeeping worker as she emptied the trash, “Did you know that your job is one of the most important jobs in this hospital?”
Dad is now home recovering. I’m thankful for the lessons he and my mom taught me throughout my life, as those seeds he planted in my heart have grown into harvest. Our kids need us to do the hard work of planting seeds of gratefulness in their hearts. I’m still learning this from my dad, as I hope my kids are learning it from me.
This post originally appeared on All Mom Does Blog here.

April Graney is the author of The Marvelous Mud House, a whimsical true story about finding contentment and joy based on her family’s trip to Kenya. Her passions are pointing her own five children towards the grace of God, serving in ministry at New Life Ranch in Oklahoma with her husband, and teaching children and parents about God’s heart for the world and those living in poverty. She enjoys early morning runs with friends, growing tomatoes and herbs, taking naps, drinking coffee, blogging and attempting to be an artist. She has a master’s degree in Biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and has taught Bible study methods to teenagers, and spoken at leadership camps, and mother/daughter retreats. Follow her blog at

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Q&A about The Marvelous Mud House

One of my favorite things to do is talk to children about the true story behind The Marvelous Mud House! First, I want to know what they learned from the story. I love to hear their responses like "be content with what you have and help others" and "people are more important than stuff" and "God always hears our prayers." Then it's question time! Here are some of the most asked/interesting questions children have asked me after hearing this whimsically told true story:  

Is The Marvelous Mud House a true story? 
Yes! The Marvelous Mud house is based on our family trip to Kenya in 2013! While we were there we met Mama George and her family! We were so impressed by her and the people of Kenya! Even though they lived simply, their lives radiated such joy! When we returned home, we decided that our lives needed to change! We wanted that joy and simplicity, found not in things, but found in being content and sharing with others. Our children really did work and save in order to send money for George to attend high school. When we sent word to Mama George that we wanted to help George go to school, we learned the incredible fact that she had been pointing her son to the Lord to trust him for provision for school! George actually was in the middle of studying for a big test to get into high school, but he kept asking his mom, "why should I even study, we don't have the money for high school?" and Mama George kept telling him to work hard and trust God to provide! I was so excited to hear this, that I couldn't sleep one night, and so I got up and wrote the first draft of The Marvelous Mud House

How much does school in Kenya cost?
The great thing is that the government has tried to make primary (elementary) education in Kenya free! But there also fees for books and supplies and uniforms that still sometimes keep kids from being able to attend school. Secondary education (high school) is not free to students in Kenya, and this is where we helped George. We have 5 children, and so they split equally the $500 a year for George to attend high school. They have supported George for the last 4 years, and he graduated from high school in November!

Did the trip to Kenya really affect your children's hearts the way the story says?
Our children are much more content with what they have and more aware of the needs of the world after our trip to Kenya. After our trip, they began saving and working to help George attend school. They busily started babysitting, raking leaves, mowing lawns, running lemonade stands, and even saving their birthday money to help George! Our boys are currently 10, 12, and 14, so I have to say they are still normal kids. They still occasionally ask for a Lego set they see at the store! But if they want something, they know they have to work and pay for it themselves. While they work to send George to school, they also put money back in their own savings accounts for the things that they want. My own heart was impacted too! Being in Kenya helped me realize that we have a lot to learn from these beautiful cultures, and that my willingness to live more simply and content can allow me to give more to the needs I see around me. 

Did Mama George really sing the song in the story? 
I was so inspired by the prayers of Mama George and her faith in trusting God to provide for her son, that I wrote the song to signify the heart of this beautiful woman. There was a lot of singing in Kenya wherever we went. My first morning there, when I woke up, I thought I heard music. I went outside early before anyone else in the house was up. I sat there for over an hour listening to the most joyous singing drifting towards me from somewhere in the valley. It turned out to be children singing at the boarding school before church on Sunday! 

Why is George's mom named "Mama George"
George and Mama George
An interesting tradition in Kenya is that when a woman has her first child, the people around her start calling her the name of her first child with "mama" before it! So, my firstborn is named Anna, and in Kenya people would call me "Mama Anna!" 

Did you draw the pictures in the story? 
While I would love to take credit for the artwork because it is so beautiful, I do not. My publisher found and hired an amazing artist, Alida Massari, to do the artwork for The Marvelous Mud House. Isn't it beautiful?! 

How long did it take you to write the book? 
I wrote the original first draft of the story one night when I couldn't sleep. It was a lot shorter. I sent it to all kind of friends to get their feedback, and I rewrote and rewrote the story over the course of about a year. I probably wrote 10-15 versions of the story before I felt it was ready to try and share with a publisher. If you want to be a writer, follower your English teacher's advice and "revise! revise! revise!"

What animals did you see in Kenya?
We saw LOTS of animals! Mostly, we saw zebras, camels, goats, elephants, and giraffes. There was a very mischievous baboon who tried to get into our car to get our food! Our driver had to shoo him away! We also got to hold chameleons, which was really fun and cute! We went to an elephant orphanage where we saw elephants drinking out of big baby bottles.

Where can I get a copy of The Marvelous Mud House?
I'm so glad you'd like to have a copy! The book is available in Lifeway Stores! It is also available on Amazon, Walmart, and almost anywhere books are sold online right now! I love to do book readings at churches, libraries, and schools, so if you come to one of my book readings, you can also purchase one directly from me and have it signed at the same time! If you would like me to come to your church or school, I'd love to set that up! My January schedule is filling up quickly, so email me to set up a reading soon at! 

Friday, May 12, 2017

42 Ways to Change the World

If I could, I would absolutely change this world. I'd place every kid in foster care into a loving home, I'd make sure every kid gets the opportunity to go to school. I'd wrap my arms around every orphan and tell them they are incredibly loved and created by God and His people are here to be the arms of God wrapped around their battered hearts. I'd stop the horrors of child abuse and human trafficking. Lock those perpetrators away forever. I'd give every struggling parent living in poverty just trying to feed their children a dignified job. If I had absolute power, I'd change this world in a hot minute. I bet you would too. 

I can't change the entire world on my own. Together, we can. Below are some organizations tackling what seems like the impossible task. They are slaying dragons every single day, rescuing kids from the horrible claws of poverty and hopelessness. Have you partnered with them? Is there an organization I missed that I should add to my list?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How I signed with a Literary Agent

          “Have you always wanted to be a writer?” This was one of the very first questions, Ruth Samsel, my literary agent asked me. I was so incredibly nervous that first interview, I said something silly about someone telling me not to write anything until I was 50 years old--terrible advice looking back at it now. Answering that question today, I would say that, yes, from the time I was a child, I have always wanted to be a writer. From the time I was a child, I also always wanted to be Amy Grant, but that was before I realized that you can’t be someone else! Thankfully, Ruth Samsel overlooked my fumbled first answer and offered me a contract a few weeks later.
         If you’re at all interested in becoming a published author without going the self-publishing route, you’ve probably realized that you’re most likely going to need a literary agent. Gone are the days when you could send your query letter or manuscript directly to a major publisher and get any response. There are so many authors wanting to be published, the publishing companies have to utilize agents to wade through what they call the “slush pile” in order to find the best manuscripts.
       I’m writing the story down of how I signed with Ruth, for my reader's benefit, but in many ways mostly for mine. I realized over the years that I tend to forget things and I want to have a record of how God worked to bring my publishing dreams to reality.
         The first thing that happened is that for several years, I was praying that the Lord would give me a message to write about. I wouldn’t say I prayed this too fervently or flippantly, I just let God know the desire of my heart when I thought about it and kept attempting to live faithfully with Him. The second thing is that we stepped out in faith and planned a mission trip for our entire family to Kenya. This experience fueled the next step where I actually wrote the first draft of a children’s book story based on our experience. I was inspired by a Kenyan woman named Mama George, so I wrote a little story for children one night when I couldn’t sleep. The first draft was very simplistic, stripped down, and basic, and honestly looking back, not very good. But I LOVED it! And I knew God had given me a story that had to be told.
          Step four was a year of editing. I sent the manuscript to friends, and family, who by the way will always tell you they love your story. Then an artist friend, Rich Davis, recommended I send it to a writer’s coach. This is where things got real. The writer’s coach had no ties to me and she was blunt, “I see no marketable value in your story.” Was I discouraged? Yes. But I took it as a challenge. I realized that I hadn’t accurately communicated the heart of my story, and that if I could write it in such a way as to convince this skeptic, then I might have a story. Then the story sat. Sometimes things need to soak. Often I would put the manuscript aside for a week or two and pick it back up again. I wasn’t finished with my story. But I needed to revisit it with fresh eyes. After about a six month break, I picked it up again, and began fleshing out the story and rewriting it. I probably wrote and read 15 different versions of the story to my kids before I sent it back to the writer’s coach. When I finally did, she had questions. But she was taking this version seriously. A few more versions, and finally she replied, “This version works! Where will you send it?” I was elated!
          What followed this was an unrushed season of asking God, “What is the next small step?” and just trying to do the next little thing. A published friend had told me I would need an agent to sign with a major publisher. I wanted to story to reach as many people as possible, and so I would start with the goal of using a major publisher who would give my story the marketing and publicity it needed in order to reach the largest audience. Plus, I’m really terrible with accounting, marketing, selling, or keeping track of anything really, so self-publishing wasn’t going to be my gig. I started reading Michael Hyatt's blog, and downloaded an ebook of his on how to write a query letter. I used a sample query letter as a guide and wrote mine out. A query letter is what you send to agents describing who you are and the nature of your book. If they like it, they will ask to see your manuscript. Besides working on my query letter, I also took a few detours and submitted my manuscript to The Writer's Edge (it was accepted. A boost for my confidence, but seemingly did nothing to sell the manuscript) and I even got crazy enough to send Franklin Graham at Samaritan's Purse his own operation Christmas box and a copy of my manuscript to endorse (he was too busy). I also sent my very first query letter to an agency in New York City and waited for feedback. It was a huge agency and from what I could tell, not a Christian agency. But I had read that you should send a few query letters out just for feedback first before you hit the ones you really want, so that is what I did. My first rejection letter came in about three weeks. They said they found the story “engaging” but it didn’t fit their agency. I was thrilled!
           By now, it was February 2015, two years after writing my first copy of Mama George (later I renamed it The Marvelous Mud House). For my birthday, Tom gave me a few nights away. I spent some time that weekend reading, praying, and making plans for the year for our homeschool and just life in general. I remember fervently praying that God would use my story, that He would provide an agent, a publisher, and use the story to reach as many people as possible.  I clearly remember being overwhelmed with a desire that He be glorified by this story and praying that someone who had a heart for Kenya at a publishing house would believe in my story and pick it up.
          I returned home from my weekend away and was sitting on my front porch looking one more time through the agencies listed in the Christian Writer's Market Guide. I had been over this section of the guide many times, but suddenly an agency I don’t remember seeing before caught my attention. The William K. Jensen Agency accepted query letters submitted online, so right there on my front porch, I composed a brief query letter, answered a few questions about myself and--deep breath---hit send. It was 4:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday. It wasn't until later that I saw Ann Voskamp is represented by this agency or I would have been quite intimidated! My family and I went to dinner in our camp’s dining hall, and when I returned home around 7:00 p.m., I had an email from Mr. Jensen that simply said, “April, send me the manuscript and proposal (if you have one) attached to an email. I will take a look. Grace and Peace, Bill Jensen.”
          Frantically, of course, I composed a thank you and attached my manuscript after carefully going over it a few more times. Then I waited. After 6 weeks, I had heard nothing back. Everything I saw online said to wait 8 weeks before checking in after an agent asks for your manuscript, but I was getting anxious and Tom was leaving the country for a short term trip, and I wanted to know. So I emailed Bill and asked him if he had any feedback on my manuscript. At this point, I figured that it was a no since I hadn’t heard anything. I was floored and excited when he replied the next day with, “I like it a great deal and I have passed it along to our agent, Ruth Samsel, who has had success lately with selling children’s books to publishers.” It almost didn’t seem real! The following week, Ruth contacted me. I have to quote her email exactly: “Bill passed your manuscript my way. Darling, Love it! I have a few questions. When can you talk?” About to fall out of my desk chair, I hastily replied, “I’m free all day! Maybe give me an hour or so for my coffee to kick in?” Thankfully, she thought my response was cute, but clarified that she meant "what times was I available to talk maybe next week!" Once we cleared that up, we figured out a time for us to talk, she gave me her number and told me to call when I was ready! So at 10 am on Tuesday, March 1 2015 I had my first one hour conversation/interview on the phone with Ruth! This is the point where I answered the question about if I always knew I wanted to be a writer quite dumbly. But apparently I didn’t fumble the rest of the interview, proved that I knew how to have a conversation and had a true heart for the message of my story. She asked me to not query any other agencies for two weeks and then we would talk again. I bit my nails and sat on the couch for two weeks and then we had to reschedule our phone talk for another week. When we finally talked the second time, Ruth started listing off a few things she was going to email me and casually slipped in the word “CONTRACT.” Oh but I heard it!  I started quietly jumping up and down while on the phone with her trying to be cool and answer her questions until we hung up the phone and I could scream. Then I got quite scared and nauseous! I received the contract, took about five seconds to think about it, signed it, and then emailed it back a few days later, hoping they hadn’t changed their minds and it was all a big mistake.
          So, that’s how I signed with the best literary agent in the world, Ruth Samsel, and eventually landed a book contract. I would say that my story is quite atypical as the thing you always hear about is people sending out hundreds of query letters only to be rejected time and again until finally getting signed. I do believe the Lord has guided and blessed this process and opened doors I couldn't have imagined. I give him all the glory and feel that the entire project has been his from the beginning. My book, The Marvelous Mud House, will release in November with B&H Kids, a division of Lifeway Christin Stores. How the Lord and Ruth worked that magic is a story that has to come in a later post, as this post is already four times the recommended length for blog posts, but it is just as incredible!