Prayer Journal, Val Marie Paper {Tool 8}

My favorite new spiritual tool in 2017 has been my prayer journal from ValMarie Paper. I wanted to highlight it just a bit during this series because it’s been helping me get back to making prayer and gratitude a regular practice in my life.

Day 8

ValMarie has created multiple journals and sells them on her website. You can check out her men’s and couple’s prayer journals, gratitude journals, and undated monthly journals. I’ve been using her yearly prayer journal (which she’s noted has a shorter supply available for 2017 this fall, so grab one soon!).

This journal contains three sections: Prompts, Conversation and Gratitude. I’ve used all equally and they’ve each helped me discipline myself in prayer in different ways.

Day 8
The Prompts Section simply lists various areas of life we can cover in prayer, such as world and nation, community, family, friends, personal, big goals, etc. It includes a couple of pages to record scripture or quotes that speak to you through the month, as well as a space to record answered prayers.

The Conversation Section means to encourage you to write out prayers to God. Lots of blank pages for you to pour out your heart.

And the Gratitude Section has about 1000 lines for you to list gifts from God as the year goes on, inspired by the book 1000 Gifts, by Ann Voskamp about cultivating gratitude.

ValMarie’s number 1 goal on her website states:

To create products that usher you into the presence of God and help you eliminate distractions.

I love her heart behind her products. She’ll state clearly that you don’t need one of her journals to spend time with the Lord, but that she created these products because having a journal like this helped her be more intentional in her prayer life. I’ve found it to be true for me as well. I’ve invested in this beautiful book, and have it ready and waiting for me so when I get some time with the Lord, there’s plenty of space right there to practice the disciplines I want to grow in.

If nothing else, at least go follow ValMarie on Instagram or Facebook for her inspiration and honesty about growing close to God in real life.

Life Creative, Book Review {Tool 7}

“Here’s the most amazing part: you’re just being you— altogether beautiful you, amidst the chaotic rhythms of motherhood. Capturing great glimpses of glory with your camera at the sandlot over brown bag lunches. And when you lay your little ones down for naps, out it flows— the inspired offering of a creative woman.

I’m here to tell you this is a worthy use of your life: both the grand offering of motherhood, and the smaller gifting of artistic self-expression. I hear you and see you, and am experiencing you as you pin your way through new recipes and craft ideas. As you redesign your child’s room and paint her walls with murals, I stand in awe of your outpouring. This is the flow of a Renaissance mom.”
Life Creative, Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart

When you have an artistic soul, which many of us do, it can be easy, especially in difficult seasons, to let your love for beauty get crushed beneath the load of responsibilities or insecurities life brings.

I know that, personally, over the past 10 years, my appreciation for beauty and expression of creativity has eroded. But I didn’t realize just how much so until I read Life Creative by Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart. Every chapter I read in this book made me cry. It felt like reading a poem celebrating how God made me to create, like he creates.

These women explore the idea of a “Renaissance mom,” which they define as a woman who is multi-talented and reborn out of the “dark ages” of motherhood, one whom God has enlightened, just like the artists and reformers of the historical Renaissance.

They share story after story of how women use their God-given gifts to bless their families and others. They write about practical ways to practice our art, but they speak more to the mom’s heart to encourage her to pursue what makes her come alive.

Day 7

This book sparked creativity in me again. I started challenging myself to practice drawing and painting again. I looked for areas in my home, like my laundry space, where I could bring fun and personality. And I’ve been able to appreciate, maybe for the first time in my life, the value of my creativity and sense of fun. To see that when I plan parties for my kids, I’m using my gifts. When my friend thinks of a fun way for her kids to practice spelling their names, she’s showing off her talents in a special way.

Day 7

I shared this book with several dear friends and they responded just like I did. Even if you don’t see yourself as a creative mom, this book will change your mind.

I truly believe God made us to reflect his image as the Creator. It looks different for every person, but it’s there.

“This Renaissance is the breeze to give you flight, but it all starts with the One who gave you wings. Rest fully in the knowledge that your creativity was not an accident, nor is your present circumstance of motherhood. They are both gifts from Him, both parts of a Master plan, woven and knit into beautiful you. God has a plan for your creativity, even in the seemingly dormant years— the dark ages before the dawning light.”

Triggers, Book Review {Tool 6}

“So, Elizabeth, if you had a warning label, what would it be?” My husband, the youth pastor, quizzed me jokingly as I sat perched on a stool in front of youth group.

I didn’t even have to think before answering, “Contents may explode under pressure.”

Yeah. Not exactly something I like admitting, but the gospel truth.

Recently I’ve been diagnosed with severe adrenal fatigue, brought on by years of chronic stress. I’m thankful for the diagnosis, and am in the middle of healing, but it emphasizes that something is wrong underneath the surface in my life. When we experience unhealthy symptoms, whether physical or emotional, they point to underlying issues.

As a mom, so many things are out of my control, one of my greatest fears. I know that fear causes me to explode all over my children. When I heard about the book Triggers, by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake, addressing parents’ angry reactions, I knew it would speak to the roots of my anger, like fear.

Day 6

This book hits on 31 hot button topics of parenting, from external triggers like over-stimulation, backtalk and whining to internal triggers like depression, exhaustion, and generational patterns. They leave no stone uncovered and as I read, I felt like I was being handed the most practical of tools, straight from God’s Word to help me address my deep heart issues.

I think the best parenting books are the ones that remind you you are seen and heard and that you are not alone. Amber and Wendy write in a way that feels like you’re sitting down sharing coffee together with kids running around the house in the background.

From their chapter “All the Noise”:

“I must learn to behave myself, even when I don’t get what I need! And then at the same time, I must learn to carve out quiet so that I can get what I need…We must learn to cope by carving out the quiet, and learn to cope when there’s no quiet to be found…You must learn to control yourself, even on the noisiest days.”

Yeah, ouch. I appreciate the truth they speak and the kind words they use to speak it. God’s Word covers these pages to show him as the source for all our triggers.

If you’re needing encouragement with your anger, as a mom or dad, this book is a great one to pick up. Healing from survival mode won’t come unless we address the emotional and physical needs we’ve been stuffing under the surface.

Pens and Creative Mediums {Tool 5}

My husband has a new hobby. He is collecting and using fountain pens. His face lights up when he tells me about new ink and how the pen scratches the paper gently. He’s never been much of a writer, but he journals daily now and it’s been very life-giving for him.

When I was a girl, I read Anne of Windy Poplars, by L. M. Montgomery, and in it, she writes to her fiancé about using just the right pen:

“So I’m going to keep this hour sacred to writing to you. Though this won’t be a love-letter. I have a scratchy pen and I can’t write love-letters with a scratchy pen… or a sharp pen… or a stub pen. So you’ll only get that kind of letter from me when I have exactly the right kind of pen.”

I remember thinking, “Wait, I’m not the only one?” Owning a pen I love has often made the difference between picking up my journal or writing a letter or not. If you haven’t considered it before, give it a try. I personally love Pilot pens that use liquid ink, available anywhere pens are sold. They write cleanly and make expressing my thoughts a much smoother process. You may find you like a very different kind of pen.

Day 5

When August rolls around and school supplies flood the stores, part of me geeks out a bit. I’ve always been tight-fisted with money but lately have been learning that God wants us to enjoy life generously. So this year, I splurged and got myself some thin-pointed markers, the grown-up version of a box of 64 Crayola crayons that I used to die for. I’ve found some calligraphy pens that are easy to use, and some fun watercolor pencils.

So many people tell me that they aren’t creative. But God made us in his image, and he is the ultimate creator. So each of us has a creator inside of us somewhere. Not everyone draws or paints or writes, but I’m asking you, have you ever tried? Has there been a secret wish deep inside you to be able to create pictures and colors? Go buy yourself some acrylic paints or a box of Crayola Super Tips markers just for fun and get a little messy. Tip? It doesn’t have to be perfect, and nobody ever has to see it. But if you don’t have anything to create with, you won’t ever create.

Day 5

Not having the proper tools, like pens or color mediums, can keep us from jumping in and letting our hearts out on paper. We can’t truly grow if we keep ourselves bottled up inside and a new pen might be the first step we need to take toward living a fruitful life.

A Bible you Love {Tool 4}

Today I just wanted to spend a little time sharing about God’s Word. Honestly, this may sound simple, but one thing that helps me faithfully spend time with Jesus each day is having a Bible I love to use.

Growing up, I used the same Bible from ages 12-21. I marked and underlined and loved that book until it was falling apart. It felt more like a journal than a textbook, more like a friend than words on a page. Jesus was my faithful friend and I loved knowing that book like the back of my hand.

When I came to college, my parents bought me a new Bible, in a new version, the English Standard Version. It felt like a breath of fresh air to read words on the page that said the same thing but in a different way. I loved seeing God’s words with new eyes. I filled that Bible with sticky notes of quotes from professors and notes from friends, and it stuck with me for a few years.

But after college, I drifted from Bible to Bible, trying different versions and just grabbing whatever book I could find when I could catch a moment with Jesus in the middle of nursing babies and changing diapers. I loved using the Phillips version, and for a season of writing and study enjoyed my giant NET Bible full of study notes that my college gifted me when I graduated.

When my heart was stirring last year to begin to make my time with God a priority again, I realized I wanted a new Bible to mark the journey. So I picked out an attractive, simple, note-free Bible on Amazon in the New Living Translation, the version we use at our church. This year I’ve begun marking it up again, claiming it as mine, jotting my aha moments in the margins. I keep it close by in my living room or bedroom.

Day 6

Just recently I began reading it in Genesis with the plan to read it all the way through. Last night I came upon the story of Rebekah in Genesis 24 and actually felt giddy when I thought, “I haven’t read this story in the NLT yet!” (She’s one of my favorites.)

In our human relationships, we have to try new things to keep things fresh and alive. Make new memories, visit new places, enjoy new foods. I’m finding that something as simple as a new copy of God’s Word in a new season gives me a spark to keep coming back and meeting him there. Of course, God’s Word is living and active no matter what the book itself looks like, but God created beauty and freshness and I think he loves when we appreciate those things with him.

Powersheets, an Intentional Goal-setting Planner {Tool 3}

I’m a goal-setting, planner-loving junkie. But my latest tool for planning was created by someone who struggled with your typical goal-setting and set out to create a solution. I followed the ministry of Lara Casey online for a couple of years before deciding to buy one of her books and it’s made a world of difference in my life.

Introducing Powersheets.

This is not a daily planner. It’s an intentional goal workbook that helps you discover what is most important to you and set practical goals to achieve your plans. And most significantly, it teaches you to give yourself grace and be okay with little by little progress.

Little by little and projects undone have always felt like failure to me. I love to excel at what I do. I’m motivated to succeed and accomplish big things.

Day 3In college I pushed myself harder than ever before and it felt good. To be at the top of my game and make all my teachers happy with my work. And then when I became a wife and mom, all my standards for perfection flew out the window and I had no measure for “success.” Boy, did that crush my longing for perfection and measuring up. I struggled for years with how hard it was to stay ahead, while honestly sliding farther and farther into survival mode. I became someone I never wanted to be. I didn’t know how to change.

My husband and I committed to making 2017 the year we would start walking out of survival mode and into a healthy life. I committed to making change. I told myself, “Don’t expect to be better in a few months. It’s okay if this takes all year.” Even that was a big deal. Here we are approaching October and I know now that you can’t give healing a timeline. But we are much closer to being well than we were a year ago.

And for my part, the Powersheets and the ministry of Cultivate What Matters have been a crucial part of my growth.

Let me just run you through these Powersheets. In the first section you’ll find 22 pages of prep work to get all your thoughts and ideas and dreams out on paper. To dig deep and see who you are inside and what you really want out of life. The pages are beautiful and inspiring and full of quotes and reminders. It’s easy to follow along and work through the muddle that might be inside your head.

Day 3

Then, there is a goal-setting section, where you will lay out your goals and then for each goal complete a worksheet with specific action steps, what progress on that goal looks like, and how you’ll celebrate when you’ve met your goal. Along the way, you’re reminded not to set your sights so high you can’t reach them, and prompted to remember your “why.”

So each month you are given the opportunity to revisit your goals and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, and fill out a tending list for the month ahead that will help you break down your goals into small, actionable steps. I’ve been tearing out the Tending List and taping it to my fridge every month so I can see it every day.

In January, I worked so hard to do my dishes every single day, something I’d never done since getting married 6 years earlier. Being able to check that off my Tending List every day really motivated me. And each month I’ve had other practical and spiritual goals I’ve been working toward.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 9.07.26 PMWhat has impacted me the most has been learning to accept when things don’t work, or when I need to scratch goals off because they were too much, or seeing just how my work and God’s work go hand in hand to help me grow. I plow the earth, plant the seeds, and water them, but God makes them grow.

I’ve been so blessed to have this guide in my hands to help me remember what is important and what I have to be grateful for and to celebrate the good work God is doing in me.

Cry of the Soul, Book Review {Tool 2}

Emotions are crazy things. They show us, so often, how we really are not the ones in control of anything. How we are really along for the ride of life and not at the steering wheel.

To be honest, that knowledge itself hits the first domino of emotion in me that ends up toppling the whole row. Uncertainty tips into fear, which knocks down anxiety, which smacks into agitation, which hits anger and then I snap and everyone wonders what just happened.

As an independent, self-sufficient culture, we suppress emotion. Even Christian culture in America has taught us to not display the depth of emotion we feel. That self-control looks like never getting angry and faith means we never feel afraid. And heaven forbid we grieve over anything longer than a month or two.

But the Bible tackles emotion head on and that makes me ask what God thinks about it? Why did he create this intense emotive ability within us if we are only supposed to cram those big feelings back down inside ourselves?

Reading the book The Cry of the Soul by Dr. Dan Allende and Dr. Tremper Longman clarified so much of my confusion about emotions. Using the Psalms as their guide, the authors explore how our emotions show us what is really going on in and around us and turn us toward God.

Day 2

I spent several months with this book, underlining what stood out to me and then going back and journaling through my revelations.

For example, since I was a child, I’ve had a temper like a firecracker – exploding without notice over small things. And I came to realize through this book that “The core of unrighteous anger is a hatred of vulnerability and a love of control.” God doesn’t always make everything fair in my life, and getting angry over those things gives me freedom from “trusting a God who does not comply with our deepest desires.”

Anger, Tremper and Longman suggest, should make us stop and wait, rather than jump into action. “Anger is the catalyst that stirs us into battle. Most of the battles that anger will draw us into fighting are not worthy of our blood.” In our anger, we should turn to God and truly feel the depth of that emotion toward God himself – ask him the questions that are making us want to explode and wait to see how he responds. They list personal, practical questions for soul-searching. And expose the true roots of our emotions.

For so long, I silenced all my feelings, because I couldn’t handle how big they were. But I discovered that as I suppressed my fear and anger and hurt, my delight and joy left, too. I couldn’t feel the light in life anymore and it was too much darkness to keep going.

The Cry of the Soul taught me the need to sit with my feelings and really feel them, rather than covering them up. God invites us to do that. He’s big enough to take our questions and he’s the only one who can ultimately help us move past out of the pain and fear.

This book isn’t one you can read in a weekend. It’s one to steep in, journal through, and revisit over and over as you retrain your heart to feel again.

Reflection through Journaling {Tool 1}

“What’s this?” I asked my mom when she handed me a fat little pink diary when I was 9 years old. She explained it, and I opened it up to find a magical place inside. Blank pages soon became my favorite escape and still are to this day.

I journaled my way vigorously through high school, spilling all the details about all the boys and all the times they looked at me, and pouring out the ups and downs of my faith journey. I wrote more intensely as a young adult, asking deep questions and exploring my relationship with God even farther. Then came marriage and the wild ride of parenthood. My thoughts and emotions began to pile up inside my soul while my journal collected dust under my bed.

Two Christmases ago, my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful journal from the Gracelaced Shoppe, and I was inspired to begin writing again. Not in that one, of course. The perfectionist in me had to finish the journal I’d been writing in first, which took me a year. And last Christmas, I pulled out the wildflower-covered journal I’d been saving, wrote on my weekly goal list: Journal. I finally began carving out time to journal again and little by little felt my soul unlocking.

Day 1My big-picture goals for 2017 were agricultural by nature – Plant, Plow and Seek God. Journaling, I knew, would be a way to pull out the weeds and plow up the soil in my mind that had been uncultivated for so long. I wanted to clear out the junk and make space to breathe again.

So once a week or so, I pulled out my journal and scribbled. I dumped out random thoughts. I wrote out quotes from books I’d been reading. I sketched illustrations of struggles from my heart. I wrote down questions I was wrestling with.

And something began to emerge. I remembered my perfectionism. My need to write things with just the right words. My desire to keep everything uniform. My fear of asking a question and not being able to answer it. My discomfort of starting to journal and being interrupted (and thereby feeling like I couldn’t start a new page without going back and finishing the last, even if I’d been writing it weeks ago). My fear that someone would find what I wrote and judge me for it.

So I let go. And I left pages unfinished. I ignored sketches that didn’t make sense. I revisited my 10-year-old self and told her that even if someone read her nonsense about boys, she wouldn’t be shamed for it and released that fear. I let my baby scribble on the page next to mine. I laughed when I read the trailed off sentences from weeks ago and turned the page to start fresh. And when I reread the questions I’d left unanswered, I realized how God had given me the answers quietly, without fanfare, as I walked on with him.

Writing is such a gift God has given us. To verbalize thoughts we didn’t even know we were thinking. To process through emotions we’ve been afraid to touch. To clear out the mental clutter and open space within us.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s better when it’s not.

31 Tools to Cultivate a Fruitful Life {Series Intro}

31 Tools to

I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you.’
Hosea 10:12

Plant. Plow. Seek.

I committed at the beginning of 2017 to spend this year cultivating a life of intention. Our family has struggled in survival mode for 5 years and we needed a change. I realized that change wouldn’t come overnight, though. And it wouldn’t come without help.

Here we are, 9 months into the year and so much has changed. We are still healing and growing in deep ways, but we have purpose now. We’re able to move out of the difficult spots more quickly and keep heading in the right direction.

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We wouldn’t be here without a plethora of tools and resources guiding us. I am not paid to do this on this blog, but I want to share these resources with others, just because they are that valuable. We live in an amazing age with so much at our fingertips. I find personal recommendations helpful. I hope you might as well.

I believe every person can make little by little progress to grow an intentional life. It starts today. Not in January. Not when life gets easier. Today.

Plant the good seeds. Plow up the weeds and rocks that crowd out the crop. And seek – watch – for what God is growing in your life.

Follow me on Instagram or Facebook or subscribe to the blog to keep up with my 31-Day series.

  1. Reflection Through Journaling
  2. The Cry of the Soul, Book Review
  3. Powersheets, an Intentional Goal-Setting Planner
  4. A Bible you Love
  5. Pens and Creative Mediums
  6. Triggers, Book Review
  7. Life Creative, Book Review
  8. Prayer Journal, Val Marie Paper
  9. Bethel Music, Hillsong Young and Free, All Sons and Daughters, Music Review
  10. Motherhood Podcasts Review
  11. Cultivate, Book Review
  12. Christy Nockels, Ellie Holcomb, Music Review
  13. Systems that Work for YOU
  14. I Used to Be So Organized, Book Review
  15. Truth Memos
  16. Throw Out 50 Things, Book Review
  17. Eliminating Excuses (aka Buy a Water Bottle)
  18. Long Days of Small Things, Book Review
  19. Personal Growth Podcasts Review
  20. Discovering Your Strengths
  21. Professional Counseling
  22. The Gifts of Imperfection, Book Review
  23. Highly Sensitive Person resources
  24. Blogs
  25. Social Media Accounts/Usage
  26. Podcasts 3
  27. Coffee Shops Recommendation
  28. Local Library
  29. Cultivate What Matters Shop
  30. A space to share your journey
  31. Never Unfriended/We Saved you a Seat

Growing from Survival to Flourishing

What area of your life overwhelms you? For a long season, when I thought of caring for the physical needs of our home and family, waves of anxiety washed over me. So many tasks that were always undone. My to-do list was never crossed off and guilt attacked me.

To begin to step out of survival mode, we have to change our perspective. I began to look at my roles in life through the lens of serving, not just surviving. What has God called me to, in this moment, this day? I will focus on that by taking my eyes off the never-ending piles of work and move ahead. God never calls us to do anything without promising to give us the energy and ability to work out that calling.

What is survival?

It is scraping through, pushing ourselves to do the next thing, making decisions based on what will keep us alive and moving, then collapsing, completely spent, when we’ve finished doing that thing.

What is flourishing?

It is operating from a quiet and controlled spirit, choosing the best option over the easiest and having order and a plan, looking ahead with joy and vision. It is breathing in peacefully and liking your life. It’s being thankful and content while also pressing on to the next thing in faith. It’s believing the truth and walking in satisfying relationships with God and others.

This little guy was planted early in my journey out of survival mode.

This little guy was planted early in my journey out of survival mode.

It would be easy to write a blog or a book about the steps out of survival mode (God knows I’ve read them all), but this isn’t a simple journey.

It’s external in the doing of dishes every day and retraining yourself in basic habits of self-care and hygiene and decluttering the closet and writing the menus out or sitting down to clean out your email inbox. But it’s also internal, in the daily retraining your mind to think ahead, to choose gratitude, to make harder choices.

It’s physical, in the 5 minutes of core exercises to rebuild your strength that feels like barely enough to make a difference. But it’s also spiritual, in starting your day with 20 minutes with Jesus and a glass of water instead of hiding under the covers believing that catching a few more minutes of sleep will make your anxiety of facing a new day evaporate.

It’s solitary, found in a favorite pen and journal, processing the jumbled pains and joys of the heart, or taking a 30-second break of solitude from the kids or the coworkers to watch the rain and sip coffee for a moment. And it’s relational, committing to serve your loved ones and bring them happiness, and also pushing yourself out of isolation into the sunshine of friendship again.

It’s choosing real comfort over desperate escapism. Reading a book or sketching a picture instead of mindlessly scrolling social media. Taking a few minutes to stir fry veggies and chicken for lunch instead of eating a leftover corndog.

Choosing to sit with your raw emotion rather than numbing yourself when you’re scared of the pain, because you’re ready to start healing and feeling joy and laughter again.

It’s saying yes to the things you love, over and over again, expecting the good to replace the desperate gasping for air, sometimes for months before your feelings follow your actions.

It’s pulling out the weeds of discouragement, complaining, fear and lies over and over again and tilling the dirt so better things can grow.

Flourishing is not a place you arrive. It is a state of mind you have to learn to choose, combined with a plan of action to guide the moments of your day and the state of your home away from chaos toward peace.

Here is the same flower months later, blooming in all its glory.

Here is the same flower months later, blooming in all its glory.

Can I flourish with toys and socks and dishes and random messes covering my home while three children simultaneously beg for my attention? Some days perhaps. If my spirit is at peace and my mind knows the messes are 20 minutes away from being tamed. If my heart is tuned toward the Spirit of God’s voice and not the clamor in my brain or the fear in my heart.

Good things grow slowly. One choice at a time. We can take one thought prisoner today and replace it with a grounding truth. We can make one practical goal for the week or month and focus on checking it off every day. And we step one step closer to flourishing.