The Art of Journaling

Psalm 19:6

For years I’ve tried to keep up with a habit of writing in a journal. I’ve been successful with a journal in a hit-or-miss sort of way. I have a few journals stacked neatly on my desk and I have yet to finish one. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself as each journal has a specific purpose. But possibly that is the problem. I have too many journals.

For example, one journal is to write thoughts from the day, or comment about a Bible passage, and sometimes I write prayers such as, “A prayer for more grace,” which I posted on this blog.  There is also the creative journal for the times when I am inspired to create … to sketch and paint. I jot a few notes about the sketch or watercolor painting just to keep the memory fresh. I want to remember what inspired me to draw or paint at that moment.  I also use Evernote to save a collection of quotes from authors and favorite bloggers.

In January of this year, I began a quest to read a Psalm or a portion of Psalm every day. To keep me on track and consistent with this daily reading plan, I turned to The Songs of Jesus ~ A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller.

Reading through the Psalms for 26 days has informed consistency of keeping a journal.  Actually, reading the Psalms has transformed the way I journal. The Psalms are not just a matchless primer of teaching but a medicine chest for the heart. [1] Psalms is a prayerbook that has every emotion known to man and gives us the freedom to pray those same words, with those same emotions, back to God.

Reading Psalms is teaching me how to pray. What is essential in prayer is not that we learn to express ourselves, but that we learn to answer God. [2] This is pure grace, that God tells us how we can speak to him and have fellowship with him. [3]

The Psalms fire our imaginations into new realms yet guide them to the God who actually exists. The Psalms have encouraged and inspired the way I make art. There is a reason and purpose to make something beautiful.

I may have discovered the art of journaling by reading through the Psalms. This journal is beginning to resemble a story … my story. I see my story, my life, woven into the words of the Psalmist. I find that amazing and truthfully, frightening. It is a journal of joy, sorrow, worship, repentance, hope, frustration … peace and assurance that God will keep me as the apple of [his] eye and hide me in the shadow of [his] wings. (Psalm 17:8)

What about you? Have you read through the Psalms or do you enjoy keeping a journal?

sunflower

[1] The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller; Introduction, {viii} | [2] | Ibid. page {ix} | [3]  Psalms:The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Learning to Sail Smoothly Through the In-Between

To Sail

There is this place called the in-between, where many of us live. We are in-between where we were and where we want to be. We want a new adventure now and whatever difficult thing we are dealing with to end … over and done with. Often, the in-between is a difficult place of disappointments, laced with real sadness. It is a troubling time, a fretful time, a restless, tiring journey of sailing in rough waters. Yes, the in-between can be rough and also lonely. This is your story, your journey. This is your in-between. You own it. Perhaps you have already come to realize that your life in the in-between is most profound when there is silence all around you or during a time of aloneness.

There’s waiting in the in-between. There’s waiting for something to change, or to have our dreams fulfilled or … simply fill in the blank: “I am waiting for ________.”  Waiting is definitely a type of rough waters, a personal trial, with suffering, possibly as its companion.

What I’m learning about being in the in-between is that sailing through the rough waters of waiting is the best place for me now. And as I learn to hoist the sail and press on throughout this waiting period, I will find that the inconvenient moments, the monotony of routine or the struggle to overcome are, in fact, my greatest opportunity for growth.

The In Between

The in-between is a vast space to explore and I’ve explored it longer than I care to! However, during this waiting period in the in-between, I have discovered a lot about myself. Sometimes I say, “My God! When will this waiting be over?” And sometimes I say, “My God! Thank you for the in-between!” I sound quite fickle and I admit that I’m discontent in the waiting. I’m very goal oriented and live in perpetual pursuit of something. I find myself evaluating my progress toward that thing that will give me satisfaction, to fulfill my life.

To continue with the metaphor of smooth sailing, it’s exhausting to adjust the sails, to tack and jib, to fight the wind on my own. I long for the other side of this.

Recently, I read Mark 6:45-52. It’s the story of Jesus disciples in a boat, making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. I thought I knew this story well, but I had missed significant details.  Such as one word in verse 45:

Immediately he [Jesus] made his disciples get in the boat and go before him to the other side …

They did what Jesus made them do. Get in the boat. Those guys didn’t do anything to cause the storm and they certainly didn’t expect a storm or ask for the trial they were facing. They happened to find themselves in the right place at the right time and they were utterly astounded by God’s grace. (verse 51)

I discovered another significant point in verse 48 of that text:

And about the fourth watch of the night he [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them …

Jesus seems very relaxed while being in their storm. He knew they had rowed and struggled for about eight hours. It’s tempting to judge the faithfulness of God based on His ability to remove difficulty from our lives, when in fact, difficulty is almost always a sign of His faithfulness.  Notice in verse 48 that Jesus meant to walk pass by them, but then they cried out in fear and immediately he spoke to them. God’s love is borderless wide and his compassion is infinitely deep. God’s grace rescues us.

The In Between

I’m asking two important questions: “What in the world is God doing?” and “How in the world should I respond to it?”

I’m learning that He has brought me to the uncomfortable place of the in-between to produce in me what I could not achieve on my own. God’s divine power plus his divine compassion equals everything I need. [1]

And how in the world should I respond to waiting in the in-between?  Utterly astounded by God’s grace while “giving myself permission to enjoy fully the things I have, the person I am, and the life I am currently living while continuing to harbor the dreams that keep me growing and stretching into the future.” [2]

It is only when I’m hooking my life to the glory and grace of God and getting my identity from him that I can truly live with singleness of focus for the long run. This is because it is only God who has the power to satisfy my heart. I was made for him. I was made to have my life shaped by an acknowledgment of his presence, a rest in his love, and an active allegiance to his purpose. When I live this way, my soul is satisfied and my heart is at rest.  — Paul Tripp, A Shelter in the Time of Storm

Psalm 27:4 Smooth Sail in the In Between

Smooth Sail

I’ve loved reading the book: A SHELTER in the TIME of STORM: Meditations on God and Trouble, by Paul David Tripp. The book is based on Psalm 27, a psalm that teaches you about faith, safety and the presence of the Lord. Psalm 27 tells us that even in the middle of difficulties that we do not understand, nor seem able to escape, we have reason to take heart and to have hope.

[1] Paul Tripp, Uncomfortable Grace |  [2]  The Resolution for Women, by Priscilla Shirer. Original quote:  “Give yourself permission to enjoy fully the things you have, the person you are, and the life you are currently living while continuing to harbor the dreams that keep you growing and stretching into the future.”

The Day After Easter and The Finish of 40 Gifts of Lent

The Day After Easter

Forty-seven days ago, on March 5, Ash Wednesday, I made a commitment to read the New Testament from the beginning to the end, using the Lent Challenge (a daily reading guide) in preparation for celebrating Easter. (Go here to find out more about the Lent Challenge.) It was an amazing walk of faith and the renewing of my heart for the gospel of grace. It took a lot of discipline to rearrange my routine to have a daily devotional but it was so worth it!

The daily routine of reading those God breathed ancient words that are always living and always relevant kept me hungry for more. A few years ago, I asked God to keep me thirsty and to keep me empty, to never be satisfied so I would crave more of his grace. He is answering that prayer.

I began to write a journal about one or two exciting details I discovered in the daily reading. I named the journal, “40 Gifts of Lent” because discovering something new and exciting in God’s word everyday is like opening a new gift. You can read about 40 Gifts of Lent here.

40 Gifts of Lent became the online journal for my devotions and personal commitment to write everyday, Monday through Saturday, for 40 days. I particularly enjoyed posting a verse and a photo on Sunday’s for Sunday Respite. All in all, this equals to 47 days of consecutive journal entries on this blog, More Grace. Writing everyday was very challenging yet it’s been the most rewarding experience.

So here it is, the day after Easter and the finish of 40 Gifts of Lent. I found myself going back to the tomb and looking in. This is what I think… the stone that sealed the tomb was rolled away not for Jesus to get out but for us to look in! And Mary was one of those that looked inside and contemplated the emptiness and struggled with doubt and unbelief.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (John 20:16) 

I love this! Jesus called Mary by her name! She immediately recognizes Jesus. She knows his voice. She hears him. She sees him. Mary believes! Jesus speaks in to her unbelief. Jesus paid the ultimate price for her unbelief. I think it’s okay and good to look inside the empty tomb over and over again. Whenever I doubt that God loves me, I look inside that empty tomb. Whenever I doubt that I can trust God no matter what, I look inside that empty tomb. And when I don’t believe, I pray for Him to help my unbelief while asking Him to forgive me for that unbelief. Jesus paid the ultimate price for that!

The day after Easter is everyday of preaching the gospel to yourself. There is really never an end to 40 gifts of Lent either, because the number of gifts will continue to multiply each time I hear God call my name and each time I am filled to overflowing and then some more.

The Day After Easter 2

Planting and Watering Little Sprouts of Faith

Growing 2

Planting and Watering Little Sprouts of Faith | Gift 25 | 40 Gifts of Lent 

Reflections on I Corinthians 1 – 8

It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow  I Corinthians 3: 6 – 7 (MSG)

I finally have a garden. It has taken several years of nurturing the soil and ridding the ground of overbearing thistles with prickly thorns and tap roots very difficult to pull up out of the ground. I had to work hard and steady week after week, staying focused on the vision I had for the garden, to prepare the soil for new growth. Seeing the fruit of my hard work is quite rewarding, seeing God’s handiwork in every glorious bloom.

I Corinthians 3: 6-7 is another gift of hope that I treasure because I am reminded how faithful God has been to our family. There were months and years when our children looked like they were growing thorny thistles with a tap-root trying to choke their faith. My husband and I fought against the fatigue of constantly pulling out the weeds in their lives, turning over the soil once more and planting seeds once again…not to lose sight of the vision we had for our children to produce a righteous fruit, to grow and thrive in their faith in God, by grace alone.

Parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and the more you love your kids, the harder it is. You already realize how much time is involved with planting truth into your kids and to continually fuel their faith but have you considered how much prayer is vital to their spiritual growth?

In the book, Praying Circles Around Your Children, author Mark Batterson exhorts us with a metaphor of praying circles around our children. It simply means “to pray without ceasing.” It’s praying until God answers. It’s praying with more intensity, more tenacity. It’s not just praying for, it’s praying through. [1] That’s when you’ll see the thistles and tap roots of sin in your children’s life replaced with new life mirroring Christ. It’s a beautiful garden!

Praying for our kids strengthened our resolve to stay focused on the vision for them. With your physical eyes, you see who a person is. With your spiritual eyes you see what a person can be. [1]

What vision do you have for your children? What does the garden look like in your home? Planting and watering is knowing your children and knowing scripture so that you can train them in the way they should go. Pray that they won’t just survive but pray that they will thrive. [1] Your family garden will thrive when you saturate your life with God’s word. Read God’s book so you will know what to teach your children and what to pray for your children.

Don’t just pray for them, pray with them. Praying for your kids is like taking them for a ride; praying with your kids is like teaching them to drive. [1] Repeat words from God’s book to your children. Pray those words together. Repeat them over and over again. Your prayer is for your children to use God’s word as their GPS to guide their way.

I remember the exciting days watching our children grow strong in their love for God and the exciting day when they became the drivers of their own children’s faith. Planting and watering little sprouts of faith in the tender hearts of their daughters and young sons.

The effect of planting is faith. The effect of watering is faith. But the decisive cause of faith — the life and growth of little sprouts of faith — is not planting and watering, but God.

 Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to him in prayer, pleading for your children.  (Lamentations 2:19)

Growing

[1] Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson 

 

A Promise for You and Your Children

Isla and John Day 1

A Promise for You and Your Children

40 Gifts of Lent | Gift 18
Reflections on Acts 1 – 6

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Acts 2:39

As a parent and grandparent, I never want my children and grandchildren to ever doubt a promise I make to them. When I make a promise, I have given my word…I am determined to keep that promise. I want the ones I love most to trust me, to take me at my word, to never doubt that I will do what I say. Granted, I am careful with what I promise because it hurts so bad whenever a promise is broken. Sadly, I’ve broken a few promises even with trying to be so very careful. I’ve disappointed the ones that I love the most.

On this personal journey with 40 Gifts of Lent, I am  discovering and unwrapping a new gift…delivered daily, from the pages of the life-giving Word. The amazing gift is God always keeps his promise. God brings glory to himself by forever keeping his promise. He will never disappoint. The Word he gives is the only true word we can truly trust, without a doubt.

In the beginning, a promise was made to us. A promise was made by the Covenant maker to us…the humanity of covenant breakers. Clearly, he has spoken commands and warnings for us to heed. If we would simply stop, look, and listen (profound words my 3 year old granddaughter says we must do) to his Word of promise, we would love our neighbor, we would be fruitful in our work and ministry, we would we wise with our finances, we would be giving to people in need, we would be more compassionate…

The gift God hands to us is a changed life, by believing his promise of sending his son to rescue us from all of our history of breaking promises and all of our future failures of speaking shallow lifeless words we can’t keep…”I promise, I will not do this again!”

The amazing beautiful gift of God’s forever promise is for me and my children and my grandchildren and beyond!

Stop, look and listen…he is calling you. He is calling you that are far away from him.

A promise for you and your children

A promise for you and your children

Isla and Me

For the promise is for you and your children

About 40 Gifts of Lent 

I am anticipating the arrival of Easter and celebrating the most amazingly good gift I’ve ever received. I want to focus my heart on the fulfilled expectation of Christ’s first coming and the glorious expectation of His second coming. To continue reading, please go here: 40 Gifts of Lent

#LentChallenge
 
 

The Source of Joy

Joy and Delight 2

The Source of Joy

40 Gifts of Lent | Gift 17
Reflections on John 15 – end

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing…I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing.”  John 15: 5 and 11 (Amplified) 

The only way that we can maintain and even increase joy in our lives is to abide in Christ. If we are cut off from Him, we cannot expect to be joyful. It is only under the nourishing hand and tender care of our Lord that we can count it all joy.

It is not surprising that many Christians who spend little time with Christ experience little joy. This is not as it should be. Jesus tells us that only by remaining in Him will we find joy: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” We can know joy in this life, but it can only come from abiding in Jesus Christ.

The Source of Joy 2

Adapted from, “The Source of Joy” | www.ligonier.org

About 40 Gifts of Lent 

I am anticipating the arrival of Easter and celebrating the most amazingly good gift I’ve ever received. I want to focus my heart on the fulfilled expectation of Christ’s first coming and the glorious expectation of His second coming. To continue reading, please go here: 40 Gifts of Lent

#LentChallenge

Slow Down to Notice…on a Road Trip

Barns of Passing Time

I have a hobby of taking photos from a moving automobile. Like the one above of a barn and homestead with a for sale sign in front view. I can only imagine how many memories and stories that have been noticed in that home or the life that fed that old barn’s history…stories and words wrapped up and knotted deep into a legacy.

Slow Down to Notice

So I take a photo from a moving automobile because I slow down to notice this image of a story that is posted for sale. It’s there, off the road where it’s waiting to be noticed, captured and remembered.

Recently, my husband and I packed the car for a long road trip to home. It was pleasant to be the passenger with my main man and talk about our kids, our grandkids, life, work, politics…we talk about our parents that are living and the ones that have passed to a better place. Memories are shared on road trips. Road trips give us time to slow down and notice, even while the pedal is to the metal.

We slow down on this road trip to notice each other through the stories we share. It’s a verbal embrace. There is a connection when we laugh at each other’s corny jokes or disagree with the other’s opinion about a politician’s decision.

When we slow down and notice someone by listening to spoken words, there will be community, friendship, and a feeling of being safe.

Road trips are good for this. He is not looking at me while I talk, yet he notices me.  He is listening to my words…my voice, my story. And when he shares a story, I may glance over at him, but mostly I’m looking out the window with my head leaning back and resting against the headrest…slowing down my thoughts to hear him and notice him.

It’s ironic that we own a house with a for sale sign in the front yard. Of course I know that bricks and mortar or beams of wood cannot contain life and stories but it’s the people with the stories that walk through an opened back door to have a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.

Slow down and notice them.

We may be selling a house but we are not selling the stories that happened in that house.

We’re on a road trip. We are slowing down to notice a lot more than just the two of us sitting in this car. We slow down to notice and talk about the goodness of God demonstrated everyday in our lives and the peace we have through Christ while enduring trials and a life transition.

When we slow down to notice…to remember the stories of God’s forever faithfulness to us, we are filled with awe and flooded with peace.

Stories are like a road trip. The years fly by at high-speed and there are twists and turns and potholes that slow us down. An unexpected and sometimes unavoidable crash stops us cold. We run out of gas. We have a flat tire. We need help with the repairs. We are forced to slow down and notice the grace and love from God, no matter what the circumstance.

So yeah, I want to slow down and notice my husband and family. I want to notice their stories and words, to embrace them and travel with them on a road trip wherever it may lead. I want to slow down and notice the beauty of God’s grace and his majesty…to hear his words. To be embraced and know that I am noticed by God.