Misc. · Practical

A Look at How I Journal

old journal stackWhen most people find out that I keep a journal, their response is along the lines of: “Wow, that’s impressive; every time I’ve tried to keep a journal it just hasn’t worked.” It’s always an interesting response to me, because I don’t believe a person can “fail” at journaling. It’s something you do for yourself: recording whatever you want to, however you want to, whenever you want to. There shouldn’t be any pressure to make your journal anything but the space you want it to be for you.

In the spirit of that, I wanted to share how I personally use my journal. Not simply to give you ideas, but also to encourage you about how limitless, personal, and valuable a practice it can be in your life.

What I Write

There are a few things I (currently) record in my journal through words and writing.

Gratitude lists. If you’ve known me for nearly any length of time, you know that I don’t shut up about gratitude [and if you didn’t know that, you can read this]. Cultivating a grateful heart has completely changed my life in the best ways. The only thing that is a guarantee for me to journal every day is a list of the things I’m grateful for throughout the day. Writing these lists is the highest form of self-care for me, and re-reading them over time is a delight all over again.

When I wake up, I write the day’s date, pen the words “Thank you for:” in the corner, and start bullet points down the side of the page. I fill in the list as things come, or in a moment when I need to focus on building up the good. Sometimes the list will fill the page, other times I’ll draw a dotted line to make it a separate column from something else I’m putting in. I don’t have a minimum or maximum daily count; I just let it happen naturally and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.DSC00314

Scripture reading log. I don’t follow a reading plan. I tried to in the past, and sometimes it worked for me, but often the plan would ask me to read too much in one sitting, or would make studying scripture feel like something to check off my to-do list instead of something to pour myself into. Right now, I simply read one chapter of the Bible a day. There are some days I don’t read the Bible, such as when I had pulled a near-all-nighter doing homework in college and could feel my eyes closing but was still reaching for my Bible when I heard clearly in my spirit: “Tessa– go to bed. Your mental health matters to me. We talked today, it’s fine.”

I decide which book to read by alternating between the Old Testament and New Testament in their orders. Recently I finished reading Numbers, and I am now reading Matthew; next I will read Deuteronomy, then Mark, and so on. If it’s a more difficult book to read, such as the books of the Law, I will also read a Psalm.

In terms of recording my scripture study, I pen a bracket and the name of the book and chapter I’m reading that day. As I read, if something stands out to me, if I have thoughts, or if something confused me and I did some research, I will write notes on those things or even process them through writing. Once I’m done, I pen the other bracket at the end. Sometimes, there are days I read the chapter and simply don’t have anything to say about it. In those cases, I will still pen the other bracket after the book name and chapter, so I remember I read it. It’s okay to not “get something” out of scripture every time you read it; desire to learn is already a delight to Him.

“Proper” journal entries. When I have a lot of feelings I need to sort through or when something happens in my life that I want to remember, I write a journal entry that resembles what most people probably think of when they picture journaling: straight up writing, stream-of-consciousness.

I think what intimidates most people about keeping a journal, what makes them feel like they’ve “failed” to keep theirs, is that they imagine they need to write entries like this every day. I definitely don’t write entries like this every day; I only write them when I want to, when I have something to say or process. If I tried to write entries like this every day, I would probably start getting discouraged and feel like my life was boring! They’re helpful and enjoyable when they’re written out of desire rather than duty. I just write what I care about; it isn’t for anyone but myself, so there’s no pressure.

Drafts. Occasionally, if I want to write something for my blog but am unsure about how much of my personal story and feelings to include, I’ll write the first draft in my journal. Sometimes it truly is a first draft. But sometimes, once I’ve gotten it all out in my journal, that’s where it stays, because that ends up being the best place for it to live. Starting blog posts in my journal has become a healthy habit for me because, to be honest, I’ve probably avoided some conflicts by doing it.flowers and journal

Book notes. Every once in a while, I will read a book so impactful that I want to take notes on it. When that’s the case, I write the name and author of the book, then below that I’ll record quotes or what I’m learning. When I stop reading for that sitting, I might write down which chapter(s) I read in case I want to find something in context again. I draw a little swirly line to separate my book notes from any other journal entry that might go on that page. It’s interesting to re-read later and see how my book notes have similar themes to my regular journal entries and scripture studies from the same timeframe.

Beginning-of-the-year thoughts. I don’t really set goals at the beginning of the year, but I do like to dedicate the first page of the year to writing out a few hopes for it. If I start a new journal in the middle of the year (which is a guarantee for me because I fill them with so much), I rewrite those hopes on the first page of the journal as a reminder.

Calendar notes. I have a calendar on my desk and do not at all ask my journal to function that way, but I do like to make a note of holidays, birthdays, and milestones next to the day’s date, just so I can easily remember if I look back.

[I also use a prayer journal and a poetry journal, but I like to keep those separate from the rest of my writing.]

How I Decorate

A colorful, thrown-together journal might not work for everyone, but it adds some extra sunshine to my life to be able to decorate my pages. Most of my decorations end up serving a purpose, too! I use a few different things.

Quotes. I’ve always collected quotes from anywhere I find them, so incorporating them into my journal pages makes a lot of sense for me, and also makes it a bit easier to find one if I want to go back to it.

I write them on any blank spot on the page I’m currently using. I prefer to use fun gel pens or markers, but if I only have my simple black pen with me I don’t mind using that, either. Cursive hand lettering looks pretty regardless of the pen you’re using.

I don’t really go looking for quotes to add in, because I regularly find a good amount that leave an impression on me in everyday life– from songs I hear, tweets, Pinterest, books or blog posts I read (I don’t often take notes on whole books like I mentioned earlier, but sometimes there are just lovely lines, aren’t there?), movies I watch, Tyler Knott Gregson’s poetry blog (swoon), and anything else relevant for me at the time.

Photos. At the end of every month, I look through my photos and print out a few highlights from that month to make a page or two into a mini scrapbook. I write “[Month] Moments” at the top of the page, arrange the photos to my liking, attach them with regular scotch tape rolled on the back, then add any little commentary I want to below the photos. Sometimes I won’t have a photo from something that happened, so I’ll bullet point those moments somewhere on the page. If there are photos from a particular event and I also have a little memento from it, such as a concert ticket or wristband, I like to pair those together.DSC00457DSC00323

If I have strips from a photo booth, I like to add those into my journal, too, but I probably wouldn’t wait until the end of the month. I would instead just add them when I got them, on the journal page from that day. I do the same with movie tickets.

Apart from my monthly scrapbook page, I regularly add in a random photo or two to most of my journal pages, simply because it brings me a little burst of joy; I’m very visual and love having lovely images around me. These random photos aren’t usually my own, instead I scroll through my Pinterest and find a handful that I want to print out. I print them wallet-sized on regular office paper from my home printer and save them in an envelope I’ve attached to the back page of my journal (if the journal doesn’t have a built-in pocket) until I want to use one. Sometimes the photo fills in an empty space on the page, other times I add the photo first and work around it. How I execute all my creative journal additions depends on my mood, which I like, because my feelings seem to be reflected on the page visually even if I didn’t write a journal entry about how I felt.journal spread photos

Washi tape, doodles, & stickers. These things generally serve as space fillers and just add a nice bit of color and interest to the pages.oooooooooooooo

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my journal, and that maybe you’ve even found a spark of inspiration for your own. Don’t succumb to any pressure you feel to be a daily writer, or make every page a work of art, or do anything a certain way. Just do it for you.

Do you journal? What works well for you? What about it makes you happy?

Misc. · The Basics

On Identity & Never Fitting Quite Right

DSC04999I am both and I am neither.

If there’s an extreme to reach, I can’t. If there’s a side to pick, I can’t. If there’s an ultimatum to meet, I can’t. I’ve looked into both; God has met me in both. I just cannot make myself believe that He only lives in one aspect of everything. I believe He is bigger than I have room to understand.

I was raised around conservative Christians. I grew up and found myself relating to liberal spirituality in some ways, too. I still don’t fit comfortably in any camp. The Bible is my firm foundation and I follow Jesus in relationship, so the latter believe I am religious and closed-minded; I talk about spiritual life on a grand scale and I practice tolerance, so the former believe I am loose and heretical. I don’t fit. I don’t think I am any of the things they think I am; I hope I’m not. I hope you don’t think I am, either. I think I’m just a person just trying to figure things out the best I can. We all are, aren’t we?

It scares me sometimes. Because when you realize no human being has it fully figured out, you don’t quite know who you can go to with your questions anymore. I can talk to someone about something and have such a deep connection with them– then we’ll take the conversation a step further. And we’ll reach a place where the connection ends, where we don’t see things the same way anymore. And I’ll feel alone again.

I realize I will ever fit into any of the categories offered to me.

I’m reading 1 Corinthians. Paul is speaking to the church there, and he mentions that the Jews were demanding signs while the Greeks were seeking wisdom. Two groups wanted two different things to answer their questions, to supply what they felt they needed. Paul then says:

“Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In Jesus, both groups were met. Because of Jesus, they were no longer two groups, because everything each person was seeking was found in Him.

He was the deciding factor of their identity. Of their unity.

When we base our identity on what others say, on groups we can belong to, on categories to sort ourselves into– we are basing our identity on something other than Christ. And when we do that, division enters in as a natural result.

In the same chapter, Paul brings up how the church is experiencing conflict because different people in it claim to follow different apostles. His response is simple:

“Is Christ divided?”

When we follow teachings and ideologies, it’s easy to be divided, because there are so many options to choose from. But when we follow Jesus? There’s only His person. And we can shape ideas to serve us, but we cannot mold a person to fit us. When we follow someone, we serve them. We learn from them. We learn the truth about them because we are with them and we seek to know them.

I’m not choosing an extreme. I’m not picking a side. I’m not selecting a category I might fit into. I can’t.

I’m seeking Jesus. Because He is the answer I’m looking for. Always.

And… I’m loving you. Whatever you might have chosen to identify with. Because the answers you want are in Him, too. It binds us together as family.

And everyone has a place in this family.



On Oppressors & Love: How Our Family Does Things

withered blackberriesWhen there is a difficult person in our lives– someone who is not kind, who upsets or oppresses us in some way, who just makes life harder– we come up with a lot of solutions and are given various pieces of advice. We can unfollow them online; we can confront them; we can tell others about them and what they’re doing; we can avoid them; we can even cut them out of our lives.

But our Father has raised us differently.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” It’s hard enough not to speak badly of these people; it’s even harder to be generous of ourselves to them. Yet that’s what He wants us to do. He asks that we do nothing but good to those who do us wrong.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” We are not to simply tolerate difficult people; we are to intentionally plan how we’re going to be good to them. It is to be a mission of ours to treat them with kindness, something we’re supposed to spend time and energy on; we make a conscious decision not to pay them back for the wounds they’ve given us, and to value and respect them instead.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We must do all we can to create peace; we have to do our part. Theirs? That’s theirs to worry about. It doesn’t matter how they behave, if our kindness affects them or if it doesn’t; their behavior has nothing to do with ours. Love has no conditions. Love doesn’t act in hopes that the person will change, it acts because that is what love does. Our kindness is because of who we are, not who they are.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” Our Father knows when we are being mistreated. He sees it and it angers Him. And He is going to take care of it for us, with His own hands. We don’t have to fix it. He will do it Himself.

It’s all right there in Romans 12, and there is no fighting it. I know, because I tried to. The very day I read these verses, I dealt with various offenses from a difficult person in my life. I wanted to avoid them; I wanted to show them that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way; I wanted them to know what they were doing wasn’t okay; I wanted them to feel guilty. Then my Father pointed me to what I had read that afternoon, and I heard His soft, knowing whisper:

“Tessa… what’s our way? How do we do things in our family?”

Our family is one of grace and forgiveness. No one gets what they deserve– they are given gifts instead. We love people in ways that shouldn’t make sense. That’s what this family does.

It’s what my Father does for me every day. I deserve His wrath, yet I receive His arms.

I have to display loving acts and carry a loving attitude for the difficult people, the oppressors, the hurt-inflictors in my life. I don’t want to; my anger tells me I deserve to be upset and defensive. But I have to love. Because there is one thing I do want to do– I want grow into a way of life where I can look at myself and know: “I get this from my Father. He taught me this.”

I want to look like my Father. To love other people like He loves me.

Love is so counter-intuitive to what I’ve always known and done. I still find myself kicking and screaming about it daily, because it is so much easier to sink into my anger and self-pity than it is to love someone who doesn’t even like me. I’m learning something new, and that means I’m messing up all the time. But knowing that He has already nailed love and extends it lavishly toward me in this process? That makes me get up every day and keep trying.

[Important note I need to make: these verses do not ask us to stay in harmful, abusive relationships. They simply ask us to be kind, peaceful, honorable, and forgiving, no matter how someone treats us. If you are in a harmful relationship, you do not need to stay there, and I beg you not to. Be kind, seek peace, honor the human being, forgive them; you can do all of these things outside of the depths of that relationship.]


World Suicide Prevention Day {2015}: A Recap

September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I needed to engage in it somehow. The theme To Write Love On Her Arms gave for this year was “We’ll See You Tomorrow.” I saw people writing on pieces of paper why tomorrow was an important thing for them, and I decided to do the same. It was so much more interesting than I thought it would be; it made me think about a few of the specifics of how lovely life is and how much exists in it for me. I ended up with six little signs, and took photos of each one to share in some way.

I didn’t think Facebook would be that sharing platform, because I don’t really talk about my experience with sadness much to the people in my life unless they ask me about it or are struggling themselves. Maybe… maybe it’s a fear of mine that the people I love will see me as someone troubled and withered, rather than just seeing Tessa. It’s happened before. And it can wound for a long time.

But on World Suicide Prevention Day, I shared myself anyway.

I shared the photos, and I shared stories that went with them. And I’m glad I did, because I need to learn to talk about it bravely. People need to hear from those who have experienced it. I keep wanting to say here that I don’t currently wrestle with sadness, because I don’t want people to be concerned for me… but what if I was struggling right now? If I was depressed right now, what would your perception of me morph into? Why would what I’m saying be different?

I wish we didn’t have to do this. I wish we didn’t have to change our minds about people we know and love when we hear about their struggles. All of us struggle. The person we love is that same person even when they reveal their brokenness to us. We all have it. So, please, when someone courageously shares with you their most swept-under-the-rug broken pieces… listen. Listen to your friend. Love your friend. Tell them they are your friend. That’s what they need from you. They need your love, not your fear. Your love is what will help them. Walking with them is what will help them. Do nothing less.

“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”    -Brené Brown

I’m going to keep sharing, despite my fear and despite the reactions that suggest to me maybe I should stay quiet. Because so much of shame’s power comes from secrecy. And I am not ashamed of my story, because I love and trust the one penning it.

Here are the photos I posted:

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And here are the stories I shared with them:

  • “A Train Ride to Life.”
  • “Seeing The Dots Connect.”
  • “100 Things to Look Forward To” and “100 More Things to Look Forward To.”
  • “I was talking with a friend, and she was telling me that she never really wanted to have kids until she realized she could change a family forever by being the generation of it that chose love and health. My family is wonderful, I love them so deeply, but there are unhealthy pieces, too. And knowing that I have a chance to heal from those pieces and pass health into my family history… it gives me shivers and makes me feel strong.”
  • Authentic Fiction‘s music.
  • “If there is love in my heart, there are recipients for it. I don’t want to deny anyone the love I have for them, even if they can’t return it. I want to keep giving it out. Because giving without payment is part of kingdom life. I’m already in eternity when I love people.”

May we all find the courage to be who we are: beloved broken people, being tenderly pieced back together.


To Myself at Age Thirteen (Part Two)

[Read Part One first!]

On your birthday, you have the tendency to be sad. It’s weird, isn’t it? I still don’t quite get it. But I know it doesn’t have to be that way. Just remember that ANYTHING can happen– but not everything. Accept and enjoy what comes. You lead a blessed life.

There will be a few people you’ll need to forgive. The good news? You’ll do it! The bad news? It will take years. It’s deeply buried inside you and you won’t even notice it for a long time. But once you do, you will have people that you can go to for advice. Utilize that!

There’s an element of your life that becomes your ENTIRE life, and I cannot wait for you to realize it! I just can’t give any of this away, it’s too perfect! I have no desire to change it. None at all. I’ll say this: camp is going to be amazing this year. You’ll see. Not right away, but when you’re about fifteen you’ll realize what it meant. And the pieces will come together, and your life will actually FEEL like it means something!

In a few years, in the SAME year, two people you love from two areas of your life will let you and a lot of people down. And it will be okay. Your reaction will be perfect; I still cannot believe how strong you were, or understand why. I wish I was still reacting to things that way; I could learn a thing or two from you! Things will mend, especially in one area. I’m excited for you to see that unfold. You will meet some of the best people in your life.

taken December 2009When you get your hair cut in 2011, make sure she knows exactly how short you want it. Or it won’t be pretty. Everyone else will say otherwise, but I still am not so sure!

I’m not sure what to say about this. I don’t know how my life would change if I told you all the details, since I don’t see the entire purpose behind it yet. I guess I will just say that feelings are a gift, but aren’t always telling you the truth. Sometimes you will feel nothing at all but pain, and you will survive. Things will get better. It’s not a dark room, it’s a tunnel, and God is there. He will never leave. You will leave the tunnel together and be in a better place than before, because you will know Him more intimately. It hurts so badly, but it will get better. There is hope. Journal about everything you have inside you everyday, or you’ll get bottled up.

In high school you’ll meet a group of girls that will become a sisterhood for you, and it will be AWESOME. They will love you and you will love them, and you will grow together. They will hold you accountable, they will pray over you as you sob, they will make you belly laugh, and they will simply LOVE you. It’s going to be very hard to feel lonely!

You will be rejected by something you thought would help you live your dreams, and it will affect you quite a bit for a while. But here’s this piece of advice: don’t take it personality, and don’t be bitter about it. You can feel mistreated, or you can feel protected. I promise, Jesus uses it. You’ll come out of it with more confidence than before, and better grasp on what you really want from yourself. He believes in you.

College is not the land of perfection you imagine it to be. It’s overwhelming and stressful and you have to ask a boatload of questions daily. But it’s a good thing, I’m still adjusting; just be ready for the unexpected. You might want to start looking for a job the month before you start. Oh, and have a good attitude about graduating high school. Treasure your years of homeschooling. Believe it or not, you’ll miss it.

You’re allergic to penicillin. I learned that after a week of taking it three times a day. You’re welcome.

When someone asks if you want to watch “The Notebook”, RUN! Actually, just say no. They will respect you, it won’t be embarrassing.

You get to travel! I mean, to a super near-by state, and only for a week (twice, though! at least!), but you’ll still have so much fun! And who knows where else you’ll get to go, I’m just out of high school!

You have a spiritual gift. I promise. And it’s unique, so it’ll take a little time to figure it out. Don’t rely on what you’ll read in that Charisma article.

Your best friend will always live in a house. Tell her that when you can tell she needs it. You will know. But, really, don’t try to comfort her or anyone with words very often. You’ll learn how futile that usually is. Just be there.

I think I’ve covered enough; I’m sure it’s overwhelming and barely makes sense. Just one more thing: there is a lot I COULD tell you, but won’t. Why? Because there are so many wonderful surprises coming your way! And just as many lessons that you need to learn. I cannot steal them from you. You need them. I see that Jesus does the same thing– He likes to give me hints on how to react and tell me the general outcome, but rarely is He very specific. Why? He wants to surprise me, to see my face when He blesses me. And He knows the things I’ll need to learn in order to live better. Trust Him. If you will, I will. Literally.

You are being loved and taken care of!



To Myself at Age Thirteen (Part One)

Dear Tessa,

I am you, at nearly nineteen. I have been thinking of you lately– which means I’ve been remembering what it was like to be thirteen. I know those numbers don’t seem very far apart, but trust me, a lot can happen in just ONE year, let alone six. But, again, I’ve been thinking of you. I know many of the things in your heart and your head right now (but still not all of them; you’re a wonderfully complex person), and from where I am I can see them better. I know that a lot of the seemingly small things will impact you intensely, and that a few of those big things aren’t really that big. But sometimes, they are. Sometimes you will just know. You’re a discerning person, too.

I wanted to write this to you because life has become a lot different than you thought it would. A lot of things you didn’t even dream would come true actually ARE, so be excited about that! Jesus believes in your dreams! But… some things don’t look quite as you imagined. And that’s okay. I just want to make sure you dearly treasure what you have right now.

One thing that you don’t expect right now is who one of your dearest friends is going to be, someone you will have a sweet affection for. I’ll leave it a surprise, but here’s a hint: love your family. I know you have a heart that wants to do great things, but you don’t have to go anywhere for that. You can do it right at home. In a few years, Jesus will say the same thing. Try listening right away. And also remember that a loving relationship with compromise is better than a bitter one with a few “won” arguments. Having the last say in an argument doesn’t even feel good. Love your family.

Don’t believe for a second that you are overweight. I’ve looked at pictures and seen how big of a lie that is!

taken September 2008You’re a daydreamer, and many of your daydreams are sweet and beautiful. But, Tessa– you don’t need them. Enjoy them now, because someday you’ll see what they really are: your way of trying to fill a void. And it won’t work. The best way to romance your husband right now is to give him exclusive rights to being the man of your dreams. You don’t have to imagine one, he’s coming! I say this still not knowing who he is, but let me tell you: boys are pretty pointless until you’re older. Really, it’s true! The boys you’ll be interested in soon are silly compared to the young men you’ll know later. I mean, these young men are still silly, but in a good way. And they’re kind and respectful and more wise than those boys. Set high standards! Oh, one more thing: in about two years, you’ll see an amazingly handsome man and not be able to forget it for a long time. Please listen to me when I say you don’t have to be interested in him just because he’s so much like your mind picture. Just enjoy what comes.

This is going to be a little hard to hear, but… I know you have secrets. I can’t make you stop from where I am now, but I can tell you: it ends. It does. Tessa, you don’t need it. What you feel is normal, but you’re reacting differently than you should. Let go. Someday you’ll be free, with no need for shame. You are pure, Tessa, you don’t need to clean yourself up to be loved. He already loves you, and He’ll tell you very soon.

You should paint and write more. You love it, and you won’t always have a lot of time for it, but right now you do! Go, go, go! Do it while you’re passionate, or it won’t be as good! Especially with songs. I don’t have to tell you to sing all the time; I know you always do. It’s part of you. You have great taste in music, by the way. Here’s a helpful piece of information: your favorite genre is defined as “folksy.” It took forever to realize that!

In a few years, you’ll make a friend. She will become your treasure, but she’ll break your heart, too. But, Tessa, it’s worth it. This girl needs to be loved, and you can do it. I wish I could change what you’ll do to her, but I know I can’t. I wish you could actually hear this letter and I could stop you from making such a mistake. Tessa– she falls deeply into sin. And you will condemn her and try forcing change onto her. It will become your biggest regret, and when she lies to you about nearly everything and moves away and starts following the enemy, you won’t feel that you did all you could; you will feel that you drove her there with your condemnation. You’re going to learn a lot about her struggle and grow a burden for those caught in it, but that’s the only fruit I can see, at least right now. If I knew this letter could change things? I would tell you to make yourself clear, but just once. Don’t tell her over and over, because she’ll already know what you think, and don’t try fixing her. Love her, love her, love her, love her. Please. That’s all you have to do. That’s all you CAN do.

Treasure your karate family. Talk to them more and don’t feel inferior to them, because they really do love you. Focus on them, not your belt color. Black belt will come with time, but the time spent with your friends cannot be made up.

Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but I want to let you know that someday you’ll be free from irrational fears. You will be within two feet of your greatest fear and you will feel nothing, instead Jesus will be using you to fight it! It’s going to be incredible. You don’t have to be afraid. He’s on your side.

Oh, at the Brandon Heath concert (you don’t know who he is yet, but you will!)– stay for the meet-and-greet! Mom will not object, she’s sad we missed it, too! On a related note, concerts are fun. You’ll get to go to one soon!

[The letter was so long that I needed to split it up! Now go read Part Two!]