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?

Thanksgiving Projects

Words, Relationships, & The Little Things (Week 3)

taken November 10, 2013November 10– knitting in church, my Brandon Heath t-shirt, 1 Corinthians 9:12, and sunshine. [Remember to click on any picture to enlarge it!]

I enjoy knitting, especially when the weather gets colder. I get most of my knitting done on Sunday mornings at church; I’m learning that I listen better when I’m not taking notes, for whatever weird reason! Knitting gives me something to do that helps me pay attention. The project I’m working on right now is a scarf for my mom (which I was supposed to finish last Christmas, but…). My Brandon Heath t-shirt is positive thing, first of all, because I simply adore him. Have you seen his Christmas videos?! Haha! But the bigger reason I made it a positive thing is that my college has a strange dress code; it’s hardly strict, but we can’t wear t-shirts with logos on them unless it’s the school logo, so wearing this shirt isn’t normal for me anymore. Plus, a beloved toddler at my church pointed at and sounded out every single letter, then proceeded to ask me what each word said, so that’s a sweet memory now. The verse in the third picture says, “Endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” It was a convicting reminder to not nit-pick others. What if by addressing the little things that bother me, I’m undoing something Jesus was working in them? I can’t do that! And lastly, the sun is a rare thing now, so it was wonderful to see it on Sunday!

take November 11, 2013November 11– colorful pattern, driving, Abriannah, and Mario Party 7 with my family.

I wore mostly neutrals this day, but I had a short dress with tons of colors under my sweater, which brightened my person outwardly and inwardly. Driving… this might be a subject that deserves a post of it’s own someday. But to sum up: the enemy has been plaguing me with fear about driving since I was a little girl. Every time I drive, I am filled with anxiety. Why is it a positive thing, then? Because I did it anyway. “To try to be brave is to be brave.” If the enemy has been putting fear in this situation, it must be an important one, one that he doesn’t want me to succeed in. I am punching him right in the face when I drive, so I will keep doing it! Please take this as my encouragement to pursue the scary things; fear is from the enemy, but love casts out fear, and God is love. (And don’t worry, I took the picture in a parking lot!). The cute face you see next to mine in the third picture is my neighbor Abriannah. She is 13 and super creative, and on this day we planned ahead a little for our vlog. And Mario Party is an addicting game that I love playing with my mom and brother; we shout, we laugh, and I get to spend time with them. I’m trying to be more intentional about spending time with my family, now that I’m in school and all I usually do is finish my homework and sleep.

taken November 12, 2013November 12– washed dishes, playing video games with my family, sparkly nail polish, and Les Miserables music.

Firstly, I apologize if you didn’t want to see my dishes, haha! But they’re clean, right? The picture represents getting things done: homework, dishes, journaling, cleaning, whatever. It’s always a relief to feel like I’ve been efficient at the end of the day. I didn’t realize until now that I have video games with family as a positive thing twice in a row! At least this is a different game? My brother recently bought an extra controller for our Wii, so we played a game with our mom that we can usually only play with two people; hilarious failures ensued. I painted my nails with this nail polish Abriannah gave me for my birthday, and I’m enjoying the sparkles! And I have been listening to the Les Mis soundtrack all week because I’m obsessed. Go listen to One Day More! OR, better, watch the movie! OR– read the book. It cannot be topped. “Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away/ and yet, with you, my world has started/…”

taken November 13, 2013November 13– a random earthworm, short hair, a hilariously bad “comic,” and my pillow.

This was not the best day ever, but as I was walking to a building for my next class with the thought, “What’s the use of this Four Positive Things challenge, really?”, I saw this worm wiggling his way along the sidewalk. I don’t know why it made me smile, but I took this picture of him and was a little more positive for the rest of the day. Only Jesus would ever know that a worm could make my day! I also got my haircut 10 inches shorter, and now my hair is healthier and less annoying to deal with. I told myself I wouldn’t post any more pictures of my sketchbook, but this day’s drawing challenge was “a comic” and this one was too terrible not to put in my positive things! I almost cried because I was laughing so hard at my sad art and unfunny punch line! And, as I mentioned, this was not my favorite day, so my pillow was calling my name and I came running. Sleep is wonderful.

taken November 14, 2013November 14– Les Miserables, 2 Corinthians 1:7, an old journal entry, and Teddy and Derby.

This day was especially hard, so I took all these pictures right before bed; I’m sorry they aren’t very thought-out. My copy of Les Mis represents the concert versions of the musical that I spent all day watching. I cannot get enough of this story, ever! The verse in the second picture says, “Our hope for you is not shaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” This was Jesus talking right to me, saying that He doesn’t think I’m hopeless; He has confidence in my love for Him, and because I hurt I will also be comforted. I wrote the day’s date next to that promise. I’m thankful that I keep a journal, because I can look back on what I went through and see if I’m going through it again, and how I conquered it. And Teddy and Derby are my life-long stuffed animals; Teddy was given to me the day I was born, and I found Derby when I was five. I still sleep with them, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop, my husband is just going to have to deal with them! (Haha!)

taken November 15, 2013November 15– speaking freely, my great-grandpa’s sweater, the freedom of no homework, and being able to listen.

These pictures are all kind of symbolic because I didn’t get to take pictures during the day, sorry about that! The first and last pictures go together to represent my small group. We meet every Friday, and they are always the highlight of my week. I love every single girl, because they’re loving and REAL. We do “rose and thorn,” basically the high and low of our week, around the circle. Being able to listen to what these girls are rejoicing in is encouraging, and hearing them share their struggles is, too, because I love honesty and sharing in those things with them. I also accidentally shared things deep inside my heart as my “thorn” this week, things that a lot of people don’t know how to respond to– and they responded with genuine sympathy and loving prayer. Takes notes, everyone; THAT is how you comfort someone! The sweater is my great-grandpa’s. He died in 2007. When we were helping my great-grandma downsize, we were going through all their things and I found his sweaters. My grandma said I could take what I wanted, so I took this one and the one I have many memories of him wearing; I only wear this one, and rarely, because I don’t ever want to wash it. When I smelled it during school on this day, immediately my heart began to flutter as I remembered him. And the slightly hilarious picture of me in my old fairy wings? I have NO homework over the weekend, so basically I have wings. (And yes, I have a costume box in my closet.)

taken November 16, 2013November 16– time with Abriannah, the wise words of Gandalf, quiet time, and a rainbow.

You know the planning I said me and Abriannah did? We carried it out on this day. We successfully filmed three episodes for our vlog and laughed a lot during the process. An explanation of the picture itself… well, that will have to wait until this week’s episode! I also caught a little bit of “The Fellowship of The Ring,” and something Gandalf said almost felt directed toward me (you can watch the scene here if you want.). Frodo has said, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf’s response? “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are others forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring, in which case you, also, were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” Gandalf’s words said to me, “You are not alone. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There is purpose here; this was supposed to happen, and that means there is goodness here.” Thank you, “Gandalf.” (I know it was you, Jesus!) Journaling/overall quiet time was a nice thing to have near the end of the day, time to ruminate over what I’d heard this week. And the rainbow? Promises.

What kept you positive this week? Let me know if you need prayer about this!