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?


Advice & Reminders for Incoming Collegiates

I recently finished my first year of college after a lifetime of homeschooling. Some might think that because it was a small Bible college and I still lived at home it wasn’t too different, but it definitely was. I’m a little shy, I live 45 minutes away from campus, I wasn’t used to homework, and I was honestly pretty mad at the college for a few experiences I’d had with it before the semester began, so there were a few things I needed to work through; Jesus had to calm me down and remind me to look around me instead of behind me. I finished the year absolutely loving it.

But I’ve realized my circumstances were slightly unique. I was 100% homeschooled, living at home, going to Bible college, and there are not hoards of people who can claim all three. Actually, I’d say by themselves none of them are the norm! Consequently, advice specific enough to fit me was a little hard to come by. That’s why I would love to share some of the things I’ve learned this year with anyone who fits any of the unique circumstances I had! I’m not at all an expert, but I learned some valuable things I wish I’d known beforehand. I’ll separate this into sections so you can look for yourself in it, but I’d say you could probably benefit from bits and pieces of every area even if you fit none of them. Here we go!


  • taken April 14, 2014Check up with the financial aid department at the school before the summer gets rolling. Mine still needed a few papers from me!
  • Used books on Amazon are your friends. The condition doesn’t have to be great as long as it has everything it’s supposed to have. Also, keep a list that includes what you paid. You might be able to get tax credit!
  • Get a daily planner and write in the due dates of all your assignments right when you get your syllabi. This will feel slightly overwhelming and pointless, but I promise, it is so useful! I could overlook my week and figure out when the best time was to tackle an assignment; if I had barely any homework due on Monday but quite a bit on Wednesday, I would know to do some of Wednesday’s over the weekend. It’s such a handy checklist! Keep it in your backpack and write in specific details or changes when your professor brings them up. [I stole this entire idea from my writing professor, shh!]
  • Ask questions and don’t feel dumb about it. Everyone secretly wants to, and in the beginning you honestly have to. No one is going to check up on you or remind you of things anymore, but no one is going to think less of you for trying to understand something, either. Just make sure you don’t do what this guy did, haha!
  • Don’t underestimate the value of making flashcards! I relied heavily on them for my biology class and would not have done as well without them. Little drawings helped my visual brain, too.
  • Try doing as much of your homework as you can on paper. Computers are blessings, but they also make it incredibly easy to get distracted.
  • If you keep getting distracted even while doing your homework on paper, make the things that are distracting you rewards. I like to start the day with a list that alternates homework with something fun. For example: “1) Do the reading for Literature. 2) Watch Sam and Nia‘s latest vlog. 3) Mark observations in the passage for Introductory Bible Study. 4) Paint.”

Bible College Kids:

  • Check to see if your school puts on an early registration event. Not only will you know your classes (and books!) early, but it’s an excellent way to become familiar with a few of your classmates before the school year even begins.
  • Don’t associate annoying or hurtful situations with the school itself. I faced rejection from the creative arts program and from work-study, and it was so discouraging, but I allowed it to make me bitter against the school. You have to remember that the faculty and staff are human beings; the college system itself may not care about you as a person, but your teachers and leaders do. Don’t let feeling like a victim ruin all the good things God has for you there.
  • Be kind and genuine with staff members. It’s awkward to ask for simple information like the open hours of the school store, let alone serious things like the policy for excused absences. But if you have one or two people who work at the school that you actually have some sort of relationship with, it’s a lot easier and more effective. Most Christian colleges want a family atmosphere and don’t scoff at the idea student-faculty friendships, and professors actually want to get to know their students. In my case, one even invited the class to her house for a game night, and it was such a blast!
  • Being at a Christian college does not mean all of your classmates will act like Christians. But in my experience, many of the people who fall under that description won’t come back after Christmas break. However– no matter what, you need to be kind and not look down on anyone.
  • You’re going to learn so many things that will both grow and test you in your walk with Jesus. Just remember what the Bible tells us to do: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). The fact that your professors have PhD’s doesn’t mean they’ll never be mistaken. Be respectful, but hold to what you know is true.
  • Adding to that: be honest. If you disagree with something your professor says and they are a humble person, you can go to them after class and ask for clarification. Bible college professors should be open to questions and discussions, and if you present your perspective kindly and humbly (and with the motive of understanding, not displaying your knowledge) they should happy to listen. Unfortunately, not every professor will be this way, but in my experience phrasing my disagreement as a gentle and genuinely curious question makes a lot of ground.
  • If you’re working on a project you’re deeply passionate about but you’ve reached a standstill, ask for prayer support. The enemy might not like what you’re discovering, and you need to keep discovering it!
  • Make sure you don’t act like you’re an especially wise Christian simply because you’re a Bible college student. Yes, you have things to share and you should share them, but do so with the amount of excitement that you had when you received them. Christians can be incredibly wise, if they have a ministry degree or if they never set foot on a Bible college campus.
  • Set aside time to spend intentionally with Jesus, even if your homework involves Bible reading. It’s just not the same.


  •  If you don’t have your driver’s license, go get it right now. This is not advice, this is a command from the girl who didn’t get it until her second semester of college. You should be able to spend your spare moments doing your homework, investing in people, and sleeping– not practicing your driving. Plus, it’s all kinds of not fun.
  • Photo credit: Taya! [Dear everyone in this photo, I love that I can tell who's who just by our shoes!]If you still need tuition money, start looking for a job before school starts. Work study is great, but there’s not a guarantee that you will get it; I found out two days into the school year that I wasn’t accepted for work study, and suddenly I was looking for a few thousand dollars more than I’d thought I needed.
  • Sometimes, it will feel weird that you’ve made such a life change yet are living in the same place. And that is okay. Just make sure you still intentionally enjoy your family when you can, even if it means being in the room with them as you do homework. Things in your life have changed, but your close relationships with your parents/siblings/whoever don’t have to. Remember that this is a whole new experience for you, but they might not be experiencing feelings of overwhelming change like you are.
  • Go to school events. Yes, gas prices are a thing, but this is one of the best ways to build friendships! Interacting with people in a fun atmosphere is much different than sitting next to them in class. Don’t let your commute be an excuse to succumb to your fears.
  • For some reason, packing lunch is embarrassing. But half the time, people are actually envious of you because they’re stuck with cafeteria food or McDonalds as you eat a homemade meal. Keep packing that lunch, you blessed and money-savvy person!
  • On the topic of lunch, keeping mints in my lunch bag is one of the best ideas I’ve had. Okay, maybe not, but it is pretty handy.
  • There are definitely other commuters who would love to hang out with you during Christmas break/spring break. Go shopping for sweaters on clearance then accidentally wear them to school on the same day, obsess over books, eat at Noodles & Company, watch Frozen! Spending time with friends completely outside of school is so much fun and somehow makes it surreal that you have these people in your life.
  • Keep in contact with friends you already have. Call, write letters, send care packages, hug. They are so, so important!

I hope this was helpful or encouraging in some way! Do you fit any of these categories? Do you have any questions I might be able to answer? Would you add anything to what I’ve said?