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?


A Peek at My Daily Poems

journals on deskI write a free-verse poem every night as a way to express and process, as well as to have some kind of creative discipline. For the past month, my poems have often ended up putting words to what the Holy Spirit is teaching me. I don’t normally consider sharing these little poems because they are such vulnerable, exposed pieces of me. But nearly every day last month, I had a desire to let others read what I had just written. That’s what I’m doing today. I hope you hear something in them like I heard as I wrote them, at least in some measure.

December 22, 2015–
On the bad days,
I hope your remember me.
I hope when you feel your holes, sore and gaping,
You remember I carry healing in my own.
I hope when you are restless from isolation,
You remember I choose you and seek you.
I hope when you host the burden of your questions,
You remember my arms are the answer, period.
I’m sorry you have bad days.
But I hope you remember me when you do.

January 1, 2016–
Not every day will be easy to live;
You’re a human, and humans hurt.
But you also know God.
And God heals.
Not every day will be easy to live;
But He’ll be with you in all of them.

January 6, 2016–
Today was a hard one.
It slowly wrung you out, in the same motion as suffocation;
You struggled to breathe.
I’m so glad you kept trying.
Rest tonight.
And know I am with you for all of it.
I will never leave you to ache alone:
I will do it, too.

January 7, 2016–
Let the happiness bubble out of you.
You don’t have to ask why He gave the gift;
It’s enough to Him that you loved it so much.

January 10, 2016–
We get to share this life with so many,
And I’m wildly in love with that.
But this life belongs to us alone.
You get to decide what we do with it,
And I’ll follow you in love.
And we’ll hope as many as possible still want to share in it.

January 14, 2016–
Sometimes we hold so tight
To our hurts, our ticking bombs,
Because they remind us of what we need.
Sometimes we are so afraid to let go
Of the hopes placed on our burdens,
Because the only part we choose to see is hope.
Sometimes, our fingers must be pried
Off the weights keeping us from life–
Because we are far too loved to be held down.

January 17, 2016–
I am cruel; you are kind.
I pray your thoughts invade my mind.
I am broken; you will heal.
You are here with me and you are real.

January 23, 2016–
You are always growing,
Always becoming.
And I am always in love with you,
Every stage.

January 26, 2016–
It’s in the pieces.
It’s there you can get stuck in the mess–
Or you can find joy in the beauty of

January 27, 2016–
I forgive you.
For this, and this, and this, and this.
Every day I will write these lists on my heart,
Will remember you did what you could.
I cannot stop forgiving you,
Or you will never stop hurting me.
Yes, I forgive you.

January 30, 2016–
The voice of fear is loud and close–
But it is cowardly.
Speak back to it, boldly.
It will run as fast as it wanted you to.

Thanksgiving Projects

Cold Weather, Writing, & My Cat (Week 4)

taken November 17, 2013November 17, 2013– church music, glitter, prayer with Holly, and meeting Landon.

My church’s worship leader (who is also my good friend, AJ) makes diverse choices every Sunday morning, but for some reason this week’s song selection was especially good to me. Thanks, AJ! (And Jesus!) The glitter? It fascinated me for a while as I sprinkled it around my room. I really have no idea why. But this is the best glitter ever, so prismatic! It’s label says “fairy dust,” and that is a completely accurate description. Anyway. . . me and Holly were able to have a quick prayer partner session over the phone, so that was nice. It’s always a good thing to be able to share that, hearing each other’s prayers out loud. And lastly, I go to meet my dear friend, Kayla’s, baby boy! He was born six days prior. He is so perfect, and I am so glad that he is part of this world, and I am so ecstatic for Kayla and her husband! I didn’t take a picture in the moment, but later I took a picture of a memento I kept from the baby shower back in August. Welcome to the world, Landon!

taken November 18, 2013November 18, 2013– my umbrella, a package for a friend, my blanket, and a beloved friend’s birthday.

Abriannah got me an adorable umbrella for my birthday back in October– and it didn’t rain again. Haha! But on this day, it did, and I got to use it! I love the gentle tapping of raindrops on the material of the umbrella. My lovely friend, Delaney, is going to college on the other side of the country, and I miss her, so me and my mom put together this little package for her. It was fun to fill the box with things that reminded me of her, and it was especially fun to hear back from her so soon! Love you, Delaney! My fuzzy blanket. . . because it’s stinking cold here now. And this day was the birthday of my amazing childhood friend, Liz. I don’t know where she is now or how she’s doing, but I love and miss her. I was listening to this song she once recommended to me all day. Liz, if you find this, I miss you and have never stopped praying for and loving you!

taken November 19, 2013November 19, 2013– dancing to elevator music, a candle, a finished essay, and hard thinking.

I had to call a complicated company for complicated reasons, but long story short it was about 45 minutes of one song and 2 minutes of actually talking with someone. But I made the most of it: I danced around the house to that one song! Laughter from that was needed this day, because the rest of it was spent writing a paper that was a hard story to tell; I actually cried writing it at one point. I printed out my final draft around 10 at night, and it felt like I had given birth– painful to get out, but in the end I was so refreshed. And lastly, I found a lot of things that made me think hard. One was an online argument between people with the same beliefs, another was an interview between 2 “Christians” and a blatant non-believer who was closer to the truth than them, another was a completely heartless article with comments worsening it. . . it was just a lot to process and I still haven’t quite yet, but I’m glad that I’m finding things that get me to ask the tough questions. Take this as my encouragement to you: ask those tough questions. Sometimes the truth is hard, but it is always better than walking in lies. Oh, and the candle calmed me down as I wrote, because candles simply have that effect!

taken November 20, 2013November 20– cake, a successful essay, sharing a devotion in class, and my sweet kitty.

The cake itself actually wasn’t very good, but a slightly hilarious memory is associated with it: when the MC at our school chapel dismissed us, he did it by saying, “Now, let us break bread together in the form of cake.” I laughed a lot harder than I should have. The essay I wrote the day before? I received the best grade I’ve gotten on an essay yet. My teacher appreciated my honesty, and she blessed me so much with her praises of my writing. We then talked about the most recent Once Upon a Time episode, haha (which, by the way, was insane)! That morning, it was my turn to share a devotion in one of my classes, so I read an older blog post. It was well-received, and both me and the man who also shared a devotion that morning had points that tied in with the day’s lecture, unbeknownst to us! Everyone was kind of blown away by that “coincidence.” And my cat. I know she’s been a positive thing before, but just look at how she rests on me! There’s something beautiful about the kind of dependency that makes animals feel safe sleeping on you.

taken Nov 21, 2013November 21– my dad’s sweater, organization, late-night drives under the clear sky, and my cat… again.

My dad was looking through our closet (yes, we share a closet) when he found this sweater he hasn’t worn in probably twenty years. He asked me if I wanted it, and of course I said yes. Now I have a grandpa sweater and a dad sweater! Not only are they both warm, but they’re also both from beloved men in my life. The corkboard represents getting organized about my homework (and was a graduation gift from my sweet friend, Carlie!), which is long overdue. My dad drove me to my church for youth group, as he always does; we talk (about anything) or we simply listen to the radio, and I treasure spending that time with him. Plus, the gas station attendant thought we were married, so that was a particularly laughter-filled drive home. “Just because I’m wearing his sweater. . .” And I apologize for putting my cat in here AGAIN. She’s just so cute, and she’s been keeping me warm this week!

taken November 22, 2013November 22– frosty mornings, pumpkin pie ice cream, my cd player, and getting ahead on homework.

It was 22 degrees when I left for school on this morning! The frost was beautiful, though, so I didn’t mind. And don’t ask me why we had ice cream when it was below freezing outside; just marvel at the fact that this flavor is called Pumpkin Pie A la Mode. It’s even better than it sounds, it has little pieces of pie crust in it! I know it might be unusual, but I still have one of these portable cd players. Sometimes I just want to listen to one cd over and over, and when I don’t want to blast my music I can use this cd player with headphones. This week I’ve been using it for my journaling time, and my cd of choice has been Shipwreck Pedro‘s ep. I don’t know if they’re still making music, but their ep is beautiful– folksy, but not in a wanna-be way. It’s gorgeous. And before bed that night, I was able to get ahead on my homework load for the next day, so that was nice.

taken November 23, 2013November 23, 2013– completed homework, Anastasia hair, watching Les Miserables with my mom, and writing to my husband.

The relief of finishing all my homework on Saturday so that I am completely free on Sunday cannot be measured! Making a checklist helps me, I’m learning. Remember last week when I mentioned my haircut? It’s an okay haircut, but the front layers like to flip up almost daily, so I’ve gotten into the habit of just pulling them back into a tiny ponytail. It reminds me of Anastasia and how her hair looked when she first left the orphanage, haha! You also know from last week that I am obsessed with Les Miserables. Well, I found the two movie versions I hadn’t seen on YouTube, and last night me and my mom watched the 1970’s version together. I think they did a fairly good job, it’s in the top two for me! In the photo you see the magnificent Javert that they cast, he looks exactly like my mind picture! And lastly, I wrote a letter to my husband. I have a journal for this exact purpose. I love being able to share things with him in a way, and it helps when I’m not feeling very patient. I recommend keeping a journal of letters if patience in that area is something you wrestle with!

This challenge is actually helping me find the positivity that was already in my life! So. . .  what kept YOU positive this week?