Why You Should Keep a Personal Journal (and some tips for getting started)

I’m bone-tired. Exhausted.

But when I look back over some of the entries I’ve written in my personal journal since the beginning of the year, I see that I’ve been in worse places. I forgot where I was in January/February.

I flip forward in the journal and see an entry from earlier in September…

“Yesterday was our best day this week so far!”

And an entry from a week after that…

“Ethan had another hard day yesterday.”

Sounds like a roller coaster, I know, but that isn’t the point of this post. When I read back through journal entries from earlier this year, I remembered how separated from God I felt in early 2020. I read entries where I wrote about the sin that was in my life at the time that was keeping me from Him. I was overcome with gratitude for the written record I had of my faith journey.

See, I keep a journal. I try my best to write in it daily. I keep notes from formal Bible studies I do at church as well as concepts I study on my own. When I research the original Greek words used in a Bible passage, I write it down. When I read a book of the Bible, I study and make notes on commentary about that book, plus I record my own thoughts from what I’ve read. I write out my prayers a lot, too, like I am writing a letter to God. I also write down my own thoughts on the day in general – things my family has done, current local and world events, things that are bothering me, goals I have, pretty much whatever comes into my head during my writing time.

I believe in the power of writing, can you tell?

You should try it.

If you don’t already keep a daily journal – especially if you are a Christ-follower who wants a deeper relationship with Him – grab a notebook and a pen and start today. No need to worry about grammar or punctuation. You don’t have to be a “writer.” It isn’t too time-consuming. There is so much value in writing down your thoughts, prayers, what you’re studying, and what’s going on in the world.

For example, I had completely forgotten about the spiritual pit I was in back in January/February.

How could I forget about feeling so desolate, you may ask?

Well, Covid-19.

Enough said.

But reading entries from that time was a blessing for me. It reminded me of what God has done for me, how He knew all the pleas scrawled on notebook paper (and heard the ones that never left my heart) and answered me. How He showed me that the separation was my doing. It was my willful disobedience keeping me from Him. How He forgave me when I turned from my sin and how He restored me.

As overwhelming and out of the ordinary as things have been since the spring, I can’t imagine I would have remembered the experience in such vivid detail if I hadn’t been journaling. The lesson may have been lost on me if I didn’t have a record I could reread.

I urge you – start journaling.

Get yourself a cheap spiral-bound notebook from Dollar General or order something fancy and leather-bound from Amazon. Doesn’t matter. Just get something and start writing.

Tips for Journaling

*In the inside cover of your journal, write the date you start writing in it as well as the date of your last entry.

*Date individual entries – you could even include the time of day and your location

*Set a timer – If you’re new to journaling or writing isn’t really your “thing,” start with 5 minutes on the timer. Challenge yourself to free-write – write without stopping, without worrying about how it looks or sounds – until the timer goes off. As you get more comfortable, add more time or stop using the timer altogether.

*Write whatever you want. There are no rules. No right or wrong.

*Don’t go back and reread entries to edit them. This is just about getting your thoughts out. (If the entry becomes something you want to share later on, go back and edit at that time).

*Set aside time to write every day. Make an appointment with yourself and pledge to keep it. Set a reminder on your smartphone if necessary.

*Type your journal entries into Word or Google docs (if you’re more high-tech than me. I like paper and pen). There are even voice recording apps for smartphones that you could use to dictate your entries. (I use the Voice Memo app on my IPhone when I have writer’s block or when I have a thought that I need to get out, but I can’t stop and write at the moment).

*If you get serious and decide you may want to find and post your handwritten entries or reuse them in some way, use 3M sticky labels to mark the topic of your entries, the verse you were studying, the book of the Bible you were reading, etc.

*If you’re keeping the notebooks in your home after you fill them with entries, choose a specific place to keep them – a bookshelf, drawer, or container, and put them in chronological order.

Ok, then. Ready. Set. WRITE!!!

Image Credit – Lifeway

Ok all you fellow writers and journalers out there, let me hear from you. Why do you write? What do you write about? Share your tips on starting and keeping up a writing/journaling habit.

The Important Things I Miss

“Why did you put quotation marks around all your sentences?” I asked Emery.

She and I were editing the misspelled words in a story she’d written for school when I realized that every sentence had direct quotation marks around it.


Whether it contained actual dialogue or not. (And there was no actual dialogue in the story).

“My teacher told me to put them around sentences when someone talks,” she told me. “I talked. I told the whole story.”

(Clearly she doesn’t understand the difference between actual character dialogue and narration).

I was already agitated because of some other run-ins I had with her and her brother earlier in the day while trying to help them do their school work. I saw this as yet another task to accomplish that was standing between me and the end of the day.

So, I furiously erased all the quotation marks and moved on to do something else.

Emery (and Zoe) doing virtual school work.

That moment came back to me a few days later because I was rereading something I wrote in my Bible study notes, and I stopped to make my direct quotation marks look better – they looked like tiny, weird curves suspended above the line on the page.

As I fixed my own punctuation, my memory flashed back to the quotation marks Emery used in her story – the ones I erased with almost enough force to rub holes in the page.

Her marks were PERFECT.

She took great care in making them all. The round part at the top (or bottom depending if they’re open- or close-quotation marks) and the curved tail coming off were perfection. I could tell she put a great deal of effort into making each one with her pencil.

Emery’s perfect direct quotation marks. Obviously, I did not erase them as completely as I thought I had 🙂 But seriously, notice the open-quotation marks and the close-quotation marks look exactly like they’re supposed to look.

But, I didn’t compliment her on them. I didn’t even notice how careful she’d been about forming them correctly when I was in that moment. I was too busy violently erasing them and brushing pink eraser scraps off the paper to fully take in how meticulously she’d made the marks.

Isn’t that what emotion does? Distracts us with irrelevant details and makes us miss what really matters…

I missed a chance to applaud her attention to detail – to point out something she’d done well. I didn’t exactly fuss at her about them, but I was clear about my frustration with having to erase all of them.

Who wouldn’t benefit from a pat on the back?

Who doesn’t need a little extra encouragement, especially during this time of separation and alienation?

We could all use some positivity right now.

I pray I don’t miss that moment the next time around.

“Keep me in the moment; I don’t wanna miss what you have for me.” – Jeremy Camp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFuvAXzBt1E

Why We Should Let Our Children Fail {Sometimes}

I’m that parent. I don’t protect my children from every hardship. Struggling builds character. (Sounds like something my parents probably told me when I was younger. I imagine it infuriated me at the time time, but now I realize they were right…like they were about most of the stuff they told me).

Working through hardships helps children learn life skills such as endurance, perseverance (or stick-to-it-iveness as we call it where I’m from), stamina, and self-regulation. They learn about themselves: their strengths and weaknesses, what they can handle on their own, and when they need to ask for help.

These are all good things kids need to learn through the experience of living life as they figure out something hard or work through a challenge.

Of course, parents should support and encourage, but we don’t need to jump in and fix it or rescue them every time they hit a difficult place.

We can model how to work through the difficulty. We can support and encourage them with our words. We can help them talk through mistakes to figure out where they went wrong. We can assist them in developing strategies or alternatives for avoiding the same mistake in the future.

Ethan doing his schoolwork virtually. He’s sitting on the floor on top of the pillow from Zoe’s kennel and an almost-flat beanbag. He’s trying to type with his Chromebook in his lap. But, whatever works, right? I guess sitting at the table was getting boring.

Here’s a conversation I had with Ethan yesterday:

Me – Well, that assignment took 2 hours. What happened?

E – I had to watch the video over a couple of times.

Me – Why?

E – I watched the video, but I didn’t know what the teacher wanted me to do afterwards. When I went read the assignment and what questions I was supposed to answer, I didn’t know any of the answers from the video, so I had to watch it again.

Me – What could you do differently next time so it doesn’t take that long?

E – Read the whole assignment first, write down the questions I need to answer from the video, take notes while I watch the video?

This is something his dad and I and his teachers have told him about doing assignments where you have to watch videos and answer questions with information from the videos. Many times when he does an assignment like that he doesn’t follow the advice he’s been given, so an assignment that could probably be completed in under an hour consumes more time than it should.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not awesome at this “natural consequences parenting”. Sometimes I panic when I foresee the outcome of one of their decisions. Occasionally, I feel bad when they struggle with a task. I want to offer a bail-out from time to time.

Especially when it comes to this virtual-learning-during-a-pandemic stuff. Recently, I have described our journey in virtual learning as “excruciating,” and I have begged for anybody and everybody to help me alleviate this pain. (Facebook friends may remember my desperate plea just last week when I was looking for suggestions for ways to help him stay focused while he does his school work virtually from home). In particular, virtual learning is a learning experience for me, too, but we keep at it every day.

What I do know is that I can’t rescue either of my kids from all their messes for their entire lives, so I probably shouldn’t get them used to it. Yes, they will need help negotiating lots of situations. Some will require a bail-out from mama or daddy. Other times, it might be best to let them stumble and maybe even fall on their faces (with me within arms reach of course – just in case) so they can figure out how to get themselves up again. Failure can be good for a person 😉

PS. After I wrote this today, I discovered that Ethan had gone through yet another video-watching assignment without following the advice for completing the assignment that I know that he knows (see our conversation above). When I asked him why it took him so long to do the assignment, he grinned at me…

You Gotta Read This Book

I just finished reading The Garden: A Spiritual Fable about Ways to Overcome Fear, Anxiety, and Stress by Jon Gordon, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Seriously. Go to Amazon or your favorite book seller right now, and order your copy. It is worth the $17 list price.

The Garden is for anybody experiencing fear, anxiety or stress or anyone who knows someone dealing with those issues. I would venture a guess to say…that’s pretty much all of us.

Gordon tells the story of the gospel through what he calls a “spiritual fable” – a narrative involving twin high-schoolers Jay and Kay and their neighbor Mr. Erwin.

Mr. Erwin befriends the siblings, and, using the garden he lovingly tends in his backyard, he helps them see how the enemy distracts people with lies and causes them to be fearful, anxious, and stressed. Then, Mr. Erwin reveals to the teens how God has already won the battle for them – all they have to do is avoid the 5 D’s which are the enemies tools for warfare.

I read this book because my son’s Sunday school teacher recommended it for parents of middle school or high school students, and I can see why. Everyone in my family will benefit from a discussion of the 5 D’s.

The copy I read actually belongs to my friend, but I will definitely purchase my own copy to reread and keep as a reference. I may even ask Ethan to read it himself since it reads like a narrative.

This book’s message is so timely because of the high-stress we’re living in right now with many still out of work due to the pandemic and school in an uproar. My son is most certainly experiencing some anxiety over starting middle school this year coupled with the challenges and frustrations of virtual learning. This, in turn is causing me fear, stress, and anxiety! I already feel more calm and confident after having read the book.

Buy it today and crack it open as soon as it arrives in the mail. It can’t come soon enough.