Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bible Study and Prayer Journal: Part 3

Please check back soon for updated, free version of printables!

God's Words:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 4:6-7

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
~James 5:16b

It's time for the last part in the 3-part series of how to make and maintain a Bible Study & Prayer Journal.  Today I will guide you through the unique process I created of how to keep a prayer journal section.  If you missed the first two posts about assembling your very own Bible Study & Prayer Journal binder and the Bible Study section of the Journal, you can find the binder set-up instructions here and the Bible Study section steps here.

Prayer Journal Section

If you followed the directions in the first post, which showed you how to put together the Journal binder, then you should already have half a package of 3-ringed notebook filler paper in your binder behind the Prayer Journal divider, like this:

Now, go find a pen or pencil.  Either will work fine.

Alrighty, here's what you have to do first:

You have to think.

I know, I know.  How could I ask such a thing of you when you just want to get this journal started already?  After all, you've waited 2 long weeks for the final part of this series!

Well, so sorry, but you will first need to get your prayer needs and requests in order in your mind before you write them down on paper.  Believe me, you will save yourself from lots of erasing (or throwing away sheets of some poor dead tree if you used a pen).  So save your eraser (or a tree) by first thinking through what you would like to regularly pray about.  Then, after you get your prayer thoughts in order, you can start writing them down on your Prayer Journal pages in a neat and organized way.

You can start by thinking about who or what you pray for the most.  Maybe it's your family, your personal walk with the Lord, or an issue or problem you are struggling with.  These most-important-to-you prayer needs can be written down on your first Prayer Journal page.  You may choose to have the first several or more pages filled with your high priority requests.

Then the following pages can be filled with other prayer requests that you want to remember to pray for, but that don't always come immediately to mind when you're praying.  And for those that you don't pray for every single day, but want to keep in mind to pray for from time to time. This is just one way of organizing your Prayer Journal.

The whole point of having a prayer journal is so that all your long- and short-term prayer requests are kept in an organized fashion so that they are easier to find, pray about, and keep updated as time goes by.  So you may organize your Pray Journal however you think works best for you.  And you can always change it as needed.  That's the beauty of the filler pages.  Nothing is permanent.  I bought a prayer journal once that was bound like a book, so I would have to actually rip out any pages that I had to change or didn't need anymore.  It didn't look very pretty.  And that bothered me.  Because I like things to look pretty.  So I like my method much better, thank you very much.

If you're not sure how or where to begin, allow me to use my own Prayer Journal as an example. For instance, my first page is designated for my immediate family. My husband is at the very top of the page since he is my #1 priority in this life - after God, of course. Under his name are listed specific long-term things I have committed to praying for him, such as his spiritual health and growth, his physical health, safety, his role as father to our children, his job and career, his ministries, etc. These lifelong requests are followed by short-term or temporary requests, such as a need having to do with his current job situation or an illness.

Directly under my husband's prayer list is a request list for our marriage.  It also starts out with long-term, lifelong requests for the well-being of our sacred relationship, followed by short-term problems or needs we might be facing, such as financial hardship or in-law issues which are affecting our marriage.

At the bottom of that first page I have a long-term prayer list for my children.  The requests I have written down here are ones that I am committed to praying for all of them as they are growing up in our home. Someday this list will look much different when they have moved out, but for now I am asking the Lord to bless and protect all aspects of their health, friendships, purity and education, and for them to grow and develop their talents and skills for God's glory and to serve Him.

This list for my children includes praying for their future as well.  Sometimes we moms get bogged down in the here and now of our children's lives.  But our prayers for their future are just as important as our prayers for their present needs.  For instance, I pray for each of my children to find godly, Christ-serving spouses someday, if it's God's will that they get married (and if not, that they will be content with that).  I also pray that they will always be brightly shining lights leading people to Christ in a dark, lost world.

Now on to my second page!  Here I have listed each of my children separately, with different prayer requests for each of their specific needs at this current time.  This list changes a lot, based on the individual struggles, challenges and phases that each of them is going through.  So I update this page regularly, as needed.

My third page is all me.  Yep.  It takes a whole sheet of paper to cover all my issues.  On this jam-packed page I have listed not only my own personal needs, such as my health and wellness in all areas of my life, but also the requests I have that concern my current roles and responsibilities.  I pray for myself as my children's teacher and mother (both equally daunting tasks that require supernatural help), the manager of our home and family schedule, a helper and supporter to my husband, as well as for the different ministries I am involved in.  This blog is one of those ministries!

Not only all that, but I also pray about my hopes, dreams and goals.  I just have to remember that, as I give these desires to God, they might not be His will for my life and that He has something different (and always for my best) in mind for me.  Which reminds me of a post I wrote last year about when God doesn't seem to answer your prayers the way you think He should.

Yes, my "Me" page is very private as you can probably imagine.  As well as all the needs listed above, I also have written down the personal struggles and weaknesses I need God's strength and grace to deal with.  Of which there are many.  I have also included the different fruit of the Spirit that I need His help with.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  ~ Galatians 5:22-23a

Ok, all of them.

I need help with all of them.

And now you know why my "Me" prayer requests take up an entire page.  You may not have wanted to know, but now you do.  Let's hope your list is shorter, girl.

Now my fourth and fifth pages are filled with the prayer needs of my extended family and for God's blessing and protection in their lives.  Since quite a number of my relatives don't yet seem to have a right relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord, I feel an intense responsibility to pray specifically for them to grow closer to Christ, or have their eyes opened to their need for salvation if they aren't already saved.  For those relatives that already are believers, I pray that they will grow in their faith and be faithful followers and effective witnesses for Christ.

My  sixth page is for our church and church family.  Here I am reminded to pray for the pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, leaders, missionaries, youth groups, classes, Bible studies, and the congregation as a whole.  On this same page I also have listed the different ministries that my family and I are involved in and the prayer needs that go along with each.

Then comes my seventh page on which I have listed the names of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. whom I regularly pray for.  This list is for their long-term needs, such as their need for salvation, healing/relief from a chronic illness, or for our relationship to grow in love and kindness for one another. 

While writing this out, it dawned on me that I don't have a prayer page for our world, country, government leaders, etc. If anything needs more prayer desperately, it's definitely this list!  I will add this page to my journal tomorrow!  And I will probably have it be my 8th page, since it's more of a long-term list.

My last several pages are filled with mostly temporary requests I have committed to pray for. These pages are for short-term prayer needs of friends, relatives, my small group at church, etc. These pages are frequently updated and changed out, since they are usually temporary in nature. And this, my friend, is why I stressed in the first post about why it's so important that your binder dividers have pockets!  I'll explain why below.

NOTE:  If a short-term request ends up turning into a long-term prayer need, such as a friend's medical problem becoming chronic, then I will add this long-term need to my former page where that person's name is listed.

Ok, about the necessity of the Journal's divider pockets.  They are for the purpose of temporarily storing all the prayer requests you pick up throughout the week so that you don't lose them before you have the extra time to write them down in their appropriate spot of your Prayer Journal.

Because if you're like me, you usually forget most of the prayer requests people tell you if don't actually write them down somewhere for you to look at later.  Out of sight, out of this lady's mind, people.  I have a condition known as "Mom Brain" and there are only certain things that remain in my memory or they're lost forever.  It helps me to write things down. But then I have to keep the notes organized or just forget it - literally!

So what I do is keep a small notepad in all the places I typically get prayer requests:  in my purse, by the computer, by the home phone, in my night stand, etc.  This way I'm always ready for when I come across a prayer need, whether it be in person when I'm out and about, over the phone, or through emails and social network sites.

Then, every time I have a new written request, I stick it in my Journal's divider pocket to add in later when I have the time.  I will usually go through my purse's notepad once or twice a week and take out the requests I've accumulated in conversations with people at church, get-togethers with family and friends, etc.

The Prayer Journal divider pockets can also be a handy place to store church bulletins and prayer request lists, as well as newsletters from the missionaries and ministries that you support.  You can either store these papers in the pockets if they include too many requests to write down in your Journal, or save them there for later when you have the extra time to write down any specific requests from them in your Journal.

By the way, I totally forgot to explain in Part 2 why the pockets are useful in the Bible Study Section divider!  Whoops!  Let me do that right now:

Bible Study Journal Divider Pockets

Those divider pockets are the perfect place to store sermon and group Bible study notes for later use.  Have you ever sat through a sermon or group Bible study and felt the desire to do a personal study about something mentioned?  Well then, write it down in your sermon notes or in your purse's notepad and remember to add it to your Bible Study Journal divider pocket for future study.

Another great use of the Bible Study divider pockets is to store notes of any favorite or special verses you want to memorize or meditate on in the future.  For example, sometimes while I'm studying a certain passage of Scripture in my daily devotional time, I come across a verse(s) that I really want to memorize.  I write down the reference to make a note card later for my Scripture Card File, if I don't have time to do it right then.  FYI:  I keep my Scripture Card File in my Bible Basket, so that I have everything I need within reach for times just like this.  But some days I have limited time for my devotions, so I have to write a quick note to remind myself to add the verse(s) to my File later and I stick these notes in my pocket for another day when I have more time.

Sorry about that.

Back to the Prayer Journal:

Now that we have gone through how to organize your prayer requests, we can get down to the fun part - actually writing out the pages!

When I first started my Prayer Journal, I realized I wanted a better way to make note of how prayers were answered.  So I devised this handy (and I'll admit, pretty darn cute) method of differentiating between prayer requests and their answers.

Here is what a sample Prayer Journal page looks like using the technique I created (please note that I have not included any real life names or personal information of anyone I know; this page is to be used as an example only):

So basically, as you can see from this example page, any prayer request main topic is listed with a "heart" in front of it.  And any additional prayer needs associated with that main topic are written below with "squiggly lines", technically known as the "tilde" symbol.  Why did I not just use dashes or bullet points?  It's simple, really. They're just not as pretty.  And like I mentioned before, I like things to be pretty.  You can go ahead and use any symbol you want, but I like the squigglies.

What are the cross symbols used for then?  If you didn't already figure it out, they are to notate how prayers are answered.  Whenever we pray, we pray in Jesus' name and for His sake, so the cross symbol seemed to be the perfect symbol to use for answered prayer.  Plus, it's easy to draw.  So are hearts and squiggly lines.

Are you ready to start writing your very own Prayer Journal?

I'm so excited for you to start being more organized and purposeful in your prayer life!  I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome it feels to draw those crosses as I see God working in my life and the lives of those I care about.  That is the best part of prayer journaling. It's why we pray in the first place, isn't it?  To have our hearts and lives changed and renewed by the gracious and mighty hand of God.  To give Him the praise and thanksgiving He is worthy of and for His loving care of us.  And to increase our trust and faith in Him and His good purposes for our lives.

Looking back in your Prayer Journal and seeing all the crosses you have added under all the hearts is an effective faith-builder.  Keeping a record of God's faithfulness and loving work in your life is a great way to grow in your faith walk and trust in Him, especially during those difficult times of life when it seems He's not listening to or answering our prayers.  Or answering as quickly as we think He should.

I hope and pray you will enjoy keeping your own Prayer Journal and that it will draw you closer to your Lord, and also to the many people you will commit to pray for!  God bless you, my friend, as you spend more time communicating with our great and mighty Lord who hears and answers prayer!

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;

~Psalm 17:6a

They were helped in fighting them, and God delivered the Hagrites and all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle.  He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.
~1 Chronicles 5:20 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bible Study and Prayer Journal: Part 2

Please check back soon for updated, free version of printables!

God's Words:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
~2 Timothy 3:16-17

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law...Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path...Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
~Psalm 119:18, 105, 133

Welcome back for Part 2 of how to put together and maintain your very own Bible Study & Prayer Journal!  I am very excited to share these next steps with you.

In Part 1 we left off at assembling the Bible Study Section of your Journal binder.  So go grab the binder you started and let's get back to work!

Bible Study Section

After doing a little research on the best questions to ask oneself when studying the Bible, I put together this list of 4 questions and an ending application prayer.  Each of these 4 Bible Study questions alone will help you delve deeper into the meaning of the passage of Scripture you are reading. But when used altogether, the questions will give you a much broader, deeper, and more lasting view of what you are studying.

For example, have you ever rushed through your Bible reading time just to get it "checked-off" your to-do list, only to end up forgetting what you read later that same day? That's no good, is it?  Whenever I do that, I feel like I might as well not have even read the Word that day if I'm not going to take the extra time and effort to specifically apply it to myself and my life.  At times like this I feel just like the vain, albeit remarkably amnesic dude that James writes about:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."  ~James 1:22-24

Nope.  That's no good at all.

Instead I want to be more like the blessed dude:

"But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does."  ~ James 1:25

Just as the two key Bible passages of this post describe, I truly do desire to have God's Word sink deeply into my heart and mind so that I can be blessed by it, meditate on, and allow it to light my life's path and guide me in God's way.  And I want to know my Lord and Savior better and find new reasons to fall more deeply in love with Him!

How about you?

Well, these 4 Bible Study questions and application prayer will help you do just exactly that!  I have been amazed at how the simple but profound questions have caused me to find new things in Bible passages that I've already read countless times before.

You see, they will help you look at Scripture in a whole new way.  And you will discover new hidden treasures in each Bible passage you read that you never even knew were there!

I just love how God uses His Word to touch me each new time I read a verse or passage; sometimes in a very different way than the previous time I read the same exact passage! Isn't God so amazing that way?

These study questions will also help you make a very personal application to your own life.  You will find that you'll actually remember what you learned in your reading so that you can continue to apply it in your daily walk.

And always make sure you end your Bible study time with an application prayer. That's when you ask the Lord to give you the grace and strength you need to remember and obey all that He has shown you in His Word that day.

Please keep in mind that actually writing down your prayer is optional, of course.  Some people find this step very meaningful and enjoy looking back at prayers they wrote to God.

Now If I wrote down every word of my Bible study application prayers to God, I would need more than 5 lines.  Just sayin'.  I'm wordy.  God knows this and still loves me.  But my writing hand is cramping up right now at just the thought of penning all my prayers.  Once in a great while I do, but only if I feel like it.

Therefore, you don't have to feel like you must write down your application prayer if you don't want to either.  I just included that in the Bible Study Journal Page as a reminder to definitely pray after your Bible study time because this is a very important part of the power of taking in God's Word.

I will admit that more often than not, my application prayer includes a confession of sinful choices I have made that He shows me through His Word that He wants me to stop - and stop it now.

This is the really hard part of Bible study...  It can be a rather painful business to read words of God that totally convict you.  Then there is just no longer any way you can continue to deny or ignore what God desires and commands for your life as His child.



But it's a good pain.  God wants you to get that sin out of your life, for your own good.  And also for the sake of your witness for Christ. Just as it says in Hebrews 12:10b-11:

"But God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Whew.  That was deep!  Now back to your binder!

Please feel free to use the Bible Study Journal Page document I have already put together, which includes the 4 questions and application prayer. Just as with any document, you can either download it as a PDF to print out or download to your computer's word processor software and revise as desired. If you need further instructions, please find them in Part 1.  Here is my version:

There are actually 2 main ways you can use this Bible Study Journal Page:

1. You can print as many copies as you want and use them as your Bible study journal pages on which you will directly write your answers. There is writing space provided after each question and space at the bottom for a written prayer (always optional). The pages will just need to be 3-hole punched so that you can put them in your Journal binder.  This method is a much more costly way to keep your Bible Study Journal, since you will be using up lots of printer paper and ink. The cheaper method detailed below is what I prefer to use.  Now don't forget, I married a Dutch man.  That statement alone should be enough.  However, if you weren't already aware, Dutch people (and their married counterparts) just love to scrimp, save, pinch, and anything else we can do to our pennies to keep as many of them as possible to ourselves.

2. The Dutch Method:  Print just one copy of the Bible Study Journal Page (once again, card stock paper works best because it's sturdier) and insert it backwards into a 3-ring top-loading clear poly page protector, as shown below:

Whoa.  Wait.  What?!  Why on earth do you insert it backwards, you ask?

Good question!

For this method, the Bible Study Journal Page in the page protector will be your daily guide as you write your answers to the questions on the filler paper. It's simple really (although it didn't occur to me for at least a month of using this method that it made way more sense to put it in the binder this way).

As seen in the photo above, the Bible Study Journal Page should be inserted into the page protector backwards so that you can see the questions on the left side of your binder as you write on the filler paper, which is always on the right side of the binder. Make sense?  If not, I completely understand.  You'll get it sooner or later.  I did.  So there's hope for anyone.

Okay, now that we have all that figured out (or not), let's move on.

So each new day when you begin your Bible study time, you will flip in your Journal binder to where the page protector currently is.  It should be on the left side of your last Bible study Journal entry.

Take the page protector out of its current spot...

Move it past your last Journal entry and insert it to the left of a fresh new page of the filler paper as shown here:

Now begin by writing the day's date and the Bible verse or passage you will be reading that day at the top of the next blank page of filler paper.  Then go through all the questions as you read the verse(s), writing down your answers and application prayer (remember - optional!).

Well, that's it for the Bible Study Journal section!  I hope and pray that you find your Journal to be a huge blessing in your life, as I've experienced with mine.

Keep a look-out for the third and final part of this series where I will share the steps I've created to make your very own Prayer Journal section of your binder. I hope to have it completed by later this week or early next week!

Until then, enjoy digging deeper into the Word of God!  I am praying for you to grow much closer to the Lord each new day through your new Bible Study Journal.  And that He will open your eyes to see the wonderful things in His Word that He wants you to know. Wonderful life-changing truths about Him, about His promises, about who you are in Christ, and about His will for your life.  Truths that will train you in righteousness so that you will be "thoroughly equipped for every good work".  Amen.  God bless you, sister!

UPDATE:  I totally forgot to explain in this Part of the series why the pockets are useful in the Bible Study Section divider!  Whoops!  Find those instructions in Part 3.  Just scroll about two-thirds of the way down the page until you get to the bold, underlined heading titled "Bible Study Journal Divider Pockets"

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bible Study and Prayer Journal: Part 1

Please check back soon for updated, free version of printables!

God's Words:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
~2 Timothy 3:16-17

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law...Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path...Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
~Psalm 119:18, 105, 133

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 4:6-7

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
~James 5:16b

Do you ever struggle with maintaining regular personal Bible study and prayer time? Do you feel the need to get more organized with your devotional time, so that you'll be motivated to actually do it? Instead of getting overwhelmed at the thought of studying the Bible and procrastinating it until the next day (or days later)?

And do you often tell people you'll pray for them, thinking you'll never forget the fervent prayer request they so passionately shared with you? Only to end up completely forgetting to pray for them. At all. Not even once.


As you can probably tell, I have plenty of experience here, folks.

So I don't know about you, but I tend to need some major help in these two areas of the Christian life. Ashamed to admit it, but it's nonetheless true.

And I knew I had to do something about it. Something that would be really, truly effective in getting me more in the Word and prayer.

Therefore, in my rather desperate effort to become more organized (and therefore that much more motivated) with my Bible and prayer time, I put together a Bible Study & Prayer Journal.

It's pretty, is it not?

And it perfectly matches my Bible Basket and Scripture Card File, as seen here in this photo.

I chose a blue, green, and white color scheme, which coordinates with the majority of my home's living area decor.

Now because I love my Bible Study & Prayer Journal so much, especially for how it has significantly helped me spend more meaningful time with the Lord, I thought I should share it with my readers to help you become more organized with your devotional time, too.

So if you would like to put together your very own Bible Study & Prayer Journal, here is what you'll need:

  • 1" or wider 3-ring binder with clear display pockets in the front cover and spine
  • 2 sheets of 8-1/2" x 11" printer paper (card stock works the best; take my word for it - you will thank me later)
  • 2 - 3-ring tabbed dividers with pockets (pockets are very important - I'll explain later)
  • 1 package 8-1/2" x 11" 3-hole punched filler paper
  • 1 - 3-ring top-loading clear poly page protector (optional)
  • 1 sheet of 8-1/2" x 11" scrapbook paper (optional)

I chose tabbed dividers that match my green and blue color scheme. It's the little things that make a girl happy.

Now for the very important steps, including a few delightfully helpful photos, to show you how you can make and maintain your own Bible Study & Prayer Journal.

Designing your Journal Binder Cover and Display Accessories:

First, you'll need to use one of the sheets of printer or card stock paper to make your Journal binder cover, which you will insert into the clear front display pocket of the binder.

You can make your binder display cover and tab inserts however you'd like.  Anything goes, really.  Go all out, girl!  Use whatever suits your fancy to make your Journal binder as appealing as you want it to be.  Coordinating scrapbook paper, ribbon, stickers, gel pens, feathers, die cuts, glitter. The possibilities are endless.

An earth-friendly, minimalist style works just as well.  Hand-write the cover with the blotchy ink pen and piece of scrap paper you find in your kitchen odds n' ends drawer.  Hey, this way you save money and a tree.  This style is a win-win.

But seriously, design your cover and accessories any way you like.  This is your Journal. And the best part of it is that you can always change out your design whenever the whim strikes. Then off to Hobby Lobby you go!

However, if you prefer a more simple approach and would rather use the binder cover and accessories that I have already created, or even revise it to your own liking, please feel free to download the document below.  It includes four separate parts that can be cut out for use in your Journal binder:

  • A front cover title (which you can glue onto your 8-1/2" x 11" piece of coordinating scrapbook paper - as shown on my binder - and insert that prettiness into the binder's front display pocket).
  • A title for the binder's spine display pocket.
  • A "Bible Study" tab label to insert into your Bible Study divider.
  • A "Prayer Journal" tab label to insert into your Prayer Journal divider.
Like I mentioned, there are 2 ways you can use this document:
  1. When you click "Download" directly below the document, it will automatically download as a PDF, which you can then print.
  2. To use as a template to create your own personalized Journal binder cover and tab inserts, you will need to have Microsoft Word (or another similar word processor software).  Then click on "Scribd." below the document, which will take you to the website.  Next, click "Download" at the top of the web page, which will open a window that gives you the choice of how to download it.  Select the option "DOCX" and it will download to your word processor software.  You should then be able to "Enable Editing", which will allow you to revise the template however you want.

Here is a close-up of my binder's spine:

It takes a little careful pushing to get the paper inserted all the way into the spine's display pocket. Which is the #1 reason why I strongly advise using card stock paper as opposed to regular thin printer paper.  Printer paper will wrinkle up as you're trying to insert it into the display pockets and divider tab pockets.  You will most likely end up frustrated, grumpy, and with wrinkly inserts. Now who wants that?  Take it from me - just use card stock paper and make your life that much easier.

Now that you've got the outside of your Journal all nice and pretty, it's time to start working on the inside.

First, put your two 3-ring tabbed dividers with pockets into your binder.

Next, put in half the filler paper into the binder after each divider, so that you have two sections - one for your Bible Study Journal and one for your Prayer Journal.  No photo for this step since it should be a no-brainer.  You should be fine without a photo.  If not, you've got bigger fish to fry, my friend.

Now, insert the cut-out tab labels into the tab inserts, as shown here.  It doesn't matter which order you put them in.

I typically start my quiet time with Bible study and follow up with prayer, so that's why I personally have chosen to have my Bible Study section first in my binder. You can have your sections however you want; whatever suits your needs and personal routine best.

Since my Bible Study section comes first in my own binder, I will share the steps for this part of the Journal first.  But you will have to wait until my next post for those instructions!  I plan to post Part 2 later this week.

In the meantime, girl, go find all the supplies you need and get started putting your Journal together!  Target, here you come!  They have some super cute office supplies right now.  No, they are not paying me to give them a sales plug.  In my dreams!

Until then, I am praying for you as you take these steps to spend more meaningful time with the Lord.  God loves a seeking, obedient heart and He will bless you abundantly with the priceless treasures found in His Word!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Loving Care of Our Father God

God's Words:

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.
~Psalm 27:10

This verse popped out at me in a big way this morning during my devotions.  See it circled in pen at the bottom? You are probably thinking right now to yourself, "Wow, she is highlighter happy".  Why yes, yes I am and happy to admit it!  I love me some God's Word!  By the time I'm 95 and about ready to crawl (or be carried by a very strong hospice nurse) into my death bed, I will probably have highlighted every verse in my much-adored Bible.

Anyway, as I read this verse this morning, it struck me that many children are forsaken by their parents, in many different ways; whether done on purpose or not.

There are foster children whose parents aren't capable for whatever reason of taking proper care of them.  Maybe these parents have been abused and are carrying on the horrible cycle of abuse to the next generation.  Maybe they are in the bondage of addiction, trying to numb their own personal pain, leaving them unable to give their children the loving care and attention each child desperately needs.

Then, of course, there are the children in abusive or negligent homes who haven't been rescued yet.  My heart aches so painfully for them and I wish I could save them all.  My own mother and her siblings were children just like this. They were never rescued from their extremely mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically sick, abusive father...until the day he drank himself to death when they were all grown-up or nearly grown-up. And even now, many years later, they are each still carrying the wounds and bearing the scars of how they were hurt by the hands and mouth of their own father.

Yet, God always has a plan of healing and restoration for these hurting souls; they have only to reach out to the Savior Jesus Christ and find his supernatural healing from all their pain, shame, and bitterness.  And in Him they will also find forgiveness - not only for themselves, but also the ability to forgive those who hurt them.

My own mother is one of these abused children who has found complete healing through Christ's power in her life.  Her story is one I am thrilled to tell others about because of the amazing work of a loving Heavenly Father who has worked so mightily and mercifully in her life...because of how much He loves her and wants to help her heal and find all that she needs to recover and be whole - in Him.

She is actually in the process of publishing her life story of abuse and restoration.  I read it. Cried sad and happy tears.  And was newly amazed at God's loving and gracious healing in her life.  I promise to share it on my blog once it is ready to be put up for sale!

In addition, this verse ultimately makes me think of all the millions and millions of aborted children in the history of the world.  Yes, there has always been abortion, you know; just not always a "legal right" where there are actual massively-funded centers in which a woman can "safely" have her child dismembered, sucked, and many other despicably-cruel-and-taboo-to-mention-methods of removal.

These precious, innocent lives may be forsaken by their very own parents whom they were given to by God to care for, love, and cherish for all their life long.  After all, this is an imperfect world with imperfect people suffering from many forms and degrees of pain and sin.

But all of these beloved of God are NOT forsaken by their Heavenly Father. He WILL receive them, somehow, someway.  It's a promise.  Right there in His Word.

I think of all the aborted babies being excitedly welcomed into heaven by their Heavenly Father and His angels when their earthly parents haven't chosen to keep them, for whatever reason.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
Psalm 68:5

As the wife of a pregnancy resource center director, I am more aware than the average person of the fact that many girls and women who end up choosing abortion have felt forced to do so. Some have no support from their family and friends, either financially or emotionally.  Some have boyfriends or husbands or parents who order them to kill their child.  Many others are ashamed to be pregnant in the first place and are desperate to hide their secret from the world. Or feel like their future will be ruined if they bring the baby to term, regardless of whether they choose to raise it themselves or give it up for adoption.

Unless one has been in the situation of an unwanted pregnancy, I dare say it is difficult to truly understand the excruciating thought and decision processes that these women (and their partners) go through before they make that final decision to keep, give up, or abort their child. And my heart goes out to each of them, because I don't think anyone really desires to be in that situation. 

Then I think of the many amazing people who have followed God's call to be foster parents. Oh, the selfless, self-sacrificing work they do, day in and day out, and throughout each night of caring for hurting little ones!  The stories I have heard firsthand from my fostering friends have made me cry, both in sadness and happiness.  Foster parents are my heros (along with single parents). These specially-gifted people amaze me.  I am constantly in awe of their sacrificial love for needy children.  God comes to the aid of these children by providing temporary (and oftentimes long-term) caretakers:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress...
~James 1:27

Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
~Job 29:11-12

And I think of the numerous people who have followed the Lord's call to rescue orphans by becoming adoptive parents.  Now THOSE children are the especially "wanted" ones!  They are specifically chosen to become one's son or daughter!  Wow.  The gift of adoption is like none other and blows my mind whenever I really think about it.  God reaches out to these parentless children - in the form of new parents who want so much to have them be their very own children.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
~John 14:18

...for in You the fatherless find compassion...
~Hosea 14:3e

God sets the lonely in families...
~Psalm 68:6a

So the comfort we find in today's key verse is this:  Whenever a child is forsaken for whatever reason, God has promised, and always follows through, to receive them in one way or another.  He promises to provide for their needs, somehow, someway.  He offers them complete healing through the power of His compassionate love, His Spirit, and the saving, forgiving work of His Son which enables them to be set free and whole from the hurt of their past.  And He promises to love and take care of them, when they are unloved by seemingly everyone else. Even if that means joyfully welcoming them into heaven before they take their first breath on earth.

Have your ever suffered in some way by being forsaken by your parent(s)?  Or do you know of someone who has or is enduring this pain?  How have you, or they, been received by God?

Or perhaps you feel the call to help children such as this?  How do you feel God specifically calling you to reach out to them and be His arms and feet of love and care and protection for them?

Please share your thoughts and stories in the Comments section below! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Very First Guest Post at Hip Homeschool Moms!

God's Words:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

~Ephesians 3:20-21

I'm still on Cloud 9 about the fact that the awesome ladies at selected my post about Thanksgiving for their guest post today!  This is a big, huge deal for a newbie writer like me, who will now be reaching hundreds and thousands of readers through this very cool website with the Word of God and the lesson He has taught me and my children about being thankful.

When I started writing this post two years ago, the very last thing from my wildest imagination was that God would give me the opportunity to have it shared like this and I AM PUMPED about it, to put it very mildly. The post is titled "Overflowing Thankfulness" and can be read at the HHM website here.

If you are a homeschool mom or considering homeschool someday, the Hip Homeschool Moms website is a really fun and incredibly helpful online community where you will find lots of up-to-date information on education, curriculum ideas, recipes and fun family activities and a whole lot more!  And, by the way, they didn't even ask for me to give them a plug, ha ha!  I am just genuinely enthusiastic about their awesome online resources that have already been so helpful to me as a homeschool teacher and mother.

So it's a dream come true to be included on their website.  Only God can work out things like that!  Just like the key verse states, I never imagined this would happen to me at such an early point in my writing career.  Isn't He amazing?

Hip Homeschool Moms also has a facebook page where they post even more helpful tips and ideas, plus post questions from moms like us who desperately need advice that really works from fellow homeschool teachers.  So it's remarkable to me how many encouraging moms comment back on each question, and the wonderful advice I have gleaned so far from these amazingly selfless women from all over the globe.

I hope you enjoy my article on the three effective ways I have found to teach my children (and myself) how to be more thankful throughout the year; not just during the month of November. Enjoy and God bless you and your precious family!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Smelling Armpits & Other Fun Things I Do as a Mom

God's Words:

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
~Proverbs 31:27

"Where has Suzy been?", you may have been asking yourself of late. No posts in over 2 months?!?  Did she drop off the face of the earth or something?  Or... perhaps, she is just a busy mother.

Yeah, that's what happened.  I'm a mom.  That one noun (actually a predicate nominative in this sentence - sorry, that's the grammar-loving teacher in me) has so many different dimensions and meanings to it.  If you are a mother yourself, then you know just what I mean.  You also wear all the many varied hats that mothers are required to wear.  And you too try your best to remember to wear the right hat at the right time on the right day.  Wait...what day is it today...? I think it's towards the end of the week because I'm really starting to tire out and Sunday's looking pret-ty good about now.

Well, anyway, I'll tell you exactly where I've been and what I've been up to since the last wondrously laid-back, sunkissed days of summer (but you had better sit down, this might wear you out, too):

I have been busy teaching my children in our homeschool, which is a huge time commitment.  We typically spend 3-4 hours each weekday morning learning together about God's amazing world. If you caught the phrase "learning together", well that's because I am learning and relearning so many things along with my kids.  I can't tell you how many times I've said to them when we're going through a lesson, "Why didn't I learn that in school?!" (feeling kind of mad at my teachers because they left out some pretty cool stuff).  Or, "Ugh.  I don't remember how to do this/what this means... Hmmm, let's ask Dad and see if he remembers!"  I think my husband knows a lot about pretty much everything, so he usually does have an answer to most of our questions.  He could be on Jeopardy and win so much mulah we would be able to retire.   He's a smarty pants, for sure. And he is the principal of our homeschool, after all.  Ha ha, I love saying that.  But, if all else fails and not even Dad can help out with a schoolwork problem, then we always have the world wide web at our fingertips!

In addition, several days a week you will find me bustling about town, taking my well-rounded children to their co-op classes, sports activities, piano lessons, youth group, church clubs, and play dates (or "hang outs" as my teen and tween call it.  No more "play dates" for them!). Whoever said homeschoolers aren't "socialized" needs to spend a week in the life of my family! We socialize a bit too much for our own good and need to constantly work at staying focused on our school and house work!

Then there's my husband's job as executive director for a local non-profit ministry.  I have a vital responsibility to support him and the ministry by accompanying him to fundraisers, meetings, and other ministry events.  Not to mention lots of volunteer work on the sidelines and behind the scenes, such as editing, helping with events, manning information booths, and much more, including being the director's sounding board for new ideas and tough decisions.  My "job" as his wife is so important, that we were actually interviewed together for his last interview for the job! The board of directors knew that the executive director's position requires a very supportive and available spouse.

On top of all that, I also spend countless hours each week preparing music for and leading worship for my church's women's Bible study group, as well as rehearsing and singing in my church choir and praise team.  This volunteer work is my most favorite thing to do in the whole wide world.  I love every second of using my musical gifts and skills to bring worship to my Lord and helping others do the same.

But then there are the housewifey duties I also must attend to each and every day of each and every week of each and every month of each and every year. Did you catch the gist of my feelings for this part of my life?  Yeah.  Ugh.  Major ugh.  I sure do wish I could spend all my time doing the things I love to do and hire someone else to do the yucky jobs.  A girl can dream, can't she?

I really don't even know where I find the time during the busy school year to clean my house and do laundry, let alone have any time left for my other duties that probably should get done.  You know, like meal planning instead of pulling meat out of the freezer and making "chicken surprise" for dinner. It's always a surprise for Mom, too.  It's fun that way.  Or how about putting together a grocery list before I get to the store, instead of trying to remember what we need as I go down the aisles.  Oh yeah, that might help with the meal planning too, wouldn't it?

So, needless to say, that might be why I haven't posted anything lately.  I have many a mom friend, who just like me has attempted to keep up a blog, but eventually falls off the writing wagon simply because we don't have the time right now in our busy phase of young motherhood, not to mention the extra brain power, to devote to writing.

But I have lots of ideas that come to me all the time and I'm lucky if I make a note of it to keep for later.  I find random blog idea notes all over the place.  In my purse.  In my iPhone notes. Stuck within the pages of my Bible.  In my desk drawer.  You know, one of these days I should probably collect them and put them in one local designated spot.  But that would take time and don't get me started...

Yet, I imagine that some glorious day in the seemingly far off future, I will have plenty of free time to do nothing else but just sit at my desk with a steaming cup of coffee and write the hours away.  Like I said, a girl can dream, can't she?

But back to the main point of my post today.  That is, if I can remember what is was, darn mom brain.  What was it, anyway?

Ok, let's see...  We young moms are busy.  I, for one, am so literally, overwhelmingly busy most hours of the day that I sometimes don't know whether I'm coming or going.  Can you relate?

I feel like my day is one big blur of busyness from the moment I drag my sorry, very sorry-and-already-missing-my-warm-covers-body out of bed to the moment I finally convince all three of my children to please stay in bed for the remainder of the night.  Or at least just stay quietly in your bedroom and do not come out again or you had better have a good excuse that has something to do with blood or puke or fire or a fever or a broken limb.  And if you have a broken limb, then may I ask what the hey were you doing in your room?!

Except for those few and far between times a year when I don't have all three of my children with me for longer than a couple hours.  And those are ironically the times that I don't know what to do with myself...

There's no one to make a meal or snack for that they've been begging me about for the last entire hour, even though it seems like I just got done cleaning up the kitchen from their last meal.

No one to present me with the challenge to stay focused and keep my cool when they interrupt me, even though I'm obviously busy doing something that shouldn't be interrupted.  Like, can I please take a shower in peace, with the door shut, and not have to shout through the door to answer you about why your sister touched your pillow with her "gross feet" and what I'm supposed to do about it?!

No one to clean up after or to yell at them for the hundredth time to pick up your ding dang underwear from behind the bathroom door!

No one to remind to brush their teeth for longer than 5 seconds.  By the way, that very well might explain their bad breath.

And no armpits to smell to find out for myself where the vileness is coming from.  And speaking of which, no one to demand to take a!  And then wonder to myself how many days has it been since that child last bathed?  Can they not smell their own filth?  Do I have to be the one to bring it to their attention?  I mean, I realize my nose is more sensitive than the average person's, but seriously?  You cannot smell the bodily stench coming from your own pits, which are a mere 7-8 inches away from your very own nose?!!  You are somehow incapable of bending your head down either to the right or left and sniff once?  Really?  I have to do it?

Oh, the debasing things we moms do for our kids...  Not to mention smelling hands to make sure they have been sufficiently washed after going #2.  You know what?  On second thought, I don't even want to talk about poop right now... Let's save poop for another time, shall we?

So yeah, I'm busy.  I'm sure you can relate if you are a mom with kids still living at home. Whether you are a working mom, stay-at-home mom, single mom (by the way, go you!  Single moms are my personal heroes!), homeschool mom, foster mom, mom of preschoolers, and the list of amazing mother roles could go on and on.  Regardless of the specifics of your calling as a mother, you are probably as busy, if not busier, than I am.  And I'm here to tell you that I feel your pain and fatigue.  The "mom guilt" and trap of comparisons to other moms that seem to have it all together.  I understand your struggles and frustrations with trying to do it all, and do it all well.

And that is precisely why the key verse for today cracks.Me.Up.  Sometimes I think, no I know, God has a sense of humor.  I wonder if He included that very verse in this chapter of Proverbs just for the sole purpose of giving me a good 'ole laugh whenever I read it.  Especially if you read the entire passage of Proverbs 31:10-31, titled "The Wife of Noble Character", which goes as follows:

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The word "idle" basically means choosing to be lazy.  Yet, were you as amazed as I am each time I read about all the many industrious things that lady got done?!  It's crazy how busy she was! Puts me to shame, that's for darn sure.  What about you?  I think we can all agree here that she wins as Supermom, hands down.  Let her have it.  We can all read for ourselves that she has won that award for all time.

Of course this extraordinary lady was never idle!  She already had way too much going on in her crazy-busy life to have any time to be lazy!  Once you list it all out, like the writer of Proverbs did for us, it doesn't seem possible that any one human being would be able to do all that.

There is no way this godly woman, or any other wife or mother trying her best to please God, really is able to be idle very often.  We are all too busy taking care of our families, homes, jobs, and volunteer work to have much "free time" to be lazy with!  Are you with me here?

Now, of course this phenomenal woman was a human like the rest of us and therefore did not do everything perfectly.  But what stands out to me is her attitude and her desire to serve and please God by serving and taking care of her family, household, and even the needy people in her life.  It's obvious that she tried her best at all she did.  And I know that is why she was included in God's Word.

And this is exactly what God is calling each of us women to do, whether we are mothers yet or not, and whether we are married or not.  He wants us to carry out all the duties we have on our overflowing plates, and wear all the hats we have been given (or chosen) to wear, to the very best of our ability. With a positive attitude.  And a joyful heart.  And with the sole desire to obey and please Him in all we do, for His sake, the sake of our family, and even our own sake.

"Happy wife, happy life" as the saying goes.  Well, guess what?  Every wife (and woman) chooses her attitude.  It's not all up to how her family and other people in her life treat her.  We can choose to be happy in our overwhelming busyness.  Allowing the Holy Spirit's work in our hearts, we can choose to do all our duties with a positive attitude, even though we may absolutely hate the duty itself.  Raise your hand if you enjoy cleaning toilets or vomit from the carpet!  What?! No one??  Ok, then.  Glad I'm not alone in that.

So my point is that although we may not be able to choose the responsibilities that have been set before us, we can choose how we handle them - in a way that will bless our families, please God, and ultimately be for our own good too.

And that even includes smelling our children's armpits to make sure they are clean so that they are able to maintain friendships.  Who wants a stinky friend?  Not me, I say!

And training them to brush their teeth for the entire 2 minutes so that they will learn healthy dental care and not have gingivitis, dentures, and whopping dental bills in their future.

And reminding them to pick up their underwear from behind the bathroom door so that their future wife doesn't end up hating me.  Oops...gave that child away, now didn't I?  Let's just keep that between us, shall we?  And he won't be the wiser.  Or actually, now that I think about it, maybe mass shame will be the one thing that will finally work to get that boy to throw his dirty whitey tighties in the hamper!  So feel free to mention to him what you read about him in his mom's blog.  He, he, he...

So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed with your busy life, remember the wife of noble character.  And learn from her imperfect but still exemplary life, and how she managed to juggle everything in a way that pleased God and her family. Remember her happy and hard-working attitude, in spite of her overwhelmingly busy schedule.

Her example is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge for every woman.  Book upon book could, and has been, written about those 21 verses describing her life.  Her example is a challenge to us all and we have so much to learn from her.  Whenever I need a good reminder of what my life should look like right now in this phase of young motherhood, I go and read about this woman. She shows me what God wants from me.  As a wife.  As a mother.  As a volunteer in my church and community.  As my job as teacher to my children.

What are you overwhelmed with right now in this phase of your life?  How had God helped you handle everything in a way that has benefited you and your family?