& Jesus

Long ago, on one of my previous blogs I wrote a blog post I titled “& Jesus”. I was planning on reposting it here today because I feel like it is a relevant reminder.

My life looks different than when I first wrote that post. A lot different. The past year has been one full of change, more change than I could have ever anticipated, expected or wished for. While I talked about change in the first edition of this post, it was nothing compared to what this past year has been like. In all this change, I have forgotten the most important thing I should be focused on. The one who controls it all- Jesus. In all this change, I am processing, worried about more change and wondering what is going to happen next. “This has changed and this has changed and this has changed” and I am waiting for the next “And”

I am not going to repost the original blog post, there is too much I would need to change so I am rewriting it and modifying it. The message stays the same though. Instead of worrying about what the next change might be, what the next “and” might be, I need to be focusing on Jesus- who I trust in all this change. If change is happening then God is allowing it. Change is good, as much as I want to fight against it sometimes, change is growth.

Viewing life in the view of “ands” and worried about what “and” might happen next isn’t the way to live life. Life isn’t one long run-on sentence. There has to be a period somewhere. That’s where I need to decide that end, and it ends with “and Jesus.” A and B and C and D and Jesus. This sentence ender stops my worry. It reminds me that in all this change, while it is surprising to me, it isn’t a surprise to God. If I trust God, then I need to trust in his plan. It’s so simple when I write it out and when I say it. Just trust. God hasn’t let me down before, He isn’t going to start now. This simple sentence, the trust, looks and feels so different when played out. The actions are not easy. The feelings are not easy. The actions are not simple. I wish they were, but they are not. So I need the reminder. I need to end my sentences with “and Jesus” to remind me to shift my focus and to remember what God has already done. I’ve already said it, God hasn’t let me down before. God isn’t the in the business of let downs. God’s plan is the plan I want in my life because I know His plan is what is best for me. I want the best.

I am so serious about this reminder that I even titled my book “& Jesus”. It is a journaling devotional that I hope encourages people to journal more. To use journaling as a way to talk to God. Journaling has been so helpful for me. I use journaling to talk to God, to lay out my hopes and dreams and seek guidance. It’s where I put action to the & Jesus sentence ender and include Him in my life. Journaling is where “& Jesus” lives.

Journaling to Talk to God + announcement!

How’s that for a title? About four years ago, I was doing some real hard work on myself. There were some things I really wanted to change about myself, things that have defined me my entire life. Parts of me that existed because of my upbringing but I knew I shouldn’t act that way. I knew they were not good traits about myself. These things were control and anger. I was so controlling and I was constantly micro-managing my husband and the people around me. I honestly have no idea why my husband stuck around with how awful I used to be. I knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t know how to just stop being controlling and angry. My fuse was so short and patience was a word I didn’t understand. So I joined a ministry at my church and started working on myself.

During this process, we were constantly told to journal as part of our homework. Back then, the thought would make my skin crawl. I didn’t want to write about my life. I didn’t want to write about my feelings. I didn’t even understand my feelings to be able to write about it. I was told by my leaders to try, just try and then keep trying.

Try I did. After a few semi-consistent days of journaling, I started to see the benefits. I didn’t fall in love with journaling right away but I saw that it took some of the weight off my shoulder. It made me feel lighter. Like the notebook and the pages were carrying the weight instead of me. Some times, I was able to write some things out and then walk away from them and they stopped weighing on my mind. Sometimes, I would vent out my frustrations and I would see that the frustration wasn’t as big of a deal as my brain was making it out to be. If it was something I didn’t think I could address with someone, I quickly saw that I could. It just took mapping out the whole situation on paper to see it. Sometimes, I think I get so caught up in my own head and focus on a single thought train or a single piece of the whole picture that the rest gets lost in my emotions. When I sit down with a pen and piece of paper, I noticed I started slowing down and actually thinking about the situation as a whole instead of the one part that hurt me or irritated me or made me feel some type of emotion.

Sometimes, while I was journaling, I’ve realized that I was the one in the wrong, even if I thought I was right in the moment of something. I usually think I’m right. In my journal though, slowing down and looking at the whole picture I would find that I wasn’t as right as I thought I was. Astonishingly, I was okay with the fact that I was wrong. I was also okay with going back and apologizing to whoever I needed to apologize to. If I just allowed myself to focus on the one part and the thought that I was in the right, I would have never realized that I’m not as infallible as I think I am.

Journaling is so powerful. I’ve written other posts about how amazing journaling is and how it is so beneficial. I believe these things from the bottom of my heart. In a world of speed and gotta get there now or gotta get it done right now, it is such a good thing to slow down. It goes against all of my natural instincts, but dang does it feel great. It feels great to step back from myself in a sense and see everything from a different perspective. When I journal, I don’t just list facts, I explain the why behind it. Why I felt a certain way, why that person might have responded that way, what I said before the thing that hurt me. When we are hurt, it isn’t because of one thing, it is like an onion, it has multiple layers. There is more than just the fact that someone said something that hurt me. When I’m feeling stressed, I’m not stressed because of one commitment or obligation or thing I want to do. I’m stressed because of other things and those other things are the things I need to realize. If I’m feeling stressed, it helps to know why to write it out and figure it out like a puzzle. Stress is not a good emotion, I don’t care what high productivity coach wants to argue with me, there is no such thing as good stress. I’ve lived with stress my entire life and I can promise you that it is not a good emotion. It does things to your thought process, to your body, stress can affect everything including your relationships. I think “good stress” is being mislabeled for motivation. You need the motivation to get something accomplished, you don’t need to be stressed about getting it done.

This is just how I got started journaling, someone forced me to try and once I saw the benefits, I never wanted to stop. I fell in love with journaling over time once I saw how it made me feel better. It’s like mental exercise. If going to the gym and working out is great for your physical health, journaling is the gym for your mind. It is so good for your mental health. This is why I believe everyone should be journaling.

As I grew in my relationship with Jesus and my faith, I’ve started to use journaling as a way to talk to God. Writing is something that I love and enjoy and writing can even be an act of worship for me. I feel God leading me when I’m struggling with a decision and I’m writing about it. A lot of time, while I’m writing, I’ll remember other things I need or should pray for and add them in as a prayer into my journal. It’s fun to go through my journal later and see what God has answered. I also use journaling to cement my faith in what I know to be true. Life can get hard and when storms hit, it is so easy to feel like God isn’t there. That is when I go back to my journal and look at the truths God has given me. The truths I have read in the Bible. I know who God is, I don’t feel who God is. Feelings can be misleading and influenced. Truth cannot be. That is why I journal and invite God into my writing sessions. I also keep a gratitude list of things I am thankful for. Sometimes, I forget all the good I have because I’m too focused on the hard stuff, the stressful stuff. Finding the things I’m thankful for is like finding the sunbeam through a dark, stormy cloud.

Now, I have a HUGE announcement. You might have already seen it on Instagram if you follow me over there but I am PUBLISHING A BOOK!

I still can’t believe I get to say those words. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and I never thought I would see this day. I wrote a journaling devotional designed to help you dig deeper in your relationship with God and get into the habit of journaling. My book is called & Jesus and will be released May 7th! You can preorder your ebook here. The paperback version will be available on May 7th. I am publishing through Amazon so Kindle is the e-reader but that might be changing!

Good / Better / Best

I’m the yes girl, I say yes to almost everything asked of me. The only time I ever say no is if I’m already committed at the same time or if I don’t think I could actually do what is being asked of me. There are just some things I am not capable of doing- like lifting 100lbs. Truth is, even when I’m already committed I still try to figure out ways to work things around so I can say yes. Really, I’m only saying no when I cannot do what is being asked. Not many people are asking me to lift heavy things so I’m literally saying yes to everything.

Being reliable and dependable are awesome things. I enjoyed that people could ask me to do things and feel confident that I would get it done. I felt needed and I love that feeling. Being needed was like a subconscious life goal. I didn’t plan to make that a life goal, but I was constantly doing things to make it happen. It was like in order to be okay, I needed to be needed.

What I didn’t realize was that in all my yes saying, I was saying no to others. I was saying no to me and my dreams. My real dreams. The dreams and goals I felt like God was putting on my heart. I was saying no to more time with my family. I was saying no to time with my little man. I was saying no to date nights with my husband. None of these things I set out intentionally to do. I was filling up my schedule with other yeses that when it came time to plan out family time or date nights, there was no room for me to fit it in. I tried to, I tried so hard to make everything fit into the 168 hours I got in a week. I was constantly stressed and feeling like I wasn’t putting my all into everything because I was being pulled in so many directions. Did I mention that I was working full time and a full-time student? It was like my subconscious thought there were over 200 hours in a week the way I tried to schedule everything.

The thing about time is that you cannot make more of it. You have what you have and that’s it. It is up to us how we spend our time.

So one day, it hit me that how I was doing life, all this saying yes and jumping up to volunteer for every little thing wasn’t working. I was having horrible anxiety and health issues and something had to give. So I did what I know best, I sat down with a journal to write it all out.

There is a really good book that was given to me a few years ago as a gift. “The Best Yes” by Lisa Terkeurst. (Even my friends knew I said yes too much and were trying to give me tools to realize it.) In this book, Lisa talks about commitments and how to stop and really think about what we’re deciding to do before we just answer all willy nilly. The book challenged me to only be saying yes to the best things I could be doing. She talks about a good / better / best list and how to rank things. She gives examples of how things can still be good things to do but it doesn’t mean that it’s our best. The challenge is to start saying yes to only our best, to the things God has truly called us to do. The book was very eye-opening for me.

So when I grabbed my journal to write everything out and dump it from my brain, the idea for a good / better / best list came to mind. That is exactly what I did. I made a list of everything I was currently committed to and doing. I listed out the upcoming things that I had already said yes to. I also made a list of all the things I was saying no to, that I felt like I needed to be doing. All the dreams and goals I had that I was putting on my back burner because I was too busy saying yes to everything else. I wrote down more time with my little man and husband because I felt like I never saw them. I took my two lists, separated out my good / better / best sections and began to fill in the spaces. I took each item from each list and categorized them. It was shocking how many things I had said yes to or even things I had been doing for a while, a commitment I had for years, ended up not being my best yes. It was a good thing I was doing, but it still wasn’t my best.

Categorizing wasn’t easy. I wanted to believe everything I was doing was my best but it wasn’t. I had to really think about what I wanted to accomplish in my life and what really mattered. I had to be completely honest with myself and sometimes I had to ask why I was doing certain things in the first place. Was I doing it because I’m supposed to be the person doing it? Did I volunteer for something because there was a need and I just jumped in? Realizing the motivation behind some of my yeses helped me realize they didn’t belong in my best section.

After I had moved everything in my lists to a section, I had to do the hard part. As I was categorizing everything I thought it was hard, I wanted everything to be the best. I wanted more hours in the day. I wanted to make it so that I could do it all. However, I am not superwoman. So once my sections were finalized, I looked at my sections, and I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve made. I decided that everything that wasn’t in my best section I was giving up. This might sound easy for some people, but as the person who loved to be needed and said yes to things before the question was finished, this was the opposite of what came naturally to me. I didn’t want to let people down or feel like a failure. I didn’t want to hurt people by saying no or that they needed to ask someone else.

The truth is that I might have not even been the person who was meant to say yes to all the things anyway. Just because I can say yes doesn’t mean I should say yes. I also shouldn’t be saying yes before really thinking about things. It’s completely okay to tell someone maybe and you’ll get back to them. Not everything needs an immediate decision.

So I stepped down from some things. I went to people and said it was time for me to take a break from some other things. I started to prioritize the best section. It was a decision I had to make and then follow through with. It wasn’t easy, even after stepping down from the things and freeing up some time. Sometimes, I wonder if I say yes so I can do the easy things, things people think I’m good at so I don’t have to chase after the hard stuff I feel called to do. 

I’m in a place now where I am doing my best yeses. I am considering everything that is involved when I get asked to do something and whether or not I’m actually the person who should be doing it. This wasn’t an easy place to get to. It’s not an easy place to stay either. I see myself starting to go back to old habits, old ways of managing my time and when I catch myself doing that, I immediately tell myself to stop. I take a moment away from all the things I am putting in my calendar and really ask myself what I should be doing. Just because there is a blank spot in my calendar doesn’t mean it needs to be filled. Dreams are what happens when there are empty spaces.

Journaling & Habits

 

Last week I talked about journaling and broke it down to the very basics. My hope is that if you read that post, you’ve picked up a journal and maybe even written your first entry. Maybe you used the prompt and wrote like the wind. A girl can dream, right?

Today, I want to talk about habits. Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard the “it takes 21 days to start a new habit,” bit. I’ve heard it for years. I don’t even know who originally started it but today, for the purpose of this blog post I decided to research it. Today, I learned some things. The 21 days to build a new habit was said by a plastic surgeon who noticed that his patients would take 21 days before getting used to their new nose or they would experience phantom limb for 21 days after amputation. He also realized he took to new habits after about 21 days and then wrote a book where he quoted the 21 days thing and boom, everybody now thinks 21 days is the magical answer to habit forming.

Well, University College London did a study with 96 participants studying how long it took for these guys to start forming new habits. If you’re interested, the article I read is here, but on average it takes 66 days for a new habit to form. That is twice as long as the original 21 days business. If I’m being honest, it isn’t easy trying to stick to something for 21 days. I’m currently doing a 30-day yoga challenge, and I already want to skip a day. (I’m on day 13.) Building habits are not easy. Anything in life that is good and worth having is not easy. The phrase “it’s too good to be true” is a saying we’ve all heard a thousand times for a reason. We all know things will take hard work, it’s just getting ourselves to put in the hard work.

I remember when I was first starting journaling, I had to do it as part of homework assignments. I would sit down with my journal begrudgingly and write superficially. Why did it matter what I wrote? Nobody was reading it anyway. One day I had a rough day and I started spilling my emotions onto my paper, letting my paper fill with all my hurts of the day. I allowed my paper to hold the weight of my day instead of my brain. When I was done writing, I felt better. I felt lighter. The weight of the world wasn’t pressing on my shoulders anymore because I moved them to the pages of my journal. My journal became my safe place to dump the scary things of the world, the things I internalize, the fears, the negativity, the sadness, and the good stuff. I have a place to put it all. While it is nice to leave all the crap in my journal and be able to walk away from it, I firmly believe my journal is a place of joy. I don’t ever want to go through one of my old journals and only find bad stuff, so I always make sure to add the good. I write about it all, the good, the bad, and the in between. Life isn’t perfect and I want my journal to reflect that.

Going back to habits, while journaling is something I would say is a habit for me, I journal more days a week than I don’t, it still isn’t an everyday habit. Habits are hard, even when things come naturally to us, I feel like we still forget them. I’ve been wearing glasses for 3 years now and there are still days I forget them. As humans, we are not perfect and there is always room for improvement.

Maybe you’re new to journaling and want to start doing this thing for real or maybe you’ve been journaling for a while and want to dig deeper, or maybe, you used to journal and stopped for whatever reason, and maybe now you want to start again but don’t know how. Well, my friend, let’s start together.

Let’s take the next five days and commit to journaling. It’s only five days and apparently, it takes 61 more than that to develop a new habit, but I like to start small. Just grab a notebook if you don’t already have a journal and write. For the next five days, I’ll post a journaling prompt on my Instagram for inspiration if you get stuck. Don’t worry, I’ll be writing along with you.

Journaling 101

Buckle up ladies and gents. This is going to be a ride.

I’m very passionate about journaling. I believe journaling can solve most problems. Unsure of how you’re feeling about something? Journal it. Can’t make a decision? Journal it. Feeling anxious? Have you heard of this thing called journaling?

I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I used to check out books from my school library that were like journals of girls who came across on the Mayflower and other ships. Those books discouraged me a little bit, nothing in my life was ever that interesting. I wasn’t sailing on a ship to a new world. I wish I could remember the title of those books because I’m pretty sure they were fiction even though I thought they were real as I read them. Still, regardless of the fiction status of those books, I stopped journaling sometime during elementary school. My life wasn’t interesting like those girl’s whose “journals” I was reading. I didn’t know what to write about even when I did journal. When I first started journaling, I didn’t care what I wrote about, I just wrote. I enjoyed it. Once I started thinking about what I was actually putting in the journal, I got self-conscious. I started comparing what I was writing to what I was reading in the books. I doubted the importance of what I was writing. I struggled with writing because what did it matter what I did on June 4th? Who really cared? I wasn’t sailing from England to America, trying to make sure I didn’t fall ill to whatever was circulating around the ship. I have it easy when you put it in that perspective.

Journaling, even when I wasn’t actively doing it, has always been there for me. Even as a teenager, when I didn’t know how to deal with something big, I would write about it. I might not have had a designed journal, but I would still write how I felt. Sometimes, I would turn it into a story and save it to my computer. I still find bits and pieces of random writing. Some of it, I can place what triggered the piece. Other pieces, I have no idea what caused it and I wonder what happened. Some of the pieces might have just been random writing. I’ve always been a writer, even when I didn’t tell people. I never realized I could do something with writing. It makes me laugh when I say that because I have bookshelves full of books of authors who have done something with writing. This is why it has probably taken me so long to finally be pursuing my passion, but I digress.

Journaling is for your mind what exercise is for your body. Exercising helps keep your body healthy. I feel like journaling keeps your mind healthy. There is some notion that journaling is sitting down, with a notebook and a pen and starting with,

“Dear diary,

Today, I ate a piece of toast. I think I like Tom. But Brad has been giving me glances across the hall lately and I’ve been digging it. Also, yogurt is cool. Maybe I should dye my hair.”

No. No. No. No. Stop. No. Do you walk into a gym, pick up a couple of weights, move them around nonchalantly, put them down and maybe stare at a treadmill and hope your body will be healthier? No, you go in with a plan of attack, parts of your body you need to work on. You spend time at the gym. You don’t take ten minutes and hope for the best.

The same approach needs to happen with journaling. You need to spend time with yourself in journaling. You are checking in with yourself. It’s almost like yoga when your instructor is telling you to listen to your body, but instead, you are listening to yourself. You are checking in with you. How are you really feeling? This isn’t superficial. If you are feeling crummy, let the pages have it. They aren’t there to judge you. What is the paper going to do? Laugh? Tell you that you have no right to feel that way? It’s paper, let the blankness of the page be filled with all your emotions. The paper can take it. All the thoughts that you push away during the day because you tell yourself you’ll deal with it later, this is the later. This is where you deal with it. One of the reasons I love journaling so much is because through writing, bearing my soul to paper, I learn how I’m truly feeling. I process situations fully. I can look at a situation where someone may have hurt me, and maybe even see it from their perspective. If I can’t, I can at least start to forgive them. Journaling frees my mind from all the crap. I’m allowed to hope and dream. I’m allowed to be mad and sad. I can praise and rejoice. Journaling also gives me a peek at my past and I get to see how far I’ve come. I get to see how I’ve gotten through things and where I am now. Sometimes, I’ll go through old journals and see how things were just a year ago and be amazing at how different they are now. Actually, I could just go back a couple of months and be amazing at how different things are. Life is always changing and journaling helps me see that better. Day to day we don’t see the changes, but when we look back, a lot of things are different.

But Ashleigh, I don’t know how to start! I want to journal but I don’t know how to start! You might be thinking. Well, that is why this is journaling 101. I want to help you get started. I also want to help you alongside your own journaling journey. Try saying that 5 times fast! (I just did, nailed it!)

First, get rid of any ideas you already have about what journaling is. Journaling is different for everybody and looks different for everybody. Journaling doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re an artist and want to doodle in your journal, awesome! You go, girl! If you cannot draw a stick figure with a ruler like me, you’re not alone and rest assured, your words are enough. If you really want your journal to have something special though, you can always tape pictures inside of it. That’s what I do. When we do fun things, I’ll tape pictures, movie tickets, concert tickets to my journal pages.

Second, just write. You don’t have to start off any certain way, like with “dear journal,” just start writing. A few of my recent entries have started with “Night one with…”, “I had to….”, and, “I write this….” There is no formula to it. I just sit down and write. I’ve been journaling for a few years now. When I first started, I felt like I was pulling teeth just to sit down and write. Now, the words cannot get out fast enough. You just have to stick with it. Just write.

Third, get a notebook and a pen. This can be a cute notebook, a spiral notebook, a legal pad, a stack of printer paper you stapled together. My point is that you are physically writing and not typing on your phone or computer. Could you journal on your computer? Sure, there are probably apps that would help you do it. There is something about the act of physically writing though, that slows you down, that allows your thoughts to process a little bit better. You can actually feel just a little bit more when you physically write. Your fingers can almost keep up with your thoughts when you type. When you are physically writing, your hand cannot keep up with your brain and it allows you to fully go through each thought. I think physically writing is just better. It makes the journaling experience better. Journaling is a form of self-care and you don’t want to cheat yourself out of anything. Take the time to spend with yourself and just write it all out.

Now, I will leave you with a prompt, in case you need it, and if you want more, I have a writing Instagram where I do prompts on Sundays.

journal prompt for journaling 101