Rush, Rush, Rush (and why that’s a good thing, in this case)

Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and ...

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Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and you can buy it on Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase your books. The story is based on the life of her great-great-grandmother in the 1893 Oklahoma Land Run and the themes are so relevant to our busy lives today—living in the moment, having the guts to take risks, independence, carrying heavy burdens, starting over, comfort, courage, restoration, tenacity. I had a lot of fun putting this together. I hope you’ll check out her novel, but even if you don’t, I think you’ll relate to the prayer prompts inspired by it.

Click here to download the November calendar.

In other news…

1. It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of speaking events and tons of wonderful people I’ve met. This busy season of speaking kicked off with a weekend retreat with Suzie Eller for the launch of her new Come with Me Devotional. I met some wonderful new friends and will be sharing posts from them on my blog in the upcoming weeks or months. It’s so inspiring to be around people who are not just talking the talk, but truly walking the walk. These are some amazing people, and the love of God shines through them so very brightly.

I’m scheduling other speaking events for next year now, so I hope you’ll reach out to me if your church or writing organization is interested in talking about prayer or creativity. In the meantime, you can find me at the Lew Wallace Author Fair on November 25th at the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, IN.

3. Can I just say that my dad was an amazing man? He was so much more than simply a talented artist, but as I’m working through his paintings in preparation for a final sale, I’m blown away all over again. If you live in the area and want to see what paintings and prints are available, come to the Rob O’Dell Studio in Ladoga, IN on November 18, 2017, from 1-8 pm. This graphic is small, but here’s a sneak peek at some of his artwork.


4. It’s been five years since I went to Italy to learn about writing from Elizabeth Berg. Facebook had to remind me several days in a row. I’ve put my essay, Amazing Grace, which won the inspirational writing category of the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, into a PDF ebook format. The essay itself is on my blog (here) or you can download the ebook if you want to see more of the photos. The essay is all about God’s grace, and how he wooed me back to Him when I was struggling after losing my mom.

Someday I’ll write more about losing my dad. It’s so hard, but somehow it’s a completely different experience. Maybe I’ve learned that it does me no good to fight it? Because I really can’t change it, and the loss WILL change me. Now I know that all too well, unfortunately.

Because we can always use some brain candy

When I remember to save them, I’m going to start sharing some completely random articles that I have enjoyed over the past month. Here are a few I think you might like.

What the Brain Looks Like When You Pray—I love scientific evidence to show how prayer really does change things—if nothing else, it changes me. This is about how the ritual of prayer or meditation, regardless of personal faith, affects our behavior.

How to Keep Leading When You Feel Like Falling Apart by Kristine Brown—Great article about how to keep serving even in the midst of loss, tragedy, or turmoil

Why I Am a Progressive Christian by Philip Gulley—He’s made a couple statements I don’t completely agree with, but overall, I love what he has to say. Such a simple, clear perspective on thoughts close to my own.

Check out this brilliant ad concept—love it when people turn something upside down.

Last but certainly not least…

I had my Prayer Prompt Journals professionally printed and can now sell them through my website! I’m clearly biased, but I think they’d make great Christmas gifts for your prayer group, teen girls, Bible study friends, or lots of other people. People at my speaking events have really loved them so far. They’re similar to my prayer prompt calendars. Each spread is filled with creative prayer prompts and room to write your prayers. They’re $10 and you can find them here if you’re interested.

Hope your November is filled with many, many good things—evidence of God all around you.

Because light shines in the dark

In light of all the recent, horrific tragedies, I thought I’d share something I wrote years ago. Because truth never changes, and light always overcomes darkness. I’m feeling particularly proud tonight, because when I Googled the word “Chiaroscuro” to see how it was spelled, I discovered I already had it right. And to make it ...

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In light of all the recent, horrific tragedies, I thought I’d share something I wrote years ago. Because truth never changes, and light always overcomes darkness.

I’m feeling particularly proud tonight, because when I Googled the word “Chiaroscuro” to see how it was spelled, I discovered I already had it right. And to make it even better, I actually remembered what it means. But don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it. All that matters is that you now have the most basic knowledge of what it is — it’s an Italian word that means light-dark. It’s about strong contrasts between light and dark, about light being used to convey volume or to show the modeling of a form. Some of the old masters, like Caravaggio, are credited with using this technique, but it has applications in photography, drawing, and other media throughout history. In traditional chiaroscuro images, most of the canvas is black, and one source of light creates stark contrast and defines the objects in the composition.

Whether or not you’ve ever seen this before (or learned about it in art history class), I’m sure you’ve noticed that all through the Bible, we read about light. About God’s light. About how He is light, and how He shines His light into one situation after another.

About how His light cannot be extinguished.

I’ve always been a little afraid of the dark. I want to see what’s there, to see if what is supposed to be there is and what isn’t, isn’t. When we moved into the house we live in now, I was amazed at how bright it is even in the middle of the night. We had our electricity updated, and they put little power-indicator lights in all the outlets. That’s all it is. One tiny little green light, about 1/8” in size. And when all the other lights are out, that little thing lights up the whole room.

Because here’s the thing. When light shines, there ceases to be darkness. When light shines, we see the contrast between the light and the darkness. When light shines, it shapes, forms, and models for us the image we see. It defines it. The darkness is shaped by light. Even when all other things are dark, if the light illuminates, even slightly, just one thing, our eyes are drawn to it. It becomes our focus.

And, really, that’s all it takes — a little bit of light. We only need a little bit of God’s wisdom to start to see clearly. A little bit of hope to push out despair. A little bit of love to combat hate. A little bit of peace to calm the storm. A little bit of strength to overcome our weakness. A little bit of divine illumination to push back the darkness and sharpen our focus. To begin to make out the shapes. To see what is right there in front of us.

Because even in our darkest hour, the tiniest bit of God’s light goes a long, long way.


There’s been so much devastation, so much destruction, so much tragedy. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but not when we remember that God is in control and that what HE builds lasts. Join me with prayers loosely based on the concept of rebuilding. Download your free October prayer prompt calendar here

Dwelling in God’s Sanctuary

(Reposting this piece from a few years ago, in honor of Father’s Day and my amazing Dad.) “The one thing I ask of the LORD—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections 
and meditating in his Temple.
 For he will ...

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(Reposting this piece from a few years ago, in honor of Father’s Day and my amazing Dad.)


“The one thing I ask of the LORD—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections 
and meditating in his Temple.
 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
 he will hide me in his sanctuary.
 He will place me out of reach on a high rock.”
 Psalm 27:4-5

My dad told me about a meditation class he attended a few weeks ago. The instructor asked them to close their eyes and picture the most beautiful mansion they could imagine. She then guided them through the rest of the scene—notice the peak of the mountain in the distance behind it. Look at the sky. And so on.

Afterwards, she said, “Rob, you’re creative. This should be right up your alley. Tell us what you thought about.”

He said, “Well, I started with Downton Abbey. It’s the most beautiful house I can imagine. But then you said mountain and there are no mountains there so you lost me.”

She said, “You should have just gone with that. It’s OK.”

And he said, “Well, I did. I pictured one of my barns, you know, like I like to paint. With the patina of the wood and all that. Because it’s like a sanctuary to me. When I paint it feels like that. I’m just there. My mind isn’t anywhere else. So I pictured that instead.”

That, to me, sums up the beauty in creating art. Finding that place inside, the place where you can quiet your mind and open your heart and breathe. A place where you can dwell, delighting in what you’ve found. A place of safety and of peace.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to paint to find that. It’s available for all of us—whether we’re artists or not—when we do the things we were made to do. Maybe that thing is being an attentive mom, listening with care to an especially long story, even if the phone is ringing. Perhaps it’s wiping down counter tops after spreading peanut butter on bread, content because your family is fed and you find satisfaction in caring for them. Maybe it’s what you feel at the front of a boardroom, when all the managers present are focused solely on you. You might find this peace in the middle of a chaotic classroom as you try to retain control of a math lesson. Or possibly you find that moment with headphones on, typing away at your keyboard as the novel you always wanted to write begins to come to life.

The Bible reminds us that God came to dwell with us, that we are His holy temples. And I believe that when we do the things God made us to do—as hard as it is sometimes to figure that out—that we’re essentially abiding with Him. Delighting in the Lord, meditating in His Temple. It’s where He wants us to be, safe and protected from the cares of the world. Fully alive. Completely in touch with Him.

So today, if things feel out of control, if deadlines threaten to strangle you or chaos overwhelms you, sit down for a moment. Close your eyes. And imagine that place where you can find Him. Touch Him. Open your soul until you can see Him again. And if you can stay there with Him, let yourself. But even if someone or something else is demanding your attention, try to hold on to that connection as you go about your day.

Because wherever He is, wherever you are with Him, it’s the most beautiful place you could possibly imagine.

The beauty of playing with prayer

Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary ...

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Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary skill, and possibly you have no interest in making an attempt to copy it. I certainly can’t profess that I am dying to melt crayons in the name of art.

But what I do like is that someone wasn’t afraid to try something different. They used a common drawing tool in a completely new way.

As adults, I think we overthink things, and we’re afraid to look stupid. But give a group of young kids in an art studio or classroom, and you probably won’t see them freeze when you hand them a blank piece of paper. Probably they’ll grab it out of your hand, quick. So they can start experimenting.

What happens when I put a blob of yellow paint on top of the blue square I already painted? What happens if I tilt my paper? Hold my brush like this? Push it instead of pull it? Dip this sponge in it and randomly blot parts of the paper? Swipe through it with my finger? My whole hand? What happens when I paint over paint that’s already dry? Does the paint run down the page if I use too much water? What if I don’t rinse my brush out between colors? What if I paint with the wrong end of the brush?

Everything I know about prayer has come from experimenting — and observing. When a friend told me she’d prayed for two hours one night, I turned around and went to God and said, I don’t get it. What is there to pray about? Don’t you know everything? And then one day I tried it. And two hours flew by. I wouldn’t have believed that until I tried it. (I’ve also had times when five minutes seemed to last forever.)

I’ve watched people dance in the aisles. Kneel at the altar, sobbing — or laughing. Genuflect as they duck into a pew. Bow silently in the back row of a church. Circle round a hurting friend in her living room. I’ve squeezed the hand next to me in circle prayers, signaling that I’m done and the next person can pray, and I’ve prayed alone in the shower, and while driving, and in line at the grocery (though those prayers tend to be ones asking for patience so I don’t strangle the person in front of me who’s paying with five different types of payment and has three separate orders and the cashier is going off duty so she has to count out her change before the next one logs in and I have to be somewhere in five minutes).

OK, so I digress. And I’ve now proven to you just how desperately I need prayer.

I’ve recited The Lord’s Prayer. Read Scripture, aloud and silently. Written my own prayers. Read those written by others. Cried great big heaving wordless sobs. And closed my eyes tighter when I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the way someone else is praying — which is when my prayers switch to “Help me understand. Forgive me for judging.”

The point is, I’ve given myself permission to play around. It doesn’t mean I don’t take prayer seriously, and it doesn’t mean I’m holier than you or anyone else. It just means I believe it’s OK to experiment. And it’s acceptable to have fun. It’s fine if one type of prayer doesn’t really fit you, or if the way you pray doesn’t match that of anyone else that you know. It’s all right to learn from watching someone else or to try something you’ve never seen or heard before.

Don’t worry if you have doubts about the effectiveness or veracity of a particular approach. After all, everything created on a canvas is not art. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experimenting a little. You’ll never really know what you’re able to do until you try.

So won’t you? Try something new? Meditate on a prayer, poem, or Bible verse. Try writing out your prayers, in a journal or as a list — and consider sending a friend the prayer you prayed for her. Talk out loud if you’re normally silent. Kneel in silence if you’re normally vocal. Recite a liturgical prayer if that’s not your usual style. Listen to gospel music, or contemporary rock, or whatever it is you don’t normally listen to. Stay home one Sunday to pray alone if you’re usually busy and distracted at church, or if your faith is more private, consider attending a new church. Visit a church that worships differently from yours. Pray for each friend and family member as you scroll through your phone contacts. Just try to keep an open mind.

The beauty of it is, you can’t mess this up. From God’s point of view, any attempt you make is a beautiful, courageous thing.

A genuine work of art.

Go ahead. Write, draw, color, doodle in your Bible. It’s OK (and I can help).

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a Bible journaling group about my book, Designed to Pray—specifically, the meanings of different colors and how those meanings can “color” and inspire your prayers. (If you have my book, the material came from Week 8.) Now, I’m not one who’s afraid to write in her ...

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A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a Bible journaling group about my book, Designed to Pray—specifically, the meanings of different colors and how those meanings can “color” and inspire your prayers. (If you have my book, the material came from Week 8.)

Now, I’m not one who’s afraid to write in her Bible. I put the dates that I read or was taught a passage, the name of the person the verse makes me think of, phrases of other translations or word meanings for clarification, and so on. With my art background, you wouldn’t think I would be afraid to draw in my Bible, either. But the truth is, when it came time to get to work, I was intimidated. I looked at the works of art created by some of the other women there and was in awe. I didn’t have the right tools, I don’t know the techniques—and since my biceps tendon repair surgery last spring, I just don’t quite have the same control I once had.

But I’d already put together some traceables for the class to use—which are simply illustrations of some of the key verses from that chapter of my book. And I was there, and I had some colored pencils and a black marker with me, so I tried it.

As you’ll see in my photos, these are not great works of art, nor do they need to be. But I got to see first-hand what so many people have already discovered (as the current trend can attest). It was fun. I like paying special attention to certain key words. Offering my scribbles as a form of prayer. Letting the words, the meanings, resonate in my soul as I spend time in this book that has changed me.

So I want to offer this set of 12 traceables to you (free even if you don’t subscribe to my newsletter; this link should take you directly there). Print them and then trace them into your Bible or a journal. Embellish. Change them. Or just trace them as you thank God for what He’s saying in those words.

And if you just don’t have it in you to try this, consider printing them to use as bookmarks. That works, too.

As you can see, I just used my NIV Life Application Study Bible, which I love love love. Right after I had my surgery last year, I got to review the Beautiful Word Bible —a great choice if you want to buy a Bible just for this, because it has wide margins and some verses already illustrated for inspiration.

Click here to download, and please share them with anyone who might be interested. Now go, and never hesitate to write in your books. Make them your own!

 

 

CONTEST: Let me design a prayer prompt calendar just for you

I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in. Because you know what? I think there are lots of ...

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I love to design my monthly prayer prompt calendars. I love the colors, the quirky connections, and coming up with the themes. There are more ideas than time to produce them. The hard part is narrowing it down and selecting a direction. That’s where you come in.

Because you know what? I think there are lots of you out there with great ideas, too. And there are a lot of online ministries I’d be honored to help in this small way, so I decided to run a contest for bloggers.

Submit your idea for a theme for my March calendar before January 31, and if I select your idea, you win! You’ll get a calendar designed around that theme that you can give away on your blog (either free when they subscribe to your blog, or just as a free download for everyone—your choice how to promote it). I will also use it as the March calendar on my website, but I will publish it on my blog, linking to your blog, along with a brief introduction to you and your message.

You don’t have to be a designer to participate—in fact, I hope you’re not, because then I have more leeway! 🙂 Your idea does not have to be completely thought through, nor does it have to look like one of mine. The sample calendars throughout this post are provided to help you start thinking. Many of mine so far have centered on that month’s holidays, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day or summer, but even in those cases, I’ve gone in a certain thematic direction (love, thankfulness, etc.). Let yourself be creative! At the same time, know that I’ll choose one entry based on the possibilities I see to be creative with it, so you don’t really need to provide the creativity—and you never know what idea will intrigue me the most. Here are some examples of what I’m looking for. Your submission does not have to be any more detailed than the samples below.

Sample idea based on a graphic concept:

Chalkboard—calendar can look like a chalkboard with hand-drawn graphics and type, with the prompts themed around people who use chalk (teachers, kids, sidewalk artists, seamstresses, or what have you)

Sample idea based on a ministry topic:

A real example I created for a friend—she writes about being a single mom and the issues she faces, so I designed a calendar with prayers specific to her audience (your ministry may be about hope, or forgiveness, or renewal, or marriage, or love…)

Sample idea based on a scripture or Biblical theme:

Fruit of the spirit—prayer prompts might be about people who exhibit specific fruit and prayers for us to manifest those things (example: pray for someone who consistently shows joy; help me practice kindness) —OR—

Psalm 91 (“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”)—calendar would include prayers about shelter (giving thanks for it), prompts related to things like protection, security, steadfastness, leaning on God, etc.

Sample idea based on book content (I’ll use my own because that’s an easy example):

Upside down—graphically, the type could be oriented in many different directions, and the prompts would be centered on unexpected people to pray for, ways to look at your own prayers differently or from a new perspective

or, say you write fiction:

Prayer prompts associated with your book, like people who share names with your characters; people who share professions or hobbies or quirks of a character; prompts about adventure or history or a specific place; and so on

Sample idea centered around specific people to pray for:

Prayers for children (infants and their parents; preschoolers; teens; athletes; someone struggling in school; kids whose parents recently divorced, etc.)

To enter, leave your ideas in a comment below or email me (kellyostanley@me.com). I need your website/blog URL and a brief description of your idea (doesn’t have to be any more detailed than the examples above) and how that relates to your site/ministry/message/book. You may include a sample prayer prompt or two, or not. If you have a certain style in mind, you can mention that (or show me a sample image)—or leave that part up to me.

If I select your entry, I will be in touch to learn more about your ministry and theme and to ask if you’d like to submit some of the specific prayer prompts as well. (Totally up to you; I am glad to come up with them myself, if you’d like.) Remember: deadline is January 31, and I’ll design the calendar by Feb. 20 so you have some time to promote it before March 1. Good luck! Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

P.S. I won’t use your ideas if you are not selected as the winner; they’ll remain yours, I promise. If you want to keep the ideas confidential, please submit to me by email with the subject line “prayer prompt contest.”

P.P.S. If you happen to be a man, I promise not to make the calendar look feminine or frilly. Don’t rule out this opportunity based on how my calendars have looked in the past. It just so happens that the majority of my readers are women, so I let myself be girly sometimes.

 

Everything you could possibly ever need

Well, maybe it’s not an entirely exhaustive list :-). As you think about what you will study, how you might adjust your prayer life (journaling habits, Bible study, and so on), and what you hope to accomplish this year, I thought it might be helpful to give you a list of some resources that are available here ...

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Well, maybe it’s not an entirely exhaustive list :-). As you think about what you will study, how you might adjust your prayer life (journaling habits, Bible study, and so on), and what you hope to accomplish this year, I thought it might be helpful to give you a list of some resources that are available here on my site.

Prayer Prompt Calendars—every month I create a new calendar, roughly centered on a random theme. By subscribing to my monthly e-newsletter, you will receive the link to download each calendar as soon as it’s ready. Print this and hang it on your fridge, tack it on the wall by your computer, or keep it in your journal or Bible to help you jump-start your prayers—and hopefully, along the way, expand your awareness of the importance of prayer and the needs all around us. Here is this month’s calendar for you to check out (without subscribing)—hope you like it enough to sign up to get new ones every month!


Designed to Pray


Praying Upside Down


A to Z prayer cards*—print these free downloads and use to help incorporate learning into prayer time with your child…or just for yourself!


Wallpaper downloads for your phone on computer—currently, I only have one design available, but hope to create more soon!


10 Ways to Love” printable—a list of scriptures to remind us of what’s important—how to show love in our daily life. Available in gray or in white.


*If you’re not already a subscriber, you’ll have to sign up for my newsletter to access these.

 

Start where you are (taking the measure of things)

This is Suzie Eller’s latest #LiveFreeThursday writing prompt. So many times we tell people what they need to do to be found by Christ. Maybe we do the same with ourselves. Yet he started with the disciples right where they were. He CALLED them to follow him, when others were looking at each other incredulously saying, ...

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This is Suzie Eller’s latest #LiveFreeThursday writing prompt.

So many times we tell people what they need to do to be found by Christ. Maybe we do the same with ourselves. Yet he started with the disciples right where they were. He CALLED them to follow him, when others were looking at each other incredulously saying, “Um, did he really just pick that guy?”

What might happen if we just start where we are? In ministry. In courage. In a big decisions. In faith. In our relationships. In hope. What if we understood that this is a BIG act of faith?

Let’s talk about it here, if you’d like. For me, starting right where I am means I put my foot on the starting line and I take off, sometimes without having any other plan but the Holy Spirit’s whisper of, “Go!”. It’s not my comfy plan, because I really want to map it out and tell God how it should look, and be super prepared in case I fall flat on my face.

Yet he says, “Go.”

Today, in response, I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter 14 of Praying Upside Down about proportion. It’s about Colleese, who was connected to me through a mutual friend, and has become a dear friend of mine. She is facing some serious surgeries and other issues. Will you please pray for her?


Much of this book is about keeping your eyes open and trying to see what God is doing—not because we have a right to know, but because it’s much easier to hang on through frustrating times when we can get a glimpse of what’s to come. Faith, however, is blind. It’s believing in spite of what you see. And being changed along the way. The reality is we may never know the end of a particular story. God may show Himself, or He may not. But even if we don’t know, even if we don’t see, it doesn’t mean God isn’t working, changing, effecting, delivering. It just means we happen to be unable to see it at the moment.

My friend Colleese has numerous health issues—multiple sclerosis, anaphylactic allergies, and seizures, among other things. One day, in the basement laundry room of her apartment building, sitting in her wheelchair, she felt an MS flare coming on. She was terrified. From experience, she knew that this wasn’t going to be a brief wave of pain, but something that incapacitated her. She had no one to call, and she knew the risks inherent in it happening while she was alone. She wasn’t falling prey to an overactive imagination. Her fears were well-founded.

Years before this night, she’d witnessed an event on TV in which people of many faiths came together during a choir rehearsal. They wanted to pray for a particular woman to be healed, but there was such diversity of religion that they decided, instead, to sing to her. One voice sang her name, and then another, then another. Sweet tenderness, swelling into a beautiful harmony. Colleese said you could see the change in the women in the group, holding hands, with tears on their faces as they prayed. They didn’t have answers, so they lifted up their friend to the One who did. Her name—the song—was the prayer, and it bound them all together.

It also planted a seed in Colleese.

That night in the laundry room, she began to sing. As her strength melted from the pain, she had nothing left and needed God. All she could do was offer herself, offer where she was and what she was experiencing, to God as her prayer. In that moment, it was literally all she had. No family, no one nearby to help. She knew her condition could be life-threatening, but she pushed out the fear that was crowding in. And she began to sing. Not a particular melody, just putting the words about her immediate situation into song. I’m scared and I don’t know what I’m going to do, how I’m going to survive down here for the next twenty minutes. I can’t make my wheelchair go. . . . She sang about where she was, and before long—even though the physical symptoms did not abate—the words evolved into something more and lifted her to a new place. Thank You that I have enough clothes to have four washers full. Thank You that I live in a country where I don’t have to wash by a river. Thank You for electricity. Thank You for money. Thank You for soap. Thank You that You have given me enough of a life that I have clothes that I was able to make dirty. Thank You.

As she sang, the fear receded even though she was still in pain. She managed to get her clothes out of the washers and into dryers, fold them, and get both the laundry and herself upstairs to her apartment—singing the whole time. She told me, “I didn’t physically change, but something changed inside because it was all real—spontaneous. Prayer-singing—no matter what I’m doing in life, if I sing where I am—this is my gift to Him. The only thing I can offer Him is ‘here I am.’”

This isn’t a story about a miracle cure, but in some ways it’s even better. It’s about a woman who offered all that she had—as little as it was—and found that it was enough. He is enough. For Colleese, and for you, and for me.

Before this, she often had trouble praying. She would overthink the words and be stuck, something many of us can relate to. When Colleese censored her prayers, they became not a holy thing but a head thing. That day in the basement, she learned that prayer, in the form of a personal song, is her sustenance. It comes from the depths of her soul. “Medically, I probably should not be alive today,” she says. But she is. And not because she gets up at five a.m. to pray for half an hour a day, but because she never ceases. She offers all that she has, and she finds over and over again that it is enough. That God has carried her through. Sustained her. Changed her.

And given her a valuable gift. She feels rich.

In the book of Mark, Mark recounts a moment when Jesus sat near the collection box at the entrance of the Temple, watching people bring their offerings. Later, He called together His disciples and told them about one woman’s giving. “This poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44). Jesus wasn’t as moved by the wealthy people’s contributions as He was with hers. It wasn’t the value of the coins she gave, but the enormous cost of giving all that she had. He shows us that our measure of generosity and wealth, like so many other things, is upside down.

Colleese inherently understands this. She knows that God needs nothing, and He deserves everything. She doesn’t ask anything in return, just lifts up people and situations from her heart. She lets God decide where her prayers will go, for how long, and what tune she will sing. Even on the day when she was caught sitting in her wheelchair outside when a rainstorm hit. If that wasn’t bad enough, an SUV sped through a puddle and drenched Colleese and her service dog. Although she was in shock momentarily, Colleese found herself singing. That’s not very nice. Maybe they didn’t know, maybe they didn’t see me, but even if they did, I’m called to pray for them.

It is the person who prays who is changed.

The Bible confirms what Colleese discovered. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). “Pay attention to the language,” she says. “It does not say ‘so that the person you’re praying for may be healed.’ It says you (the one praying) may be. And that’s one of the reasons we’re called to pray.”

She even prays in the pool, beginning and ending with laps of thanksgiving. “It’s really a special place for me, being held up—and I’m not the one doing the holding. That’s really a good picture of God.” Her experience in the basement laundry room, and in the years since, has turned a formal relationship into a tender one. Her prayer life went from forced and stilted to vibrant and real when she gave her physical being as her spiritual offering. When she offers herself—her body, her situation, her feelings—as prayer, every moment with Him is a gift.

And it all started because she took stock of where she was.

***

Oftentimes, when an artist is drawing from life, she will extend her arm in front of her, pencil in hand, and use her thumb to mark off the length of an object. She will then compare that length to another—are these two objects the same width? Twice as long? One-third as wide? These measurements help her keep the objects in the drawing at the same relative size.

Colleese’s prayer-singing is like the artist extending a pencil as a way of measuring the scale, angles, and positions of the objects she’s drawing.

In art, this technique is called “sighting,” and it involves holding a pencil at arm’s length, elbow locked, one eye closed. These positions must always be the same so that relative measurements are consistent. By measuring objects, the artist can reproduce the illusion of space accurately. When an object recedes in perspective, it gets shorter. The artist’s mind might insist that the person in the background is as tall as the one in the foreground, but if one person is farther away, she can’t draw him the same size on the paper without distorting the scene. Sighting is another way to override the knowledge stored in our brains that contradicts what our eyes actually see.

When Colleese sings to God, she’s looking for an accurate representation of that moment. Not what she wants it to be, but what it is. That reality then becomes the basis of her offering, the foundation for her prayer. Like the artist, Colleese doesn’t get to decide how things actually look, but she does her best to see clearly so that she has more to offer Him.

***

Ancient Egyptian artists used hieratic scale in their art—in other words, the size of an object denoted its relative importance. Kings and gods were several times larger than the common people. Sometimes you see this in the drawings of children. Mommy and Daddy are taller than the house because they dominate the child’s world. Over many centuries, artists began to value accurate depiction of forms over hierarchical representation. In ancient Greek sculpture, you’ll see the true proportions of the ideal human form. In the Renaissance, artists began to see the connection between proportion (size relationships) and the illusion of three dimensions—in other words, how the relative size of objects shows the distance of one element from another or from the viewer. Actually, size is only meaningful when it tells us about an object’s dimensions in relationship to something else.

When you use proportion in prayer, first take stock of where you are and what you’re dealing with. How big is this problem compared to the next? What is the problem? How close or far are you from God? Is God at the center of your composition (with regard to how you spend your money, time, and attention), or are you?

Or simply, This is where I am, Lord. I’m giving it to You.

Whether you sing your prayers, write them, or speak them, whether they’re long or short or detailed or abstract, proportion is a useful way to remember who God is. When Colleese began to sing in the basement that day, she knew she did not have anything else to offer. But she understood that He did. And she went to Him because she saw how big He is. How good. Not because He would do something for her, but just because of who He is. Because He is so much greater, and He deserved all that she had. Everything she had.

Colleese’s song came from praise, not from wanting. Being with Him—as she was, as He is, without any demands or pleas—was all she wanted. Everything she wanted. As her song turned to praise, her attitude and understanding changed—a beautiful result from a pure intention.

In our culture, people go to great lengths to gain power, whether in politics or business, and even sometimes in churches. In our spiritual lives, we eventually come to accept that although there is power, we don’t have it. When we acknowledge God’s magnificence, goodness, and knowingness—His ability to see ahead of us and forgive what’s behind us—then we’ve shifted the balance. We’ve traded in the illusion of our own power for the reality of His. We’ve recognized our need for Him and reinforced our understanding of our relative strengths. And once that’s done, our only solution is to hand problems—any of them, all of them—over to Him. Trade what you have, sight unseen, for whatever He will give you. He has proven Himself more times than we can imagine. Not because He needed to prove how good He is, but because, as God, He can’t help but be good.

Yet He wants to be involved. To hold us, oh so tightly, and sustain us. To change us in the middle of our darkest hours. And, in the process, to teach our hearts to sing.

Inspired by Kevin Bacon to connect the dots in prayer

I took a humanities course during my freshman year of college. As much as I now love to read and write, discussing classic literature right after lunchtime made me especially sleepy—warm classroom, full tummy, and the lack of sleep caused by the near all-nighters I pulled regularly as an architecture major. But one day the lesson woke me up because my professor was ...

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I took a humanities course during my freshman year of college. As much as I now love to read and write, discussing classic literature right after lunchtime made me especially sleepy—warm classroom, full tummy, and the lack of sleep caused by the near all-nighters I pulled regularly as an architecture major.

But one day the lesson woke me up because my professor was describing stream of consciousness. Developed by a group of writers in the early twentieth century, it was meant to express the flow of thoughts and feelings in a character’s mind. It relates to the way one thought triggers another and then another, and before you know it, you’re in a whole new place. I thought, Finally! That’s what you call the way I think!

If “stream of consciousness” sounds too fancy, think about “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It’s a game based on the concept of six degrees of separation, which supposes that any two people on earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. In this game, people challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Kevin Bacon.

You can put this thought process—the concept of making connections and seeing how interrelated we all are—to work in your prayers. Because we’re all connected, one way or another.

DIRECTIONS: Write the name of someone important to you in the center of the page. Who or what is connected to that person? His or her children? Businesses? Relatives? Spouse? Draw lines from the original name, connecting them to others. Thoughts of one child might make you think of someone else’s child. Draw lines between them. Praying for one friend’s marriage may remind you of another couple who needs prayer. Diagram the trajectory of your prayers, noticing the parallels and intersections.

Look below at two samples—one centering on my pastors and best friends, Nathan and Peggy, and one centering on a concept (in this case, marriage). Experiment with different starting points and see where your mind takes you. Click here to download a blank worksheet or just start mapping your prayers on a blank sheet of paper.

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Designed to Pray coverThe exercise above is from Week 3 | Day 3 of my new book, Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God. I hope you’ll take a minute to check it out. It’s a different kind of book. Whether you’ve been praying for a long time or are just beginning to, this eight-week adventure will infuse passion and creativity into your communication with God. Filled with daily activities—everything from coloring pages to writing prompts to doodling—it’s an innovative way to start viewing God, the world around you, and your faith with a new perspective.

The Beautiful Word Bible giveaway

It’s somewhat ironic, don’t you think, that I would have a stack of these Bibles—just begging for someone to come along with colorful writing implements and a love for drawing—as my right arm is immobilized for at least five weeks for surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon? Yeah. Well. So I’ll content myself with ...

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It’s somewhat ironic, don’t you think, that I would have a stack of these Bibles—just begging for someone to come along with colorful writing implements and a love for drawing—as my right arm is immobilized for at least five weeks for surgery to repair a torn biceps tendon?

Yeah. Well.

So I’ll content myself with doing a brief review (because typing left-handed is still slow-going)… and then I’ll give YOU a chance to win one of two copies of this beautiful book. (They knew what they were talking about when they named it.)

The NIV translation is my favorite, and that’s what these giveaway copies are (although this also comes in KJV and NKJV versions). I’m always wishing for lots of space to write notes in my Bibles and for nice, clean, elegant typography. This Bible offers those things, plus key verses illustrated in a wide variety of styles (all fun and colorful). It’s nice to see Scriptures expressed artistically—it gives us a chance to focus on key words and concepts and better understand them. If you’re comfortable drawing in your Bible, that’s what this was made for—but even if that’s not your thing, use the space for notes or journaling. Write about what a certain verse means to you, what you’re learning, who you’re praying for, what questions you have about it, the definitions of words or other related verses… it’s wide open and flexible. You can find your own way and do your own thing. If you want to doodle or draw, then DO. It’s a whole new dimension of interaction with God’s word that can be meaningful and enlightening.

(On a side note, I find the recent surge of interest in coloring, drawing, and so forth pretty exciting… especially since my new book, Designed to Pray, is coming out in August. It’s full of hands-on prayer activities—coloring pages, writing prompts, charts and questions and pages on which to explore—to help you find new insights in prayer by embracing your creativity. Watch for more announcements, or pre-order now :-).)

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that the text in the Beautiful Word Bible is a little too small for my nearing-50 eyes. But the font is pretty and legible—an important consideration to this designer :-). I also wish the paper was a little thicker because some of the illustrated verses kind of show through the pages. Then again, Bibles always use thin paper or else they’d be too big and bulky to carry around!

Beautiful Word Bible composite

Would you like to win one of these Bibles? I have a hard-cover version and one with a leather cover to give away. To enter, just subscribe to my blog posts (right-hand sidebar) or leave a comment below. On April 8 (next Friday) I will post winners. And I’ll even include a little box of colored pencils I had produced as swag for the release of Praying Upside Down.

Hope lots of you will enter—I’m excited to be able to give these away! What do you think about this Bible? Does it scare you or thrill you to be invited to color in your Bible?


Some additional info from Zondervan that you might find useful:

Tips For Bible Art Journaling:

  1. Use the right pen: Look for a pen designed for Bible journaling to minimize bleed through and tears. There are many options in plenty of colors. Or, try your hand at colored pencils which make a great alternative to pens.
  2. Practice on scrap paper: Learn key factors like spacing and ink drying time before you make your mark on your Bible.
  3. Use back pages: When you get comfortable and want to move to Bible paper, try the pages in the back to help build confidence.
  4. Integrate Washi tape: Just a little tape under favorite verses and around the edge adds a lot of interest to the pages
  5. Peel and stick: You name it, there is a sticker for it. From letters and pictures, to shapes, ribbons, and designs. You don’t have to be an accomplished artist to brighten your pages with stickers.
  6. Stencil and stamp: Just like stickers, there are endless options in these categories to enhance your Bible without having an art degree.
  7. Appreciate the paper: Use the translucency to your advantage by tracing your favorite images directly onto the Bible paper.
  8. Get inspired: Reflect on the designs found in NIV Beautiful Word Bible or your favorite verse art to help spark ideas.
  9. Don’t stress about mistakes: You will make them – learn and let go of perfection!

Shanna’s 7 Tips to Illustrate Your Faith (courtesy IllustratedFaith.com):

  • Spend time with God – read a devotional, listen to worship music.
  • Pray about it – ask God to guide you
  • Write it down – what is God telling you?
  • Draw it – bring that big idea into the margins of your Bible
  • Date it – Date your entries as you will want to go back to those verses and reflect
  • Tab it – Use tables to see what themes you’ve covered
  • Forget the rules – Connect with God in the way that is most natural to you!

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