10 ways to stay sane this summer

I’m a master of excess, at squeezing in one more thing. I buy too many things, but if I rearrange enough times, and get smart about alphabetizing or nesting or arranging by size—or if I buy just the right containers—I can get one more thing neatly put away. I’ve found ingenious ways to use hangers ...

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I’m a master of excess, at squeezing in one more thing.

I buy too many things, but if I rearrange enough times, and get smart about alphabetizing or nesting or arranging by size—or if I buy just the right containers—I can get one more thing neatly put away. I’ve found ingenious ways to use hangers and boxes and drawers for more than they’re meant to be used for. I’ve worked and reworked my bookshelves to hold one more book… and another couple or three… and this one and, oh, that one too… and finally started reading on an iPad because there just wasn’t physical room in my house for more novels, and I could get a whole lot more books in such a compact little digital space.

I do the same thing with my time. There’s always room to squeeze in one more thing… a 15-minute gap here, or down time while the spaghetti is cooking, or a few minutes less of sleep. I can write cards or finish my Bible study or assemble a craft while watching TV. Read books while eating breakfast. Upload daily social media posts for a whole month in one afternoon while I watch a movie with my husband. Condition my hair while I shave my legs. Answer emails from the bathroom. Clean out the fridge while the bagel is toasting, and load the dishwasher while my lunch is cooking in the microwave. (And then reload it to squeeze in four more cups I found scattered around the living room after I thought I was finished.) You know the drill. You do it, too.

Our lives aren’t meant to be so full. And yet, well, summer happens and it often brings even more to do.

If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of the word summer induces stress-related hives. Honestly, my kids are old enough that summers now aren’t all that different for me than the rest of the year. But I think I suffer from PTSD, because summers have usually meant more appointments—camps, summer PE, drop-offs and pick-ups and practices and summer reading and complete chaos. Not to mention kids invading my space. (I work at home, so it’s a big change to go from everyone at school to everyone home, just one room away from me with the TV on, phones vibrating, snacks being consumed, Netflix shows eating up the internet bandwidth, and cars barreling in and out of the driveway.)

Given all the craziness, what would you say if I told you that you also needed to find time to pray?

It’s true, though. Prayer is the way our souls find peace. It is the one place we can find rest. We can take it with us. We can lean on it and allow it to help us stand strong and firm. We can let prayer soothe our anxieties, declutter our minds, and keep us focused on the big picture—keeping our eyes on Christ. Even if you can’t find the time you think you need to pray.

Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or involved or time-consuming. Think of it as a radio playing in the background. If you can keep the lines of communication open, you will discover that you feel calmer, you remain more centered, and life feels a little less crazy.

Here are some tips to help you squeeze in a little more prayer time this summer (or anytime).

  1. Let yourself off the hook. Give yourself grace—permission to be less than perfect and permission not to dwell on your failings. This may not help you find additional time, but it will allow you to use whatever time you have more productively. There’s nothing to be gained by beating yourself up—especially if it takes up time you could spend actually praying.
  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Maybe now is not the time to start a new reading plan or add two new prayer groups. Don’t give up the things that keep your faith strong, but consider temporarily lowering your goals—or changing them, adapting to your new schedule. Instead of quiet time every morning, shoot for three times a week, or have it after you drop the kids off at swimming lessons.
  3. Find ways to incorporate your kids. Do you enjoy working on your Bible study over a cup of coffee one morning a week? Make a study date of it—have them grab their summer reading and sip on a flavored lemonade or fruity tea alongside you. Or sit at a picnic table with your Bible or journal while they play at the park.
  4. Make a set of keychain prayers. Cut up some index cards (or buy a set of pre-made craft tags) and put them on a keychain. When you find yourself waiting in a pickup line, or killing time in between activities in the car, flip through the names written on the tags and offer up silent prayers.
  5. Try an app like First 5, which helps you start the day with a short devotion and Bible reading before you get out of bed.
  6. Download some podcasts. It’s easy to add them to your phone, and then you can plug in some ear buds and get inspiration from your favorite speakers and pastors while you go for a walk, sit and watch swim lessons, or mow the yard.*
  7. Whenever you have to wait, don’t waste the time—pray. Whether you’re in the checkout line at the grocery, waiting for a train to clear the tracks in front of you, or sitting on the sidelines waiting for a baseball game to begin, offer up a short prayer. Thank God for the life you have, for the people you’re with, for your awareness of His presence. For the sunshine, for the beautiful day, for the purpose in your life. You can pray about anything, but the quickest (and least private) prayers may be ones of gratitude.
  8. Think in terms of prayer symbols. Does your sister love McDonald’s sweet tea? Say a prayer for her whenever you drive by (or through) a Mickey D’s. Is your son a soccer fanatic? Pray for him every time you pick up a cleat or dirty soccer sock. Assign “symbols” to the people in your life, and let those prompt you to pray whenever you see them—whether you’re on the go or watching TV.
  9. Print this free prayer prompt calendar. Put it on your fridge to remind you to pray whenever you open the door for some cool air or to grab a popsicle.
  10. Remember that God is with you, wherever you are. Whatever you’re doing. There may not be room for one more thing on your calendar, but there is always room for Him. Every morning, before you head out, invite Him along for the ride. I promise you, He will say yes.


*I don’t want to be obnoxiously self-promotional, but I’m part of an amazing lineup of women in an online summit scheduled for June 5-8. If I didn’t think it was going to be wonderful, I wouldn’t have said anything :-). The Journey Summit is free if you tune in live, or you can buy an all-access pass to hear all the interviews anytime it’s convenient. Learn more here.

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.

Why you shouldn’t pray like I did

“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm. When I ...

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“Oh! I have a house to sell, too! I’ll pray for the woman who’s going to buy it, just like you did! And then it will sell!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. While I hope that my “praying upside down” story inspires others, this kind of conversation makes me squirm.

When I started praying that way, it didn’t feel like my idea. I believe God placed the idea into my mind. It happened during a time of prayer—I told God I was scared and didn’t know what I’d do if this went on much longer, and I got an instant thought-reply: Pray for the woman who will buy this house.

Like so often when God seems to speak, it was simple, direct, and not exactly logical. Over time, I discovered layer after layer to it. That I was to pray for her, not them. That things in her life had to line up before she’d be ready. I slowly discovered that praying this way helped me to understand that I was part of something else. That it took the focus off of my needs and made me more like Christ (although still far, far from coming close to Him). That praying this way and learning to care about her made it possible for Tim and I to be more generous when in the end we lost money in order to close the deal. After the house sold and I met Rosanne, the buyer formerly known as “that woman,” I learned that there were so many things that God did during that time.

Layer upon layer. God was faithful in the way He worked out the situation. He answered my prayers, and He answered Rosanne’s prayers, too. I love telling this story. (A side note: Having the story published in my first book answered yet another prayer.)

But here’s the problem with it all. I can’t promise God will answer you the same way He answered me.

I am sure He will answer. I am not sure when (it might be a very long time, or it might happen before I finish typing this sentence). I am not sure how He will answer (yes, no, maybe, not now). I am not sure what lessons He might want you to learn in the process, what people He wants to become part of your life, what decisions you will have to make, what sacrifices you will feel the need to offer. Although I believe God will be right there with you, I can’t even promise that you will see, hear, or feel Him.

So by all means, yes, pray for the woman who might someday buy your house. But, also, go to God with honesty. Be real. And spend some time listening. Maybe this is exactly what God wants you to pray, but maybe He has something else in mind for you. Something different—and yet better, because it is perfectly meant for you.

That’s why I get uncomfortable. It’s not wrong to see my story as a lesson and pray the way I did. But I am just afraid that people will see it as a magical answer, a formula. If I do this, then God will do that. But it really doesn’t work that way at all.

He is the reason this all worked. He is the reason I prayed the way I did.

The only credit I’ll take for everything that happened is this: I listened.

I don’t want to discourage you; instead, what I hope this post will do is encourage you to go back to God. To ask for your own, personal answer. To seek His direction. To ask Him what He wants you to do.

And then? Do it. Don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t apologize or make up excuses. Don’t wonder if you’re crazy for thinking you heard God. And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear from Him.

Pray, and listen.

Pray, and put one foot in front of the other.

Pray, and ask God how to please Him.

Pray, and thank Him for His goodness.

Pray, and ask God to strengthen your faith.

Pray. And wait. Trust Him, and believe Him when He responds.

And know that, whatever comes, God is in it. Know that, however large the obstacle, God can overcome it. Know that, however long you have to wait, God knows what He is doing.

Allow yourself to believe that He has something in store for you.Perfectly tailored to fit your needs. The right size, the right solution, the right timing.

And allow Him to do His thing. Whatever it looks like, however it sounds.

Because God is the one who turned my prayers upside down. And the One who made everything right. He is the One who came up with the crazy solution, and He is the one who enacted it. He gave me hope, and He provided the hope.

And He is the One who will do the exact same thing for you.

Only thing is, it may look completely different.


Tell me—What are you struggling with right now? Leave a comment and rest assured that I will pray for you.

Jesus liked to pray upside down, too

I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down. I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around. One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left ...

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I don’t know about you, but my favorite way to pray is upside down.

I’m in good company. Jesus constantly surprised his followers—and critics—with His unexpected answers. Jesus always challenged the status quo. He looked beyond the surface and wasn’t afraid to flip things around.

One Sunday morning when my son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan. With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.

This must be what Jesus meant when He spoke to the adults who tried to shoo the children out of the way:

“Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

Jesus broke with convention and offered all that He had to those who had nothing. No qualifications required. No secret handshake. All we need to approach Him is the confidence that He will not stop us.

And His upside-down answers didn’t stop there.

“Whoever is least among you is the greatest.” Luke 9:48

In God’s world, the blessings come from serving rather than being served. From loving, rather than just being loved. From being welcomed by the Master, even if no one else thinks we belong.

In the Bible, the Pharisees didn’t hide their good deeds but took pride in their public displays. Jesus chastised them.

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Jesus flip-flopped public faith for private, emphasizing that what’s in a person’s heart is more important than a person’s actions, and reminding us that God’s reward system isn’t the same as this world’s.

The best way to follow Jesus is by embracing the unexpected. By opening our minds to surprising new ways to see Him.

But it’s not always easy. God is the Master of Creativity, the original Artist, and He rarely responds in the ways we expect. He may ask you to forgive, even if you are the one who is wronged. He may ask you to become the wife your husband needs, rather than turning your husband into the man you always dreamed of. He may not save your job, but He might give you the time you’ve always needed to learn more about Him, or free your schedule to finish the renovations on your kitchen. He might not deliver you from poverty but instead teach you how to budget, balance, and take care of what He’s provided. Or He may show you that even if you have very little, when you can find ways to give what you do have, you will feel wealthy.

Praying upside down can be a literal flip-flop of your prayer (like when I prayed for the unknown woman who would eventually buy my house, rather than praying that I would sell the house) or any type of prayer that is unconventional, unexpected, or unusual. The power isn’t in the asking or dependent on your ability to find a creative way to ask—it’s in the creative and surprising ways in which God answers.

In Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (KJV). Nevertheless is a powerful word you rarely hear these days. When included in prayer it means that even if nothing make sense to us yet, even if we don’t know what to expect, we want the best that God has. We’re acknowledging that, even 2,000 years later, Jesus continues to provide a fresh approach. When we pray upside down, we’re looking at our situations from a different point of view—His—and saying, “I may not always understand—nevertheless, I’m willing. Turn me upside down, if that’s what You want.”

Because if that’s His point of view—oh, what a view that must be.

Don’t know what to say? These writing prompts are for you

I’ve talked to several people lately about journaling, so I thought I’d share some prayer writing prompts from my book. You can also download a single-page PDF here to keep in your journal for those days when you need some inspiration. Not sure what to say when those blank journal pages are staring you in the face? ...

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I’ve talked to several people lately about journaling, so I thought I’d share some prayer writing prompts from my book. You can also download a single-page PDF here to keep in your journal for those days when you need some inspiration.


writing prompts handout previewNot sure what to say when those blank journal pages are staring you in the face? Pick a prompt, set a timer if you want (start with ten minutes), and start writing. Don’t stop to think. Don’t let your pen stop moving until you are done. Just write. In your heart, keep an attitude of offering, of openness. You can write about God, about your faith and beliefs, or—my preference—write to God. Talk to Him as though He is sitting there beside you. (He is.)

WRITE A LOVE LETTER TO GOD:

• I love You because . . .
• My favorite thing about You is . . .
• I feel closest to You when . . .
• Today I saw You in [this person/situation] . . .
• Ask Him questions or bring Him your doubts:
• My biggest doubt is . . .
• What can I do for You?
• One thing that doesn’t make sense to me is _________. Please help me understand.
• What’s troubling me today is __________. Help me work through it.
• What stumbling blocks am I facing? How can I get past them?
• I disagree with this interpretation of Scripture. Show me the truth.
• I’m upset that You haven’t answered my prayer.
• Why did you say _______?

REMIND YOURSELF OF ALL YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM:

• The aspect of You I am leaning on today is. . . [Provider, Counselor, Healer, Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, etc.]
• The first time I knew You were there was when . . .
• When I picture You, I see ________.
• A miracle I’ve witnessed is . . .
• I know You are real because . . .
• What surprises me the most about You is . . .
• You are so good. You are ________ [fill in names, titles, aspects, characteristics].
• I remember when You . . .

TELL GOD YOUR STORIES AND RETELL HIS:

• What You have revealed to me
• A specific time someone prayed for me
• How I hear Your voice
• What I believed about You in elementary school. As a teen. When my kids were born. When I lost a person close to me. When You first revealed Yourself to me.
• Lord, You’ve changed me. Over the last year, I’ve noticed . . .
• My earliest memory of You is . . .
• My favorite gift (or talent) You have given me (and what I’d like to do with it)
• I’ll never forget the time You . . .
• Sometimes You feel far away from me when . . .

OR SIMPLY EXPLORE AND RECORD:

• The person who taught me most about prayer is . . .
• Ways to open my life to You
• Someone whose faith I admire is . . . (and why)
• What I would like my children to know about my faith is . . .
• A Scripture that means a lot to me is . . .
• I sometimes hide the fact that I am a Christian because . . .
The thing I wish I could change about myself is . . .
• What I’ve learned from watching others (both good and bad)
• Thank You for giving me the strength to . . .
• A temptation I’m struggling with is . . .
• Forgive me, Lord, for . . .
• Thank You, Lord, for . . .
• I can’t seem to forgive myself for . . .
• Help me to let go of my anger about . . .
• Teach me to forgive people who hurt me, like . . .

Sometimes taking stock of our current situation can bring with it feelings of frustration, sadness,
or anger. But it can also lead us toward gratitude, and focusing on feelings of thankfulness can help us let go of those ugly feelings.

Jesus is here

God is over all things, under all things, outside all, within, but not enclosed, without, but not excluded, above, but not raised up, below, but not depressed, wholly above, presiding, wholly without, embracing, wholly within, filling. —from Walking on Water by Madeleine ...

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[I shared this today at Internet Café Devotions. You may read it there or here.]

God is over all things,
under all things,
outside all,
within, but not enclosed,
without, but not excluded,
above, but not raised up,
below, but not depressed,
wholly above, presiding,
wholly without, embracing,
wholly within, filling.

—from Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

This time of year, it seems there’s always some talk about the so-called war on Christmas, about people being upset if a store clerk doesn’t use the actual words, “Merry Christmas.” People read cards that arrive in the mail and roll their eyes if the sentiment inside ends with “Happy Holidays.” Many of these people react from a pure heart. They love God and want everyone to focus on the point of Christmas, to remember that it’s about Jesus coming to earth—about God drawing near. About His enormous love that prompted Him to come do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

I understand where they’re coming from. I do. And in my heart, I want the same thing—an awareness of God, an understanding of the miracles we celebrate.

But I also know this: God cannot be limited. We cannot keep Him out of Christmas, no matter what we call the season. We cannot pretend He is not present, because He is in all things. Re-read the excerpt above. Over, under, outside, within, without, above, below, wholly above, wholly without, wholly within.

When we pretend God isn’t present in these holidays, we’re the ones who are deluded.

If we want to see more of Him, all we need to do is open our eyes. Open our arms, and our hearts, and our front doors. Open our pantries, our compassion, our communities. Lean on Him, call on Him, ask Him to reveal Himself. Ask Him to work through us, to shine light into the lives he’s given us, to let us be His hands extended.

And even if we don’t see Him, He is there. Because Christmas would not be miraculous if this is a temporary fix. It wouldn’t be a celebration if there were a time limit on His presence.

He is here. He was, and is, and is to come. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. The Lord God Almighty. The beginning and the end. The All in All.

No matter how other people celebrate, I know that this is reason enough for me to rejoice. To give thanks. To fall to my knees in wonder.

Because, Christmas or not, Jesus is here.

Amen.

How I got my book published

“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?” I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for ...

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“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?”

I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for me, but it might be completely different for you. However, I’m asked this question enough that I wanted to post some answers on my blog.

There are many, many helpful resources online for writers. My first go-to source is Jane Friedman. Her site is full of accurate, realistic information and she is a master at curating helpful resources for writers. This post covers all the basics of getting a nonfiction book published. You can go there, explore and read for days and days, and never need to look back here. You can also find information on Michael Hyatt’s website and in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide—or a million other places.

But, in case you’re curious, here is how it worked for me.

I had a quirky idea for a colorful gift book called Praying Upside Down. Various circumstances and comments led to me realizing it could be more than that. I spent nearly a year (working on it a little bit here and a little bit there) preparing a nonfiction book proposal, which contains information like summaries of each chapter, marketing ideas, competitive titles, my qualifications, and anticipated audience. I also wrote several chapters to get a feel for how the book would all come together and to establish my voice. I planned to pitch my idea to an agent who would be at the Midwest Writers Workshop that July. (She liked the idea and asked me to send her the full proposal, but eventually got back to me and said it was “out of her wheelhouse” and she wouldn’t be able to help me.)

In the meantime, I Googled “Christian literary agents” and found a list compiled by Michael Hyatt. I visited each agent’s website, printing out information about what types of books they were looking for and who else they represented, which I then alphabetized in a three-ring binder, complete with tabs. (OCD much?) After choosing the agents that seemed to be good matches, I narrowed it to my top three choices. Two of them asked for electronic submissions, and one requested a hard copy by mail. I sent off the emails and then, when I got together with a couple friends to pray over a house one of them needed to sell, I took the envelope with me and we prayed over it, too. I also submitted a shortened version of the proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions, a website I’d read about online.

And then I felt like I really wasn’t in the place to be writing about prayer. I was floundering spiritually and emotionally, and I wanted to try something new. So I did the practical, obvious thing (not) and decided to go to Italy for a writers workshop with Elizabeth Berg and learn about fiction. Instead, I learned about myself, and God started healing my broken heart. I wrote this essay about it, and then came home. Six weeks later (almost four months after sending my queries), in one weekend, I heard from the acquisitions editor at a small publishing house and from the agent who received the prayed-over envelope, wondering if the book was still available.

A while later I signed a contract to be represented by that agent, Blythe Daniel. She helped me improve my book proposal and sent it to seven publishers. I got an offer on the book from the small publishing house I mentioned earlier, and then got one from Tyndale. Eventually I signed the contract, agreed to a pub date almost two years away, and got to work writing the rest of the book. (For most nonfiction that is not memoir, potential publishers only see a proposal and sample chapters up front, and you write the bulk of the book after you’ve accepted an offer.) After a year or so of writing, and several months of editing, and numerous hours building my platform (developing my blog and increasing subscribers, establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to writers I’d met over the years at conferences, and so forth), and a few more months of waiting, Praying Upside Down came out in May of 2015.

It sounds fairly easy. It isn’t always. I was fortunate—it’s unusual to get an agent and publishing offers so quickly. But in a way it wasn’t quick—I had attended workshops for years to improve my writing and I didn’t send anything out until it was the best I could make it. I had worked hard to polish my query letter and book proposal, and I was deliberate about where I sent it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t quite followed the rules. I wrote each of the chapter summaries in my “voice,” and they were too long. (Ideally, they want a utilitarian, short paragraph explaining the content, not a beautifully-crafted, ultra-condensed chapter.) I did a terrible job of selecting comparable titles. My overall proposal was way longer than anyone really wanted. The agents and publishers didn’t get back to me in the timeframe I expected.

But it worked. And I have some ideas about why. My background is in marketing, and I had lots of ideas about ways to promote the book, ways to merchandise it and extend it into a line of books. I also had a quirky, catchy title and an unusual approach. And it just so happened that I had chosen to write about a topic which interests a lot of people and answers a “felt need”—in other words, even if they hadn’t articulated it to themselves, people want to know how to pray. How to do it better. Why they should do it. Because so many people feel inadequately equipped to pray.

But even if I’d done absolutely everything else right, I wouldn’t be here without Him. This book wouldn’t exist if He hadn’t wanted it to. Because one thing I can tell you for sure: this book wasn’t just about prayer. It was prayer. It was my act of worship and sacrifice and thanksgiving. My whole life’s story. A love letter to God. My church prayed over it at every stage. Friends “took” a chapter apiece to pray over as I revised. I enlisted people to be involved in a prayer campaign leading up to the release. My pastors and friends (and even some near-strangers) prayed that God would inhabit my words, that He would prepare hearts, that He would make Himself visible in the process and in the product.

Whether or not anyone else ever thinks the book was in any way divinely inspired, I know He was with me as I wrote. Because He changed me, taught me, and molded me as I wrote. Maybe He did all of this just for me, and having the book published is just a bonus. The book has opened up conversations with family and friends; built relationships with people I’ve never met who live all across the country (and even overseas); and made me stronger and bolder in my faith. I have no idea what God will do with that book, or with the next one coming out next year, but I’m absolutely giddy that I get to write.

I guess it all comes down to one final piece of advice, then. Ask God to inhabit what you do. Ask Him to use you, teach you, and prepare you for whatever He wants to do. And if you think He wants you to write, then by all means, write—with all of your passion and ability and heart. And if He doesn’t want you to write, that’s OK, too. Whatever He has in mind for you is the right thing. Our part isn’t to decide how God should use us. It’s to be open to exploring the opportunities He gives us…and then to give it all you’ve got. What you get back in return is so much better than what you had to offer in the beginning.

Taking my own advice (Be still, part 2)

This spring, I bought a convertible. It wasn’t because I was rolling in the dough from the release of my new book… or, really, from anything. No dough around here. Mid-life crisis, some might suggest. Maybe so. But I see it as a response to the fact that most days, it is only Bobby and ...

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This spring, I bought a convertible. It wasn’t because I was rolling in the dough from the release of my new book… or, really, from anything. No dough around here. Mid-life crisis, some might suggest. Maybe so. But I see it as a response to the fact that most days, it is only Bobby and me in the car. Tim has a practical vehicle which holds our whole family. Both of my girls, who are in college, have four-door sedans. Tim works long hours, but when he’s home, we have his car. And when the girls are home, we have theirs. And why not? Why not enjoy all the time I spend running between point A and point B? OK, I won’t continue to justify it any longer, except to say that 1) I dearly love it, and 2) it cost less than the Volkswagen sedan I was considering instead.

Anyway… Saturday I drove two hours to Decatur, IL, to attend an art show of my dad’s. I got in the car, and it was dark and rainy so I couldn’t put the top down. But that’s OK. I plugged in my phone, set it to Pandora’s Third Day channel, and started driving.

And I took a deep breath. And another. I noticed the shapes of the trees and the geometry of the rows of crops. I pondered deep questions, sang really loud (and rather off-key), scribbled notes about future blog posts and (possibly) my next book, and prayed.

And then I thought (in a very profound and enlightened manner), Duh! All through my book, I say to keep your eyes open. To watch. To consider the unexpected.

But did I? Not so much. All this time I’ve been feeling like I haven’t had any quiet time this summer, but I was wrong.

No wonder I jump at every chance to run to the store. Or drive an hour to Indy. Or two hours to an art show. This might explain why I’ve never bothered to sync my phone through Bluetooth—I just don’t answer when I’m driving. Because I desperately need that alone time with God. It revives and rejuvenates, restores and replenishes. Am I sitting in my living room, eyes closed, communing with God before the rest of the world awakens? Not so much. But am I still communing with God? Absolutely.

It just looks different than I was expecting.

So thankful for this revelation. Does it let me off the hook? Not at all. I still need to always look for those moments. I still need that time with God. I need to try to be more mindful about it—not because it’s a requirement or because God is mad at me, but just because it is what I need. More of Him lets me find more of me. I am in Him and He is in me. How wondrous, how amazing, is that knowledge?

I sit and revel in the awe of it. Even if it’s from the driver’s seat of my car.


The book Walk Through Fire, written by Carly Bowers (the woman who guest posted here last week), is now available on Amazon. Click here to order and read this inspiring story.

 

Why my posts have been erratic this summer

Sorry my blog posting this summer has been so erratic. This post will be, too, but wanted to send a quick update and ask you to please hang on because I will be back soon! I’ll sum up recent events in just a few short categories—most of which seem contradictory. And yet, I guess that’s simply ...

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Sorry my blog posting this summer has been so erratic. This post will be, too, but wanted to send a quick update and ask you to please hang on because I will be back soon! I’ll sum up recent events in just a few short categories—most of which seem contradictory. And yet, I guess that’s simply life.

Grieving/Celebrating Our lives got a bit topsy-turvy this week. In the interest of time, I’m pasting my Facebook status about it below:

100_1071They say that if you want to know what kind of man your husband will become, look at his father. So I did, and I saw a strong, handsome man with beautiful blue eyes and a ready laugh. I watched him grow deeper and deeper in his faith. I saw how he loved his family. I saw a good, good man.

So this is heartbreaking to report.

Last night we lost Tim’s dad. He’d been fighting cancer, but this was pneumonia taking over his compromised body with a vengeance. Every hour the news became more and more devastating, and he passed away around 6:30 pm. Coincidentally (if you know me, you know I don’t believe in coincidence), Tim was off work and the girls, Tim and I were already in Indianapolis for an appointment, so we were able to be there.

As he lay in bed fighting to beat the blasted infection, I prayed this Psalm over him: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, oh Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8) Sleep peacefully, Loren Stanley, and enjoy eternity walking beside your God. We will miss you, sweet man.

Visitation is Sunday afternoon and the funeral on Monday. As sad as we are, we’ll be celebrating a really beautiful life.

Writing/Not Writing My second book—which I’m very excited about but still haven’t talked much about—is due to Tyndale on August 30. It was a fast turnaround commitment, and as you can imagine, I haven’t been able to do much writing. So please pray for me as I head towards the finish line. And give thanks for the amazing editors they have, because they’ll be able to take my words and make them coherent and engaging. (I’m counting on it.) And I’ll tell you more about it then :-).

IMG_0380Talking/Listening One of my favorite interviews about Praying Upside Down is now available. I haven’t met Ryan Huguley in person, but I SO enjoyed talking with him. Hope you’ll enjoy it too—listen to it here.

Praying I’m excited to announce an upcoming prayer workshop. If you can be in the Lafayette, IN area on October 10th, I’d love to have you join us! We’ll meet from 10-2 that day. Fee of $25 includes a copy of Praying Upside Down and lunch. Get the registration form and info here. If you can’t come to that, I’d love to talk to you about setting one up in your area. I’m also available to speak at retreats, small groups, book clubs, Sunday school classes and Bible study groups.

And now it’s your turn. Any topics you’d like me to explore? Anything you’d like to read about? Any questions about prayer or faith? I want to give you what you are looking for here, so please, reach out to me if you have any suggestions. And now I must get back to my writing. Have a great weekend.

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