25 life lessons from 25 years in business

Twenty-five years ago today I made one of the scariest (and best) decisions of my life. I had a three-month old baby and one (count ‘em—one) freelance client who paid me a few hundred dollars a month. Oh, and a husband who fully believed I could do it—can’t overlook that. So I left my job ...

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Twenty-five years ago today I made one of the scariest (and best) decisions of my life. I had a three-month old baby and one (count ‘em—one) freelance client who paid me a few hundred dollars a month. Oh, and a husband who fully believed I could do it—can’t overlook that. So I left my job as an art director at an Indianapolis ad agency to start my own graphic design business. I designed logos with a sleeping baby in my arms. I formatted newsletters with one hand while wiping off pacifiers with the other. I closed doors and hunched around the telephone receiver so the client couldn’t hear the screaming toddler in the other room. I worked all day. I worked all night sometimes. I stressed about money (sometimes it poured in, other times it was several months late, and although my husband worked we also needed my income to make ends meet). I took my daughter to a babysitter two or three days a week so I could attend meetings and get some work done. But I made it work.

Then I had another daughter less than three years later. When she was born, I had my computer set up in the living room so I could keep an eye on both girls while I tried to get something done. I hired my sister to help for a while, answering phone calls and getting project estimates and doing my billing. I experimented with moving my office outside my home, thinking I would find separation between work and life. I didn’t. So I moved back home—and had my third child, a son.

Throughout these 25 years, I’ve kept on working. Through crazy levels of work and a variety of clients and sometimes virtually no work but almost always there was plenty to keep me as busy as I wanted to be. I started writing books (and the occasional copywriting project), but I kept on designing. I designed and sold sterling silver jewelry for a while. Once my first book was published, I developed what some would call a ministry of my own, and I did that stuff, too—some speaking, building a social media presence, and so on. I’ve attended writing conferences and retreats, but through it all, I’ve kept my business going. I’m fortunate because, for me, it all feels related. It’s all about creativity—in design, in writing (in whatever form), in prayer. Rather than keep all the pieces separate and distinct, I was able to merge it all into one. My thinking was this: it all comes from the same place, from the same skill set, and it’s too complicated to have multiple businesses. So whatever I do in the “creative” realm falls under the umbrella of my business. Some parts of it earn money, some don’t, but I do it all anyway.

One year ago, with two of my kids on their own now and my youngest in high school, I moved my office again—into the building that served as my dad’s art studio until he died. I love being in that space, and I’ve finally found a decent work-life balance. Over the years, I’ve learned plenty, and although many of these lessons are specific to me and the industry I work in, many of them apply across the board. So in celebration of 25 years of building my own life, I wanted to share 25 lessons I’ve learned, in no particular order.

  1. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Embrace who you are. Be real. Don’t exaggerate or puff yourself up. Authenticity makes up for a lot of other flaws. If you work at home, say so. Most people are jealous that you get to work from home, or that you’re able to set your own hours, or what have you.
  2. You’re in charge of “marketing” yourself. Figure out how you want to be known before people ask. “I own my own graphic design business, and I work from home.” For me it was important to establish that—not because it made me any less professional, but because my way of working was affected by my being at home. A client might hear my kids in the background. They might call while I’m at the grocery. But on the flip side, they also might send me a big project at 5 pm and have it waiting for them the next morning because I sometimes work crazy hours.
  3. Just because you’re self-employed doesn’t mean you’re less of a professional. Don’t act like it or be embarrassed. Working from home, working for yourself, is a legit way to do it.
  4. Put on makeup. Get dressed. Put on shoes. Go “in” to the office. Many people who work from home love the fact that they don’t have to do these things, but honestly, when I don’t, I feel unprofessional. When I get ready for the day, I feel like I’m on equal footing with the client… especially now that some of my clients like video calling.
  5. You don’t have to apologize when asking for payment. You earned it. The client agreed to it. It’s yours, so don’t be embarrassed to remind them when the payment is late. You don’t owe them reasons why you need the money—that isn’t any of their business. But getting paid is a crucial part of being in business, and they have to understand that.
  6. Just because you work from home or have a flexible schedule, you are not obligated to “volunteer” for anything and everything. If you want to volunteer, having a flexible schedule is one of the perks, so go for it. But if you don’t, don’t accept any perceived pressure from others about it.
  7. If you do want to volunteer, find ways to volunteer that tie in to your particular skill set. For instance, I don’t volunteer to chaperone groups of teenagers or work behind the scenes at a production my kids are in—but you need a t-shirt or an ad or a program designed? I’m your girl. These are legitimate ways to contribute, and they come with the added benefit of being able to do them on your own time.
  8. Sometimes you should ask questions, not because you don’t know, but because other people need the chance to weigh in and be the “experts.” Offer people the gift of not always being on the receiving end of your expertise.
  9. This business isn’t life and death. Some things are—but not this ad deadline or whether the layout is emailed to the client on Thursday or Friday. That’s not to say deadlines aren’t important. Part of succeeding in business is living up to your promises. But don’t get caught up in unnecessary drama because when a real life or death situation happens (you have to have your dad flown home from Florida because they just discovered the cancer is everywhere and he doesn’t have much time, for instance), you realize how non-crucial the other things are. They may be important, but they’re not the most important things.
  10. Don’t give away your work for free, unless you specifically want to. Maybe you believe in a cause and want to help. Great. But non-profits still earn money and can pay for services they need. And someone else’s charity or ministry does not have to become your own. You have bills to pay, and you are offering a professional service. When you let yourself do too many things for free (or discounted rates), you will become resentful.
  11. Sometimes, even when you want to help someone with a lower rate or no rate, you should still let them pay you. Yes, people appreciate cost savings, but if they’re not paying you, you may not be as diligent about deadlines or details. There are times when I insist on paying someone else more than they asked because I need to be able to know they’ll take the job seriously. Because free or not, it’s still important to me.
  12. When you hire someone to do sub-contracted work for you, ultimately you’re responsible if they do not come through. Prepare for that. Allow extra time in the schedule. But you don’t have to be a martyr and do everything yourself because no one else delivers at the same level as you do. If you need help, get it. And try to learn how to better direct others to give you what you need.
  13. Actually, in general, be prepared to accept responsibility. For success as well as failure. Don’t play the blame game. If you screw up, admit it and apologize. If it’s not your fault completely, own your role in it. Maybe it will cost you a client, but alternatively, it might earn you greater respect. Whatever happens, though, at least you’ll know you handled it well.
  14. If there are professional services you can hire out, do it. If you can afford it (even if it’s a stretch), let someone else—who is better and more efficient—do things to help. It’s not failure to “farm out” accounting or invoicing or cleaning or computer work. If it makes your schedule more manageable, or if it’s something you don’t know how to do (or don’t want to), don’t hesitate to get help.
  15. Don’t always let other people decide for you. Part of the reason you work for yourself is so you can make choices about your work conditions and quality of life—who you work for, what projects you accept, and what tasks you will do. So don’t hold on to clients way too long simply because you want the money. Or if you do, don’t blame the client. Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve made the choice to go through all of it because you want the income, then don’t waste energy being upset about how the client does things.
  16. Pray about it, whatever “it” is—whether to accept a new client, go in a different direction, end a long-term business relationship, move offices, put together a project estimate, whatever. I don’t always do this, and I don’t always stop in a busy day to remember to ask God if a particular situation is one I want to be in. But when I do, when I take that time to say, “God, ultimately, this business is yours. My talents come from you. My life is at your pleasure,” those are the times when God clearly directs me and helps me make the best choices.
  17. There’s no sense in trying to keep your spiritual life separate from your business life, because you are a spiritual person and your beliefs inform your morals, your work ethic, and how you treat people. Use wisdom and don’t talk about faith at inappropriate times, but you don’t have to hide it or apologize for it, either. It is part of who you are. If your clients don’t like it, they don’t have to hire you. Just don’t beat anyone over the head with it. (Ever. Even if it’s not a business situation.) I struggled with this for a while, because I wasn’t sure whether to let clients know I published a spiritual book—but I got nothing but respect from my clients when they found out.
  18. Know your limits. It’s one thing to stretch and grow. It’s another to get in way over your head. Don’t set yourself up to fail, and be humble enough to know when to admit failure or ask for help. (Those are two different things. Asking for help is not the same as failing.)
  19. Allow yourself to change. You can adapt and evolve your skills, your services, your way of doing business, the industries you work in, and how you charge people for your work. Just because you did it one way before doesn’t mean you have to do it that way forevermore.
  20. Believe in yourself. Not everyone else will support you the way you need them to, and not every client will be a good fit. Those things don’t mean you’re not qualified or competent. You have to have a sense of your inherent worth and hold onto that. I don’t mean you should be arrogant or boastful, just that you can’t let your sense of self-worth hinge on your clients’ responses to your work.
  21. Don’t take it personally. Not every client will like everything you do. The changes will seem arbitrary and frustrate the snot out of you. Some clients’ thought processes will baffle you. Chances are good, though, that they’re not rejecting you or saying you’re not a good designer—just that you haven’t yet given them what they had in mind.
  22. Learn to read between the lines. You’ll have to become proficient at understanding what a client is not saying, of figuring out what they can’t seem to articulate. This is one of the hardest things for me, because I don’t really do nuance—I am what you see, and I say what I mean. But recognize that people do not always communicate effectively, and part of your job is to learn to translate what they say into what they mean.
  23. This is business, not a social club. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the client or other contractors may become your friends. Feel free to let them into your life and ask about theirs—but watch for clues, don’t push that on someone who clearly maintains a line between personal life and business, and know when you need to get back to work. I’ve been fortunate to work with people who have become good friends—which is great, because when you work a lot, it’s nice to enjoy the people you’re working with. But being friends isn’t a requirement for working well together.
  24. Do unto others… If you want respect, offer it. If you want consideration, be considerate. If you want honesty, don’t make up lies and excuses. People are perceptive and they know when you are not sincere, when they’re being taken advantage of or when they’re barely tolerated.
  25. Live life with a spirit of generosity. I’m not just talking about money. Cultivate an attitude of “what can I offer to them?” Or “how can I leave them better off than when I got here?” Go the extra mile. Do that little bit of extra. Don’t be afraid to share tips and tricks—just because someone else can do something doesn’t threaten your job security. You still have talent and experience others might not. Do not hold tightly to your work, your clients, your ideas, your business model, your skill set, your time. Offer it to God and then respond when He nudges you to offer it to someone else. There’s always more (of whatever it is) where that came from. And giving freely cultivates an attitude of kindness and generosity that overflows into all of your life.

It’s a process (how I create my prayer prompt calendars)

Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I ...

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Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I could try. (If you’re not really interested in the process, I won’t take offense—simply click here to go straight to the August calendar download.)

Before I tell you about how I create these, let me back up and tell you about why I started doing them in the first place. In order to find a publisher, an author usually needs a good “platform”—which, simply defined, is the audience the author has influence with, usually consisting of social media followers, blog readers, and so forth. One of the tried-and-true ways to increase blog followers is to offer free downloads as an incentive for subscribing. Many other Christian authors offer free downloads of inspirational quotes or scriptures. As a designer, it would be simple for me to do the same thing, but then I realized that as nice as those are (and I hope to offend no one when I say this), those weren’t really something I wanted or downloaded for myself. So I started researching, looking for something I could offer that related to my book (Praying Upside Down) and seemed specific to me. My Pinterest board from that time was filled with downloadable quotes, prayer journal pages, etc… but nothing really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to do something just for the sake of having something, but I wanted to create something useful. Then I saw a calendar somewhere, and I thought, hey, what if I made a monthly prayer calendar? When I sat down to do it, I grabbed a bunch of random, colorful photos and started playing around. The first several months were completely haphazard.



Over time, the process evolved, becoming less random and more intentional. I started thinking about themes (beginning with giving thanks for November), and then, apparently, I got tired of bring confined to the straight calendar grid and started breaking out of that structure.

People started responding to the calendars, and I started keeping a list of potential themes or graphic ideas when I saw something that inspired me. I’ve done a few calendars tailored to the content of some books I loved (Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, Rush by Jayme Mansfield, and The Spirit-Led Heart by Suzie Eller), and some just based on fun or graphic images I found.



Somewhere along the way, these calendars became one of my favorite things to do. They’re all about prayer… creativity… coming up with something new… having fun… finding a new look, a new approach—a combination of words and images and prayer that I’m uniquely suited to create. I’ve been making these monthly since March 2015—over three years—and I’m not tired of it yet. As you can see, especially when you compare these to the first calendars I did, they’ve definitely evolved over time!

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OK, so now that you know the background of the calendars,
let’s talk about the specific process of making one.

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I start with just a vague idea about possible themes, usually tied in somehow to the month. If it’s spring, it might be focused on growth, or words and phrases connected to the color green. Summer might be about freedom. September might be back-to-school (even though our schools start in August—old habits die hard)—perhaps a chalkboard theme, or teaching or learning. Some of the holiday months are pretty obvious—gifts for Christmas, gratitude for Thanksgiving.

For my August calendar this year, I considered some concepts related to the month—the colors of the August birthstone, definition of “august,” checked out the holidays that month. In the end, I chose the theme of travel/exploration/adventure, simply because I was preparing for a trip to Malta and that was the mood I was in.

From there, I went to Shutterstock.com, a stock photography and illustration site I subscribe to for my graphic design business. I scribble ideas on a piece of paper and start searching related words, looking for some kind of overall graphic look. It might be a complicated illustration, or a border and a bunch of little pieces. I collect them in a “lightbox” until I have plenty of possibilities. Using Adobe Illustrator, I can change colors, modify shapes, and so on.


I decided that I loved the look of the retro travel stuff, the postmarks and luggage tags, so I started playing with the airmail envelope border and then filled in with smaller graphics related to the individual prayer prompts. I also picked one graphic to use as my primary color palette (the six postcards in the third graphic in the row above this paragraph). Starting with my calendar template in Adobe InDesign, I began copying and pasting individual elements to try to come up with a workable structure.

After playing with images for a while, I went back to words. First, I searched for travel idioms to inspire the prompts…

  • Mile a minute
  • Bad news travels fast
  • Have __, will travel
  • Travel light
  • Off the beaten track
  • Travel broadens the mind
  • Travel with someone
  • Right up my alley
  • Whatever floats your boat
  • Jump ship
  • Train of thought
  • Step it up a gear asleep at the wheel
  • At a crossroads
  • At a fork in the road
  • Backseat driver
  • Put the cart before the horse
  • Cool your jets (calm down)
  • Fifth wheel (someone who’s superfluous)
  • In the driver’s seat
  • Ships that pass in the night
  • Middle of the road (moderate)
  • My way or the highway
  • Road rage
  • On the right track
  • Going nowhere fast


Then I looked for more graphics on Shutterstock related to some of the key words that seemed to have potential.

  • travel
  • map
  • suitcase
  • Airport/airplane
  • cars
  • trains
  • boats
  • tickets
  • world
  • globe
  • stamps
  • coins

Next, I pulled out some of those pictures and scattered them around the page, then started typing in (in a random order) some of the prayers inspired by the images. I keep paper in front of me so I can jot down ideas as they come.

  • Someone who feels lost
  • Sunglasses – what people see
  • Camera- something you’d like to capture, seeing the beauty
  • Vintage travel – suitcase
  • Suitcases – heavy – carrying something they shouldn’t
  • Wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round – someone who’s spinning in circles, getting nowhere
  • Give thanks for the life you have, not the life you want
  • Train tracks, ships that pass in the night
  • Train coming out of a tunnel – pray for someone to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, or pray for someone passing through

From there, it’s simply a lot of back and forth… a few prayers, a few more images, a few more prayers inspired by those images. It’s like a giant crossword puzzle, and I keep moving things around until they fit. I add some color here and there, add things in, take a few things away, substitute shapes and color blocks for some of the calendar squares… Eventually, all the squares are filled, and I’ve squeezed in whatever graphics I can and found a reasonable overall balance to the page….

And voilá! The calendar is ready to download.
[Click here to download your August prayer prompt calendar.]


It’s always just a trial and error process, one in which I follow my gut instinct and operate on a whim. I try to find funny twists on the words and graphics, and I don’t shy away from irreverence. I want this to be fun, and real. I want people to know that prayer doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, that it can be fun and whimsical.

And from there, I hope people will take the same approach I used to create these—and run with it. Use the prompt to get you started but let your mind roam freely from there. Follow the seemingly random connections. Let God bring people to mind and use your individual thought processes in a creative way to guide your prayers.

I can provide a starting point, but it’s up to you—and God—where you go with it from there. Just as I go back and forth, following whatever obscure connections I see in the space between the words and the pictures, I hope you will follow those trails through your own brain. We’ll never get it all. We’ll never pray about every situation that needs prayer. We’ll never remember everyone we care about. The world’s needs are too great. People are too numerous. We’re too limited.

But our God is a creative God. I believe He delights in us when we offer our creative selves to Him, when we try to channel that creative energy that is at the foundation of who He is and all that He creates. I believe He uses these calendars—not because of anything I did, in particular, but because each one of you opens yourself up to His leading when you open your mind to prayer.

I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it.

Revealing the Truth—interview

Just wanted to share this with you, if you have a little spare time and want to hear us talk about prayer. Rabbi Eric Walker is a great interviewer and a talented speaker—check out his show, Revealing the Truth, on Igniting a Nation right here....

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Just wanted to share this with you, if you have a little spare time and want to hear us talk about prayer. Rabbi Eric Walker is a great interviewer and a talented speaker—check out his show, Revealing the Truth, on Igniting a Nation right here.

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!

 

 

Calendar Contest Winners (yes, that word is plural)

I specifically chose NOT to select one word as a theme for this year. I’m terrible at following through with things. And yet one message keeps sticking with me regarding my writing and ministry (if you want to call it that)—generosity. I cannot only promote myself. I can’t do things that are simply to further my own brand. So ...

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I specifically chose NOT to select one word as a theme for this year. I’m terrible at following through with things. And yet one message keeps sticking with me regarding my writing and ministry (if you want to call it that)—generosity. I cannot only promote myself. I can’t do things that are simply to further my own brand. So much of the writing business is about tooting your own horn and staying in front of your readers. I feel uncomfortable every time I do that, and yet I keep trying because I feel like that’s what I’m “supposed” to do.

However, in a Bible study a few months ago, I was introduced to the concept that we don’t need to keep coming up with new plans, asking God to bless them. We need to watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board.

So that is what I’m doing.

Do you realize how many amazing ministries there are out there? Some causes are close to my heart; others are new to me. Some people have far-reaching audiences and some have no more than a handful of friends. And yet the love behind each of their efforts is genuine and enthusiastic and passionate. I’d be honored to work with these women (not meaning to generalize, but all of the entries came from women) to reach new people—to help people focus their thoughts and pray, whatever the particular circumstances. To give them hope to hold onto, no matter what is going on.

Almost immediately after I announced this contest, I felt such regret. Not because I had second thoughts about designing a calendar for someone else, but because HOW ON EARTH CAN I DECIDE?! I received SO MANY amazing ideas. Well over 30 of them, most well thought out and intriguing. I’ve read them again and again, printed them out, thought and planned and made spread sheets and prayed.

But I couldn’t make a decision.

Until I realized that the only person limiting me to just one winner was me. This is my blog… this is my contest… and I can do what I want :-).

So this is what I’m doing:

The winner of the prayer calendar for March is, well, two people. It’s sort of a combination of the ideas entered by Michelle Nietert and Dr. Michelle Bengtson.

Michelle Nietert sent me this:

I’m a professional counselor and March is our busiest season especially for children and adolescents as well as their families. It begins the first month of the season of the highest suicide attempt rates in the country for adolescents. Also increased teen pregnancy and psych hospital admissions occur in the spring. I would love to see a calendar about praying through emotions and themes that combat these struggles. Prayer prompts for things like experiencing joy instead of depression, hope to combat discouragement, replacing fear with courage, confidence to combat doubt, energy to replace exhaustion, etc.

Dr. Michelle Bengtson, author of Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression, wrote this:

I’d love to have a prayer prompt calendar centered around some of the themes in my book, Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression. Prompts could include (but not limited to) praying for those who are currently struggling in the valley of depression, as well as prompts that coincide with the chapters in the book: recovering our joy, reclaiming our peace, re-establishing our identity, knowing our worth in Him, remembering our secure destiny, being confident that nothing separates us from His love, being thankful that God uses our pain, etc.

Michelle Nietert brought my attention to the appropriateness of the timing, but I’ve been wanting to read Michelle Bengtson’s Hope Prevails, so I’m kind of merging the two entries into one calendar. I plan to pull many of the prompts from ideas in the book. I’m excited to bring this to you next month, particularly because in this part of the country, March can be pretty blah. And we can all, always, use some hope.

But then again, why stop there?!

In May, I’m teaming up with Sarah Philpott for a topic I feel passionate about—a movement to honor all women on Mother’s Day. I haven’t miscarried or lost a child or had fertility issues, but I have lost my mom, and it made me realize how many people experience mixed emotions while the rest of the world is celebrating mothers during that whole month.

In October or November, I’m planning to do a calendar based around the themes of a new novel—historical fiction about the Oklahoma Land Rush—being released by Jayme Mansfield. I think it will be a fun challenge to create a calendar around ideas in a novel. I picked this simply because I thought it would be fun.

And all those other months? Well, you just never know. So if you aren’t mentioned here, that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t hear from me later! Honestly, the only thing keeping me from promising to pick one a month for the next year is the fact that, while I love to plan, I’m terrible at follow-through. I don’t want to overcommit and then disappoint people (and myself). Not to mention the fact that I need to leave some room for creativity—whatever floats my boat at that particular time. I like to leave some room for inspiration and whimsy. While writing this post, in fact, I came up with yet another idea I am dying to do for April!

Please know that if I move forward with any of your ideas, I will give you credit, link to your blog (if you have one), and seek your input as I create the calendar.

So, to all of you who entered, I want to say thank you. Besides inspiring me in general, your suggestions also inspired me to branch out.

Many of the ideas submitted were important but not necessarily universal needs—things like pregnancy loss, being in the sandwich generation, facing cancer, dealing with grief, and so on. A few months ago I created a calendar for Laura Polk, who writes for Christian single moms. (If you’d like to know how to pray for a single mom (or if you’re one), click on over here to sign up for her newsletter and get your copy of it for free.) As I read the contest entries, I decided to expand on that idea and develop a series of undated “30 days of prayer for ___” calendars to make available for people whenever they’re facing a specific situation.  I plan to slowly add to my downloads page with more of these as I can find the time.

In a few weeks, I’ll send the new hope-themed calendar to my newsletter subscribers, so if you’re not already signed up, now would be a good time. (Click here and then subscribe in the purple box in the upper right part of the page. The teal colored “never miss a post” box on the blog page subscribes you to blog posts but not my monthly newsletter.) When you sign up, you’ll have access to the February calendar right away.

Thank you all for the excitement surrounding these calendars, for your passion for the people you’re connected with, and for your belief that prayer matters!

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.

 

When prayer is transformed by the creative spark

It happened again. I sat down to pray. House is quiet, I’m the only one awake and downstairs. I just had oral surgery and I’m supposed to be relaxing, so I have plenty of time to pray and read and I’m in no hurry to get somewhere. I close my eyes, draw my thoughts inward. ...

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It happened again.

I sat down to pray. House is quiet, I’m the only one awake and downstairs. I just had oral surgery and I’m supposed to be relaxing, so I have plenty of time to pray and read and I’m in no hurry to get somewhere. I close my eyes, draw my thoughts inward. Lord, it’s so good to be here…

My eyes pop open and I remember I was going to look up a Bible verse a friend and I talked about the other day. There were some related verses, but I don’t remember where to find them, so a quick Google search took me there. I wrote them down, read the Bible commentary, and put down my books.

Oh, wait. A quick text to a friend saying yes, I want to attend the Thursday morning Bible study she’s teaching.

Back to prayer. Eyes closed. What can I do to bring you joy, Lord? Oh, wait, I’m supposed to ask you about everything I add to my calendar, so I guess that means the Bible study I just signed up for. But surely you want me to do things related to ministry. I need to write, but this gets me into the Word, which is always good for me.

How do I know what to do? Is it faith to assume that the things that come my way—the speaking and writing opportunities—are all from You since that’s what I want to do? Is it irresponsible to put those things first and then squeeze in work later? I need to earn some money. But I want to serve you. Do those have to be mutually exclusive? Why can’t I remember to ask Your opinion about ALL the things that come my way—every work project, every client, every meeting, every idea?

I need to do the social media posts for the new prayer prompt calendar. Excited about the one I just made for the upcoming prayer workshop. And that retreat idea I just had is really interesting to me. I think there’s a need for it. I wonder who can help me? Oh, did I write down the insight I had about Paul speaking in the language that his hearers would understand? That’s so important, especially to those of us whose ministry is writing. I should do a blog post. Oh, and those verses I looked up, those would make a good post, too. I glance back at my Bible and read another verse. It’s circled, but I don’t remember it at all. It would be a good one to include in the book I want to write someday about doubt. Better get that down.

I reach for my laptop and notebook, then stop mid-reach, exasperated with myself. Why can’t I ever focus on prayer? Why are my thoughts so disjointed?

And then it hits me. When I sit down to pray, I keep being distracted by the creative spark—neurons firing, ideas traveling at the speed of light.

Could it be that the creative spark is a kind of prayer? Could it be that these ideas, this excitement and passion and burst of energy, are prayer? How many times have I said—and written—that God is the ultimate Creator, the originator of ideas, and that when we create, we are closest to Him?

So why is this only now dawning on me? Why am I beating myself up for not praying properly, when I’m the first to say there is no such thing as right and wrong in prayer?

Help me, Jesus, to find the right balance between time spent talking to you and time spent creating and recording my ideas. Help me distinguish between the ones that are from You and the ones that are only mine, and let me pursue only the ones that come from You.

Let me operate in a fullness I’ve never yet realized, using every last bit of ability you’ve given me. Let me waste nothing. I’ve often said that Jesus went away in the mornings to pray—but then he got up and acted. He healed and taught and draw people to him. He didn’t seem to stop and ask for direction along the way—he sought God first, and then he trusted that God would be with Him. That’s what I want to do. And that is what I try to do, to believe that what I encounter throughout my days comes from You. I try not to hesitate. But I don’t want to delude myself into believing something that is not true. I don’t want to let myself get so consumed with these sparks of ideas that I neglect the One who provides them. I don’t want to pull away and make them about me instead of about You.

Thank You, Lord, for the way You speak to me—in insights, bursts, creativity. Thank You for speaking to me in prayer, in a new way, and for showing me the things You do. You are amazing, and I am so blessed, and I don’t know what I’d do without You.

Amen.

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.

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