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!


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


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, 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.

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!

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