Hunting for God: Grow Your Faith through Prayer Journaling

Hunting for God: Grow Your Faith through Prayer Journaling

As a brand-new Christian, I really wanted to get to know God and develop an intimate relationship with Him, but I didn’t know where to start. I had already fallen in love with the Bible, but my prayer life felt inadequate.

Then at a women’s retreat, the speaker challenged us to keep a God Hunt Journal – a journal that tracks God’s activity in our lives. I’ve been keeping a prayer journal for over 25 years now and it has powerfully impacted my faith.

I wanted to see God’s work in my life, so I accepted the speaker’s challenge. I began keeping a prayer journal. Every morning, or at least most mornings, I read my Bible and write out a prayer in my journal. Nothing fancy or complicated. Just a conversation between me and God.

In the journal, I often respond to what I’ve just read, seeking wisdom to apply Scripture to my life. I ask God to search my heart and show me anything (sin, bad attitude, prejudice, resentment) that doesn’t belong. (Ps 139:23-24) I ask for His help to live out His will. I intercede for the needs of others.

As I pour out my heart to God, I write each word in a lined-paper book.

This simple spiritual practice powerfully impacts my faith. When I’m discouraged, I can review my prayers and see how God has helped me through previous challenges. This reminds me that God has been faithful to help me in the past and can be trusted to help me today. When trying to make difficult decisions, I can look through my journal and see the general direction God is leading me, which helps me make choices and stay on track. In these pages, I find the faith to overcome obstacles when my emotions war against moving forward.

When I review the journal and see all God has done in my life, gratitude wells up in me. I overflow with praises!

If you’d like to begin a prayer journal, here are some simple steps to get you started:

Get a journal. My favorites brands are Moleskine and Poppin, but you can use anything from a spiral notebook to a Word document. Use what works for you.

Invite the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I light a candle to symbolize God’s presence as I read my Bible and pray. This visual reminder helps me remember that I’m having a conversation with a person, not simply sending my prayers into the clouds.

Date each journal entry. This will help you find specific prayers when you go back through your journal looking for them. Sometimes God answers my prayers so dramatically that I can’t wait to re-visit the answered prayer and mark it.

Carve out time in your busy day. I like to start my day in prayer, but there have been seasons in my life when late evenings worked best. Find a time when you can be consistent.

Don’t aim for perfection. If you miss a day (or several) just jump back in and begin again. You don’t have to have the perfect pen, journal, or even great penmanship. Just show up and journal!

Hunt for God. Periodically review your journal for answered prayers, guidance, and growth. Highlight or mark your entries, including how God answered your prayers. Praise God for what you see as you review.

Do you have any questions about prayer journaling? 

Grow Your Writing through Critique Groups

Grow Your Writing through Critique Groups

A good critique group can help you go farther, faster in your writing journey. In today’s Writers Authors on Fire podcast, John Vonhof interviewed me on critique groups. We covered everything from how these groups function, how to form or find one, and how you can grow with the help of a group.

If you’d like to know more about forming or joining a critique group, follow the link below to  Writers Authors on Fire. If you have any questions about critiquing or forming a group, leave me a comment below.

 

096 – Elizabeth M Thompson

Prayer: The Foundation of a Writing Life

Prayer: The Foundation of a Writing Life

Hands in prayer over keyboard

By Elizabeth M. Thompson

Years ago a friend shared with me that her co-worker always bowed her head to pray before tackling her workload. This simple act was the catalyst for my friend accepting Christ. It was also the catalyst for me, as a new believer, to begin praying over my work each day.

When I left the corporate world and embarked on the adventure of full-time motherhood, I relied on this habit more than ever.

I’ve long understood the importance of praying first, before I work, before I act, before I speak.

So, why do I charge ahead with my writing sometimes? What makes me think I can write anything of value without first seeking God?

This morning I’m reminding myself (and you, too in case you need a reminder), to stop and pray before putting words on the page. To ask not only for God’s favor on our projects this week, but also to invite Him to the process–that we might write with Him and not just for Him.

 

Lord, please keep us focused on you. Help us to fully engage with you, seeking only to please you and bring glory to you in our writing.

Please give us words that meet our readers’ needs–words of encouragement, exhortation, and inspiration.

Give us courage to write from our most tender places. Those parts of us where your Spirit is at work.

Protect us from the devourer of dreams and infuse our words with creativity, power, and grace.

Amen

 

There are No Racial Boundaries in the Ladies’ Room

There are No Racial Boundaries in the Ladies’ Room

Flickr: Matthew G

Last Sunday we made the long quiet drive home from Los Angeles after dropping our son off at Biola University. It had been an emotional week and I wanted to get home and begin our new normal — with only one child remaining in our nearly empty nest. Around Stockton, said child declared her hunger and asked for an In-N-Out stop. While waiting for her food, I stepped the restroom. (Did I mention, it’s a VERY long drive!)

In the ladies’ room was a woman deep in conversation with her son. He was maybe 10 years old and, I thought, a little old to be in a women’s restroom. But with so much craziness happening in the world today, I’d be tempted to keep my son at my side too. I was observing this mother-son duo at the sink, listening in to their conversation about his new dirt bike and her insistence that he always wear a helmet when he rides.

Caught up in my own thoughts, I didn’t realize I was staring until I saw the woman watching me watch them.

Racial tensions are high in the US right now, with Black Lives Matter protests nearly every day.  Afraid my eavesdropping might be misconstrued, I quickly blurted out, “I just dropped my son off in college. In LA.”

The woman sized me up and said, “Momma needs a hug!”

Before I could respond, she had wrapped me in a hearty embrace — right in the middle of the In-N-Out restroom!

Her son must be used to her demonstrative behavior because he was clearly unphased by it.

I hugged her and thanked her. Tears streamed down my face, not because I was missing my son, but because I felt so blessed that a complete stranger, a lovely black stranger, had entered into my loss and comforted me.

 Just moms who love their kids and understand each other’s hearts.

******

When was the last time a stranger comforted you?

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Mark 12:31

Michele Zumwalt: Ruby Shoes

Michele Zumwalt: Ruby Shoes

In Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt invites readers into her struggle to overcome prescription drug addiction. Michele gives readers hope that they too can overcome the stronghold of addiction. Her story is a powerful testimony of what God can do with a surrendered life.

Maybe you have a very personal story you need to share with the world, too. Maybe your testimony can help pull others from despair and defeat. I hope this interview with Michele will nudge you to get your story written and published so it can bring hope and healing to readers.

Addiction to prescription medications is all over the media lately. How big is the problem?

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the chance to talk with my friends at Inspire Writers.  I have so much respect for what you do and I’m truly honored to talk with you.

Prescription drug addiction has recently been called an epidemic in America by the Department of Health & Human Services. Americans are only 4% of the world’s population and yet we take 80% of all narcotic prescription medications. More people die every year from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose and as a Law Enforcement Chaplain in Sacramento County, I know. I’ve done far too many death notifications and witnessed too many preventable deaths just in our county alone.  Since 1999, the number of narcotic prescriptions in the US has quadrupled.  That’s why I wrote the book, Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction, to bring hope to a hopeless situation.

How did you become addicted to prescription drugs? How long were you addicted?

Like almost everyone who becomes addicted to prescription drugs, I was caught off guard by the addiction. Most people become addicted because of an injury or some type of chronic pain problem. I developed headaches in college and started on opiates to treat the pain.

There’s nothing social about prescription addiction. No one goes to a bar to take some prescriptions. It’s all very benign and clinical. The doctors prescribed it, and so it’s safe, right? The problem is that prescriptions are taken at home alone and when we get in trouble with these powerful drugs, we are alone with the problem. I became addicted very quickly and struggled with this addiction for years. It almost killed me.

 

At what point did you know there was a problem with your prescription drug use?

There were several ominous warnings, but I can remember one time in the hospital when they were preparing to run an MRI. I had developed a fever, which I later learned was drug fever from chronic use of opiate medications. That day in the hospital, they gave me a heavy dose of Demerol on top of what they had already given me. I overdosed and had a grand mal seizure.  When I awoke, the doctor said they would do the MRI the next day, but if there was nothing on the scan, they would have to consider that perhaps all these medications were the problem. At that point I said a prayer. I asked God to let them find something, anything, on the brain scan. As absurd as it sounds, I would rather have had six months to live with the drugs than to consider a life without them. By that point in the addiction, it was as if they were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen. That day, deep in my heart I knew that I was in real trouble.

 

How did you finally break free from the addiction?Ruby Shoes

My family intervened and put me in a treatment facility in Orange County; but honestly, it took years for me to come to terms with this problem. I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere. I was angry and resentful. I spent many years in and out of recovery. In Ruby Shoes I tried to provide the reader details about this life-and-death struggle. I believe every prescription addict faces it before they finally surrender. My final surrender came when I almost died in the ICU at Mercy Folsom Hospital. God saved me, even from myself. Chapter Eight, “What a Gift – Those Ruby Shoes” describes the turning point for me. I needed to know how much God really loved me. In my most broken and sinful place, He loved me completely. Just like Dorothy from Oz, no one could save me. My family couldn’t do it for me. I had to surrender this problem myself. I had to find and wave my white flag.

 

What advice do you have for someone reading this interview who realizes their use of prescription drugs is out of control? What can they do to escape the tornado of addiction?

The first word in the First Step is “We.” We can’t make it alone. Alone, is how we die. Together, is how we get better. Reach out and get help. Call any 12-Step support group, church, or hospital. You can even call me. My number is 916-439-7775 and my email is michele@zumwaltinc.com

 

How will reading Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction help readers who struggle with addiction?

The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphor to help readers relate to being lost in the strange world of addiction. That feeling of being trapped in another world with no way to get back home is the very essence of addiction. Ruby Shoes is my story about a devastating prescription addiction tornado, being lost in a foreign world, chasing brooms for fake saviors like Oz, and finally remembering the precious Gift that takes us HOME.

This book offers a personal account of the horrors of prescription addiction and a biblical, 12-Step, life application solution to the problem. Ruby Shoes takes the reader on a discovery journey that leads them to a much better place than where they began. My prayer is that those tormented by prescription drug addiction would discover they do not have to suffer alone any longer. They don’t have to die and become another sad statistic of prescription drug addiction. After reading RubyShoes they will know, if I can get better, anyone can.

Since my book launched a few months ago, I’ve been talking with people all across the country with similar stories of desperation.  We don’t have to continue to die in record numbers from this problem. Together, we can find our way HOME to Him.

 

Was this a hard book for you to write?

Yes, but two things made all the difference in keeping me strong, motivated, and what I’d call “writing with a purpose.” First, I had so much love and encouragement from my family.  And second, I knew that this was what God was calling me to do. My mother, Dr. Donna Perry wrote the foreword. You would love my mom. She has helped a great deal in the editing process, but more importantly she encouraged me to share my story and inspired me to do it for the Glory of God. My entire family, my husband, father, mother, and children have all been involved in everything from proof-reading to book signings. We all see this book as a ministry to help people and God has a role for each of us to play.

 

In a 12-step program, you had anonymity. No one outside your recovery group needed to know what you were battling. Was your decision to go public difficult? Were you ever concerned about “coming out” about the topic?

No. After so many years of working as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and seeing so many senseless deaths from prescription addiction, each year more than the last, I knew this story of hope needed to be told. The loss and devastation of so many lives gave me the courage I needed to trust God completely and not worry so much about what my husband calls, “the look good.” We just decided to use this book to speak the truth, trust Him, and love and serve all His children.

 

Tell me about your writing process.

Writing begins and ends for me with prayer. So, I started by asking God about the idea of telling my story. There’s a short story in Chapter One about how He, very directly, answered those prayers for me one day. Then, I began a process of intentionally praying for the audience. This was years before the book was finally published, but God already knew who would read it someday. It’s comforting to know that long ago, I spent so much time praying for each person reading my book today. God has a plan and a purpose for each life.

Next, I prayed for an approach to tell the story in a way that people, some of whom have never been addicted, could relate to the struggle. The idea of using The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor came to me during one of those prayers.  The actual writing of the book was done in much the same way. I would pray about a story or an idea and then write it. Usually, I didn’t even know where it would go in the book. At some point, God began to help me see the chapters and how the stories fit into the chapters. There was great deal of writing, perhaps a whole second book, which didn’t make the final cut.  All of those stories, I collected into a folder I called, “Cut from Ruby Shoes.” I don’t know what God wants to do with all that writing, but I know He is the Master of taking our messes and making them messages. So, don’t ever throw your writing away.  You never know what He’s up to next. J

 

How long did it take to write this book?

The whole process from the beginning prayers to final publication took about six years.  It’s a small book, only about 40,000 words, but it’s my first book and, as you know, it is a very personal story. This was my journey with Jesus and He didn’t rush me.

 

What obstacles did you overcome while writing Ruby Shoes?

Mostly, I just had to get myself out of the way. I keep trying to make the story more general in nature, trying to be inclusive. For example, talking in general terms about my higher power. But in the end, my mom reminded me that I needed to tell my story, even if it’s not for everyone. So, I wrote it true and now I know, that it is for everyone.  We all get lost sometimes, lost in food, spending, shopping, even Netflix or Facebook. We all wander away from God.  Sometimes we feel trapped or so lost that we know we might never get back home. But, we’ve all been given a free gift–Jesus. He died for all of us. No matter what happens, He has given us a precious gift which takes us Home.

 

Were there any surprises along the publication journey?

If you feel that your book is God-Inspired, never take no for an answer. For months after my manuscript was complete, I approached many agents and publishers. I heard nothing at all. So, we took the self-publishing leap of faith and I’m so glad we did! I was surprised that Ruby Shoes launched as the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in all three categories. As I write these words, four months since the launch, Ruby Shoes is the #3 book on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the Christian Recovery and Counseling category and in the top 10 Best Seller books for Substance Abuse Recovery. The self-publishing world has opened the doors for every writer to reach his or her audience.

If you have a passion for what you are doing and you love marketing, which I do, (it was my major in college) then you have the opportunity to write a best-selling book! I’ve also been amazed at how, when you are called to write, God puts all these other people who are called to write around you. I’m pretty sure He does that because He wants us to love and encourage each other as we seek to do His will through writing. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11) It’s the we thing again.

 

What advice do you have for an aspiring author who has a deeply personal story to share?

Pray. Seek His will in this and in everything. If you have a deeply personal story to share, it is very important to have people in your life who keep you honest and who support and encourage your writing. Surround yourself with other Christian writers who are trying to do the same thing. Finally, remember that our broken world NEEDS your story. We need more Christian writers to demonstrate how it’s done…not perfectly, but with perfect forgiveness and love. I’m praying for my fellow Inspire Writers as we seek to demonstrate God’s love and mercy for this broken world. May our works inspire others to seek and do His will and may we always remember to give God the glory. (see Matthew 6:33)

Ruby Shoes is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

What questions do you have for Michele? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

——

beth_thompson brightElizabeth M. Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her.

Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know

Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know

11191097_sOnce you know something, you can’t un-know it.

I’ve just been sucker-punched.

A friend, we’ll call her Lippy, stopped by our house to take a peek at some work we’re having done. We laughed about the joys and challenges of home maintenance and repairs. So far, so good.

Then, this friend erupted with a juicy tidbit about a mutual acquaintance. Lippy just couldn’t wait to share something dreadful about our acquaintance. A very juicy morsel of gossip. It all happened so fast that my husband and I didn’t have a second to stiff-arm the gossip with the words–don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. 

I so wish we could have seen it coming and halted it before the words left her mouth and slapped us both across the face. Violated. I felt violated. I felt sick about what this acquaintance is going through and the sheer torment she must feel because of it. I would be devastated in her shoes.

And now I know too much about her.

This event prompted me to create a Don’t Tell Me List:

Don’t assume because I attend the same church, work with, live near or simply know someone that I want to know their drama. I don’t. Please don’t make me the unwilling keeper of someone’s secret.

If you’re just dying to tell someone, don’t tell me! When a fiery bit of gossip is burning a hole in your tongue, it’s a good sign to keep your mouth shut. Cut off the oxygen and put the fire out!

If it’s personal and you don’t have expressed permission to share with me, don’t tell me! How do I look this acquaintance in the eye knowing what I now know about her personal life? We are not confidantes or she would have told me herself.

If the subject of the discussion has not (or would not) post this information on social media, don’t tell me! It’s private for a reason. The person may feel ashamed, humiliated, hurt or even devastated by the situation she faces. She doesn’t need to wonder who knows what about her life.

If this is a person I know, don’t tell me! Please don’t include me in the “in the know” crowd. I’d rather be blissfully ignorant of the gossip. That way I can keep my relationships untangled and on the up-and-up.

If this is about a person I don’t know, don’t tell me! It’s none of my business. Unless you’re telling me about a situation because you need advice or prayer on how to handle it, don’t tell me. If you do need my counsel or prayer, tell me as little as possible, omitting names and identifiable details.

If you wouldn’t share this in front of the person it’s about, don’t tell me! When my kids were little, I was part of a play group. We met weekly at a local park. I dreaded having to miss park days — not only because my children napped better, but also because any mom who didn’t show up was severely talked about! The last time I went, one of the moms was going on and on about an absent mom, sharing private things that would not have been shared in the mom’s presence.

I piped up and asked the gossip-spreader (who happened to be the very best friend of the person she was dishing about), “Hey, aren’t you two friends? Does she know you talk about her like that?”

Yeah, I was that mom. I’m sure I was the topic of conversations for a few weeks after I packed my kids into their little green wagon and took them home to play on our own swing.

Please, keep your juicy tidbits to yourself!


 

We’ve all fallen into the gossip trap. I have no stones to throw. My personal goal is to live gossip-free. How about you? What do you do to keep from getting caught up in gossip? Would you say something to a friend who shared inappropriately with you? 

Want to know what the Bible says? Check out these scriptures about gossip.

Writing Past the Doubts

Writing Past the Doubts

I’ve just broken through a 3-day writing slump. For three solid days I couldn’t write a cohesive sentence to save my life, which thank God, was never threatened.

37323112_sLast week I committed to a writing project that I’m very excited about. I also committed to work with a mentor to (finally!) dust off a project that stalled out a few years ago. These two writing decisions brought me a brief episode of euphoria. I re-worked my schedule to accommodate them and bellied-up to the keyboard ready for adventure.

And you know what happened?

Doubt.

Suddenly, I was hammered by it.

All the voices in my head formed a choir that serenaded me day and night. “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good. Baby you’re no good!”

And you know what I did?

I believed them. In fact, I helped them build a case against me. I remembered every rejection, tough critique and bad grade I ever received. It’s amazing how the mind works. I forget why I walked into the garage, but can recall with perfect clarity every criticism that’s come my way.

For the past 24 hours I thought of all the ways I could graciously wiggle out of my writing projects. After all, “I’m no good!”

Then, I decided to fight back. I put my pen to the pages of my prayer journal and cried out for help. I asked for renewed passion and for a little inspiration to get me over the hump.

And you know what happened?

I sat down and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

The words flowed effortlessly and landed on the page as though they belonged there. I wrote thousands of words including a chapter, an outline and a couple of blog posts. Tomorrow I’ll finish my submission for the Inspire Forgiveness anthology.

The euphoria is back! I just needed to pray and write.

What do you do when you’re assailed by doubt?

beth_thompson brightElizabeth M Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her. Be sure to stop by Prayers4Writers every Wednesday evening from 6pm PDT/9pm EDT on Twitter. Use #writetoinspire to join the conversation.