Recent Reads, Journal Snippets, + Highlights of December 2020

Recent Reads, Journal Snippets,  + Highlights of December 2020

The last day of December. The last day of 2020. Whoa. I’m going to fully enjoy the final hours of this historic year.:)

Highlights of the Month

  • Reading!!!
  • Christmas shopping as a family… or shopping with various fragments of family, climbing in and out of different vehicles and trying to hide certain things from certain people because, you know, Christmas secrets.
  • Walks – alone or with crazy sisters
  • Sneaking peeks and too many pics of gorgeous sunrises
  • Chatting with friends
  • Decorating my bullet journal
  • Writing about a spunky new character in my fantasy novel
  • Making crash potatoes
  • Christmas cookie creation time
  • Playing Balderdash with creative siblings
  • A journal-reading session with my brother

What I’ve Been Reading

Devotedly: the Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot – Valerie Elliot Shepard

Okay, I am loving this one! I’ve always appreciated the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s relationship, so it’s been amazing to read more about it in this book. Also, it is crammed full of journals and letters – something that makes my heart happy.:)

Shadow of the Almighty – Elisabeth Elliot

Best. Biography. Ever. The end.

June Bug – Chris Fabry

It’s been awhile since a book kept me turning page after page way too late into the night (or early morning) but this book is doing that to me. It’s written so well… but due to certain things mentioned/implied in the book, I don’t recommend it for younger readers.

The Prodigal’s Sister – John Piper

This twist on the parable of the prodigal son is beautiful, poetic, and delightful to read.

Journal Snippets

Oh, God, put Your love in my heart. For my family. For my friends. For those I don’t want to call friends. For Your body. For the down-trodden. For those with whom I disagree. For You.

Oh, Lord, may I ever hear Your words, forsake the counsel of my own heart, and turn my eyes from idols, looking only to You. I don’t want to be “profitable for nothing”. (Jeremiah 13)

When I make my goals, Lord, let them not be according to the dictates of my own evil heart [Jeremiah reference], but according to Your pure plan.

I feel battered but sure of God’s goodness and hold on my life. I hurt. I don’t understand… but I trust. And that is enough. God leads me on day by day, faithfully.

Remember… life is not about you.

The biggest thing I see standing in my way is… a disenchantment with the Lover of my soul. Soul, love Him! Desire Him! Stir yourself up to answer His call. Break up your fallow ground – seek and serve Him in the mundane. Though mists of uncertainty veil the way, do something. Stay in shape so that when God throws you into a crisis, you will be fit for the task. Don’t waste a moment.

And there it is… the last post of 2020. What will this coming year bring?

I want to thank you for sticking with me and reading what’s on my heart… I am so blessed to have such amazing support. I hope that this year is simply wonderful for you… that God would bless you through the trials, be your joy in the mundane, and draw you ever closer to Himself in the coming year and each year to come.

-Laurel

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something through one of the links I share in this post, I receive a small commission… at no extra cost to you.:)

A Month in Review – November 2020 Edition

A Month in Review – November 2020 Edition

It’s crazy to think it’s already time for this again!

Highlights of the month

  • voting for the very first time
  • writing (of course)
  • making an audio drama with cousins
  • a sibling sleepover
  • wearing cozy sweaters
  • sight-reading piano duets with a brother
  • building relationships with people in my writing community
  • cleaning my room
  • making mashed potatoes in a ginormous bowl
  • hanging white lights in my bedroom
  • accidentally winning this giveaway (!!!)

Books I’ve been reading this month

Last month I didn’t read very much. This month I read much more. Thankfully. And each book was in a different genre! Bonus points.

Prophet

I’ve not finished this one yet, but I’ve enjoyed it so far! I’m a huge fan of allegories, and Ela’s conversations with the Infinite help me understand and appreciate the Lord more. Oh, I love the power of fiction.:)

Great Expectations

I mentioned this one last month, but it’s worth mentioning again.:) I love reading this aloud to some of my siblings.

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

I’m reading this one with some family members, and so far it’s been very enjoyable… despite the fact that it’s a romance.:) The plot is so complex, and I love how some of the characters are based off of characters in Dickens’ Bleak House.

I’ve also been able to venture into the dystopian genre while reading/editing a friend’s incredibly amazing novel-in-progress!!!

Journal Snippets from this month

“I have been careless of my ways – letting life fly by while I grasp at bits of it for myself. God, I want to live whole-heartedly for You – nothing held back. God, let me seek You passionately and purposefully. I want to use this season to learn how to be a doormat for humanity. (reference to an Oswald Chambers quote)”

“God’s salvation and righteousness are enough to make me greatly rejoice… and He provides them even on my worst days. I have a reason to worship. Thank You, Jesus.”

“Oh, God… let me choose You and Your ways… first and always. Be the deepest desire of my heart and the love of my life. Be the reason I live and breathe.”

“Oh, God, guidance. Let me listen to Your gentle whisper rather than the wild throbs of my heart.”

And that’s a wrap! How was your month? Did you do/read/write anything you care to share?:)

Gift Ideas for Your Reading and/or Writing Friends

Gift Ideas for Your Reading and/or Writing Friends

Happy happy Monday, all!

Gift idea posts are flooding the blogosphere right now, but for once I’m not gonna go against the flow. Because I love gift idea posts. And giving gifts. There’s just something about thoughtfully choosing the perfect gifts for people you love. It’s amazing.

I’ve developed this particular list with readers and writers in mind. If you’re having trouble coming up with gift ideas for an avid reader or writer, hopefully this post can give you some inspiration.:)

Shout-out to the amazing members of my writing community who flooded me with gift ideas for this post. You’re awesome… thank you.

For the readers

Shadow of the Almighty

Gifting books can be difficult sometimes as people have vastly different tastes… but you can’t go wrong giving this biography as a gift. It’s my absolute favorite books besides the Bible… click/tap here if you want to hear me rave about it even more.:)

Book Nerd – Women’s Shirt

This one looks so cute and cozy!

I Don’t Have a Bedtime Keychain

So true some nights… sadly.

Jane Austen Tote Bag

This would work well for lugging library books home.:)

Cozy Blankets

There’s nothing like snuggling up for a good read in a cozy blanket and

Fuzzy Socks

with a steaming mug of

Tea

or

Coffee.

And

Chocolate.:)

For the writers

G2 Gel Pens

These pens are the best I’ve used so far… and I’m a pen snob.

Novel Journal

This idea is so cool: a journal where the lines on which you write are actually the words of a classic. I just ordered this Great Expectations journal for a Dickens-loving journaling friend, but they have many other classics available in this form, as well.

Vintage Typewriter Pencil Holder

This is soooo cute (okay, handsome if you wanna get it for a guy) and useful! Every writer needs a place for pens, pencils, and chocolate wrappers to stay. Besides, anything vintage typewriter is always a good idea.

Writer Keychain

Yes, we writers do have the privilege and heavy responsibility of creating universes.:)

Blank Books

This would be an amazing gift for a little writer-in-the-making. When I was younger, writing a story in an actual book was so much more exciting than writing in a notebook.

Notebooks

That being said, notebooks are pretty awesome, too.:)

Just a Girl Who Loves Writing – Shirt

This is My Writing Shirt

This one would be great for both guys and girls!

What did I leave out? What are some of your favorite gifts to give to reading and writing fanatics?

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something through one of the links I share in this post, I receive a small commission… at no extra cost to you.:)

Photo by Monika Stawowy on Unsplash

You May be a Writer If… (2nd Edition)

You May be a Writer If… (2nd Edition)

The last post I did on this topic was so much fun… I wanted to do it again! Hopefully you don’t mind.:)

You may be a writer if…

…you’re an avid people watcher, and are shocked out of your skin when someone tells you they don’t even know what people watching is. “Wait, what??? You poor guy…”

…you have to check your face for ink stains before leaving the house.

…something mentioned in a sermon gives you an idea for further development in your novel, and you have to covertly scribble it in your bulletin before you forget about it.

…grammatical errors drive you crazy.

…you whisper one phrase to yourself over and over again because those words together in that order just. sound. so. good.

…you fervently hope that so-and-so won’t figure out that you’ve put them in your book. In disguise, of course.

…you jump up to go look for a pen and later discover that you already had one behind each ear.

…you have to check each piece of scrap paper you throw out to make sure it doesn’t contain any valuable information… because you probably took notes on it.

…you read books like you’ve been hired to edit them. “This description needs to be condensed.” “The dialogue here is amazing.” “I wonder if this is foreshadowing something…”

…three-fourths of the time you spend “cleaning your room” is actually spent reading old books/journals/notes you just unearthed.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

5 Ways to Keep Your Focus On Tough Writing Days

5 Ways to Keep Your Focus On Tough Writing Days

Can we all agree that distraction is one of a writer’s most common and deadly foes? Here are some habits that help me stay focused on difficult writing days.

1.) Make a list.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate! Even if you have only one or two things on your writing agenda, write them down. It’s so helpful to have that visual reminder of what you have to do in case your mind wanders. And it’s just so satisfying to cross things off your list.:)

Here’s my writing list for today:

  • Work on Thursday’s blog post
  • Write the bridge for Chapter 4
  • Write more of Chapter 4… finish???
  • Listen to “Creating Stellar Characters”

2.) Have water or a yummy drink on hand.

Stay hydrated… it’s good for your brain! Make sure you’re getting the water you need so you can think and write your best.

Also, having a special coffee drink is just plain fun. Maybe it doesn’t improve focus in a huge way… but it can be a little extra something that makes your writing time more enjoyable.:)

3.) Take breaks and set a timer.

Giving your brain a break from focusing on one scene or task or topic can be so helpful. Taking even just a tiny break and doing something else for a minute or two adds a helpful variation from staring at your computer screen for hours.

As far as the timer goes… if you know that you have a limited amount of time to do something, it somehow makes a task more bearable and encourages you to work harder at it!

4.) Don’t let yourself get distracted.

I know, I know… the second you sit down to write that not-super-exciting scene or the mentally-taxing blog post, you remember half a dozen other things that have suddenly become pressing matters.

Just exercise your self-control and tell yourself, no not until _____. Then you’re going to be so proud of yourself when you reach that goal, and even more motivated to meet your next goal! Each time you work your self-control, you’re making it easier for yourself to be self-controlled next time. You can do it!!!

5.) Remember that it won’t always be a struggle to focus.

One of the things I had to realize as I started to take my writing more seriously is that there will be days where I’m super excited and pumped about writing, and other days where I’m really wanting to drag my feet… and that’s normal and okay.

Just keep on slogging through the tough days, knowing that you’re gonna slay it SOON!!!

What are some things you do to help yourself stay focused?

The Unexpected Journey of a Letter

The Unexpected Journey of a Letter

Over a year ago I wrote my brother a letter. For awhile we were on a letter-writing spree, and this letter was simply a response to one of his. Nothing too out of the ordinary…

Yet something felt different about this one. I don’t usually save copies of the letters I write, but for some reason I wanted to save a copy of that one. I really felt like I had expressed my heart well in that letter, and I wanted to share it with others. But I felt like God was telling me that wasn’t a good idea. This letter was for my brother, not the world. Right?

So I took a picture of the letter, slipped the letter into an envelope, stuck the envelope in my brother’s Bible, and didn’t think too much more about it. Life went on.

Then, a couple of months ago, this same brother got up to speak at my graduation ceremony. As he was talking, I saw him pull a familiar red envelope out of his pocket, and instantly I knew what he was about to do. Oh, my gracious.

I think I bawled through the whole thing.

It was incredible to see how God had taken a simple letter, said no to my first impulse to share it, and then a year later brought it before many dear people. It was a huge blessing to me and a reminder of God’s beautiful, beautiful timing. I was thrilled.

But God wasn’t done yet.

One of my aunts asked for a copy of the letter, and my uncle shared it in a sermon. Then the sermon got circulated by family members. My letter was reaching people I had never seen.

Do not underestimate God.

He will take the simplest thing and use it in the most unimaginable way.

I wanted to share this letter with you today, because I keep coming back to it and being convicted. As the author, I feel a responsibility to be living out and exemplifying the principles I’ve laid out here… and I constantly need to be reminded of them.

This letter is reminding me to bring my focus back to the right place – and I hope it does the same for you.

The excellency of the power is certainly of God, not us. The more I live, the more I realize how desperately sinful I am. Any good that comes of anything touching my life is certainly of God. He is so, SO worthy of our praise! He has loved me with a love that I simply cannot fathom. He truly must increase as I myself decrease.

More and more God shows me that He wants my priority to be my relationship with Him – not even evangelism, relationships with others, or any other sort of good works. Those will flow from my relationship with Him. He looks at the heart, and if all my feeble attempts to serve Him don’t come from an earnest desire for Him, they are filthy rags to Him.

It is so, SO important to guard our relationship with Him from all that threatens to destroy – even if it means we are called radicals. This love is more than deserving of radical defense. It demands our souls, our lives, our ALL. It calls for action.

Are we acting?

Less Than Two Months In… Three Things I’ve Learned While Pursuing My Writing Seriously

Less Than Two Months In… Three Things I’ve Learned While Pursuing My Writing Seriously

Way-way-wait what??? Less than two months in???

Wow.

Let’s just say that these have been two of the fullest months of my life. So far. 🙂 I look back and wonder how so much could be crammed into a mere sixty days. But it happened, folks. It happened. And it’s still happening.

About two months ago I graduated from high school and jumped into pursuing my future as an author seriously. Here are three things I’ve learned about the writing life in this time.

#1. I will not always feel inspired when it’s time to write… and that’s okay.

I was working on the second chapter of my current project the other day. I was at rock bottom. It was bad, guys. All I could force myself to type was he said this, she said that, he did this, she did that…

I wanted to bawl, Where is my creativity? My brilliant descriptions? My adjectives? Everything? Here go my writing dreams – right down the drain.

The fact is, I’m going to have these days… and that’s perfectly normal and fine. Because some days I feel like I’m churning out great ideas and brilliant descriptions and witty dialogue like crazy. These two extremes balance each other out.

It’s super important for me to just plug away at writing, even if I feel like what I’m writing is trash. If I write only when I feel like it, I’m not a writer at all – I’m just someone who writes for fun. I wouldn’t be a farmer if I only worked on the farm when I felt like it, either. Part of doing something professionally is doing your best even when your best seems awful.

In short, I’m learning that writing isn’t all fun and games… like any other occupation, it comes with its hard days. But I’m fine with that! There’s still enough awesome about it to keep me wanting to be a professional writer someday.

#2. Lists make life better.

I used to laugh at my mom and her lists… but I guess she converted me.

Nearly every day when I sit down to write, I make a list of what I want to accomplish that day. I try to get as specific as possible so I have more to cross off. It makes me feel more productive. 🙂 Also, just having a tangible list of what I want to accomplish is so much easier and productive than having a dozen plans ricocheting around in my brain.

#3. It’s a challenge for me to keep “writing stuff” in writing hours.

I’ve been setting a certain amount of hours each week day to work on my writing projects and other writing-related things. I’m not going to lie; it’s been a struggle to keep my writing restricted to those hours. It’s all too easy to let it seep into all the other areas of my life and suck my focus away from relationships and home responsibilities… and most importantly, my responsibilities as a daughter of God and ambassador for Christ.

God and people need to have first dibs on my attention. Writing can’t.

This has probably been my biggest struggle – even bigger than staying motivated and sticking with my writing projects. Hopefully the next two months will find me a little more on top of these priorities than I am at present. 🙂

But God’s grace is enormous. I daily encounter my faults, my failings, my weaknesses… and He daily reminds me that He is sufficient, and that He’ll use each one of my problems to bring Him glory.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

How great He is!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

First Things First… And Writing Isn’t One of Them

First Things First… And Writing Isn’t One of Them

And you thought you knew me. 🙂

Don’t get me wrong; I love writing. As a kid, I liked nothing better than curling up with a notebook and pen, crafting stories and poetry. My addiction to scribbling words and trying to encapsulate my crazy thoughts in semi-understandable sentences has only grown over time. My obsession with words was always just one of my weird little quirks. End of story.

But recently it came to a horrifying climax. It seemed like so much of my mental energy was going into writing and my future as an author… trying to figure out what it would look like, and how I would get to where I wanted to be in the writing world. I was so enjoying what writing involved that I was letting it become my life.

I was pouring into my stories instead of my siblings. I was investing in my writing courses instead of my friends. I was focusing on myself and my dreams instead of on my Savior and His dreams for me.

What started as a harmless little hobby began to devour every aspect my life.

The thing is, I’m not just a writer. I’m also a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Most importantly, I’m a child of God, a member of the body of Christ, and a representative of Him.

These other roles and responsibilities are even more important than writing. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to pursue a career in something I so enjoy, but I need to remember that there are so many other aspects to my life than writing.

I need to remember my identity in Christ, and let my priorities flow from that.

My relationship with God comes first. Next, my family relationships. Next, all other relationships.

Last, writing.

I’m not saying that it’s evil to work diligently at your job and seek to be good at it. Not at all. Actually, I’m really focusing in on that this week. But note the key word, job.

My job should not become a synonym for my life.

Balance, folks. Balance is key.

Let’s set our priorities in the right place and live them out.

You May Be a Writer If…

You May Be a Writer If…

…your brain is always churning with story ideas, song lyrics, or rhyming phrases.

…a favorite pastime is reading obituaries and wandering through graveyards. (You’d be surprised at how many writing prompts they hold.)

…you scribble random notes all over the place – on church bulletins, note cards, scrap paper, journal covers, napkins – so you won’t forget a brilliant idea that just *might* make a bestseller someday.

…your little sister sits on your lap at work. (happening right now, folks.)

…immediately after getting home from a family get-together you make a run for your journal, not wanting to forget any of the bizarre family stories that would be perfect in a book someday.

…you work two jobs at once – your brain is plugging away at your current story/poem while you’re feeding the cows.

…when you’re alone, you start a conversation between two imaginary people. Out loud. No idea who they are… their identities emerge as the conversation progresses. Oh, and it always helps if they have British accents and are in extreme emotional turmoil.

…it’s hard for you to throw any papers away. (Maybe someday I’ll come back to that story…)

…you sit bolt upright and grab for your phone when you wake up in the middle of the night so you can record a phrase that you heard in your dream and don’t want to forget.

Okay… writers are just weird. At least this one is. Can anyone else sympathize???

The Journals That Changed My Life

The Journals That Changed My Life

Every person in our lives influences us – whether it is an influence we recognize or not. Some people have a small influence, some people have a strong influence, and some people shake our lives forever.

For me, that was Jim Elliot.

I met him the year I turned sixteen. I spent a lot of time with him that year. He made me laugh, he challenged the way that I spent my time, and he lived his life in a way that made me want to live differently. He was strong in his faith, bold in his declaration of it, and passionately in love with Christ. He inspired me.

Wait, I forgot to tell you – he died over 40 years before I was born.

Shortly after Jim Elliot’s death at the hands of the men he was trying to reach with the gospel, his wife Elisabeth wrote Shadow of the Almighty. In this beautifully written biography, Elisabeth included excerpts of many of her husband’s letters and journals. Shadow of the Almighty had a profound impact on me.

What hit me most about the legacy Jim Elliot left in his writings was not so much the writing itself, but the heart, life, and dreams behind it. Don’t get me wrong – he had a rich vocabulary and a gift for powerful expression and humorous description – but that wasn’t all.

When you read his journals, you see a heart laid wide open before the Lord. He wasn’t afraid to proclaim the gospel and its implications. He didn’t shrink from confronting his peers about the condition of their souls.

Yet neither did he shrink from admitting his own faults and weaknesses. Some excerpts from the journals – “Oh, that I were not so empty-handed… I don’t love, I don’t feel, I don’t understand, I can only believe.” “Difficulty in getting anything at all from the Word. No fervency in prayer.” “Deep sense of uselessness this morning.”

Wait, what??? I’m not the only one who feels like this at times? Even the strongest and most passionate of Christians struggle?

Yes.

When I journal, I sometimes shrink from recording my struggles. I don’t always want to be honest with myself on paper. I start sweating when I think about the possibility of people cracking open my journal some day and getting a taste of 100% pure, raw, unfiltered Laurel. It’s scary.

But in reality, it’s not about me.

It’s about making myself available to God so He can display His power and goodness in me. If honesty in my journal entries may one day accomplish this by strengthening and encouraging others, I’ll swallow my pride and make myself available to God.

‘Cause that’s my purpose.

Have you made it yours?