'Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
– William Wordsworth
I've long kept a journal. Even before my days as a mom, I kept a journal. In grade school, it was the dairy with a lock and key, hidden in a drawer or under a mattress. Yes, there have been gaps - months, even a year or two long, but I always come back to it. My journals are full of thoughts, experiences, dreams, ideas, prayers . . . the breathings of my heart. I've tucked in cards from my kids, notes from friends, rose petals, a leaf from a fall walk . . . And when I take the time to look back, I'm always thankful that I had captured that version of me dealing with whatever was in front of me at the time. It allows me to see how I've grown, but I see something else, too - God's hand in my life.
Currently I've woven time to journal into my morning routine. Most mornings, before I reach for my phone to scroll through Instagram, I start with a short devotion, then journaling. I only fill one page each day, finding that helps me do it more regularly. But even then, words don't always flow freely. Sometimes prompts help. So when I came across this in my inbox: 30 Lists to Make, I had to know more.
In addition to journaling, I love to make lists.
Maybe that's why I connected with this article so quickly. It's inspiring me in my journaling. So I thought I'd share it with you as it may inspire you to open your journal for the first time or once again.
30 Lists to Make
From Bella Grace Magazine
The idea of having a regular journaling practice sounds so romantic and charming. You pour yourself a cup of tea, perhaps light a candle, grab your favorite pen, open up that brand-new journal … and then what? The need to get everything just right can be overwhelming and even paralyzing to some. If you want to make writing a regular part of your day but are unsure of where to start, consider making lists. We think lists are an excellent and unique way of journaling because they challenge us to think creatively about our responses, and much like a conventional journal, they capture our thoughts at a given moment in our lives.
1. Five little things currently making you happy
2. Favorite ways to “waste” time
3. Places to travel to alone
4. Food or drinks that bring you comfort
5. Books, movies, or TV shows for when you need an escape
6. Hobbies you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet
7. Five things you’re currently looking forward to
8. Lovely little things to do more often
9. Favorite ways to turn your day around
10. The sweetest sounds
11. What happiness looks like
12. Places to find inspiration
13. Traits shared by the people you admire
14. Songs making up the soundtrack of your days Here are our favorite lists to make:
15. Short breaks you can take each day
16. Truths about life you’ve learned so far
17. Silly little goals you’d like to achieve
18. Ideal ways to spend time alone
19. Favorite ways to have fun without leaving the house
20. Unique businesses you’d love to start
21. Things that fill you with energy
22. Five rules you like to break
23. Ten reasons to be proud of yourself right now
24. Fictional characters you feel a connection with
25. Screen-free activities you are currently enjoying
26. Five friends or family members who make you smile
27. Things to remind yourself on a bad day
28. Tiny treats that feel like a luxury
29. Things it’s time to let go of
30. People you want to write letters to
Of course, it would snow. . .
Not a soft, pretty snow with flakes gently descending from the heavens.
No, it was during a winter snowstorm that we moved from our home of 22 years out in the country into a smaller house in town. Fortunately, the bulk of our possessions had been moved five days earlier with the help of family and friends. But now, as the snow quickly accumulated on the ground, we frantically packed the last of the boxes into the U-Haul. The trip down our steep, icy driveway would be stressfully packed with prayers, as well, that we make it down safely. This is not how I wanted to say goodbye to this lovely place, to my home where we raised our kids, to the gardens that I planted where I know each plant by name . . .
That morning’s winter storm reflected the chaos going on inside me, overwhelming sadness mixed with a touch of excitement of the unknown that lay ahead, the stress that comes with moving, the late nights of packing, lying awake in early morning hours with endless lists running through my head, and trying to keep it all together with a trust that God will make it all work out – it was an avalanche of emotion that I’ve never experienced before.
After a harrowing 30-minute trip on snow-covered roads to where we would close on the house, I was able to catch my breath. We sat in the office waiting our turn, and I got a text from our daughter who had been at the house with our son packing the U-Haul. It was a video she had taken of the snowscape that surrounded the woods on the property. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Tears welled up yet again – how I will miss those trees – watching them change through the seasons. They were the first thing I saw every morning when I opened my eyes to gaze out uncurtained windows. Fresh spring leaves unfurling, summer green canopies, glorious autumn hues, and graceful bare branches outlined in snow like right now. And I had missed it this morning – blindly consumed with the details of moving.
It was then that it struck me - even amidst all the chaos going on around and inside of me, there is something beautiful happening that God is orchestrating. It’s his perfect plan for me – I take a deep breath in. His love and presence is constant - I exhale slowly. It was he who led us here to this place years ago – inhale deeply, and filled it with love, joy, tears – all of them blessings. Exhale. He goes before me once again, leading me – inhale. And I follow, knowing that he will make this move something beautiful, too. Slow exhale.
It’s been almost a week now, and already that emotional day is but a memory. The lessons I’m learning of trusting God, letting go, embracing change, and seeing beauty where you least expect it, those will stay with me as this new chapter unfolds. I miss waking up to the wooded view out my window, but I’m so grateful that I was given that gift for a while. The trees have taught me to carry something with me through every season of life – and that’s joy. There’s a passage in the Bible that says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55:12
God is writing a symphony. All of this – the struggles, the joy, the tears, the laughter, He’s weaving it all together into a beautiful symphony that I’m blessed to call my life. And right now, in the beginning of this new movement, I’m being led forth in peace and, like the trees, I will joyfully clap my hands.
It was totally unprompted.
I was saying goodbye to my grandkids who had spent the night. Before climbing into the car, my four-year-old grandson saw the dandelions growing in the lawn. He picked one and give it to me. Then he picked another and give it to his mama. Tears stung my eyes, and I gave him a good squeeze.
Friends, that simple act of watching him engage with nature and wanting to share it with me, and his mama, just touched my heart. Immediately I was taken back twenty-ish years when my own kids would do that. One of my favorite photos of my youngest son is him at age 4 holding a bouquet of dandelions before giving it to me. I remember showing my daughter how to make dandelion crowns when she was about five; teaching my kids to make a wish on a dandelion seed head and blow, not worrying bout the many offspring it will produce (aka more time spent weeding). Summers were simple and carefree back then - filled with little pleasures and special moments. The days were long and we lived them outside: kiddie pools, picnics, sand castles, chasing butterflies, riding bikes, tending the garden. I think back even further to when I was growing up and have similar memories: getting lost in a good book, swimming with my siblings, exploring the woods on our property, water-gun fights, catching fireflies, and just laying in the grass watching the clouds. Summer was a special time.
How different summers are now. Admittedly those days as a young girl and then as a young mom weren't all rainbows and butterflies, but I'm thankful I can look back and cherish them. Lately life just seems complicated - unsolved health issues, managing the effects of rising inflation, the challenges of relationships, the stress of work - l sure could go for those simple summer dandelion days. Can you relate?
Maybe there's a way to recapture the essence of those days. What I'm really in need of is finding rest amidst the stress. A vacation isn't in the cards this summer, but even those often leave us feeling exhausted when we return. How can I get the rest I'm looking for on a daily basis? Jesus says in the book of Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Like a drink from the fountain, he refreshes us when we come to him. A few moments spent in his Word, singing a praise song, saying a prayer are small ways to find rest in him. This gives me hope and inspires me to make the most of these summer days in small ways. Determined to recapture some of the simple pleasures of summer, here's what I've come up with:
Create a simple morning routine.
Summertime and routines seem contradictory, but how we start our day impacts the rest of the day. It sets the tone. Over the years I've learned that I function best when I have a morning routine. My day seems more productive and focused. Studies show this to be true for most of us. I still need that routine during the summer, but in a more simplified and more relaxed way. Starting with a devotion on the patio, yoga on the lawn, a morning walk, a check on the gardens . . . that's how I envision my ideal summer morning. Even if I could do one of those things every morning, connecting with God and with nature does my soul good.
Make a summer bucket list.
In order to capture the essence of summer, we need to live it intentionally so it doesn't slip away. Before you know it, September will be here. Instead of asking yourself, "Where did the summer go?" ask "What do I want my summer to look like? What are the elements of my ideal dandelion days?" If you are a list maker like me, you'll like this exercise. It doesn't have to be a vacation, it can be small things like reading a book in a hammock or for me, just reading a book!
Here are some things on my list:
- daily walk in the gardens
- find recipes for the herbs I'm growing and make them!
- read a fiction book
- watch a butterfly flit from flower to flower
- blow bubbles with my grandkids
- go barefoot in the grass
- watch the sun set
Cultivate what matters. Summer is a good time to check in with intentions that were set back in January. For me, I need to ask myself, am I cultivating what matters to me? Hmmmmm . . . honestly, I've gotten off track. So how can I refocus and cultivate those things that do matter? One way is to clear my schedule as much as I can. Saying no to a few things this summer is saying yes to simplicity. Maybe a 'no' to mindless scrolling is a 'yes' to more time outside or more free time to do the things on the bucket list. It's a choice! We make decisions all day long regarding how we spend our time, and as author Emily P Freeman says, those daily decisions are making our life.
What about you? Do you long for dandelion days and the simple pleasures of summer? Do you long to experience and savor all the flavors of summer, instead of letting it pass by in a blur? I hope you'll take some time to think about the summer days that lay ahead and how you want to fill them. Let's recapture that child-like sense of being carefree. It's in the small things, the small moments, that we can find joy, peace, and contentment. And maybe, just maybe, I might pick a dandelion and make a wish. :)
The sun sets quickly as I bundle up and head outside. Tonight will be our first hard frost and I have zinnias to gather. Snip. Snip. They were beautiful this year, lasting well into November. I think of all the butterflies that lingered on each blossom gathering sweet nectar. Snip. Snip. I've been watching with fascination how cut-flower farmers like Erin Benzakien @ Floret Flowers and Tiffany Jones @ Blomma Flower Farm gather seed to breed new varieties of zinnias. It has inspired me to save seed for the simple act of planting them again next year. Snip. Snip.
As I gather armfuls of zinnias, I consider how November is a month for gathering. We gather the harvest of pumpkins, squash, and any cole crops that remain in the garden. We gather warm coats, hats, and gloves for the impending cold. We gather firewood for the fireplace, and then we gather around it's warmth. But most of all, in November, we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving. A day set aside to pause and reflect on the abundance of blessings we have. If you've been following me here on the Naturally Bella Journal, you are well familiar with how I feel about recognizing small blessings found in every day living. They are present in every day - good or bad. In every situation, in every moment, there is something to be grateful for. Opening our eyes to the small, seemingly insignificant blessings is powerful! It can lift us out of depression, fight off anxiety, and leads to contentment and joy. Each blessing is a gift. As a believer, I know that each gift comes from above. Each gift is a reminder of how much we are loved by our heavenly Father.
If we are honest with ourselves, our blessings overflow into abundance. Don't you love that word? Abundance. It means having an excess of something. Abundance feels like being rich, even without money. Standing out in the garden holding armfuls of zinnias made me feel like a wealthy woman. Recognizing this abundance of blessings can overwhelm us and touch the heart. It can move us to tears and even to our knees as we are lavishly showered with this undeserved love and grace. Have you ever experienced this?
There is a time to gather all those blessings, to recognize and name them, and to give thanks for them. But it doesn't stop there. Living a thank-filled life isn't only about the gathering. "Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts," - David O McKay.
Yes! Thankfulness leads to gratitude. Humbled by our abundance and compelled by His love, we show our gratitude by giving to others. Perhaps this is why Thanksgiving (the season of thanking) is followed by Christmas (the season of giving).
Through the act of thankful giving, we also experience abundance! This is the lesson of abundance. The more we give of ourselves, the more we are filled with intangibles like peace and joy. So this begs the question: how can I live an abundant life today? It is not in the gathering, it is in the scattering. It is in the giving as much as we can, that we receive more than we ever imagine.
I think about this as I'm sorting through zinnia seed heads. Scattering carries an element of randomness. We scatter seed letting it fall where it may. Out of this abundance of flowers that filled my small bit of earth, I'm thankfully gathering to gratefully scatter next spring. But I need to do more. I am compelled to do more. What if I give them away, so others can also experience their beauty and the joy they offer?
Let's begin with daily intentional giving, and scatter without limits.
This is how to live a truly abundant life.
1. List three things you are grateful for right now.
2. How do you define an abundant life?
3. Who do you know that has a need?
4. How can you become a gift to that person?
Pebble Beach. One of my favorite vacations that we took when the kids were young was to Door County, and more specifically, to Pebble Beach. Watching the kids splash along the water’s edge, hearing their laughter, and gathering the smooth stones on the beach was such good soul food.
It’s a sweet memory, one of many that I’ve collected over the years. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of collecting - not so much stuff, but intangibles that fill my thoughts, my time and demand my attention. I collect ideas, inspiration, recipes, photos (usually of plants), poetry, quotes - all which add up to a lot more time than I care to share as I scroll through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I have over 2,000 pics on my iphone and adding more everyday! There’s a constant stream of information at our fingertips, on our phones, in the car, on the tv, - so many voices, so many inputs, and not enough time to process it all.
Can you relate?
That’s one reason we take vacations. They offer an opportunity to physically get away from it all, to step away from the daily schedules, and to unplug. We rest, relax and hope to come back rejuvenated. But the phones are usually still present and so is the temptation to scroll through the daily feed. What’s really needed is space on a more regular basis - a few moments every day to quiet the outside noise, to breathe deeply, to be still and quiet, for intentional reflection, and to hear our own thoughts. It’s those quiet moments that are good for the soul.
What we do in the quiet will look different for each of us. For me, I like to read a little scripture and journal. I’ve been journaling for many years. It’s a way for me to process life, to express how I feel, and to work through problems. As I read through old entries, I’m always amazed to see how God has been present through it all. More often than not, I can see His hand and timing. I always can see His grace and goodness.
Creating quiet space for your soul is a life-giving practice. Dallas Willard says ‘If you don’t come away for a while, you’ll come apart after a while.’’ We need to spend time in quiet, thoughtful reflection. Our souls need it. Even Jesus, during his ministry, would often seek time for solitude.
If you’re unsure how to begin, here are some suggestions:
“Perhaps silence makes you uncomfortable. Gradually you may learn to welcome silence, understand that it is a time of great fertility and growth, not of emptiness. Silence cultivates vulnerability toward God, because silence is an outward form of an inward surrender.”
I recently listened to a podcast by Emily P. Freeman, which, by the way, I highly recommend. The purpose of her podcasts and books is to help create space for your soul to breathe. You can find her at The Next Right Thing podcast (be sure to listen to #87 & #88) which is also the name of one of her books. She closed her recent episode with this reading of Psalm 23 in a version that relates it in a fresh way. I’d like to share it with you here.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green pastures. He leads me to calm water. He gives me new strength. He leads me on paths that are right for the good of his name. Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me. You prepare a meal for me in front of my enemies. You pour oil of blessing on my head. You fill my cup to overflowing. Surely your goodness and love will be with me all my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever."
Ps 23 (NCV).
In closing, I’ll leave you with a practice - an encouragement to take this idea of collecting the quiet with you into the day and month that lie ahead. First, name something that you’ve been collecting that you need to either pull back from or carve out time to process. Second, decide when and where you will find a few minutes today to be still. Then do it. Part of self-care is soul-care and it is necessary for a healthy you.
For me, it started several years ago when I read these words:
“Have vessel, must find beauty."
Life-changing words written by Ann Voskamp in her book, ‘One Thousand Gifts’ that a friend had given me. In her book, she writes that every time she picked a bouquet of flowers, she would have to hunt for a vase or vessel to put it in. One day she decided to leave the empty vase out on the table and go hunt for the flowers. It no longer was ‘have beauty, must find a vessel"; it had become 'have vessel, must find beauty." That small shift in perspective has had a huge impact on my life. So much so, that as a professed beauty-seeker, I am daily hunting to find beauty in the unexpected. Flowers are easy - daffodils, lilacs, roses, daisies - when they bloom, they demand attention, and I oblige. But now I have trained my eyes to seek beauty in a simple leaf with intricate veins, peeling bark on a tree, the smallest of insects gathering nectar. Even dead flowers have an essence of beauty.
It's paying attention to these small delights in a habitual way, that over time creates a life filled with beauty. Every day might not be beautiful, but it can have beauty in it. We must look for it! Each small delightful discovery in nature is a gift from the Creator himself - a reflection of His artistry, His love, and a reminder of His faithfulness. Season after season, He is constant. His grace is limitless and so are the gifts. No matter how small, I try to pay attention and look for them.
When my kids were growing up, I didn't take the time to practice the seeking and hunting beauty. Life was busy seeking lost shoes and hunting for misplaced homework assignments. I wish I had spent more time just being still long enough to pay attention to the beauty outdoors. I wish I had taught them to be beauty seekers. But perhaps my kids were the small delights that God had given me - beauty right under my nose. Perhaps they were the vessels that needed filling with my time, attention, love, and lessons of the Creator. Perhaps I was that vessel, and they filled me with love and beautiful moments that have woven a tapestry of a beauty-filled life. Hmmm, yes, and I am grateful for it.
Friend, may we never stop seeking beauty and filling our vessels, because seeking beauty will often lead to other things like gratitude, wonder, and joy.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!